HOSEA: THE PROPHET OF DIVINE LOVE

Everyone is captivated by a good love story that stirs our emotions and leaves our eyes moist. We are mesmerized when we witness a love that seems to transcend the ordinary boundaries of human experience. Our hearts long to experience such love and we are enchantedly moved inwardly when we witness such love genuinely demonstrated. As one thumbs through the pages of the Old Testament, the fingers seem to magically stop at the book of Hosea where we find such a love story. For woven into the very fabric of its pages is found a wondrous love that runs deeper than the deepest ocean and foreshadows the Divine Love flowing forth from He who called Himself the Water of Life – Jesus Christ.

The book Hosea presents to the reader an eternal love story that is illustrated in the life of the tender-hearted prophet. Hosea takes his place among the greatest lovers of all the ages, and having his heart crushed and broken, his actions that followed gives to the world a picture of the heart of the Divine Lover – God.

Most prophets begin the books that bear their names by retelling the event which led them to respond to God’s call. Hosea, who began his ministry about 785 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II, begins by recounting a strange request by the Lord, “The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea. Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and the children of whoredoms: for the land has committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord. So he went and took Gomer [and married her]” (Hosea 1:2).

Before proceeding with this amazing love story and how it illustrates the love of God, a question needs to be answered: Did Hosea wed Gomer while she was a harlot or was she chaste at the time of the marriage, later becoming involved in pagan idolatry and harlotry? If Hosea married her while she was already a harlot this presents a moral dilemma, as it diminishes God’s high view of marriage, contradicting His command to the Jews not to marry those involved in pagan idolatry and harlotry (Lev. 21:7). Since God would not violate His own character and commands, it is best to see Gomer as chaste at the time of the marriage to Hosea, only later becoming involved in harlotry. “Take unto thee a wife of whoredoms,” is best understood proleptically, meaning looking to the future and calling her what see would eventually become – a harlot. Hosea is writing after the fact; marrying a chaste woman he records what she later became – unfaithful. As well, Gomer wouldn’t have been a true type of Israel if she was unfaithful at the time of the wedding, as Israel was faithful at first then later committed spiritual adultery.

Hosea and Gomer upon their marriage set up housekeeping and all seemed well. Three children were born into their home, two boys and a girl. Then one day Hosea came home from work and his wife was gone, as she had taken on the life of a harlot. His heart was crushed by unrequited love and he begins to weep uncontrollably. In the midst of his gush of tears Hosea hears the voice of another weeping. It is the voice of God who tells the broken-hearted prophet, “Hosea, just as your wife has adopted a lifestyle of idolatry and harlotry, so my people have gone into spiritual adultery.” In that moment Hosea’s tears became a telescope though which he saw more clearly the very heart of the infinite love of the Divine Lover. He learned the Gospel through his tears. He spoke to the people out of this own suffering and brokenness.

Gomer’s harlotry was tragically a symbolic picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord. Even though many in Israel had turned a deaf hear to the prophet’s preaching, even the most tone deaf could see his flowing tears over his heartbreak and sympathize with his deep sorrow. In effect, Hosea’s wounded love became a living sermon before the people. Hosea had covered Gomer with his love; God had covered Israel with His love. And what Gomer did to Hosea by playing the harlot, Israel did to God by engaging in spiritual harlotry. Hosea’s love for Gomer in spite of her whoredoms did not make sense to onlookers; in like manner God’s love for unfaithful Israel defies understanding. Hosea desired a relationship with Gomer based on love; God desires a relationship with you and I anchored in love.

In Hosea chapter three the prophet out of genuine love travels into the sinful environment of pagan idolatry and immorality and reclaims his unfaithful bride. Gomer was enslaved in pagan harlotry, yet Hosea was willing to pay the redemption price to get her back. Hosea recounts, “So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley” (Hosea 3:2) O, what love, what grace. Returning to the one who loved her most (3:3), the restored relationship of Hosea and Gomer supplied the people with an illustration of God’s Love for them. Just as Gomer was still beloved of her husband, though she had been unfaithful; God still loved Israel, though unfaithful.

God had “wedded” Himself to Israel, but they drifted into spiritual harlotry. Israel had been unfaithful to God’s goodness and defied His holiness , but God in a love beyond our comprehension sought to actively reclaim them. The Lord sought to reclaim them not by tolerating their sin (Hosea 3:4), but restoration would be accomplished through the loving action of redemption by judgement upon their sin, which afterwards the children of Israel would return and seek the Lord their God (3:5). Through the Assyrians, judgement fell upon the Northern Kingdom (722 BC). Judgement was not for the purpose of destroying them, but bringing about repentance from sin unto restoration and reconciliation of relationship with Him. It is hard for the human mind to fathom that in judgment God has a redemptive purpose. True love does not allow continuance in sin, but seeks to redeem out of sin and its destructive nature for the purpose of restoration in relationship.

God is pained by sin and takes action against it. The action of God’s holy-love is two-fold: (1) to justly judge sin in its rebellious opposition to divine holiness, revealing sin’s destructive nature as an enemy of God’s holy nature; sin having created a barrier between God and man; and (2) in the condemnation of sin He reveals the love in His holiness which actively seeks to redemptively reconcile the ruptured relationship with Him caused by sin. God’s love is anchored in His holiness which justly judges and condemns sin in order to redeem; in order to bring about repentance; in order to restore; in order to reconcile; in order to renew the broken relationship with Him. The holiness in such love seeks to crush the sin not tolerate it, for only then can true fellowship be enjoyed with One whose character is holy-love.

The love we see demonstrated in Hosea, was not only an illustrative example of the love God had for unfaithful Israel, but it was a foreshadowing of the great love that God would reveal in Jesus Christ. God in Christ traveled to the environment of sinful man to pay the redemption price. At the cross we see not only the forgiving love of God, we see the holiness of such love. Christ came to crush sin not tolerate it. Christ came to atone for sin not overlook it. P.T. Forsyth has written, “By atonement, therefore, is meant that action of Christ’s death which has a prime regard to God’s holiness, has it for its first charge, and find man’s reconciliation impossible except as His holiness is divinely satisfied once for all on the cross. Such an atonement is the key to man’s redemption and reconciling.” Holiness requires sin to be dealt with not tolerated or simply swept under the rug. On the cross Christ, taking upon Himself holiness’ justifying judgement upon sin and confessing the holiness found in such love, extends the forgiving holy-love of God to sinners like you and I (Romans 5:8).

As sin was judged on Calvary’s Hill for man violating and willfully opposing the holiness of God, the holiness found in such love makes possible our redemption. Christ, as our Substitute, paid the price of redemption, and not with silver and gold but with His precious blood (I Peter 1:18-19). God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Ah, such love, such grace…it escapes our comprehension. And it is such holy-love that beckons us and calls us to His side. While the love of Hosea demonstrated amazing love for Gomer, the holy-love of God in Jesus Christ far exceeds that displayed by Hosea. In Christ we find Divine Love condemning sin, in order that He might be our Redeemer, our Reconciler, our Restorer, the One in whom we can have an abiding relationship.

As Hosea sought out Gomer, today the Lord Jesus Christ seeks after you. The redemption price has already been paid by His atoning work on the cross. May such holy-love woo us to His side.

O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

A COUNTRY PREACHER GOES TO TOWN

Tucked within the pages of the OT is a little-known book that bears the name Amos. Amos is one of those forgotten prophets of the Bible. He is called a minor prophet as the result of the length of its pages as compared to books like Isaiah or Jeremiah, but Amos is a Major Leaguer in what he had to say. He hit a homerun every time he opened his mouth! In fact, Amos is considered to be the first of the classical prophets. If this be the case, Amos is the oldest collection of sermonic literature that we possess.

