Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Jesus

The return of the light

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The Israelites had light when the Egyptians were in darkness. The light went with them to show the way when the waters stood aside to let them cross the Red Sea. The light stayed with them for forty years through the wilderness, then led them through the Jordan into the promised land, while the waters once again stood aside to let then pass.

The light stood over their place of worship for generations until the Israelites forgot what a wondrous thing it was. Then Nebuchadnezzar came with his army, destroyed the temple, and the light disappeared.

In Babylon, once more in captivity, they remembered the promise given to Isaiah that the light would one day return:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

They returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the temple, the light did not return. They waited another 400 years.

The Magi in Babylon and Persia counted the weeks foretold by Daniel. They remembered the words spoken long before by an errant prophet and they too watched for the light:

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city. (Numbers 24:17-19)

Finally the fulness of the times was complete. The glory of God appeared once more, not to the important people in Jerusalem but to shepherds on a hill outside of Bethlehem. That night, all the promises made to all the prophets began to be fulfilled:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:10-14)

It must have been that same night that the light appeared to the Magi, far away in the East. When they arrived in Jerusalem months later, no one knew of the baby they were looking for, but someone suggested they go to Bethlehem. As they left Jerusalem, the light appeared once more and led them directly to the house where they found the child.

Many years later that baby, now grown into manhood, told his closest friends:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

Jesus no longer walks this earth. On the day of Pentecost he gave the light to His followers. He wants us to share the light, not to huddle around it in some remote corner.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

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As we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, may we hold out the light of God’s truth and God’s love so others may see.

 

Why Mary?

The story is hardly credible to our modern minds. A fifteen-year-old girl informs her parents—I am assuming her parents were still living, though there is no mention of them—that an angel has visited her and now she is pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah.

We don’t expect the birth of Messiah, and few people know the Scriptures as Jewish people did then. Still, I suspect her family raised their eyebrows when Mary told them of the angel visit and her miraculous conception.

So she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, no doubt accompanied by a family member for security; it was a long walk from Nazareth to Hebron. Mary was of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi; the relationship must have been through their mothers.

hen she arrived at the home of Elizabeth, she found things just as Gabriel had told her.
Elizabeth greeted her by saying (and the Bible says she greeted her in a loud voice) “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” An astounding greeting from an elderly lady to her very young cousin.

Elizabeth’s welcome surely eased any doubts Mary may have had about the reality of the divine event happening to her. Her response, “My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . ,” reveals a deep grasp of the Scriptures and shows that she knew how this event fit into the past, present and future of Israel and the world.

Again, from the perspective of our day we can hardly grasp that a fifteen-year-old girl could have such a depth of understanding. But Mary did, and she probably was not all that unique in her day.

But God not chose her on account of her knowledge. Why was Gabriel sent to Mary, out of the many young ladies of the Davidic line who must have been living? Mary’s simple response to the message of Gabriel reveals the answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

The words of Elizabeth underline the power of the simple faith and trust of Mary: “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Luke tells us more about Mary than any other New Testament writer. He must have known her and listened to her tell her story, from start to finish. She trusted, always watching to see what God would do next. She experienced a sorrow greater than any mother has ever known, yet still she trusted. She was there with the little group of believers at the beginning of the book of Acts. No doubt she experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and witnessed the glorious beginning of the church.

There is nothing that Mary can do for us today. But we can acknowledge her blessedness and follow her example of faith, trust and obedience.

The tabernacle of David

When Moses was in the mountain communing with God during the Exodus, God gave him detailed directions for the structure that should be the centre of the people’s worship. He was to build a long tent, or tabernacle. The inside was of gold and beautiful tapestry, the outside was a drab, waterproof covering.

At one end, separated from the rest by a thick woven curtain, was the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat above it. To an onlooker, the only noteworthy feature of the tent would have been the Shekinah, the glory of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, that always stood above the mercy seat.

This tabernacle was of central importance to the people during their time in the wilderness, during the conquest of Canaan and throughout the time of the judges.

