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Summaries, Ecclesiastes 6-10

Monday, April 22, 2019

 

Ecclesiastes 6 begins with a comparison of two apparently pitiable people:  a man who is greatly blessed by God, yet does not enjoy his blessings, and a stillborn child.  According to Solomon, the second is better.  Next, he points out that both toil and wisdom are ultimately meaningless, and that what we can see is better than what we desire.  The chapter concludes with more observations about the difficulty we have in comprehending human existence.

Ecclesiastes 7 opens with several observations about the importance of learning from sorrow and death.  Solomon next endorses wisdom and patience.  Don’t try to figure everything out, enjoy blessing, and learn from adversity.  He next explores both the dangers of wickedness and of (human) righteousness.  He endorses a balanced, wise perspective on life.  However, he acknowledges that even his wisdom is not enough to seek out the deep meaning of life.  He wraps up the chapter with a warning about being entrapped by women.

Ecclesiastes 8 first praises wisdom and its advantages.  Then, it encourages obedience to the king and patience waiting on proper procedure.  After all, we are powerless in the face of many other things as well.  Solomon next considers the fate of the hypocrite.  He points out that it ultimately will be well with the righteous, but not with the wicked, regardless of how things look now.  Nonetheless, he observes that on earth, sometimes people get what they don’t deserve, both for good and evil.  The proper response to this is to enjoy the good things that we are given, while not wearying ourselves trying to figure out the ultimate purposes of God.

Ecclesiastes 9 points out that no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, the same thing happens to all of us:  we die.  There are two appropriate responses to this:  first, enjoy prosperity and your life with your spouse.  Second, do the best you can in the time you have been given, because the day is coming when you won’t be able to do anything.  Looming over all our efforts, though, is chance.  The best at anything still can be betrayed by bad luck.  In the final portion of the chapter, Solomon relates a story about a poor man who saved a city but was forgotten.  Nonetheless, it’s still better to be poor, wise, and forgotten than a ruler who is loud, obnoxious, and possibly even sinful.

Ecclesiastes 10 advocates wisdom and patience.  Those who are impulsive and foolish will be destroyed by it.  Sometimes, though, the undeserving are elevated and the deserving abased.  Trouble comes along with every work we do, but wisdom can alleviate (though not eliminate) the problem.  The fool makes his own life miserable in any number of ways.  Finally, a land benefits from wise rulers and is destroyed by foolish ones.  All the same, don’t curse the king, even in private.  You’ll get found out!

The Case for the Resurrection

Monday, April 22, 2019

 

When it comes to our faith, there is no more important question than whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead.  If He was raised, everything else about our faith stands.  If He was not raised, everything else about it falls.  The resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity.

However, this creates problems when we talk about our faith with unbelievers.  We accept the resurrection because we accept the Bible as inspired; they reject the resurrection because they don’t accept the inspiration of Scripture.  There, the matter tends to rest.

A few years ago, though, I encountered a book that offers a solution to this religious impasse.  It’s called The Case for the Resurrection, by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.  Frankly, I think their method is brilliant.  Rather than considering the Scriptures from faith, they adopt the approach of scholarly skepticism.  They ask, “What are the things that nearly all scholars of the Bible, believers, agnostics, and atheists alike, agree are true?”  Then, using only this evidence accepted by the scholarly consensus, they are still able to establish as a historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead.  What I’d like to do this morning, then, is work through the argument of The Case for the Resurrection.

In building their argument, Habermas and Licona rely on five conclusions they call “minimal facts”.  The first of these is that JESUS DIED ON THE CROSS.  There are doubtless hundreds of passages I could cite here, but let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.  Throughout my sermon this morning, I’m going to lean heavily on the opening context of 1 Corinthians 15, and this is because the text has particular importance to scholars.  Everybody agrees that Paul actually did write 1 Corinthians, which is not true with respect to many of the other epistles ascribed to him.  Second, due to historical evidence about the Roman proconsul Gallio, we’re able to date 1 Corinthians to around 55 AD, less than 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. 