Amos made his home in a place called Tekoa, about five miles south of Bethlehem. He was a keeper of sheep and a tender of Sycamore fruit. His background was that of agriculture, which when meeting him was evidenced by his speech, his smell and the clothes he wore. While his rough speech and tattered attire led those to whom he encountered to jump to the conclusion that he was an uneducated “country preacher,” yet found in the book of Amos is some of the best Hebrew in the OT.

Amos’ ministry spanned from a period of about 780-752 BC. Having a life-altering encounter with the Lord (7:15), he was commissioned to carry a much-needed message to those who lived in the Northern Kingdom, Israel. His name means “burden” or “burden-bearer.” And a passionate burdened he had for his kinsman. Amos lived in a day of religious and social decay, moral and religious degeneration, the rich were oppressing the poor, injustice prevailed in the courts, there was violence in the streets, robbery was a daily occurrence, dishonesty in leadership was commonplace, adultery was accepted as normal, true religion was mixed with pagan practices, abnormal behavior was accepted as normal, and while all the right religious rituals were being conducted outwardly there was no inner faith. Evil had become deeply entrenched, blinding the people to their own plight. While outwardly there was prosperity, Amos saw beneath the material prosperity to the poverty of morality, ethical integrity and spirituality that  pervaded society and the lives of the people.

Amos had a fire in his bones to speak out against all the moral, ethical and spiritual declension he saw flowing like an out-of-control river. The preaching of the country preacher was not received very well. He was called a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker, one who stirred the pot when all appeared well on the surface. Amos chapter 7 is a picture of how his message was received. He was at Bethel preaching against the sins of the nation and that judgment was coming unless there was repentance and a return to the Lord God of heaven. Amaziah, who was the polished, politically correct paid priest, didn’t like what he heard from the lips of Amos. Amaziah was a people pleaser, who preached the message that the people wanted to hear: sin is a word of the past and it matters not how you live, God will not judge sin so let go and “just do it,” mixing Judaism with paganism is permissible for we have to be tolerant, repentance is unnecessary and negative talk of judgment only hinders one from reaching their full potential. Amaziah was guided by political-correctness not by principle.

The message of Amos was just the opposite. Amos could not be bought. He preached that God is holy, righteous, and of moral character who calls on this creation and creatures to conform to His holy, ethical and moral order. Amos preached man is sinful, which is the root to all greed, dishonesty, abuse of others, adultery, violence, robbery and all the other destructive behavior seen in society. Amos preached that the only hope for humanity is to repent before a holy God, and if not, judgement will be the natural outflow and reaction of holiness against sin. Amos preached engaging in empty religious ritual is worthless if there is no genuine inner faith that leads to a relationship with the Living God. Amos was not concerned about political correctness, but divine principle.

Amaziah personally confronted Amos and told the “country, hay-seed preacher” to shut his mouth and go back to his sheep and fig-picking. When Amos courageously refused to curtail his message, Amaziah mailed a letter to the King Jeroboam II and told him Amos was conspiring against him by speaking negative words of judgement because of the sins of the nation and the people. Amaziah sought to use political leverage to hush-up Amos. With divine unction, Amos continued to proclaim the message given him by the Lord until, as tradition records, he was either beaten to death or pinned to a wall by a spear.

The conditions in which Amos lived truly resemble the conditions in which we live today. Sin and self-indulgent living flow in the streets like a river overflowing its banks. Like in the days of Amos, we have forgotten God and even dare Him to judge us…if after all there is even a God. We want “preachers” to preach messages that make us comfortable in our sins and that is tolerant of our unrighteous behavior no matter how abnormal it is. Political correctness trumps biblical correctness, and those who dare disagree are vilified. Evil has become deeply entrenched, blinding people to their own plight. We want “preachers” to tell us no matter what “religion” you embrace, they all will lead to the same god who doesn’t demand repentance or an inner faith that is anchored in a relationship with the Living God. And if an “Amos” proclaims a message other than what “Amaziah” proclaims they are called rabble-rousers, and efforts are made to silence them.

Amos needs to become the prophet of our age. Though efforts are continually enacted to silence the message that God is holy, man is a sinner, sin is destructive, and judgement is sure if repentance is not forth coming, we need preachers to don the mantle of Amos to unapologetically and lovingly proclaim the truth. How fierce the fires of judgment as Amos so clearly painted with his poetic words. Yet here is the Good News, our sin and the judgment of our God met on Calvary’s Hill, offering forgiveness and reconciliation to all who will embrace His atoning work. And in His resurrection, He was triumphant over sin, death and the devil, and to all who encounter Him in faith become partakers of His victorious life. The sufficiency of the Christ Event, from which flows so great a salvation, is driven home to our hearts and minds as we hear and heed the words of Amos, overwhelming in their divine intensity and long overdue in their necessity to be faithfully proclaimed.

It is past time that more “country preachers” go to town!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

EZEKIEL: TRUTHS FROM A FORGOTTEN PROPHET

Ezekiel is one of the most interesting prophets in the Old Testament. If he were alive today, he would be labeled as a “strange bird,” out of step with society, and one who would be known to adopt bizarre behavior to lend imagery to the message he was called to preach. Ezekiel is a book which, because of its difficult passages and mysterious imagery, is often neglected and ignored, but there are many wonderful truths that lay buried within the pages of this extraordinary book.

Ezekiel was born about 623/22 BC, and writes during the time of Judah’s exile (1:2) to a people who were in exile. In 597 BC many Jews, including Ezekiel, were taken into Babylonian captivity. While many of the exiles did not believe the city of Jerusalem would ever fall, Ezekiel at age 30 was commissioned by the Lord (593 BC), that because of rampant sin and forgetting God Jerusalem would be destroyed in judgment for their willful sin. The words he spoke came to pass (586 BC), whereby then his message turned to God’s desire to bring about renewal and reconstruction among His people.

Ezekiel’s call to the prophetic office is one of the most vividly descriptive found in the Bible, as he tries to describe what his eyes in astonishment saw. What his eyes were privileged to witness could not be described with earthly words, but one truth is certain; he had a life-altering encounter with God. He recounts in chapters 1-3 his heavenly vision in most descriptive terms that leave us in worshipful awe. A brief summary follows.

The Whirlwind out of the North: One day while Ezekiel was by the River Chebar (1:3), the vision he experienced began by a whirlwind coming out of the North (1:4). The North signified the land of Israel’s invaders, Babylon. While the majority of those in exile argued Jerusalem would escape judgement, God will give to Ezekiel a message to deliver to the people that Jerusalem will be destroyed (Ezekiel 4).

The Four Living Creatures: After the whirlwind, the first thing that Ezekiel describes of his vision is four living creatures. He later reveals these creatures are cherubim (10:20); but in appearance they are a mixture of angel, animal, and human. They have four faces, that of a man, ox, lion, and eagle; representing intelligence, service, power, and swiftness, respectively.

The Great Wheels: Next to each living creature there were four giant wheels made of two wheels intersecting one another. The wheels are covered with eyes! The wheels moved in every direction and in unison all at the same time.

The Expanse: An expanse sits above the heads of the four living creatures, and above the expanse is a throne, and above the throne is a figure of a man (Divine-Human) gleaming like fire, surrounded by a rainbow-like radiance.

While we can never plumb the depths of Ezekiel’s heavenly vision, there are some wonderous truths that we can glean from what he is seeking to convey. Without getting lost in the details of his vision, there are seven truths that are most evident which are applicable to the day in which we live. We are living in rebellious and reckless times when people for the most part have forgotten God and in turn God’s people think He has forgotten them. Ezekiel’s vision, though, reminds God will eventually judge sin and, as well, is not indifferent to His promise to restore, renew and reconstruct when one repents.