But there came a time when the ark was removed from the tabernacle and taken into battle against the Philistines. The Philistines were victorious in the battle, and captured the ark. Eli, the high priest and spiritual leader of the Israelites, died upon hearing this news. At this point the worship of the Israelite people took a turn for which no recorded instruction had ever been given.

Eli’s place as spiritual leader was taken by Samuel, who was not of the priestly lineage. The ark was returned to Israel, but never put back in the tabernacle of Moses. Samuel went from place to place throughout the land to offer sacrifices and teach the people.

Samuel was a true prophet and spiritual leader, but as he grew old and had no obvious successor, the people began to call for a king. God granted their wish and Saul became king. Things soon went bad with Saul and God sent Samuel to anoint David to be king.

When David became king over all Israel he built a new tabernacle on Mount Zion. He brought the ark and placed it in the tabernacle he had built, with no curtain to separate it from the people. The first time David tried to bring the ark to his new tabernacle, God smote Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, revealing the presence of God with the ark. The second time was successful. David put on priestly garments of linen and an ephod and offered sacrifices to sanctify the tabernacle.

There were no more sacrifices offered at the tabernacle of David. Thereafter it was a place of worship, where prayers were made, psalms sung and possibly the Word of God was read. Jehoshaphat is called the recorder, a word whose meaning might also mean one who causes to remember.

Here we see David acting as prophet, priest and king. Many of the Psalms he wrote are prophetic; he is called a prophet in Acts 2:30. 1 Chronicles 16:39-40 shows that the tabernacle of Moses still stood at this time, located at Gibeon, and Zadok the high priest was still offering the sacrifices called for in the law. But they were just going through the motions. The mercy seat was on the ark in the tabernacle of David.

This strange anomaly in the Israelite worship came to an end when Solomon built the temple and installed the ark in the holy of holies in the temple. The tabernacle of David, no longer used, fell into ruin.

In later years prophets reminded the people of the tabernacle of David. Isaiah 16:5 says: “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.” Chapter 33:20 says: “ Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.” Amos 9:11-12 says: “ In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

Many commentators interpret the references to Zion as referring to Jerusalem and the temple mount, and the references to the tabernacle of David as prophesying the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Christ.

But the parallels are too striking. David as prophet, priest and king sanctified the tabernacle with a one time sacrifice. A new form of worship, completely separate from the tabernacle of Moses. Access to the mercy, seat without a veil to hide it from the worshippers.

Isn’t this what the leaders of the early church recognized at the meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15? James quoted the passage from Amos and recognized it as a prophecy of what was then happening. The tabernacle of David had been restored, a place where all people, including the Gentiles, could freely worship God without having to approach Him by means of the ritual of the tabernacle of Moses or of the Jewish temple. Just as the tabernacle of Moses was empty in the time of David, the worship in the Jerusalem temple was now empty of all meaning after the one time sacrifice made by Jesus, the true son of David and our eternal prophet, priest and king.

The bad news and the Good News

“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:5-7).

The devil made a shocking claim; can it possibly be true? Jesus did not contradict it. The apostolic writings confirm it.  The apostle Paul calls Satan “the god of this world,” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Ephesians 2:2 he calls him “the prince of the power of the air.” In Ephesians 6:14 he informs us “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

In the gospel of John, Jesus refers three times to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30 and 16:11). In 1 John 5:19 we are told that “the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

The twelfth chapter of Revelation tells how Satan has been cat down to the earth and has great wrath “because  he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

The apostle Paul also tells how Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (Ephesians 6:14).

All schemes to make this world a better place by political means, by revolutions and protest movements, are Satan’s work and will fail. When accusations fly, where there is strife and bitterness, this is Satan’s doing. His is not trying to make the world a better place, but to divide us all into groups at war with each other, each thinking they alone have the light to solve the problems of the world.

The Good News is that there is still hope for mankind. That hope is embodied in the Kingdom of God, the only place we can experience durable peace, understanding and brotherly love.

Satan counterfeits the Kingdom, tries to divide citizens of the Kingdom into rival camps over things of no eternal value.