All of 1 Corinthians is very early, very strong evidence for what early Christians believed, but it gets even better than that.  Notice that Paul says he delivered to the Corinthians what he himself had received.  In other words, Paul is repeating something that somebody else had told him, and that most likely happened during his first visit to the Jerusalem church as a disciple, when he talked to all of these various witnesses himself.  We can date that to sometime around five years after the crucifixion.  To scholars, then, this is the single earliest confirmed Christian teaching that we have, and it’s about the resurrection.

The first part of it is that Jesus died and was buried.  Every book of the New Testament supports this claim.  So does every one of the so-called Church Fathers, the Christian writers of the second through fourth centuries.  For that matter, it even appears in the writing of the Roman historian Tacitus, who said that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.  Basically, no serious scholar denies that Jesus was a real person who was crucified by the Romans.

Habermas and Licona’s second minimal fact is that THE EARLY DISCIPLES BELIEVED that Jesus rose from the dead.  Look at 1 Corinthians 15:5-6.  Let me pause here to highlight a key nuance.  We don’t want to use this passage at this point as proof that Jesus rose from the dead.  Instead, we want to use it to prove the much weaker claim that the early disciples believed He did.  Once again, the fact of this subjective belief is something that even atheist scholars will accept.  The earliest Christians taught the resurrection, and hundreds of them believed they personally had seen the risen Lord.

The primary proof of their sincerity is their steadfastness in the face of persecution.  Who would suffer and die for a story they made up?  And yet, suffer and die these early witnesses did.  All writers about early Christians, both inside and outside the church, agree that they were despised and treated like dirt.  If you’re a con man and that’s the reception you get, why wouldn’t you give up the con?

The same holds true for the deaths of several of the apostles.  Acts records the execution of James the brother of John.  Outside of the Bible, there’s strong evidence for the martyrdom of Peter and decent evidence for the martyrdom of Andrew and Thomas. 

To this, some might say, “The 9-11 hijackers died as martyrs, and they were wrong.”  The problem with the argument, though, is that the apostles and the hijackers aren’t logically equivalent.  The hijackers died for their belief in something they hadn’t seen, which proves nothing.  The apostles, on the other hand, died for their belief that they had seen something, which proves at least that they were sincere about it.

Our third minimal fact is that JAMES THE LORD’S BROTHER BELIEVED that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians 15:7.  Even though James is only one man, in some ways, this evidence is even stronger than the last point.  Unlike the disciples, all the way through the ministry of Jesus, James was not a believer. 

As evidence for this consider John 7:3-5.  You may have noticed that I’m not spending a lot of time in the gospels in this sermon.  That’s because many scholars regard the gospels with extreme skepticism—after all, they’re filled with numerous accounts of supernatural events. 

However, there are parts of the gospels that nearly all scholars accept as genuine, and this is one of them.  This conclusion is based on the so-called principle of embarrassment.  The idea is that when somebody records something that makes their side look bad, it’s probably true.  In this case, the fact that Jesus’ own brothers didn’t accept Him makes Him look bad.  There’s no reason for early Christian writers to say this unless it’s true, so everybody agrees that James, along with all of Jesus’ other brothers, was not originally a disciple.

However, this changed in a big way.  Look at Galatians 1:18-19.  By this point, James is not only a believer.  He’s an apostle.  He remains committed to Jesus until death.  Multiple extrabiblical sources, particularly the Jewish historian Josephus, record that he was martyred for his faith.  Something had to happen to turn a man who was skeptical about his brother’s wild claims into a die-hard believer that He was the Son of God, and the only real candidate here is that he thought he had seen Jesus after Jesus rose from the dead.

Fourth, SAUL OF TARSUS BELIEVED that he had seen the risen Lord.  He says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:8-10.  In some ways, Paul’s testimony is the most powerful of all.  After all, he doesn’t begin as a disciple of Jesus.  He isn’t even a sarcastic skeptic like James.  Instead, he is a persecutor of the church, and not just any persecutor.  He is the persecutor, the one who is leading the charge against early Christianity. 