In the imagery of Ezekiel’s vision, we learn:

First, God’s Audience. God’s audience was to those in exile, and Ezekiel would be God’s spokesperson to the people. The vision began by a whirlwind coming out of the north (1:4). The north signified the land of Israel’s invaders (Babylonian); judgement coming like a whirlwind from the north. Many of those in exile thought Jerusalem was invincible, but God gives to Ezekiel a message to deliver that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of her sin (Ezekiel 4). God could rightly judge without warning, but He sends forth His messengers to warn and demand repentance so they that man can never say he wasn’t first warned. While such warnings today may fall on deaf ears, the warnings and the invitation to repent must continue to be sounded to audiences before us.

Second, God is Awesome. God is above our comprehension. He is transcendent above our deepest thoughts and highest intelligence. Ezekiel tried to describe in human language He who cannot be described in words or grasped by our finite minds. How prideful of man to think that he in his limited intelligence can figure out or put in a box all that God is. And how arrogant is man to demand that the Infinite Mind of the universe explain to the finite mind of man that which he could not fully grasp or comprehend anyway.

God’s Awesomeness not only includes His transcendence, but His holiness. The fire about the One on the throne symbolizes eternal purity, and our inability to approach him in our impurity and sinfulness. That God is holy means that He is above sin, that He is righteous, that He is morally pure. Holiness is His self-affirming purity, which He will not allow to be soiled by man’s “unholiness.” All one can do when one realizes they are in the presence of such holiness is to bow and cry out, “I am woefully sinful and dwell in the midst of an unclean people.”

Third, God is Almighty. Ezekiel saw One sitting on a throne, whose throne was high above the breadth of the vast expanse. The One who sat upon the throne was called “Almighty” (1:24) suggesting the sovereignty of God’s rule. In spite of how hopeless or helpless things looked on earth, the Almighty, Sovereign Lord of the universe is still in control. He is not taken by surprise the chaos and confusion on earth; He is not shocked at man’s rebellion and sinful actions. Some thought that God had abandoned Israel (9:9), but the vision is to remind Ezekiel’s hearers that God is still in control even though the people are in exile.

Fourth, God is Active. Ezekiel describes four giant wheels made of two wheels intersecting one another. The wheels move in every direction and in unison all at the same time. This speaks of the truth that the One on the throne is not inactive but is active. The complexity of the wheels moving in every direction and in unison all at the same time speaks of the complexity of God’s activity in Providence, which to us is sometimes incomprehensible. In spite of the evil we see, in spite of things that occur which defy our logic and can’t be explained, God is active in the enforcing the laws of His divine Providence with precision. While we can not always trace the Hand of God, we can always trust the heart of God. Yes, God is active in the world in which we live.

Fifth, God is Aware. Ezekiel records that the wheels had eyes!! This speaks of the fact that God sees all. He is omniscient, knowing all things. Nothing escapes His watchful eye. Nothing slips by Him. No matter what takes place, it does not and will not slip by the all-seeing eye of the One who sits on the throne. Yes, the many eyes on the wheels represent the totality of God’s perceiving all things. Those in exile thought that God did not see what was happening (9:9), but the eyes in Ezekiel’s vision show that nothing can escape God’s vision.

Sixth, God’s Assurance. God commissions Ezekiel to carry a message to the exiled that He cares. Their sin had besmirched the holiness of God, yet the One on throne, through Ezekiel, assures them if they repent, He will forgive and restore. The rainbow is a symbol of assurance that God will keep his promises. God’s holy-love is active in calling men away from the destructiveness of their sin into the light of renewal and reconstruction. The Lord assures us that He cares by sending men like Ezekiel who warn that judgement is coming if there is no repentance from sin, but to those who repent, He promises forgiveness and a renewed and restored relationship with the living Lord is experienced.

Seventh, God instills Awe. In the presence of such a sight, all Ezekiel could do was fall on his face in surrender and listen to the voice of the One on the throne (2:1). Ezekiel’s vision serves notice that whoever would enter into the Lord’s service must have a clear vision of the One into whose service they are called and bow before Him in surrender. No one can share a message they first have not experienced or internalized themselves.

Oh, the wonderful truths found within Ezekiel’s amazing descriptive vision of that which is truly indescribable with human words, but nevertheless a reality. The truths which we find in Ezekiel are truly applicable in our day and time. God is on the throne, is active among us, and His divine Providence is and will bring about that which He has purposed for all creation and our individual lives. While warnings are continually issued that judgement is just reaction of God’s holiness to sin, few listen and the vast majority continue to ignore God’s gracious warnings and invitation to repent through His messengers.

This writer encourages one to prayerfully, reflectively and slowly read and reread the first three chapters of Ezekiel, and as one does ask the Lord to give each reader a fresh vision of the amazing God we serve and in renewal experience a transformed relationship with the God who longs to commune with each of us….and in spite of what circumstances may otherwise say, He is active in our world and in our lives.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

ON WHAT DAY WAS CHRIST CRUCIFIED?

Every year when Easter rolls around, there resurfaces debates on what day of the week Jesus was crucified. One can read lengthy and complex articles that champion the argument that He was crucified on Wednesday of Holy Week: then one can read other articles that vehemently contend that Jesus was crucified on Thursday; and finally one can read arguments that uphold the traditional view that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. While volumes have been written on this issue, I will be concise as possible in expressing my understanding on which day Jesus was crucified. Let me say at the outset, while the day of His crucifixion may invite lively debate, the most important truth is that He WAS crucified for our sins and that He DID arise from the dead…and that is be to our focus.

Now to adequately address the question as to when Jesus was crucified, let us look at Scripture. Mark 15:42 is clear that Jesus was crucified “the day before the Sabbath” (Mk 15:42), which would be a Friday. John records that the day Jesus was crucified “was the preparation of the Passover” (Jh 19:14). The Greek word translated “preparation” is paraskeue. Gleason Archer writes, “The word paraskeus had already by the first century A.D. become a technical term for ‘Friday’ and since every Friday was the day of preparation for Saturday, that is the Sabbath. In Modern Greek the word for ‘Friday’ is paraskeue.….Therefore, that which might be translated literally as “the preparation of the Passover” must in this context be rendered ‘Friday of Passover Week’” (Archer, Bible Difficulties, (MI: Zondervan, 1982), 375-76). The noted Greek scholar A.T. Robertson writes of the phrase the preparation of the Passover, “That is, Friday of Passover week, the preparation day before the Sabbath of Passover week (or feast) (Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, “John”). Baptist scholar Herschel Hobbs in his commentary on John, asserts that the crucifixion “took place on the ‘the preparation,’ which was a technical term for Friday. Every Friday was called the preparation, (namely, for the Sabbath) (Hobbs, John, (MI: Zondervan, 1965), 89). The phrase “the day of preparation” normally was used to describe the day before the Sabbath, the day before being Friday (C. C. Torrey, “The Date of the Crucifixion According to the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 50:4 (1931), 241). It is clear the day in view in John 19:14, 31 is Friday, which corresponds to Mark’s account.

From the first-century Jewish historian Josephus we discover that the seven day festival was often designated ‘the Passover,’ and there can be no doubt as to the rendering ‘Friday.’ Josephus affirms that “the Passover” would refer to the whole eight-day feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread as well as the Passover day (Josephus, Antiquities, 14:2:1; 17:9:3). The day of preparation for the Passover, therefore, clearly refers to the Friday of the eight-day feast. This harmonizes with the other chronological references to the Passion Week in the Synoptic Gospels. While there are many commentators that build elaborate and complex arguments as to a what is considered a discrepancy between the Synoptic Gospels and John in regard to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and that there were two Sabbaths that week; however, the predominance of the Scriptural evidence and an understanding that paraskeue is a technical term for Friday aligns all four Gospels with the crucifixion occurring on Friday.