True peace, freedom and happiness are only possible when we admit we have followed the wrong way and turn around, trusting only in the forgiveness of God that is possible by Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. When we are forgiven, and the risen Christ reigns in our lives, we are free at last

Some more thoughts on evangelism

OK, we need to strip the gospel message down to the pure Bible-based essentials and restore all those essentials that have been cast away. Now, when we come to sharing this vital message, we need to strip away all the verbiage and attitudes that hide the message rather than revealing it.

Here are some thoughts about how to share the Good News, as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

1. Be curious —In the end, the gospel message is the same for everyone. But not all start at the same place. We need to get to know people, find out what are their greatest concerns. The best way to do that is to ask questions.

2. Hide the hammer — If someone doesn’t understand our message, or doesn’t want to listen to it, hammering away at the same point isn’t going to help. We may need to go back to step 1.

3. Stick a needle in the hot air balloon — Impressive words, adjectives, adverbs, a round about way of speaking and Christian jargon are not the stock in trade of a good communicator. A pompous speaking style pumps hot air into our balloon, we go floating away and lose contact with the person to whom we are speaking.

4. Get down off the pedestal — The message is important; we are not. A servant does not try to impress you with how important he is. Let’s take a lesson from the apostle Paul: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more,” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

6. Admit you don’t know everything — The Bible is the source of all truth; I am not. In evangelism, if I am always the teacher and the other person is always the student, I have failed. The goal of evangelism is to lead others to dependence on God. Jesus is the Master, we are all disciples (students), always learning from the Master and from one another.

Three Impossible Things That I Believe

I believe that God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, yet only one God. All three are shown in the scene of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I have no logical explanation of how it is possible that three can be one, yet I believe it is true. As Billy Sunday once said: “God is not an explanation; He is a revelation.”

I believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, but not two persons in one body. I believe that Jesus’ body was identical to our bodies in every way, except for the inheritance of the sin nature and the effects of sin. In other words, though His body was formed in Mary’s womb, He had no genetic inheritance from her.

One of the best expositions of why it was necessary for the body of Jesus to be a special new creation was done by Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. You can read his article here.

Again, I have no logical explanation of how this was possible. But to believe otherwise leads to the sort of illogical conclusions that Menno Simons encountered: “The English, or Zwinglians believe and confess that there are two sons in Christ Jesus, the one is God’s son, without mother and impassive; and the other is the son of Mary, or the son of man, without father, and passive. And in this passive son of Mary, the impassive Son of God dwelt; so that the son of Mary, who was crucified, and died for us, was not the son of God.”

I believe that Jesus, after the resurrection had a physical body that could be seen and touched. That he could break bread, cook fish and eat them. Yet He could enter a room without going through the door, the wall or the ceiling and leave as He came. This was not a magical conjuring trick, nor some mythical Star Trek technology. It appears that He could pass at will from the visible physical realm to the invisible spiritual realm. This was not done through technology yet to be discovered by mankind, nor was it an illusion. I believe He is still alive today with a physical resurrection body, in a realm that cannot be discerned by our physical senses.

These three things are all clearly impossible in any way that my human mind can comprehend. Yet to say that God cannot do anything that my human mind cannot understand is to reduce God to my level, or to exalt myself to His level. If God were to be limited by the capacity of my human mind, He could not be God.

© Bob Goodnough, November 18, 2019

We try to do too much

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Image by gentlegiant27153 from Pixabay

Trying to save the planet leaves us frustrated, angry, bitter and in despair.

Trying to compel other people turn to Jesus will do the same thing.

These jobs are too big for us; leave them to God.

We can be kind to others because of the love of God n our hearts.

We can respond peacefully to other people’s anger.

We can forgive others when they do us wrong.

We can tell of our own failures and how God forgave us.

We can praise God openly for what He has done for us.

We can explain how trusting Jesus enables us to live with hope.

These are little things, but they do more to make the world a better place than any of the big things we may try to do.

© Bob Goodnough

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

To be a disciple

The Great Commission tells Christians to make disciples from all nations. In practice though, it seems many evangelical efforts have thought it sufficient to get a profession of faith from new believers, to make converts.

That’s only a beginning. If I stop at being converted, I am not sufficiently rooted and grounded in the faith to stand when faced with temptation or persecution. How is becoming a disciple different?