However, his course changes even more dramatically than James’ does.  Rather than being the feared enemy of a small and despised sect, he becomes its single most energetic promoter.  He used to be a prominent, respected leader in the Jewish nation; but he spends the last several decades of his life enduring untold suffering for the sake of the gospel he preaches.  As with James, Paul is not martyred during the narrative of the New Testament, but numerous patristic writings report that he was, and there’s even some archaeological evidence that points in that direction.

Once again, we’re not going to use Paul’s life story as evidence that he actually did see Jesus after He rose from the dead.  However, I think it’s safe to use it to establish that Paul sincerely believed that he had seen Jesus—so sincerely that he rearranged his entire life around his conviction.

The final minimal fact that Habermas and Licona introduce is that THE TOMB WAS EMPTY.  They themselves are quick to point out that this one doesn’t meet with the same universal acceptance from Biblical scholars that the first four do.  Instead, by Habermas’s count, only about 75 percent of scholars agree.  Interestingly, the remaining 25 percent disagree not because there is some piece of contrary evidence, but simply because the 1 Corinthians 15 account doesn’t mention the empty tomb.

However, there’s still plenty of evidence that, indeed, on that Sunday morning, Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found.  Habermas and Licona make several arguments to this effect, but my favorite is based on Matthew 28:11-15.  Matthew is subject to even more skepticism than the other gospels, but once again, this chunk is accepted as historically accurate.  Why would the presumably Christian writer of Matthew make up an alternate explanation for the resurrection only to discredit it?  That makes no sense.  What does make sense is that the early enemies of the gospel were insistent that the disciples stole the body.

Now, we come to the principle of embarrassment applied to the other side.  Why are the chief priests making this argument?  It implies that two things are true.  They must have known that Jesus was buried in a tomb, and they must have known that the tomb was found empty.  If either one of those things is not true, there is no need for them to say that the disciples stole the body out of the tomb. 

These, then, are our five minimal facts.  Notice that not a single one of them is supernatural.  Thousands of years ago, lots of people were crucified.  People sincerely believe all kinds of different things.  Tombs can be both filled and empty.  Not only are all of these things that scholars accept, they’re also things that Bible skeptics today can accept.  They seem very reasonable.

However, once you put them all together, a very different picture emerges.  Every one of these minimal facts is consistent with the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead.  In fact, and I’ll spoil next Sunday’s sermon for you here, the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead is the only conclusion that is consistent with these facts.  If you doubt that, see if you can come up with any alternate explanation that satisfies all of them.  Jesus was raised—that’s the conclusion that even a very skeptical reading of the Bible leads us into.

Jeroboam's Fear

Thursday, April 18, 2019

 

If there is anything I have learned in life, it is this:  When we are guided by our fears, we bring the thing we fear upon ourselves.  Like a girl in a horror movie, the harder we run from something, the more likely we are to find ourselves face-to-face with it.  This happens all the time, with the insecure boyfriend who drives his girlfriend off by being too clingy, with the secretary who lies because she’s afraid of losing her job but gets fired for lying, and with the older man who is worried about not having enough to retire on, puts his nest egg in a rash investment, and loses it all.  Love of money may be the root of all evil, but fear isn’t far behind.

Over and over again, the Bible bears witness to the destructive irony of fear.  One of the foremost examples of this is the first king of divided Israel, Jeroboam.  In 1 Kings 11:37-38, he receives a promise similar to the one that David received.  God would make Jeroboam king, and if he stayed faithful to God, his descendants would become an enduring line of kings after him.

In 1 Kings 12:20, the first part of the promise is fulfilled.  Jeroboam does indeed become king over Israel.  However, rather than being guided by faith, he chooses instead to be guided by fear. 

We see him make this fateful decision in 1 Kings 12:26-30.  Jeroboam starts worrying that if the people go to Jerusalem to worship, eventually they will go back to the Judahite king Rehoboam and kill Jeroboam.  As a result, Jeroboam sets up alternative worship centers in Dan and Bethel and gives the Israelites two golden calves to be their gods.

On one level, this works.  Jeroboam’s idolatry does ensnare the people.  They faithfully worship at Dan and Bethel until God destroys Israel for her unfaithfulness.  Other than a remnant, the Israelites never worship at Jerusalem again.