Now the contention of those who object to a Friday crucifixion is that Jesus could not have been crucified on Friday as it would not have fulfilled the prediction of Jesus that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth then rise from the dead on the third day (Matthew 12:40). Let it be noted that when one addresses the question as to what day Jesus was crucified one must not approach the Scriptures with Western thinking regarding time.   Our Western mind logically views the phrase “three days and three nights” to be literal, whereas in the Jewish mind of the first century any part of a day was considered a full day (1 Sam. 30:12-13; 2 Chron. 10:5, 12; Esther 4:1; 5:1). The key to resolving the issue “three days and three nights” lies in an understanding of Jewish idioms. (A Jewish idiom is an expression that its actual meaning is different from the meaning of the literal words that make up the expression or phrase (i.e., to “kick the bucket” means to die – “kick the bucket” is an English idiom or expression that its actual meaning is different from the meaning of the literal words that make up the expression)). The Jewish idiom “three days and three nights” can refer to a combination of any part of three separate days, and as in the case of Jesus remaining in the tomb for a portion of three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – it would be proper to state as the Gospel writers and Paul did that He arose on the third day (Mark 8:31; I Cor. 15:4), which was the first day of the week (Sunday) (Mark 16:9). Since Jesus was in the grave for part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday—He could be considered to have been in the grave for three days. Furthermore, Mark 8:31 states that Jesus will be raised “after” three days. When the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:40 are seen from a Jewish perspective as a Jewish Idiom then He would not need to be in the grave a full three days and nights, but only three days – again in the Jewish mind of the first century any part of a day was considered a full day. It is understood this explanation does not satisfy everyone, yet it is less problematic than some of the complex and contorted explanations that have been put forth for a day other than Friday.

So, there is no contradiction between John and the Synoptics as the day on which Christ died – it was Friday, nor is there contradiction as to whether Jesus was raised on the third day – He was – as any part of a day was considered a full day! While this writer is confident with embracing the Scriptural and traditional view that Christ was crucified on a Friday, I would not fallout with anyone over the debate. The most important truth we need to focus upon is that Jesus DID die on the cross for our sins and that on the first day of the week (Sunday) our Lord  DID arise from the dead and ever lives! O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

WORSHIPPING THE SON OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHO HAS RISEN WITH HEALING IN HIS WINGS

As Resurrection Sunday approaches when multitudes of Christians around the world will gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, I have noticed several articles and statements on social media posted by well-meaning Christians that by gathering with fellow Christians for a Sonrise Service, one is engaging in ancient paganism. While I don’t usually respond to such articles, and even though I do believe such persons are well-intentioned, I feel compelled to address the issue for those who have legitimate questions as whether it is wrong to gather with fellow Christians for a Son Rise Service to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection. Malachi spoke of those who revered the Lord and experienced the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2). Are we not to worshipfully celebrate the Son’s Arising?

One needs to remember that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was celebrated in the spring-time for centuries in Christendom long before the word “Easter” was ever adopted in the English language as a label attached to the resurrection celebration. It should be pointed out we have many words in the English language that were connected with ancient pagan gods and practices, but we don’t accuse someone of engaging in paganism when they are involved in activities associated with those particular words. For instance, if someone wants to get technical, we should not eat cereal, nor make clothes of cloth, or ever call a religious song a hymn. You see, those three words are connected with pagan deities. For example, the word “cereal” comes from the name of the ancient goddess of agriculture, Ceres. The word “cloth” comes from Clotho, the spinster goddess who was said to spin the thread of life. The word “hymn” is thought to come from the god of marriage, Hymen, and in ancient times meant any song offered in praise or honor of a god or gods. But when we use “hymn” in our church services we mean a song sung in praise to the Christ of the Cross. When we use the word “cereal” or eat corn flakes or cheerios, we are not worshipping an ancient goddess. Cloth is cloth to us, we don’t connect it with a pagan deity. We don’t see anyone wearing clothes made of burlap sacks because they don’t want to be associated with cloth since the word is derived from the pagan deity.  As well, all the names of the days of the week were named after ancient deities, but no one worships those pagan deities when they use the days of the week when speaking nor does anyone think of worshipping the god the day was named after when a new day arrives.

Without going into a lot of detail, the present Christian celebration of “Easter” has more affinity and connection with the Jewish Passover than with ancient pagan associations. Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of what the Passover sacrifice typifies and symbolizes, as He is the final Sacrifice for our sins. Over the years, I have attended a lot of Sunrise Services and not one of them ever had even a hint of paganism attached to them, but centered totally and completely on Jesus Christ. I will gather this Sunday morning, as I have in years past, with fellow believers to worship the Christ of the Cross, who conquered the cold, dark grave by rising from the dead. There will not be a speck of paganism in our gathering, but the worship of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We will not gather to worship the sun, but to worship the Son of Righteousness who arose from the dead with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2). We will gather to lift our voices in praise to the One who took the challenge to wrestle with the enemies of humanity: sin, death and the devil…..and He defeated them all.

Now, if anyone gathers at a Sunrise Service to worship the sun and creation, then they gather for the wrong reason and, yes, they are embracing pantheism and an ancient pagan deity. However, if one gathers at a Sonrise Service, along with millions of other Christians, to worship the victorious, resurrected Christ, the Creator Himself, then one gathers for the right reason. I would much rather see Christians gather to worship Jesus and gain a better understanding of the meaning and practicality of his resurrection for our lives.

After all, should not Jesus’ resurrection be a cause of rejoicing and celebration for the Christian? And the truth be known, when I awake in the morning and watch the sunrise, I will celebrate the resurrection of Christ. As matter of fact, I celebrate His resurrection everyday…. for I serve a risen Savior who has Risen with healing in His wings.

He is Risen…celebrate the wonderful truth daily that the Son of Righteousness is forever alive!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

THE REALITY OF SIN AND THE REMEDY OF A SAVIOR

Isn’t it odd that the more an individual or a society drowns in a cesspool of moral depravity, the more is dismissed the truth that man is a sinner who sins because he has a nature that has a propensity to defy His Creator? The more evil flourishes the more an individual or a society becomes blind to its own condition. Like a cancer, sin eats away at the spiritual and moral fiber of one’s soul which results in silencing the conscience and seductively blinding one’s eyes. Sadly, we are living in a day when such a concept regarding sin is making inroads in Christendom. As of late I have read several articles by Christian “leaders” who believe it is past time to do away with  such terminology as “original sin” and that humans are “sinners.” They contend such terminology should be regarded as offensive and untenable language in the twenty-first century. Instead of using such negative terminology, such “leaders” insist Christendom must focus on the “innate goodness” in man and realize that evil is only the absence of good. However, the fact of sin is evidenced by its manifestation being daily “played out” in society and every honest person recognizes it when they look within their own heart. While we may not all sin in like manner or to the same degree, nevertheless, observation and personal experience teach us we all sin.

Before proceeding, the term “sin” needs to be defined. The most common word translated “sin” in the NT (172 times) is the word Hamartia which means to miss the mark and pictures one whose arrow misses the intended target. It speaks of one who misses God’s intended purpose for their life, who willfully falls short of obedience to God’s divine law; one who is unable to comply with God’s holy demands by their own works. Our source for our developing a theology on sin is the Bible, God’s revelation to man. An initial question to be asked is, “Does man become a sinner by sinning, or does man sin because he is a sinner?” If the answer to this question is that man becomes a sinner by sinning, then ideally one given the proper environment and appropriate social interactions one could possibly avoid ever doing wrong! However, if man sins because he is a sinner, then a second question is raised, “How did we acquire our propensity to sin?”