A disciple does not just want Jesus to be his Saviour, he wants Jesus to be Lord of his life. That goes beyond conversion to a full commitment—being willing to accept teaching and discipline from our Lord and Master.

That sounds like it will put a crimp in my free-wheeling lifestyle. In fact, it will put an end to my former lifestyle. Why can’t I have both? The peace and assurance of being a Christian, plus the fun and excitement of the way I used to live?

It doesn’t work. If I try to have it all, I wind up with nothing.

Jesus wants my full attention, my full allegiance. Perhaps that sounds painful, dull, boring.

Painful it may sometimes be, but following Jesus without reserve will not be dull and boring.

Being a disciple brings a different joy and excitement that I had known before. It brings assurance that my life, my future, is in the hands of a Master that knows the way ahead when I don’t have a clue what might be around the next corner.

Is there a greater thrill than to be a disciple of He who said: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth”?  When I don’t find it thrilling, the problem has always been in me, not in Him. If I follow Him at a distance, because of fear or doubt, I am not a disciple and Christian life isn’t very interesting.

Just open it and read

[First posted June 13, 2014]

What is the best way to read the Bible?

Just open it up and start reading. It’s that simple.

I quit attending church when I left home. I had heard all the old familiar Bible stories that are taught in Sunday School. I had also absorbed a lot of contradictory teachings in school, through the media and through the books and magazines I read. I had begun to consider myself too intelligent to believe the Bible. Some parts of it were probably true. If there was a God, He probably inspired people in ancient days to write the good stuff, but there was a lot in the Bible that just wasn’t believable. Sound familiar?

I started to get curious, though, and wanted to take another look at the Bible for myself. I didn’t want to be seen buying a Bible, though. Neither did I want to ask my parents if I could borrow a Bible. But I knew the place in my parents’ home where the old worn-out Bibles were stored. One weekend when I was home, I went to that old cupboard, selected a Bible that was pretty much intact and not too big and packed it away in my stuff.

I began to read, trying to separate fact from fiction, searching out the accounts that I found unbelievable and reading them from beginning to end. I found references to these accounts in other parts of the Bible and read them carefully. As I read more and more in the Bible, trying to understand the context in which these events happened and what the Bible writers were saying about them, I started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out quite like I had expected. I could see that a life based on the teachings of the Bible would be an admirable thing, but all the stories that I didn’t want to believe seemed to be inextricably linked to those teachings.

Jesus evidently believed that all that was written in the Old Testament was completely factual. Was He deceived? If He was wrong about that, how could He be right about anything?

Slowly it dawned on me that this collection of books, written by 40 different men over a period of sixteen centuries, was not a collection at all, but one unified book. I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest as mythology or mere records of often bloody history. There were only two choices before me: believe it all from beginning to end, or dismiss it all as a work of fiction.

It was at this point that a crisis arose in my life and the Bible revealed to me that I was a sinner destined to be forever rejected by God, unless I repented. I repented, without fully understanding the significance or the ramifications of what I was doing. My life changed at that moment, yet it took months, years even, for the full reality of that change to sink in.

So here is my advice for anyone who wants to read the Bible but is afraid of getting confused. Read the Bible. Get the whole story.

Don’t trust any Bible reading plans that chop the Bible up into little pieces and have you skipping here and there without ever really getting a picture of what is going on. Don’t trust books about the Bible to steer you right. There are Bible dictionaries and Bible commentaries that can be helpful, but don’t start out letting someone else guide you through the Bible. Let the Bible reveal itself to you.

It might be good to read accounts here and there to start with, but soon you will want to read books of the Bible all the way through to get a grasp of the context. Pray for direction. Once you begin to get some sense of what the Bible is all about, it would be a good thing to read the whole Bible through. Don’t bite off too much at one time, expect it to take four years to make it all the way through. Along the way you will find that the Bible “heroes” were really not very good people. And if you are honest with yourself, just at the point where you become indignant about the weaknesses and failures of David, Elijah or Rebekah, you will begin to see the same weaknesses and failures in yourself. That is why Jesus had to die.

You will never understand it all, and that’s OK. The Bible never gets old; there is always something new to discover.

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