However, Jeroboam’s apostasy spells disaster for his house.  In 1 Kings 14:8-11, Ahijah the prophet predicts that because of his sin, his family will be destroyed. In 1 Kings 15:29, this dire prophecy is fulfilled.  If Jeroboam had been faithful, his house would have endured for centuries despite his concerns.  However, because he listened to his fears, his line was destroyed.

Today, the devil frequently attempts to use fear to keep us from serving God.  He wants to scare us into disobedience like he scared Jeroboam.  However, we must remember that God is faithful.  He will keep His promises to us, no matter how unlikely that seems.

Instead, true danger lies in the false security of following our fears.  Whatever it is that we think we have to protect by disobeying God will surely be lost to us.  Whatever sorrow we hope to avoid through sin, we will surely encounter.  When we fear, we shrink back to destruction.  Only by boldly entrusting ourselves to God will we be safe.

Defining Bible Baptism

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

 

To say that there is confusion in the religious world about baptism would be an understatement!  Probably all of us have had friends who talked about how a new baby in their family got baptized.  There are churches not far from here that baptize people to admit them into church membership.  There are even those who believe that they still receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit today.

All of this confusion stands in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Bible.  In Ephesians 4:5, Paul tells us that there is one baptism.  Belief in and acceptance of that one baptism is one of the things that is supposed to unite all believers.  Unless the Holy Spirit is just messing with us, Ephesians 4:5 means that only one view on baptism is right and all the others are wrong.

What is that one baptism?  This is a question of eternal significance, and unless we can persuade others to choose the right baptism, there is no hope for them.  For our sixth half-hour study, then, let’s consider the definition of Bible baptism.

First, Bible baptism is IMMERSION IN WATER.  By no means is this universally accepted!  Though many churches teach baptism by immersion, many others insist that pouring or even sprinkling water over the baptizee is sufficient.  What can we say to people who believe this?

Many of you have probably heard before that the word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizō, which means “to immerse”, so that sprinkling and pouring are excluded by definition.  All that is certainly true, but when we’re studying with others, I don’t think that’s the best argument to use.

Here’s why.  In order for somebody to become a disciple, they have to hear the gospel and understand it for themselves.  Their faith has to be in the word, not in us.  However, almost nobody we study with will have any knowledge of Greek.  They don’t have the tools to evaluate the baptizō argument.  Either they take our word for it, or they don’t.  In either case, we’ve taken the focus off the word and put it on us, where it doesn’t belong.

Instead, I think it’s better to take people to Acts 8:38-39.  Here, we can see from the English what baptism is.  Philip and the eunuch go down into the water, and they come up out of the water.  That doesn’t happen when you sprinkle.  That doesn’t happen when you pour.  It only happens when you immerse. 

There are other places in Scripture that imply that baptism is immersion.  In John 3, when John is baptizing at Aenon near Salim, the text tells us that he’s doing it there because water is plentiful there.  You don’t need plentiful water to sprinkle or pour.  You only need plentiful water to immerse.

On the other hand, there is nothing in Scripture that says or even implies that God’s people sprinkled or poured as a method of baptism.  Indeed, neither one of those was developed until hundreds of years after the time of the Bible.  Those who sprinkle or pour are not following the New Testament pattern, so they can’t expect the New Testament blessing either.

Second, Bible baptism is the baptism OF A BELIEVER.  To us, this seems like a duh point.  Who else would you baptize, if not someone who believes in Jesus?  However, this point is disputed by everyone who accepts infant baptism as a valid form of baptism.  Clearly, the infant being baptized doesn’t know Jesus from a hole in the ground, yet they are being baptized anyway, even though generally they would prefer not to be.  I’ve never yet seen a picture of a “baptized” infant where the infant looks happy about getting water dumped on them!

Those who practice infant baptism say that it is necessary in order to cleanse the infant from the sin they inherited from Adam.  There are problems with that claim, and we’ll talk about them several weeks from now.  For now, though, it’s enough to point out that those who are baptized in the New Testament are always believers.  For evidence of this, let’s look at Colossians 2:11-12.