The best way to answer these two questions is let the Scriptures speak. While many verses could be cited, some focus passages are noted:

• I Kings 8:46, “For there is no man that sins not.”
• Psalm 51:5, ” Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
• Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
• Romans 5:12, ” Wherefore, as by one-man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
• Romans 5:18, “Therefore as by the offence of one (Adam) judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one (Christ) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
• Romans 7:18-20 “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
• Ephesians 2:1-4, “And you has given life, who were dead in trespasses and sins….and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
• 1 Cor. 15:22, ” For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

From these verses several truths become apparent that can hardly be denied.

1. All persons actively sin, all persons are universally sinful (I Kings 8:46, Romans 3:23).
2. Sin is both natural and personal (Romans 7:18-20). We sin because we are sinners by nature and choice.
3. Every person is born with a sin nature, and enters the world burdened with a nature of sin (Ps. 51:5).
4. Adam’s disobedience to God affected all mankind, man’s sinfulness is due to his connectedness with Adam from whom he has inherited his sinful nature (Romans 5:12-18).
5. Adam, as “father” of the human race, caused every person after him to be born with a nature that has the propensity to sin. One’s sinful nature is transmitted through procreation. (Romans 5:12).
6. Because man is a sinner by nature and choice, he is under just condemnation and stands guilty before a holy God (Romans 5:18; Eph. 2:1-4).
7. All humanity stands in need of grace, as man is unable in his own power to reestablish a relationship with God. (I Cor. 15:12)
8. While our connectedness with the offence of “one man” (Adam) results in judgment coming upon all men in condemnation, by the righteous life of Christ (the Second Adam), all who embrace Him as Savor receive free pardon from sin and the free gift of eternal life (Romans 5:18, I Cor. 15:12, 45).

The Bible is crystal clear that sin is “a dominant force, and the fact that all men are connected in the solidarity of sin” (H. Berkhof, Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 203). Adam’s sin did more than influence mankind in the sense of simply setting a bad example and that at birth we have an “unsinful” nature and become sinners only as the result of wrong choices. No, according to Scripture we sin because we inherit natural, innate corruption from Adam. While there are theologians and leaders today, who throughout Christendom, in an effort to appease the culture, encourage dropping terms like inherited or transmitted sin, or the term credited to Augustine used by most theologians, “Original Sin.” Dislike of the aforementioned terms is the result of an ever-increasing man-centered Christianity, where the focus is on man’s goodness and his ability to pull himself up to God by his own “boot straps.”  While “the truth of the doctrine [of inherited sin] may be challenged by those who repudiate the authority of Scripture; that it is a doctrine of Scripture can hardly be denied… That the first man’s lapse [Adam] from a state of innocence entailed disastrous consequences upon himself and his descendants” (Thomas Whitelaw, ‘The Biblical Conception of Sin’ in The Fundamentals, 11, 7-22). Even the rationalistic moral philosopher Immanuel Kant contended that human beings possess an innate propensity to evil and has a natural inclination towards moral corruption, his conclusion derived from personal and empirical observations of man and his behavior. (Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 1793, 6:18). And what Kant rightly discerned through personal and empirical observation, is clearly set forth by the Inspired Word of God.

Though man is a sinner by nature and choice, the Good News is that Christ is the remedy for the sin of humanity. Our Creator God, knowing man could never in his power deal with the universal problem of sin and man’s just condemnation before a holy God, clothed Himself in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and becoming man’s Representative did for humanity what they could never do for themselves. John declared, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin” (I John 3:5). Paul joyously wrote, “For [God] hath made [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

In Christ, the Representative of humanity, the holy-love of God provided a Savior who on our behalf complied with the holy demands of a righteous God and as well bore the judgement we justly deserved for not complying with His righteous and holy demands. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). In Christ the sin debt that you and I owe, which we could never pay, was paid in full in Jesus Christ. He did for humanity what they could never do themselves. While the first Adam failed miserably, and his posterity inherited his rebellious, sinful nature, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, who was tempted in all points as we yet without sin (Heb. 4:14), has provided for us all that we need to be able to stand uncondemned before a holy God. Paul proclaimed, “There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Christ’s resurrection is the proof that the sacrificial sin offering Christ offered to God on our behalf was more than sufficient to pay the sin debt and was accepted by the Father as “paid in full.”

Let us rejoice that though by the sinful actions of one (Adam) judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness life of One (Christ) the free gift came upon all men unto eternal life (Romans 5:18). O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

 

CHRISTIANS AND THE CELEBRATION OF EASTER

Easter is a celebratory time in the life of Christians world-wide, as it is a time when special emphasis is placed on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. However, every year when Easter rolls around there are some Christians who become very vocal that no Christian should celebrate Easter, contending it has roots in paganism. Over the years I have read all the arguments, pro and con, as to Easter’s origin and whether Christians should or should not be engaged in any activities associated with the annual holiday. The arguments sometimes become more emotional than rational, more historical than practical, more hurtful than helpful.

From the very beginning of the church, Sunday, the day on which Christ arose from the dead, was a day Christians honored and a time for gathering for worship. By the middle of the second century it is known Christian communities engaged in annual festive celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Historian and Christian scholar Philip Schaff confirms from the writings of early Church Fathers, the beginning of festivals celebrating the resurrection of Christ by the middle of the second century, and in some Christian circles much earlier (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874), 246). Schaff notes that the early Christians commemorated the entire period between the death and resurrection of Christ with vigils, fasting, special devotions, meetings, culminating in a feast celebrating His victorious resurrection (246-247).

It is needful to understand our determining the time we today celebrate Christ’s Resurrection can be traced back to the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. As Constantine came to power many Jewish Christians celebrated the resurrection immediately following the Passover festival according to their lunar calendar, which fell on the evening of the full moon, the 14th day in the month of Nisan (March/April), and as such from year to year fell on different days of the week. Gentile Christians desired to commemorate the resurrection on the first Sunday following Passover; and as such celebrating Christ’s resurrection occurred on the same day of the week (Sunday), but from year to year it fell on different dates. Both ways for determination in celebrating Christ’s resurrection could be traced back to apostolic traditions.

In 325 A.D., at the Council of Nicaea, a gathering of Christian leaders came together to grapple with various issues confronting the early church, and sought to arrive at a consensus as to a standardized time when Christ’s Resurrection should be celebrated. The Council of Nicaea arrived at a formula for calculating a date to separate the Christian celebration of Christ’s Resurrection from the Jewish celebration of Passover. While it was recognized that Christ’s resurrection and Passover were related historically, the Council of Nicaea contended that because Christ was symbolically the sacrificial Passover lamb, the holiday of Passover no longer had theological significance for Christians. They sought to resolve the issue by setting a date that would be the following Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. That means that Easter as we know it today is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21, which can be as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. The Council also decided that if the full moon should occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, the Resurrection should be commemorated on the Sunday following. Coincidence of resurrection commemoration and the Passover was thus avoided.

While it is true pagan festivities were held during the vernal equinox in honor of the pre-Christian goddess Eostre of spring and renewal, the only reference to this festive time linked with the celebrating of the resurrection of Jesus comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede (673-735), a British Benedictine monk, who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century. Religious studies scholar Bruce Davis Forbes points out, “Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.” (Bruce David Forbes, America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories, (Oakland, CA: University of California Press; 2015), 79-114).