I like to use this verse when studying with people who believe in infant baptism because it is often a verse that they themselves will bring up if they know their Bibles.  Here’s why.  Notice that in v.11, Paul compares baptism to circumcision.  Of course under the law, infant boys were circumcised, so the infant-baptism people will take that and argue that infants should be baptized too.

Well, no.  The problem is that they pay so much attention to v. 11 that they don’t pay attention to the wording of v. 12.  Paul says there that the Colossians were buried with Christ in baptism—there’s another immersion passage if you need one—and then goes on to say that they were raised.  How?  They were raised through faith in the powerful working of God. 

You see it, brethren?  The essential element in the spiritual resurrection of baptism is faith.  If we do not believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us, our baptism is ineffective.  Rather than teaching that non-believers can be baptized, this passage teaches that only believers can be.

Finally, the purpose of Bible baptism is TO WASH AWAY SINS.  Look at Acts 22:16.  This is about as simple as it gets.  Ananias tells Saul to arise, be baptized, and wash away his sins.  Therefore, if you want to wash away your sins, you have to be baptized.  Plain as day, right?

Sadly, no.  There are all kinds of people who take the many passages that plainly state baptism is necessary for salvation, and they distort them around to say the opposite.  My personal favorite go-to site for false doctrine on baptism is gotquestions.org.  Here, among other things, is what it has to say about Acts 22:16:

“Concerning the words, ‘be baptized, and wash away your sins,’ because Paul was already cleansed spiritually at the time Christ appeared to him, these words must refer to the symbolism of baptism. Baptism is a picture of God’s inner work of washing away sin (1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Peter 3:21).”

Many of you have heard me say, “Watch out for people who teach, ‘The text doesn’t say what it says,’” and this a prime example.  Ananias tells Paul that he needs to have his sins washed away.  Gotquestions.org tells us that Paul already has been cleansed.  Who are you going to believe, Ananias or gotquestions.org?

At the same time, though, not everything in this quotation is wrong.  Baptism is symbolic.  When we are baptized, the water does not literally wash the sin off our skin.  As Peter says, baptism is not the removal of dirt from the flesh.  It is the appeal to God for a good conscience. 

Nobody has their sins washed away by accident.  Baptism only saves those who come to the water in search of salvation.  Otherwise, we might as well set a trap on Nashville Highway and forcibly baptize everyone we catch!  People who are saved through baptism have to know they’re not right with God and want to get right with God.  However, everyone who is baptized with that mindset will find what they’re looking for.

What Repentance Takes

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

 

Several weeks ago, when Shawn and I were teaching the evangelism class together, both of us observed that the biggest problem we had encountered in teaching others the gospel wasn’t resistance on baptism.  Instead, it was resistance to repentance.  Both of us have known far too many people who didn’t want to submit their lives to the will of God.

If we’re going to be effective in studying with others, then, we’re going to have to know how to teach them about repentance.  During the sermon last week, we saw that repentance is necessary to salvation.  This week, we’re going to explore what repentance takes.

In order to do this, we must begin with DEFINING REPENTANCE.  To help us with this, let’s consider Acts 26:19-20.  Here, Paul explains his work as a preacher.  In particular, he touches on two things he taught others.  He told them a), to repent, and b), to perform deeds in keeping with repentance. 

This is important because a lot of the time, we want to lump a) and b) together.  We want to say that repentance is not only a change of heart, but a change of life.  Scripturally speaking, that’s not true.  The Greek word for “repentance” is metanoia, which means rethinking or changing one’s mind. 

As a result, somebody who wants to be saved does not have to get their lives in order before they get baptized.  Think about it.  How could we expect somebody else to defeat sin without the Lord’s help when we ourselves rely on that help every day?  And yet, if we demand that somebody reform before we’re willing to baptize them, that’s what we’re demanding.  It doesn’t make a lick of sense.

However, they do need to repent.  They do need to make a sincere commitment to changing their lives.  If I don’t believe that somebody I’m studying with sincerely wants to change, I won’t baptize them.  They haven’t met the requirements.