Forbes asserts that for later Christians the name stuck, thus Easter remains the name by which the English, Germans and Americans refer to the time of Jesus’ resurrection. However, the annual spring celebration of the resurrection of Jesus was not called Easter until centuries after Christians began celebrating His resurrection. The celebration of Christ’s Resurrection is interwoven into the very fabric of Christianity and predates any sort of early medieval Anglo-Saxon considerations. Easter is clearly historically linked with the Jewish Passover, apostolic tradition, and its time celebrated determined historically by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Hence, one is not  historically accurate to assert celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus is a pagan holiday. Historical evidence even indicates that the name Easter has more in common with the old Germanic Indo-European root austron for “dawn,” corresponding to the celebration of the Easter Mass at dawn. But even if the name Easter was derived from a pre-Christian spring festival, this would only mean the name Easter was borrowed, not the character of the feast itself.

Anthony McRoy says it well, “And even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms” (Anthony McRoy “Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?” Christianity Today, April 2, 2009).

Now let it be said, if one is fully persuaded that in good conscience one cannot observe Easter, then do not observe it. If one is convinced that it is linked to paganism in some way that one cannot honor God, then one needs to abide by that conviction. This writer will respect your position and support your right to exclude it as a Christian celebration. However, at the same time, if one is fully persuaded that one can honor, glorify and worship God through engaging in Easter activities that are for the purpose of exalting and uplifting the Resurrected Savior, then joyfully honor and worship Him in celebration and in Christian liberty. And it behooves those who are convinced they shouldn’t participate in the Easter celebration, not to cast aversion upon those who seize the time to honor, worship, and glorify the Risen Lord and use the time as a way to evangelize the lost.

Let us as Christians, redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). The Greek word “redeem” Paul uses is “karios,” meaning a time of opportunity. And Easter is a wonderful time to take advantage of an opportunity to point others to the truth about Christ that, “He is Risen.” It is an opportune time to proclaim that we serve a Savior who overcame sin, death and the grave. It is a time for those who but once a year darken the door of a church to hear the glorious news that Christ holds the keys to life and death in His hands, and with outstretched arms He invites all to come unto Him.

Whatever one’s position on Easter, let us not lose focus of the truth that for the Christian every day is Resurrection Day and invites celebration. Let every Christian, whether during the Easter season or any other time, be about the business of redeeming the time to exalt the glorious name of Christ who has conquered death and ever lives to transforms the lives of those who place their faith and trust in Him.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

 

DID JESUS REALLY RISE FROM THE DEAD?

The central truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that as the crucified Messiah, He was buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day, the first day of the week, He arose from the dead. The Four Gospels are explicit in their presenting Jesus as the conquering Savior over the devil, sin and death. The centrality of the message in Acts is that Christ’s resurrection from the grave is the authenticating proof that Jesus’ death on the cross is efficacious in atoning for the sins of all humanity. The focus of the epistles is that Christ arose from the dead. And the book of Revelation pictures Jesus Christ as the victorious, risen Savior who is coming again.

The foundation of Christianity is the Christ Event, which encompasses the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is an historical event etched into fabric of time. If there is no resurrection then Christianity is based on a false premise and a faulty foundation. Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen our faith is in vain and we are all men most miserable, and we are yet in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Well, did Christ really rise from the dead or have Christians been deluded? For centuries men have tried to come up with all kinds of theories in hopes of invalidating  the resurrection and in so doing strike a death blow to Christianity.

Seven such theories are briefly examined, each proving to fall woefully short in their attempt to invalidate the historical truth of His glorious Resurrection.

First, there is the Swoon Theory. This theory contends that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but He only passed out, fainted or was unconscious. Upon being taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb, the cool air revived Him and He escaped the tomb on His own power. Such a theory is laughable as the Scripture is clear the Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead and to make sure they pierced His side with a spear, His blood spilling out beneath the cross on which he was nailed (John 19:34). How was one whose body had been beaten and subjected to such torture, who had been declared dead, whose blood had flowed on the ground like a rushing stream, unwrap his own grave clothes, then find the strength to roll back the two-ton stone, then get by the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb, and then present Himself as a victorious Savior? Such a theory is preposterous.

Second, there is the Wild Beast Theory. This one is just as preposterous as the Swoon Theory. The theory contends that a wild beast(s) during the night crept into the tomb, dragged the body of Jesus off into the wilderness and devoured the remains, thus the reason the body of Jesus was never found and the tomb empty. The followers of Jesus taking advantage that the remains of Jesus had been devoured by wild beasts, began a rumor that He arose from the dead. Such a theory doesn’t explain how the wild beasts got by the guards which records reveal they remained at the tomb all night, moved the enormous stone, then unwrapped the graves clothes and never left a “mess” which the authorities would have quickly pointed out.

Third, there is the Mistaken Tomb Theory. This theory contends the women in the fading-darkness of the early daylight hours, with eyes blurred by tears, went to the wrong tomb. The tomb the women went to was empty and they mistook it for Christ having risen from the grave. This theory is truly unlikely, for if the women had gone to the wrong tomb the Roman authorities would have quickly pointed out their error. The Roman and Jewish authorities would have without hesitation produced the correct tomb containing the still-occupied body of Jesus. Let it be noted, the disciples corroborated the women’s report of the empty tomb by going in the daylight hours to the place where Jesus’ body had been lain, to find the tomb empty (John 20:1-9).

Fourth, there is the Stolen Body Theory. Some skeptics contend the body was stolen by the women, disciples or by Joseph of Arimathea. If the women took the body, who moved the huge stone for them and how would they have overpowered the Roman guards? The disciples didn’t steal by night Christ’s body as they were scared and fearing they would suffer the same fate as Jesus, were hid behind locked doors. Plus, how could the scared disciples have overtaken  in a fight the trained Romans soldiers guarding the tomb, broken the Roman seal on the stone and then moved the huge stone away. The disciples knew if they had tried such a stunt and were not successful, they would suffer punishment of death. It is highly unlikely that they would all have chosen to die for something that would have been practically impossible to do. And as well, eventually they, being the prime suspects if Christ’s body had been stolen, would have been caught.

Also, Matthew tells us that is was the religious leaders of that day who first devised the Stolen Body Theory. The chief priests and elders connived and paid the soldiers guarding the tomb to declare that the disciples came by night, while the guards were asleep, and took the body of Jesus. The guards “took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day” (Matthew 28:11-15). Plus, it would have been impossible for the disciples to have taken Jesus’ body, for the Roman guards knew if they slept on the job it meant death, and how could eleven men moving the huge stone not wake-up the guards if they had been asleep?

Fifth, there is the Hallucination Theory. This theory contends that those who claimed they saw Jesus after the crucifixion were only imagining they saw Him but in actuality didn’t. This theory insists that the women and the disciples had such an overwhelming desire to see Christ again, coupled with their grief, along with the power of suggestion, resulted in a hallucination. The disciples didn’t expect to see Jesus again (Luke 24), and weren’t sure it was even Him even when they saw him! The biggest problem with the hallucination theory is that hallucinations are usually private and individual, and not experienced as a group. Yet, in one instance Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time” (1 Corinthians 15:6). That is a lot of hallucinations at one time!!

Sixth, there is the Spiritual Resurrection Theory. This writer had a teacher in college who actually held to this theory, that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead physically but he only arose spiritually…whatever that means. However, the description of the appearances of Jesus after His resurrection clearly indicate He had a real body. He was physically touched by Mary Magdalene (John 20:17), Thomas felt His wounds (John 20:27), and Jesus ate broiled fish with his disciples (Luke 24:41-43). One who is a spirit cannot be touched, and they most certainly have no need of eating solid food.

Seventh, there is the Imposter Theory. There are those who contend that the disciples really didn’t seen Jesus after his crucifixion, what they actually saw was an imposter who only pretended to be Jesus. Those who hold to this theory surmise it is true as evidenced by some who saw him didn’t recognize him immediately (Luke 24). However, in every case where there was no immediate recognition, the witnesses’ initial doubt about Jesus’ identity was replaced by an assurance that it indeed was Jesus. As well, Acts 1:3 tells us that Jesus “shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days.” Forty days was ample time to give evidence as to whether He was an imposter or He was actually the risen Christ. Every account verifies the disciples saw the Risen Christ.

All theories attempting to explain away what was an actual historical event, have proven to be futile efforts. The records and writings from the Gospels, Paul and other New Testament writers regarding the Resurrection refer to eyewitness accounts, and such writings were written too early for legend to have overshadowed  the truth of their content. In the days and months after Jesus’ death, something caused the disciples to be transformed men. What was it that transformed them? They were moved from despair to joyous belief because they had seen the risen Savior. Their discouragement was replaced by the conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their defeatist attitude was replaced with a victorious attitude because the risen Lord empowered them with His resurrection power. Their timidness was replaced by boldness as He was alive for ever more. Their hiding behind locked doors for fear they would lose their lives was replaced by a willingness to freely give their life for the One who was victorious over death. Their desire to cower in fear was replaced with a desire to spread the Gospel to the whole world because they were assured Jesus died for all and arose from the dead for all.

Today the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid remains empty. Why? Because Jesus triumphantly arose from the dead, victorious over the cold dark tomb. One will look in vain for Him among the grave stones, for He is not there, “He is risen!” And those who embrace that glorious Good News will discover as did the disciples, He will transform your life forever!!

O, what a Savior.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

WHEN IT IS OK TO BE A FOOL!

Ah, April Fool’s Day. Without going into detail, April Fool’s Day originated in France in the 16th century, when the king of France adopted a reformed calendar to correct some errors in the calendar they had been using. Up until the change, the New Year celebration began on March 25 and ended April 1. When New Year’s Day was changed to January 1, like all changes, some were slow to adopt the new calendar. In time those who continued to celebrate the New Year from March 25 to April 1, were called April Fools. In time there developed the custom of playing foolish pranks on friends and relatives on April 1, which spread across France and eventually spread to other areas.

The word “fool” is found some 75 times in the Bible. The Hebrew word for “fool” is nabal, meaning senseless, especially of someone who exhibited moral, ethical  and religious insensibility in regard to the truth. The Greek word for “foolish” is moros (from where we get our English words moron and moronic), meaning dull in understanding, lacking a grip on reality, brainless, mentally inept, dull of thinking, without an edge, sluggish in mind.

While the Bible uses the word “fool” in regard to describing certain individuals and their character, many are quick to point out that in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22) Jesus instructs not to call someone a “fool.” Looking at the context of Jesus’ admonition, the Master Teacher is teaching on anger and control of the tongue when He instructs not to call someone a fool. Jesus is not necessarily forbidding the use of the word in its legitimate biblical context, but He is warning of its usage in the wrong tone, attitude, and manner when used as an insulting slur in a fit of rage. Jesus used the word “fool” and “foolish” when speaking of certain individuals, but He did so in order to reveal the nature of one’s state and in hopes of bringing them to faith. It is biblically and morally permissible to describe someone as a fool if it is spoken in its biblical usage and there is a genuine desire for the person’s salvation.

In that light, there are many places in the Bible where the Lord declares someone to be a fool. It would be wise to look at five places where the Word labels someone a “fool.” Is it ever ok to a be fool? Come, let us reason together.

First, there is the Atheistic Fool. We find in Psalms 14:1 and 53:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Both the Psalmist and Paul write that the wonder of creation teaches man that there is an Intelligent Designer behind this vast universe. The universe didn’t pop into being by itself. All things that exist have a First Cause behind its existence.  The Psalmist says to try and argue that there is no God is foolish and unwise. For one to say there is no God only reveals one’s rebellious heart that seeks to dismiss the very One who created all things. The atheistic fool’s denial flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including one’s own conscience and the wonder of the universe that clearly echoes the Voice of the Creator.

Second, there is the Deceived Fool. Proverbs 14:9 reads, “Fools make a mock at sin.” The author of Hebrews warns about the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13). The deceitfulness of sin whispers in our ears, “You can disobey and leave God out of your life with no adverse consequences resulting.” That is truly a lie from the Great Deceiver, the Devil. He is a master at convincing people to be their own god, that you don’t need God and if you obey the very one who created you it will cramp your style. Such thinking is foolish and disastrous. It will not only lead to a life (and a society) that will eventually shipwreck on rocks of willful defiance, it will lead to the dire consequences of spending eternity separated from the very presence of God who has prepared heaven for those who embrace Jesus Christ.

Third, there is the Neglectful Fool. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells the story of two men. Both built what seemed to others nice houses that were admired by onlookers. Then one day a torrential rain came, and one house withstood the storm, while the other house collapsed. The difference? One wisely built his house upon a rock foundation, the other neglected to build his house on a firm foundation, foolishly building his house on sand.  Because of his neglect, the house collapsed in the storm. Many people foolishly build their lives on faulty foundations like money, fame, prestige, heritage, pride, unrestrained living, etc.  From the outside all appears well, but when the storms of life come, they collapse in the winds, floods and shifting sands of adversity. When one builds their life on other than a firm foundation of a relationship with Jesus Christ they are building on sand. Christ is the Stone made without hands (Daniel 2:45) and when one builds their life on Him, while we may tremble in the storms of life, the Rock on which one has built their life will never tremble.

Fourth, there is the Unprepared Fool. In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus tells the story of a man who was careful to make detailed plans for this life in regard to materialistic possessions. However, he made no preparations for life after death, and Jesus said of His unpreparedness when death visited his luxurious home, “Thou fool” (Luke 12:20). He was a fool because he neglected to prepare his soul for death. He left God out of his life; he neglected Jesus Christ, God’s remedy for human sin; he neglected God’s only means to enter heavens gates; he neglected the truth that it was appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgement. Because we know not the day or hour when that “appointment day” will be, we need to heed the warning of Paul, “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). For one not to prepare for the day one departs this earthly world and stands before the Lord, is a fool indeed. The wise will make preparation for that inevitable day.

Fifth, there is the Fool for Christ. Paul declared that he was a fool for Christ (I Cor 4:10). The skewed perception of the world and the mind of God as found within the Word are diametrically opposed. The very core of Christianity appears foolish to the world. While the Bible teaches those who deny God, who live without Christ, who don’t make preparation for the afterlife are fools, the world teaches the opposite, that those who trust in the Lord, who seek to obey the Lord and the Bible’s precepts, and who hold to the hope of heaven, are fools for doing so. Paul appeared to be foolish in the eyes of his contemporaries, most of all in his preaching of the “foolish” Gospel of Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:18-23). Yet in actuality Paul was the wise one.

What does it mean to be a fool for Christ? It means one has embraced Jesus as Savior and Lord of thier lives; it means one whose mind is shaped by a biblical worldview; it is one who seeks to have an ever-developing relationship with the resurrected Christ; it is one who is guided by moral values that are in direct contradiction to the values of this world; it is one who instead of promoting their self, exalts the name of Jesus; it is one who instead of seeking to be served desires to reach out and serve others; it is one who instead of hating, seeks to love; it is one who instead of seeking revenge, extends forgiveness; it is one who instead of laying up only treasures in this life, is storing up treasures in heaven; it is one who trusts the Lord in the good and bad; it is one who each day realizes they are saved by grace and grace alone; it is one who walks by faith and hope knowing there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain. If all this makes one a fool in the eyes of the world…. then that is ok…. unashamedly embrace the categorization of being a fool for Christ as a worthy badge of honor.