Of course, not everyone who repents follows through on that commitment.  I’ve baptized all too many people who fell away, sometimes only a few days after I baptized them.  Such people are certainly lost.  However, they are not lost because they failed to repent.  They are lost because they did not perform deeds in keeping with repentance.

If that’s what repentance is, what leads people to repent?  What causes them to make this decision to change?  First, they need KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WILL.  Along these lines, consider Nathan’s confrontation with David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12:7-9.  Notice that Nathan doesn’t begin by talking about all the things that David is doing right.  He doesn’t talk about David’s honesty as a king or his faithfulness in worshiping God.  Instead, he directs David’s attention to the part of God’s will that David is not following.

If we want to lead someone else to repentance, we have to tell them that they’re doing wrong.  This is not fun.  None of us like to teach somebody that they must change their lives if they want to please God, particularly if the change is dramatic.  Some of the most painful conversations I’ve ever had have been when I had to tell a married couple that they didn’t have a right to be together, that in God’s eyes, they were committing adultery.

We’re tempted to shy away from those conversations.  Believe me, I get that.  I’m as direct as they come, yet I still have to gather my courage and pray beforehand. 

However, we must remember that the truth that wounds is also the truth that saves.  Maybe that sinner never will repent.  Maybe they’ll get mad at us for telling them the truth.  If we aren’t willing to speak up, though, guess what we have done?  We have denied them even the opportunity to repent and guaranteed that they will not be saved.  That’s not fair.  We have an obligation to speak truth to others, especially the truth they least want to hear.

Second, repentance requires HONESTY ABOUT SIN.  We see this honesty in David’s response to Nathan’s accusation in 2 Samuel 12:13.  Those must have been hard words for David to say.  None of us like to admit the evil that we have done.  How much harder must it have been for a king who prided himself on serving God to acknowledge that he was an adulterer and a murderer?  David, though, confessed the truth about himself without flinching.

I think Nathan’s response here is telling.  He tells David that because he has been honest about his sin, God has forgiven him.  Now, he will not die.  The same is true for every one of us.  The only way for us to live is if we are honest with others and ourselves about our sin.

The first part of this sermon is hard for us.  The second part is hard for those we are studying with.  It’s hard to read God’s word and say, “This thing that I love, this thing that I do, this thing that I want to continue doing, is evil.  I have to stop if I want to please God.”

The struggle is real.  Back a month ago when Josh Collier came down from Joliet to do our teen weekend, he and I talked about somebody we’ve both studied with.  They believe in God, they say they want to become a Christian, but they have this part of their lives that they refuse to acknowledge is wrong and will not give up. 

Brethren, that’s not good enough.  If someone wants to be saved, they have to unflinchingly apply the Scriptures to themselves.  Someone who will not do so will never repent.

Third, before somebody will make that commitment to change, they need WILLINGNESS TO CHANGE.  For an example of someone who was not willing, look at Matthew 19:20-22.  In this passage, we see that the first two elements of repentance are present.  Jesus was forthright with the rich young ruler.  He told him that he needed to sell his possessions if he wanted to inherit eternal life.  They were an obstacle because the ruler loved them more than he loved God. 

Even the second part is present.  We can tell that the ruler was honest about his sin because he went away sorrowfully.  That showed that he accepted God’s standard and admitted to himself that he didn’t live up to it.  He acknowledged that he wasn’t doing right.

However, he didn’t have the third part.  He wasn’t willing to change.  He saw that his possessions were going to cost him eternal life, but he loved them too much to part with them. 

Sadly, there are all too many today with the same spiritual problem.  They know God’s will, they admit that they are sinning by violating God’s will, but they love the sin more than they love God.  Without that third part, the first two don’t do any good.

Instead, for somebody to repent, they must love God more than they love the sin.  We saw this here last year.  When Shawn was studying with our two sisters Elisha and Angela, he showed them that they had to make some difficult changes to please God.  Both of them, though, were willing to make those changes, and so they were saved.  May God bless them for that, and may He send us many more like them!

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