Have a great April Fool’s Day!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

 

CHRIST “THE FIRSTBORN OF ALL CREATION” – WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Recently I was asked to explain what Paul meant when in Colossians 1:15 he refers to Christ as “the firstborn of every creature.” Is Paul saying that Christ was a created being, that he was the first being God created? Before proceeding to unfold what the term “firstborn” means, the answer to such a notion that Christ was the first creature God created or that He was a created being, is an emphatic, “NO.” As shall be seen, the term “firstborn” does not refer to Christ as created prior to all other beings or the world in general; the term denotes Christ’s authority and preeminence over all creation and all things.

Before delving into the meaning of the term “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 one must understand the reason the Apostle penned the letter to the Colossian church. Writing from a prison in Rome, Paul was seeking to combat an error that was beginning to rise in the early church, called Gnosticism. The term comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. While there were many variations of Gnosticism, generally the Gnostics believed one gained salvation by obtaining special knowledge, such knowledge being gained from a myriad of intermediator “beings” called aeons or emanations. Since God was perfectly pure and transcendent, He could not have anything to do with this evil, material world or man; therefore, salvation was achieved by gaining special knowledge which would allow one to climb the hierarchical ladder of aeons or emanations that would eventually arrive at the “fullness” of God. In Gnosticism, Christ was an intermediator being created by God in whom was found the special knowledge needed that enabled one to climb the intermediator ladder to finally gain salvation. In Gnosticism the atoning death of Christ was denied, and, as well, Christ was a created being. While such concepts are foreign to biblical teaching and the Western mind, many eastern religions have concepts of achieving “salvation” that are akin to Gnosticism. Even the Jehovah Witnesses contain threads of Gnosticism as they believe Jesus was simply a created being who came to give us knowledge of how to obtain salvation.

So, Paul in Colossians is refuting the Gnostics who taught Christ, as an intermediator being, was created before all creation, He was the first creature God created. Paul in the first part of Colossians 1:15 refutes the claim of Gnostics when he writes that Christ “is the image of the invisible God.” Paul in essence is saying that Jesus is none other than God Himself. The word translated image was a word that was used to speak of an emperor’s image stamped on a coin, the coin bearing an exact image of the emperor. You could look at the image on the coin and tell who the emperor was. Jesus was the exact image of God the Father, He made visible to us the invisible God. We can look at Jesus and tell who the Father is! Isn’t that what Jesus told Phillip who wanted to see God? Jesus told him, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). The first part of Colossians 1:15 clearly pictures the Incarnation, that the invisible God became flesh in Jesus Christ.

The second part of Colossians 1:15 reads “the firstborn of every creature.” If Paul meant that Jesus was a created being, the first creature God created, then he just contradicted himself by stating Christ bears the very image of God, that the invisible God is made visible in Christ. That being said, the two statements in Colossians 1:15 must be interconnected not contradictory.

In striving to understand what Paul meant by using the word “firstborn” (Col. 1:15) in referring to Christ, it can’t be understood by imposing our Western thinking upon the text. The word “firstborn” (prōtotokos) comes from two Greek words prōto meaning “first or pre-eminent” and tokos meaning “born/bring forth” thus “firstborn.”

Now to understand the biblical concept of “firstborn” one must examine the word in the light of how it was used in the history of the Jewish people, which was portrayed in the word birthright. The term “firstborn” in Hebrew/Biblical understanding meant the prime person—the favored one, the one who inherited the rights to a better inheritance, which was usually the birthright of the oldest. The firstborn son in patriarchal society was regarded as special. From Abraham to the time of Christ, the word “firstborn” was understood in the framework of privileges and responsibilities. Furthermore, the term carried with it the meaning of primacy of status, of favor. It was a term that was related to primacy and priority.

There were privileges and primacy bestowed upon the firstborn son, that is why Jacob wanted the birthright of Esau, his brother. Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac, meaning to him was given the privileges of the birthright. By rights, Esau was to receive a double portion of his father’s estate when his father died. Along with the double portion came a special relationship between the firstborn and his father. The firstborn received a position of honor and preeminence within the family, such that when his father died, the firstborn was expected to take up the mantle of leadership and authority within the family,  he was the acknowledged head.

In Psalm 89:27 the Psalmist writes in a prophecy about the coming Messiah, “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” The Psalmist writes in respect to the coming Christ, “I will make him my firstborn;” that is, He will be given priority of status, He will be the preeminent One in whom all authority will be bestowed. As Charles Spurgeon eloquently wrote of Christ being the firstborn, “In Him is constituted the chief of all creatures, and the depository of all power, and the possessor of all privileges, and the heir of all creation.”

The OT usage of  firstborn was a Messianic title, the term “firstborn” used in reference to Jesus is indication that He is God. In fact, the ancient Rabbis called Yawhew Himself “Firstborn of the World” (Rabbi Bechai, cited in J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978, 147).   Reinecker and  Rogers  state,  “The word emphasizes the preexistence and uniqueness of Christ as well as His superiority over creation. The term does not indicate that Christ was a creation or a created being” (Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to The Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, 567).

With an OT understanding of how the term “firstborn” was used, it is clear Paul did not use the word in a time sense, inferring Christ was first to be created or the first creature God made (for all things were made by Him – Col 1:16), but in the sense of One who has supremacy  over creation. Paul is saying that Christ occupies the position of authority, of preeminence, such as was afforded the firstborn in the OT, but of course in a much greater sense.  He makes that clear in verse 18 when he states Christ is “preeminent in all things.”

Let it be added, that the Greek word “firstborn” outside of biblical usage, was used by the Greek writer Homer in the sense of “first Parent” or “first Creator” (Isidior Pelusiot, l. 3. Ep. 31). Such usage in regard to Christ is warranted, for Christ as the “firstborn” is the first Parent or Creator of all creation, the one who is the bringer forth of all creation into being, “for by Him were all things created” (Col 1:16). Christ as the “firstborn” is not only the Creator of all things, He is the heir of all things, the sustainer of all things, the Head of the Church, and holds the keys to life and death in His hands.

Paul in this magnificent passage, Colossians 1:15-22, sets forth the wondrous glories of who Christ is. The whole passage reads: 15Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight .

Listen to what Paul says about Jesus Christ: He is God become flesh in whom all authority dwells (v. 15), He is the Creator of all things (v. 16), He is pre-existent (v. 17), He is the Preserver of all that is created (v. 17), He is Head of the Church (v. 18), He is Lord over death (v. 18), He is the Preeminent One (v. 18), in Him the totality of the Godhead resides in fullness (v. 19), He has reconciled God and Man through His work on the cross (v. 20-21), and He is the Sanctifier of the saints (v. 22).

WOW, what a Savior! It should cause us to bow in worshipful adoration for who Christ is.

In verse 19 Paul says that in Christ “all fullness dwells.” In Gnosticism the totality of who God was, was called the pleroma (Greek word translated “fullness). Paul says Jesus is the fullness or pleroma of God, Jesus is the totality of the Godhead, of who God is!! Paul echoes the very words of John who calls Jesus the Word, who in the beginning was with God, was God, and by Him all things were created, and He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3; 14). John goes on to say, “Of His fullness (pleroma) we have all received” (John 1:16). John and Paul mirror one another in proclaiming Jesus is the totality of who God is, for He is the God who become flesh and walked among us.

In summary, Paul is crystal clear in Colossians of who Jesus Christ is – He is not a created being, He is God who became flesh and dwelt among us for the purpose of giving Himself for our sins to reconcile us unto Himself through the atoning Sacrifice of Himself! And He who is before all things, in Him all authority and preeminence resides.

O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan