minister & author
The Greatest Comeback
There have been a lot of great “comeback” stories in American sports history. The Golden State Warriors were down 3-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Championship, before coming back to win the series. Then in the next round, the NBA Championship, the Warriors were up 3-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Cavs came back to win. Who would have known that the city of Cleveland would be on the other end of that equation just a few months later? The Chicago Cubs were down 3-1 against the Indians in the World Series, before coming back to win the title.
Perhaps the most epic sports comeback in recent memory took place in Super Bowl 51. The New England Patriots were down to the Atlanta Falcons by 25 points in the second half and ended up winning in overtime. It was the largest deficit overcome in Super Bowl history.
Here is one for you Kentucky fans. Back in 1994, the Wildcats came back from a 31-point deficit in the second half at LSU. They were down by 31 with 15:31 left in the game and ended up winning 99-95. USA Today named that game the greatest comeback in sports history.
My favorite sports comeback story involves the team I love more than any other, the Buffalo Bills. They were down 35-3 to the Houston Oilers in the 1992 NFL playoffs, and ended up winning 41-38. To this day, that game is referred to as “The Comeback.”
The greatest “comeback” story of all time, however, was not in the realm of sports. It was in the realm of religion. Jesus Christ appeared to be defeated. He had been scourged, spiked, and speared. His opponents had slapped Him around, beat Him to a pulp, and killed Him on a cross. Then His battered body was sealed shut in a tomb. The eerie silence of Saturday seemed to say it all. And then it happened. Just when it appeared that all was lost, the gates of Hades swung open and the Lord’s cold corpse began to move. He stood up and stepped out alive! He “came back” from the dead, having conquered the grave and defeated the devil. You want a comeback story? It doesn’t get any better than that.
The Lord’s “comeback” story was the hallmark of preaching throughout the book of Acts (and beyond). That’s because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. It is what everything else revolves around and hinges upon. Paul put it like this:
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
Paul says that without the resurrection, we’re in really bad shape. Our faith is futile, our sins are many, and our deceased brethren are lost. In other words, if He did not get up, we should give up! But thanks be to God, He did get up. And, therefore, we have hope.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
The greatest comeback in history happened nearly two thousand years ago, when the Son of God overcame the odds and rose from the dead. He conquered the grave, which assures His followers that they will as well.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of worship services in the early church was a meal they shared together called the Agape, or love feast. It was an integral part of their assemblies in which members ate as one body, regardless of their status in society. Whether rich or poor, master or slave, male or female, this meal was an expression of their mutual devotion as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was at the conclusion of this meal that they observed the Lord’s Supper.
“The early church developed special fellowship meals that came to be called love feasts (Jude 12) and that usually were closed with the observance of Communion. Those were congregational meals stressing fellowship, affection, and mutual caring among the believers. The emphasis on oneness led very readily into a celebration of the unifying accomplishment of the Savior on the cross” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 267).
This may seem strange to Christians living today because we are not used to eating a meal together before the Lord’s Supper, yet that is exactly what they did in the early church. Rather than sitting in pews with just a tiny wafer and sip of juice, they gathered around tables for a love feast.
“Churches today generally observe the Lord’s Supper much differently from the way the first century church did. Now, Christians observe the ordinance with a pinch of bread and a modicum of drink, but the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper with great banquets… These meals came to be known as ‘love feasts’” (Max Anders, 1 & 2 Corinthians, p. 197).
The Passover celebration involved a meal that satisfied hunger as the Jews commemorated their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Since it was during this time — “as they were eating” (Matthew 26:26) — that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it is not surprising the early church had a similar meal setting.
“In the modern church the Lord’s Supper is not in the physical sense of the term a meal… But it began from the Passover, a feast of hungry men, who were to clear the table and to leave nothing; and the Lord’s Supper began in the Christian Church as a meal in which physical as well as spiritual hunger was satisfied” (William Barclay, The Lord’s Supper, p. 56).
Just as the Jews commemorated their deliverance from physical bondage in a meal setting, the first Christians commemorated their deliverance from spiritual bondage in a meal setting. That’s why it was called a “supper.”
The word for “supper” in Greek is deipnon and refers to the evening meal, which was a time when people filled up on food while enjoying one another’s company. This is the term used in the familiar expression “Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20). Hence, the word conveys the idea of eating together.
“…the deipnon was the main meal of the day, where people sat down with no sense of hurry and not only satisfied their hunger but lingered long together. The very word shows that the Christian meal ought to be a meal where people linger long in each other’s company” (William Barclay, 1 Corinthians, p. 102).
A meal that afforded outcasts, such as the very poor and slaves, an opportunity to mingle with the upper echelon of society as equals was rare in that culture and would be a remarkable testimony for the early church. In fact, slaves were considered property in the Roman Empire and were often terribly mistreated by their masters. They could be whipped, branded, or even killed for any reason. Therefore, a setting where such social barriers were removed must have been quite a draw for them. And it was probably the best meal they had all week!
“The Love Feast, the Agape, was one of the earliest features of the Church. It was a meal of fellowship held on the Lord’s Day… For many of the slaves it was perhaps the only decent meal they ever ate” (William Barclay, Jude, p. 192).
We know from the many passages addressed to slaves in the New Testament that they made up a large part of the early church, and love feasts probably had a lot to do with that. It is easy to imagine those Christians telling their fellow slaves about the affection experienced at these great-tasting feasts. This undoubtedly led to more of them visiting the assembly and ultimately being saved.
We read about two abuses that took place at love feasts in the early church. The first abuse involved a selfish spirit that advanced division rather than unity (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). It seems the wealthier members had become impatient waiting for the poorer members to arrive at their feasts and ate without them, leaving the latecomers with little or nothing to eat. This embarrassed them and totally defeated the purpose of the Agape, which was intended to bring everyone together as one body in love. The text says,
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk… do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (vv. 21, 22).
Notice that some members were “going ahead” and eating their food before the others showed up, causing those who came late to “go hungry.” This behavior showed a total lack of regard for their brethren (i.e., the church of God) and “humiliated” those who had no food. Hence, the problem was not the meal itself, but how they were eating that meal.
Paul warned the Corinthians that their treatment of one another while feasting had a direct impact on the Lord’s Supper, which they observed afterwards. To partake of communion while denying the love and unity it represented would bring judgment upon them.
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (v. 29).
“Body” is a metaphor for the church in this verse. The problem was not that the Corinthians had a lack of consideration for the literal body of Christ on the cross, but for their brethren. In other words, they were not showing proper discernment for one another as the Lord’s body. The ERV puts it like this,
“If you eat and drink without paying attention to those who are the Lord’s body, your eating and drinking will cause you to be judged guilty” (v. 29, ERV).
Paul then gave his solution on the matter. He did not call for the feast to be cancelled, but for their conduct to change while partaking of that feast. Remember, the problem was that some were “going ahead” with their own meals before the others could arrive. Therefore, he said to wait on them before eating.
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (v. 33).
The problem could easily be solved by showing some respect for those members who ran late to the feast, most notably the slaves who did not control their own schedules. Again, notice the problem in verse 21 and the solution in verse 33 — “each one eats without waiting for the others… when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (ERV).
“The fact that he says ‘when you come together to eat’ assumes that he supported the idea of their fellowship meal, but they should ‘wait for one another’ before they partake of it” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 275).
If any of the Corinthians were just too “hungry” to wait for the others, they should eat at home (v. 34). This is brought out in certain translations/paraphrases:
• ERV: “If some are too hungry to wait, they should eat at home.”
• NCV: “Anyone who is too hungry should eat at home.”
• Voice: “If someone is hungry and can’t wait, he should go home and eat.”
• Amplified: “If anyone is too hungry [to wait], let him eat at home.”
• The Message: “If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich.”
The second abuse that took place at love feasts in the early church involved false teaching. Some men used the meal as a cloak to sow their seeds of error on unsuspecting members. Jude puts it like this:
“These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted” (Jude 12).
Jude warned that some were exploiting the love feast for their own sinister purposes. Even then, however, he did not call for it to be cancelled. There is no indication whatsoever that they should stop eating together, they just needed to protect the meal from becoming a platform for evil.
In addition to the Scriptures, there is overwhelming extra-biblical evidence to suggest that churches continued to have love feasts for several centuries. Here are some examples:
Love feasts were eventually outlawed by various church councils starting in the fourth century. For instance, the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364) declared, “It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord's Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God” (Canon 28). This was just one of several reasons why they gradually passed from the scene.
Just because love feasts were sometimes abused and then forbidden by man-made legislative bodies are not good reasons for the practice to be abandoned by those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity in its purest form. There is no question the early church shared a meal in their assemblies and, as William Barclay said, “It was a lovely custom; and it is to our loss that the custom has vanished” (1 Corinthians, p. 100). Amen!
Though Christmas and Easter are commonly regarded as the two most important holidays of Christianity, they have been a source of controversy among members of the Lord’s church. Since these holidays originated with men and are not commanded in Scripture, we have had sharp disagreements on how they should be viewed. Some members ignore the two holidays altogether, others treat them as strictly secular holidays, and still others use them to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Savior. For a long time, I found the first two options acceptable but strongly opposed the last one. I just did not believe we could observe religious holidays that were not specifically commanded by God. However, I have since changed my position.
As with every position I take, this has nothing to do with personal preference or popular opinion. I am not seeking to please myself or others; I am simply trying to be consistent with the Scriptures. Wherever they lead me is exactly where I want to stand regardless of the consequences.
Dedication & Purim
One reason I changed my position on celebrating (manmade) religious holidays is because Jesus did so. He took part in such observances and never expressed concerns about their right to exist.
The “Feast of Dedication” was a Jewish holiday that came about during the intertestamental period. It commemorated the cleansing and rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus after it had been defiled by Greek oppressors. (The desecration included sacrificing pigs on the altar to pagan gods). This feast was also called the “Feast of Lights” because the Jews would light lamps to honor the occasion. Today, it is called “Hanukkah.”
The “Feast of Dedication” was a religious holiday that did not originate with God. When He revealed the various feasts that Jews were to observe, this was not one of them. It came about of the people’s own volition during the four hundred years of divine silence between Malachi and Matthew. Yet Jesus participated in this holiday without reservation (John 10:22-23).
The Lord’s presence at the “Feast of “Dedication,” along with the fact that neither He nor the writer John raised any objections to it, is strong evidence that it is okay to keep such holidays. Moreover, it is likely that the feast Jesus observed in John 5:1 was the “Feast of Purim,” which was another religious holiday that did not originate with God. It was instituted by Mordecai to commemorate Jewish deliverance from attempted genocide by the Persians (Esther 9:26-28). Hence, we have examples of Jesus doing the very thing some brethren take issue with today. The feasts of Dedication and Purim were no different than Christmas and Easter in terms of their origin; they both came about by mere men. Yet our Lord had no problem observing them.
The Jews knew that the feasts of Dedication and Purim were not divinely mandated, but that did not stop them from creating and observing those holidays to honor God. Nor did it keep Jesus from participating in them during His time on earth. Why then would we oppose parallel holidays today?
I find it interesting that when the establishment of Purim was recorded in Esther, the inspired writer did not offer any words of condemnation. He never added “and this was a sin” or “in violation of the law.” It seems apparent that he saw the creation of a new holiday to honor God as a good thing and had no reservations about it at all.
Another reason I changed my position comes from Paul. In his letter to the Romans, he gave approval for brethren to observe “special days” that they regarded as being religiously significant. He said they could keep those days according to their own convictions and should not be condemned by others for doing so (Romans 14:5-10). Whether it be Passover in the first century or Christmas and Easter in the twenty-first century, the application is the same — individuals who choose to observe these days are to be accepted. The only qualifier given is that the observance be done “in honor of the Lord.”
While it is true that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week, that does not preclude a special celebration annually. If they want to do that in honor of the Lord, Paul clearly says we are not to pass judgment on them. The only way this could become wrong is if they bind such observances on others or teach that they are somehow required to be right with God (Galatians 4:10-11).
Since Jesus observed the (manmade) religious holidays of His day and Paul permitted Christians to keep whatever days they want in honor of the Lord, how can we possibly say it is wrong for individuals to celebrate Christmas and Easter? They have every right to do that. In fact, the only one in sin is the brother who refuses to accept them.
Shepherds in the Church
Leaders are essential. Every football team needs coaches, every business needs managers, every school needs administrators, and every flock of God needs shepherds. This article will explain the role of shepherds in the church and the responsibility of the sheep toward those shepherds.
The word “church” is used in two senses — universal and local. The universal church consists of all the saved everywhere, while the local church consists of those who work and worship in a specific location. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul said he was writing to the “church of God at Corinth.” Obviously, he was writing to one particular congregation; to a local church.
Local churches are to have qualified leaders. These leaders are referred to in a variety of ways in Scripture. They are called “shepherds” or “pastors,” “overseers” or “bishops,” and “elders” or “presbyters.” These terms are all used interchangeably and refer to the same group of men. I think this chart will help us to better understand each term.
Greek English Emphasis
Poimen Shepherd, Pastor Protection
Episkopos Overseer, Bishop Supervision
Presburetos Elder, Presbyter Experience
We actually see all three of these Greek terms used together in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5.
“Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders (presbyteros) of the church to come to him… Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos), to care for (poimaino) the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:17, 28).
“So I exhort the elders (presbyteros) among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd (poimaino) the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight (episkopeo), not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
I get the impression that Luke preferred the term “elder,” Paul preferred the term “overseer,” and Peter preferred the term “shepherd.” Without question, the most dominant model for spiritual leadership in the Bible is “shepherd.” That metaphor appears over 500 times across both the Old and New Testaments. This is how "AMG’s Comprehensive Dictionary of New Testament Words" defines the word for shepherd: "a. In a lit. sense: to guide, guard, and otherwise take care of the flock, as well as lead it to nourishment. b. In a spiritual sense: to act as a shepherd taking care of souls, i.e., ensuring they have good food, guiding them in the right way, and taking care of those who are weak and sick."
One of the most well-known Psalms, Psalm 23, captures the idea of a shepherd’s responsibilities. Though this psalm is often read at funerals, it is actually about living with God as your shepherd.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).
Notice that a good shepherd provides for the needs of his sheep. He nurtures them, leads them, protects them, comforts them, and helps them to prosper. He is a trustworthy leader who the sheep willingly follow.
In Bible times, the shepherd often lived with his sheep. At night, he would lead them into a barricaded area usually made of brush, sticks, or rocks. These makeshift-sheepfolds were built with one opening, and that’s where the shepherd would lie down. You’ve heard the expression “over my dead body.” Well, that’s literally the way it was for a shepherd. If wolves or robbers were going to come inside and harm the sheep, it would have to be over his dead body.
I want to share a brief excerpt with you from the book “They Smell Like Sheep.” It helps to demonstrate just how intimate of a relationship shepherds had with their sheep.
“When a tiny lamb was born into the wilderness world, the shepherd took the trembling newborn into his hands, warming it and caressing it. Among the first sensations felt by the shivering lamb was the tender hands of the shepherd. The gentle voice of the shepherd was one of the first sounds to awaken the lamb’s delicate eardrums… Each sheep came to rely on the shepherd and to know his voice and his alone. They followed him and no one else. Of course, the lambs understood clearly who was in charge. Occasionally, the shepherd might tap an unruly lamb on the ear with a shepherd’s crook. But this was a love tap, embraced in an enfolding circle of relationship. The shepherd smelled like sheep” (pp. 19-20).
Are you beginning to see why church leaders would be described as shepherds? The symbolism is unmistakable. Just as a physical shepherd takes a keen interest in the welfare of his sheep, spiritual shepherds are equally devoted to the care and well-being of their sheep.
It is important to note that shepherds lead the sheep, they do not drive them. They are not cowboys who force the herd to go their way by shouting, cracking whips, and poking them with sticks. Nor are they sheriffs who go around “flashing their badge” and asserting their authority to gain compliance. Shepherds lead, they don’t lord.
Have you ever heard the name “Diotrpehes?” He was a first-century Christian who went around bullying other members into submission. It was his way or the highway. Some believe that Diotrephes may have been a leader in the local church. If so, he is a perfect example of what shepherds are not to be. 3 John says that he liked to put himself first, refused to receive certain brothers, threw people out of the church, and even maligned the apostle John. That’s not an overseer, that’s an oppressor!
A tour-guide in Israel was explaining the tender relationship between a shepherd and his sheep to a bus full of people, when he was interrupted by a guy chasing sheep outside. He was throwing rocks, hitting them with sticks, and siccing dogs on them. The guide jumped off the bus and ran over to the man yelling, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What kind of shepherd assaults the sheep like that?” The sheep-chaser paused for a moment and then said, “Man, you’ve got me all wrong. I’m not a shepherd, I’m the butcher.” Sadly, I think some church leaders act more like butchers than shepherds. They batter their sheep to death. And as Tiberius once said, “It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear the sheep, not to skin them.”
Peter told church leaders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). That indicates two things: (1) It is God’s will for each flock to have leaders. The idea of going years getting by with business meetings is not how the church was intended to function. Sheep need shepherds! (2) The shepherds have limited oversight. They are responsible only for the flock “among them.” This is in keeping with God’s plan for each congregation to be autonomous (or self-governing). Of course, these shepherds work under the authority of the “chief Shepherd" (v. 4).
In the New Testament, you never read about one shepherd (or pastor) in a local church. There was always a plurality of shepherds. That’s why 1 Timothy 4:14 speaks of “the council of elders.” This chart demonstrates the pattern found in Acts and throughout the epistles.
Shepherds should be men of conscience. “Conscience” is that inner-faculty that approves when we do right and accuses when we do wrong. In order to be reliable, the conscience has to be programmed properly and obeyed. The Bible speaks of a weak conscience, a seared conscience, and a clear conscience. I’m sure you’ve seen images of a person with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Well, that angel encouraging him to do right represents a good conscience.
I heard about a golfer who hit his ball into the rough. As he walked up to it, he stepped on a twig that slightly moved the ball. He said to his caddie, “I moved the ball, count a stroke.” His caddie replied, “Sir, I didn’t see it and neither did anybody else.” The golfer said, “Yeah, but I did. That’s enough.” He was a man of conscience.
Sheep need shepherds. — Not just sick sheep, or new sheep, or not-so-smart sheep. All sheep. That includes scholarly sheep, seasoned sheep, and sophisticated sheep. All sheep. — We need to be cared for and watched after. We need to be led, fed, admonished, and encouraged. Even shepherds need shepherding, which may be another reason why there is always a plurality. Shepherds should mentor each other, teach each other, and hold each other accountable.
For a shepherd to be successful, his sheep must be willing to follow him. Members need to be submissive, obedient, and compliant.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
Notice some of the key words in those passages — obey, submit, respect, and esteem. These are the expectations God has for sheep toward their shepherds. It’s not, “submit when you want to, or when you agree with the decision.” This is something each member is required to do at all times.
One reason men are reluctant to take on the role of church leadership is that those who should be following are so rebellious and critical. They aren’t good sheep. Therefore, the men think to themselves, “Forget that. Why would I want to put myself and my family through the stress of trying to lead people who won’t be led?” And as a result, good men are sidelined. They don’t fear the wolves, they can’t get respect from the sheep!
I think we sometimes expect too much of our church leaders. We hold them to unrealistic standards. We need to remember that no one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. There will be moral lapses and poor judgments from time to time. That’s part of being a human.
Now don’t get me wrong. There should be consistency between what a person says and how he lives. If there is a pattern of behavior that betrays his stated convictions, he is not qualified to lead and should step down immediately. However, the only perfect shepherd was the chief Shepherd. The rest of us smell like sheep. Don’t hold your leaders to unrealistic expectations!
There is obviously a lot more we could say, but hopefully this article has helped all of us to better appreciate our church leaders. Again, sheep need shepherds! I will close with this quote: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” I think that pretty much sums up what it means to be a shepherd in the local church.
Rich in Grace
There have been some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. For instance, Jordan Rice was thirteen and unable to swim when his family became trapped in a car by flood waters. When crews arrived and tried to rescue Jordan, he told them to help his younger brother first. Jordan’s brother was saved just before a wall of water swept Jordan and his mother away.
Arland Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, which crashed into freezing waters in the middle of a snowstorm. When a rescue helicopter arrived and threw him a life line, he immediately gave it to another passenger. When the helicopter came back, Arland did the same thing again and again. When the helicopter returned a final time, Arland was dead. He had used his last ounce of energy to save a stranger.
Jesus Garcia was a railroad brakeman in Mexico. On November 7, 1907, he noticed that some hay on the roof of a boxcar containing dynamite had caught fire. He drove the train at full-steam out of town before the dynamite exploded, killing him but sparing many people. He is now revered as a national hero.
Four chaplains who were aboard a troop transport ship that was hit by a submarine’s torpedo quickly rallied together and began handing out life jackets and directing people to safety. When the life jackets ran out, they selflessly gave away their own. Then the four men linked arms and sang as the ship sank.
Even dogs have left some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. When a drunken man fell asleep on a train track in Kazakhstan, his four-legged-friend pushed, pulled, and nudged him off the tracks just as a train struck and killed the dog.
These examples and many others, like a soldier jumping on a grenade to save fellow troops or a boyfriend taking a bullet for his girlfriend, are all admirable and praiseworthy. However, no story of self-sacrifice in the history of the world is more impressive than that of Jesus Christ. It was planned longer, rings louder, and looms larger than all of the others. In fact, His sacrifice was so great that few people, even Christians, really appreciate its many facets.
The Supreme Sacrifice
The sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the cross, or in the garden, or in the manger. It began in heaven when He laid aside His glory and consented to come to earth. He left the abode of God for the abode of man and exchanged exaltation for humiliation, magnitude for servitude, a radiant crown for a rugged cross, and a hallowed throne for a hollowed tomb. And it was all for us!
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Christ was rich and then became poor so we could become rich. But what exactly does that mean? Perhaps we have a divine commentary in Philippians 2:6-8:
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Notice that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God.” It is in this sense that He was rich. He shared in all the glory and majesty of Godhood (John 17:5) before coming to earth. Then we see that Christ “made himself nothing,” “took the form of a servant,” “was born in the likeness of men,” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross.” It is in this sense that He became poor. And why did He do it? So that we might become rich spiritually (Ephesians 1:3).
Paul refers to this great sacrifice as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Corinthians text. That is because it was undeserved kindness on His part. He acted freely and favorably toward unworthy inferiors. He didn’t have to become poor for us, He chose to do it. He chose to walk the dusty streets of earth so we could walk the golden streets of heaven. He chose to wear a crown of thorns on His head so we could wear a crown of righteousness on our head. He chose to die physically so we could live spiritually. His grace is our gain!
The culmination of the Lord’s great sacrifice was, of course, the cross. He suffered the most brutal and torturous form of execution in the Roman Empire. In fact, it was so severe that Roman citizens were exempt from it. Only the most degraded offenders, like insurrectionists and slaves, were subjects of crucifixion. Before looking at the cross, however, let’s first consider the horrific punishment that preceded it — scourging. Below is an excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“It consisted of a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed, which were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make the blow more painful and effective…The victim was tied to a post (Acts 22 25) and the blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, in the wanton cruelty of the executioner, to the face and the bowels. In the tense position of the body, the effect can easily be imagined. So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it" (Vol. 4, p. 2704).
Eusebius adds to this graphic image in his writings:
“For they say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view” (4:15, p. 122).
Then Christ faced the nails. He was taken outside the city and crucified for all to see. His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16). Below is another excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp. in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst. The wounds swelled about the rough nails and the torn and lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank into unconsciousness and death” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
The high cost of a free gift!
Jesus did not have to do it. He chose to do it. His great sacrifice, which started in heaven and culminated on the cross, brought hope to the hopeless and life to the lifeless. It did for us what we could not have done for ourselves. It made us rich in grace!
You have probably heard of the Nobel Peace Prize, but do you know how it came about? It is named after a Swedish inventor named Alfred Nobel. He was a very successful armaments manufacturer who amassed an enormous fortune inventing various kinds of explosives, including dynamite and the blasting cap.
In 1888, Alfred was astonished to see his own obituary in a French newspaper with the headline: “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” It went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” The paper had actually confused Alfred for his brother, Ludvig, who had just passed away.
After reading the mistaken obituary, Alfred became very apprehensive about how he would be remembered and decided to make some drastic changes. He updated his will and specified that most of his fortune (worth about 250 million US dollars) was to be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer “the greatest benefit on mankind” in five areas, including peace. Alfred wrote, “I was so shocked by people’s perception that I committed the rest of my life to work toward world peace.”
Alfred got a rare opportunity to see how the world would portray his life and define his legacy, and that prompted him to make some major changes. The “Merchant of Death” became a promoter of peace. But what about you? If your life ended today, how would the world remember you?
Would the world remember you as a workaholic, a chronic worrier, a deadbeat dad, a greedy hoarder, a loose canon, a lazy bum, a neglectful mother, an unfaithful wife, a dishonest liar, or a selfish scrooge? Or, would your legacy be more positive than that? Would they say things like, “He was a great husband,” “She was a loving mother,” and most importantly, “They were a committed Christian?” We all need to realize that the decisions we make today will determine how we’re remembered tomorrow.
Your legacy is being written right now, what does it say about you?
Back in 2012, a lifeguard named Tomas Lopez was on duty at a beach in Florida when someone rushed over to his post and said that a man had gone out too far and was drowning. Without hesitation, Lopez swam out and pulled the man to shore with the help of some other beachgoers. There, they gave the man CPR until paramedics arrived and he ended up surviving.
Rather than being heralded as a hero, however, Lopez was fired from his position. His company informed him that the drowning man was “out of the protected area” and said that anyone who swam there did so at their own risk. In other words, the dying man was not in Lopez’s jurisdiction. Two other lifeguards were also fired for saying that they would have done the exact same thing.
Penalized for doing good. Punished for helping another person. That was certainly something the apostle Paul could relate with. He too had been treated badly for doing good and would have known exactly how Lopez felt in that moment. Paul once helped someone get their life back by freeing them from a demon, yet he was severely persecuted for doing so. The incident is found in Acts 16.
“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour” (Acts 16:16-18).
Paul and his friends (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) were in the city of Philippi working with a new congregation when a demon-possessed slave girl started following them around day after day. She kept shouting that they were servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim the way of salvation. Though what the girl said was true, it is probably not a good idea to have a demon endorsing your work. That would kind of be like having a staggering drunk with a bottle in his hand shouting, “These guys can make you sober.” Therefore, Paul finally let out a shout of his own. He turned around and said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her,” and the spirit left her that very hour.
Think about the good that Paul just did for this girl. She was being held captive inside her own body by a demon. Her innocence and independence had been seized by an evil spirit. And now she got her life back. The nightmare she had been enduring for a long time was finally over. You would think this should be reason to rejoice, right? However, that wasn’t the case at all. Her masters were not celebrating, they were furious. That is because they were exploiting the girl’s problem for profit. They were making a lot money off her demon possession. All her greedy masters could think about was dollar signs disappearing. And as they say, “No good deed goes unpunished!”
“But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (Acts 16:19).
The love of money has a way of making people crazy. It can cause otherwise normal people to do things that are totally irrational (and almost insane), like chug an entire bottle of hot sauce or go streaking through the mall. I saw where people have sold advertising space on their bodies. For the right price, they’ll let you tattoo your website on a prominent part of their body, like their forehead or bald spot or bicep, for all to see. That’s how crazy the love of money can make people. A man named Mike Merrill went even further than that and sold “his life” to shareholders, who now get to make all his decisions for him — what he eats, who he dates, what kind of music he listens to in the car. They have literally bought the rights to his life!
The love of money had blinded this girl’s masters so badly that they could not see the good being done. It kept them from seeing that a person had been set free; liberated from the unspeakable horrors of demon-possession. All they could see was dollar signs going down the drain. One writer said, “It was almost as if the evil spirit, having been cast out of the slave girl, had entered into her owners and turned them into furious, raving beasts.” They seized Paul and Silas, dragging them into the marketplace to stand trial.
There is a sense of irony here. Before his conversion, Paul had been “dragging” off others to stand trial (Acts 8:3), but now he was the one being dragged off to stand trial. Why Timothy and Luke were not arrested with Paul and Silas is not stated.
They were taken to the marketplace. That was basically the city square. It was the social center of town where business of all sorts was conducted. — It was where the sick was treated, the unemployed waited for work, and the magistrates heard court cases. — This was the charge leveled against them:
“These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21).
Rather than stating their real reason for the complaint, the girl’s masters came up with a charge that would arouse strong emotions among all the magistrates and any onlookers. It was sure to get everybody there fired up! First, they appealed to the people’s prejudice — “these men are Jews.” Anti-Jewish sentiment was high in Philippi and really throughout the whole Roman Empire. They were tolerated, but not very well-liked. Second, they appealed to the prime objective of Roman law — “they are disturbing our city.” More than anything else, the Romans wanted to keep the peace. They wanted to maintain order and have civil obedience at all costs; and they had very little patience for anyone making waves. And then finally, they appealed to civic pride — “they advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” This evoked the response they were hoping for. The fickle crowd rose up in a frenzy and demanded justice!
The magistrates immediately stripped Paul and Silas and had them beaten with rods. These rods were thick as a man’s thumb and would have left their backs bloody and bruised. Whereas the Jews were limited in the number of whippings they could administer, the Romans had no such restrictions. A prisoner could be beaten for as long and hard as the officials wanted. All the text says is they received “many” blows. — Was it 40? 60? 100?
This form of punishment was so brutal that Roman citizens were supposed to be exempt from it, and there are recorded cases of people dying from the beating. One writer said, “It was an experience not soon forgotten.”
Then the two missionaries were placed in “maximum security” in the local jail. This would have been a damp, dirty dungeon with little or no lighting infested with rodents. There was probably a musty smell in the air and blood stains on the floor. It would have been a terrible place to be.
If that were not bad enough, the text says their feet were fastened in stocks. This was a cruel move on the part of the jailer, for those stocks were not just to hold you in place; they were a form of torture. A prisoner’s legs were spread far apart and then locked tight. This left him in an awkward, uncomfortable position with no way to move or stretch out. You can imagine the cramping that must have set in as the hours slowly passed by.
If I were in their spot, I think I’d be having a pity party. I’d probably be saying to myself, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” — Here they were being punished for doing good; for helping somebody. They had been convicted on trumped up charges, brutally beaten in public, thrown into the inner-most part of the prison, and had their feet fastened in stocks. I mean who has ever heard of casting someone into jail for casting out a demon? — If that were me, I’d be singing the blues. These two men weren’t singing the blues, however, they were singing praises!
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16:25-26).
There have been some pretty remarkable “coincidences” over the years. Some are almost too creepy to even believe, but they’re true. For instance, in 1974, a man died when his moped was hit by a taxi in Bermuda. One year later, his twin brother was riding that same moped when he was struck and killed by the same taxi, driven by the same person, and carrying the same passenger. Isn’t that creepy?
In 1950, a church exploded in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska. The blast demolished the building, shattered windows in nearby houses, and forced a local radio station off the air. Choir practice was supposed to begin at 7:20 that night, five minutes before the explosion occurred. Yet none of the 15 members were injured because all of them were running late. That’s creepy!
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both assassinated while in office. Both men were shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while sitting beside their wives (neither of whom were injured). Moreover, they were both in the presence of another couple and each time the man with them was also wounded.
Lincoln and Kennedy were both succeeded by vice-presidents named “Johnson,” who were both born in the year “08.” Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 and Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908. Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and fled to a warehouse, while Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theatre. Both assassins were detained by officers named “Baker.” And finally, both assassins used 3 names (John Wilkes Booth / Lee Harvey Oswald) and each had 15 letters total in their name.
Those are certainly creepy coincidences. Almost too creepy to even believe. But what happened in the Philippian jail that night was no coincidence, it was providence. It was the deliberate work of God through natural means and circumstance to accomplish a purpose.
The earthquake was so powerful that it unlocked every single cell and unloosed every single chain holding the prisoners, and yet the roof didn’t collapse, the walls didn’t crumble, and there wasn’t the slightest injury to anyone. Do you see what I mean? This was God’s doing!
When the jailer awoke and saw the cells opened, he assumed everyone had escaped and was about to kill himself. That may seem drastic to us, but under Roman law he was as good as dead anyway. Jailers were held personally responsible for their prisoners. If they escaped, you were executed. And in that society, it was considered more honorable to take your own life than to let someone else take it. Just as he raised the sword, however, he was spared by a voice in the dark.
“But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved’” (Acts 16:28-29)?
The jailer, who had probably already heard Paul and Silas witnessing in the jail, seems to have interpreted the earthquake as an act of God; and it compelled him to ask the most important question that anyone could ask — “What must I do to be saved?”
The missionaries told the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus and then started sharing stories about their wonderful Savior. — They probably recited how He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, how He confounded the wise and healed the sick, how He was betrayed by a friend and crucified on a cross, and how He triumphantly conquered the grave on that third day. — And in that very hour, the jailer and his family were baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins. They did exactly what Jesus had said to do in Mark 16:16 — “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
The earthquake was not designed to deliver the prisoners, it was designed to deliver the jailer. That was the reason God made the “jailhouse rock!”
Just Say "NO"
“The Top Tens” website came out with a list of the best decades to live in since 1900. Can you guess which one topped the list? The 1980s. When I think about that decade, things like acid wash jeans, cassette mixtapes, and Nintendo come to mind. I also think about the great movies of that time, like Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, and Beverly Hills Cop. There was the tragic shuttle explosion in 1986 and the powerful “Tear Down This Wall” speech by President Reagan a year later. However, one of the things I remember most, probably because of my age at the time, was Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. She traveled the country, flooded the airwaves, and partnered with countless celebrities to repeat one simple word — NO!
“Just Say No” would have been an appropriate slogan for the Pharisees in the first century, but for an entirely different reason. These men were strict Jews who thought very highly of themselves and were constantly finding fault in others. They considered just about everything to be a sin. Therefore, they engaged in their own kind of “Just Say No” campaign.
The Pharisees were obsessed with keeping the “traditions of the elders” (a set of oral instructions that had been compiled over the generations). These traditions were very cumbersome, going beyond the Word of God and adding to the Word of God. Yet the Pharisees believed these traditions were a requirement that had to be observed by all the Jews. To them, violating a tradition was equivalent to violating the law itself. This was especially evident when it came to the Sabbath.
Though the old law prohibited working on the Sabbath, it did not go into much detail about the work itself. However, traditions were developed over time that attempted to list exactly what could and could not be done. This resulted in 39 different categories of “forbidden labor.” For instance, you could not take a bath because water might spill on the floor and wash it. You could not swat a fly because killing it would be slaughtering. You could not drag a chair across the dirt because it might make a rut, which would be plowing. Washing, slaughtering, and plowing were all categories of forbidden labor.
You could not climb a tree because a leaf might accidently fall off and make one guilty of reaping. You could not wear false teeth because if they were to fall out and be picked back up, the person would be guilty of carrying a burden. A woman could not even look at her reflection because she might see a gray hair and try to pluck it out, which would be working. Other forbidden labor included tying or untying a knot, washing or drying clothes, lighting or extinguishing a fire, and separating good fruit from spoiled fruit.
If a hen laid an egg on the Sabbath, you could not eat it because the hen had worked. If reaching for food when the Sabbath began, the food had to be dropped on the floor. Cold water could be poured into warm water, but not warm water into cold water. And something lifted up in a private place could only be put down in a public place (and vice versa).
Interestingly, many of their traditions had convenient “loopholes.” For instance, you could not take the saddle off a donkey. However, you could unloose the saddle and let it fall to the ground on its own. You could not carry clothes out of a burning house. However, you could put on several layers of clothes and wear them out of the house. You could not travel more than 3,000 feet from home. However, if you placed food at that precise point before the Sabbath, you could travel another 3,000 feet because the food was considered an extension of the home.
When it came to medical treatment, their tradition said that only lifesaving measures could be taken. You could prevent death, but not do anything to improve health. This is why Jesus caused such a stir for healing on the Sabbath.
Obviously, these traditions were way over the top. They bound where God had not bound, put an enormous burden on the Jewish people, and changed the focus of the Sabbath from a day of “rest” to a day of “restrictions.” Therefore, Jesus was very antagonistic toward what He called “the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).
Instances of Opposition
Below are three instances in the gospel accounts where Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders) tried to bind their traditions on Jesus and His associates.
Perhaps the most well-known clash Jesus had with the Jewish leaders over tradition involved handwashing as is recorded in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. In that text, the disciples were accused of eating with defiled hands because they did not wash first. (This was not a matter of hygiene but of ritual. It was a ceremonial rinsing for the purpose of removing any possible contamination, like having contact with a Gentile). The Jewish leaders took this very seriously. Some rabbis taught that a certain demon could enter the body through unwashed hands while others said the act of washing assured eternal life. One imprisoned rabbi would use the little water he was given to wash his hands rather than drinking it because he thought it was better to perish than to transgress the tradition. He nearly died of thirst.
The ceremonial rinsing had very rigid requirements. It was to be done before every meal and between each of the courses. The water had to be kept in special stone jars that could not be used for any other purpose. First, the hands had to be held with fingertips pointing upwards so the water could run down to the wrist. After each hand was cleansed with the fist of the other, the procedure was repeated but with the fingertips pointing downwards. Then and only then was the person considered clean.
Jesus used this confrontation to expose the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and accused them of teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. This shows just how strongly Jesus felt about binding where God has not bound.
Application for Today
The Pharisees thought they were just being “conservative,” but they were really being extreme. In their zeal to do right, they became obsessed with manmade traditions and found fault in anyone who did not adhere to them. They became the “Just Say No” crowd of the first century.
Sadly, some Christians fall into that same trap today. In their desire to do right, they fail to distinguish between truth and tradition, which inevitably leads them to oppose many things that are not wrong. For instance, some oppose displaying the cross on church buildings or pendants, using modern translations of the Bible, singing contemporary hymns in worship, wearing casual attire at services, celebrating religious holidays, and designating a minister’s area of work (youth, family, worship, etc). None of those things are a violation of truth, they just go against long-held traditions.
May God help us to keep manmade traditions in their proper place. They are not equivalent to God’s Word and should not be viewed as such. Nor should we impose them on others. We do not want to be the “Just Say No” crowd of the 21st century!
Early Persecution of Christians
Christianity came about in the days of the Roman Empire. This proved to be a very difficult environment for Christians, who were soon labeled “atheists” for not worshipping the Roman gods (including the emperor) and “cannibals” for observing the Lord’s Supper. They were also accused of disrupting business for preaching against animal sacrifices and gross immorality for professing to love their “brothers” and “sisters,” which people assumed was sensual.
The initial persecution suffered by Christians was not state-sponsored. It was the result of local backlash at the hands of Jews and pagans. The book of Acts records the “progression of aggression” from verbal threats (4:21) to physical beatings (5:40) and then murder (7:58). Things escalated from there. A regional king who was eager to please the Jews killed James and imprisoned Peter (12:1-5). Paul was threatened at Iconium (14:6), was stoned at Lystra (14:19), was beaten at Philippi (16:23), and was rioted against at Thessalonica, Berea, Ephesus, and Jerusalem (17:5, 13; 19:28; 21:30).
The first emperor to actively persecute the church was Nero in A.D. 64. He blamed Christians for setting fire to Rome in order to remove mounting suspicion from himself. Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, wrote,
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed” (Annals, 15:44).
John Foxe added,
“When Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax fixed in axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them” (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, pp. 12-13).
Christians had a shady reputation in Rome. They were regarded by many as members of a subversive organization. This made them an easy scapegoat for Nero. While we do not know how many Christians died at that time, the torture they endured was intense.
Jesus, who suffered persecution Himself, taught that His followers would be persecuted. He said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Paul added, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Christians are called upon to endure persecution regardless of the consequences (Revelation 2:10).
Stephen (Acts 7:58), James (Acts 12:2), and Antipas (Revelation 2:13) are specifically named as martyrs in Scripture. Tradition says that Paul was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down, and Thomas was stabbed with a spear. In fact, John was the only apostle who was not executed, though he was exiled to Patmos (Revelation 1:9). John described Rome at the end of the first century as “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6; also see 18:24). Blood continued to spill in the second and third centuries. Two of the most notable martyrs of that time were Ignatius and Polycarp.
Christianity was fueled by the blood of its saints. Attempts to eradicate the church backfired, as the martyrs loomed larger than the murderers. Choosing to “die rather than deny” was a powerful testimony that led more and more people to the Lord.
Though state-sponsored persecution of Christians was sporadic in the Roman Empire, there were plenty of emperors who did take such action (Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Maximinus, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and Diocletian). The last and most severe of these persecutions is commonly called the “Great Persecution” (A.D. 303-311). State-sponsored attacks on Christians ended with the “Edict of Milan,” which legalized Christianity. It was signed by Constantine and his co-emperor Licinius in A.D. 313.
A young girl lived near a spooky-looking cemetery, and in order to get to the store she had to follow a path that went through the cemetery. Yet the young girl never seemed to be afraid, even when it was dark outside. When someone asked her, “Aren’t you scared walking through that cemetery?” she replied, “Oh, no, I am not scared, for my home is just beyond.”
Because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, Christians believe they have a home just beyond the cemetery and therefore have no need to fear it. Since he conquered death and lives again, they will also conquer death and live again. Here is one of the gospel accounts of that great event:
“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (Matthew 28:1-8).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ took place early on the first day of the week. As prophesied (Psalm 16:10) and promised (John 2:19), his brutally beaten body that had been nailed to a cross and sealed in a tomb was brought back to life in a remarkable display of heavenly power and triumph.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundational claim of Christianity. If he was not raised from the dead, every other part of the faith falls flat. Paul put it like this:
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
As they do with so much of God’s Word, skeptics have offered several theories in an effort to deny the truth about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One theory says that Jesus was not dead when they took him off the cross, he simply fainted. Then in the cool of the tomb he revived and departed. Such reasoning is illogical for many reasons. (1) What are the chances that Joseph, Nicodemus, and the soldiers would all have been mistaken about his death? (2) How could a man who had been scourged and crucified have the energy to move a rock that usually took two or three men to move? It is inconceivable to think that a man who had his hands and feet pierced, not to mention his side punctured with a spear, could have the capability of doing such a thing. (3) What about the guards? How could this wounded man manage to move the rock and escape without being noticed?
Another theory says that the disciples stole the body during the night. Like the previous theory, such reasoning is illogical. (1) What physical benefits would the disciples receive from stealing the body of Jesus and preaching that he was resurrected? That kind of preaching cost many of them their freedom, their possessions, and even their lives. (2) What spiritual benefits would the disciples receive? If they were lying about the resurrection, they would be punished by God and perish eternally. (3) What are the chances that the fearful disciples would suddenly have the courage to sneak by the guards and steal the body of their tortured leader? If they feared the Roman authorities while Jesus was living, wouldn’t that fear increase after his horrific death? (4) It is foolish to think that the disciples could remove the massive rock and carry the body away without the guards noticing. (5) Can you imagine thieves taking the time to unwrap the grave clothes in the tomb? Surely they would have waited until they got to a secure place to do that. (6) If the disciples stole the body while the guards slept (Matthew 28:13), how could the guards have known that the disciples were responsible?
There are other theories as well. For instance, some say that the disciples did not really see Jesus resurrected, but suffered from hallucinations. That is not reasonable, however, considering the fact that over 500 people saw him at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). Can you imagine how much weight 500 witnesses would carry in a court of law? This is not to mention the other appearances recorded in Scripture.
None of the theories are logical. They are weak attempts to deny the undeniable. The gospel accounts of what happened on that memorable morning are true. Jesus Was Raised! His spirit broke forth from the hadean realm and reunited with his body. His heart began to beat, his eyes began to blink, and his lungs began to fill with air. He sat up and walked out of the tomb never to die again. Hope happened! As Peter wrote,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
If you are not a partaker of the blessed hope that Christians have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we urge you to believe and obey the gospel today (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10)!
There have been many suggestions made about the “love feasts” in Jude 12. Some say they were meals eaten by Christians in the assembly. Others say they were meals eaten by Christians outside the assembly. Still others say that Jude’s expression refers to the Lord’s Supper or is merely figurative. The text itself provides no additional details.
I was surprised to see how many reputable sources say that “love feasts” were meals eaten by Christians in the assembly, usually in connection with the Lord’s Supper. Here is a sampling.
Tertullian (200 AD) went into some detail about “love feasts” in his Apology 39, though there is no indication they were connected to the Lord’s Supper.
“Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy… If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste… As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed. We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.”
Ignatius (110 AD) discussed when to “celebrate a love feast” in his letter to the Smyrnaeans (8:2), and Pliny the Younger (112 AD) reported to Trajan that “on a fixed day” Christians would assemble “to partake of food, ordinary and innocent food” (97).
The Didache (100 A.D.) gives instruction for a Eucharistic prayer “after you are satisfied with food” (10:1), which may imply that a meal was eaten before the Lord’s Supper was observed. It also says to come together on the Lord’s day to “break bread and hold Eucharist” (14:1), apparently making a distinction between the two acts.
Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (215 AD) links the Lord’s Supper to a broader meal. It says, “When they dine, the faithful shall take from the hand of the bishop a small piece of bread before taking their own bread, because it is blessed. Yet it is not the eucharist, like the body of the Lord” (26:1). It also encourages Christians to “eat and drink in moderation” (28:1) and to keep some food as “leftovers of the saints, so that the one to whom it is sent may rejoice” (28:3). Moreover, it specifies that the Eucharistic bread and wine should be taken "before eating anything else” (36:1).
We know that the Council of Laodicea outlawed “love feasts” in the fourth century (Canon 28). This legislation was later reiterated by the Third Council of Carthage and the Second Council of Orleans.
All of this made me wonder if there are any passages in the New Testament to support the idea that Christians shared a meal when they gathered together. The answer is “yes.”
According to 1 Corinthians 11, the church at Corinth ate meals prior to their worship service. These meals not only provided a good opportunity for fellowship, but they gave the wealthy members a chance to share their abundance with the poor. (That might have been the best meal the slaves had to eat all week). However, the rich got tired of waiting for the poor to arrive and ate without them. This left the poor with very little or no food.
“For in eating, each goes on ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (v. 21).
Paul rebuked this outrageous behavior. It not only missed the point of the meal, but embarrassed the latecomers. Therefore, he told those who were too selfish to wait for others to go home and eat.
“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (v. 22).
The Voice translation renders the first part of that verse this way: “What is going on? If a self-centered meal is what you want, can’t you eat and drink at home?” That seems to be the point.
Paul then launched into a discussion about the Lord’s Supper, which apparently followed the meal (vv. 23-32). This was because their treatment of one another while dining was incompatible with the selflessness of Christ and unity of believers reflected in the observance of communion done afterwards. He even gave this warning, "If you eat and drink without paying attention to those who are the Lord’s body, your eating and drinking will cause you to be judged guilty" (1 Corinthians 11:29, ERV). He concluded his remarks with this instruction:
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (vv. 33-34).
For a long time, I thought they were waiting to “eat” the Lord’s Supper. I was wrong. It actually refers to the broader meal that was eaten before the Lord’s Supper. How do I know? Because whatever they were going to “eat” in verse 33 could be eaten “at home” in verse 34. That excludes communion.
Paul was saying that when you come together to eat this meal, which is capable of satisfying hunger and getting you drunk (v. 21), wait for one another. Those who are too hungry to wait should eat at home. This is brought out in certain translations/paraphrases.
Brethren who oppose the so-called “second serving” of the Lord’s Supper argue that Paul said to “wait for one another.” Yes, he did; but that is not in reference to the communion. It refers to the eating of a meal that left some “hungry” and others “drunk” (v. 21) and could be eaten “at home” (v. 34).
Paul was not condemning the Corinthians for eating a meal. He was rebuking them for not eating that meal the right way. They needed to wait patiently for one another so that none would be neglected or embarrassed. The fact that he said “when you come together to eat” assumes that he supported the idea of the meal, but they were to “wait for one another” before they partook of it.
The Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of a meal. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread…” (Matthew 26:26, emp. mine). That may explain why there would have been a “meal setting” in the early church. Moreover, the word "supper" is from the Greek deipnon and refers to "a formal meal usually held at the evening" (Thayer). This was the main meal of the day where people not only satisfied their hunger, but enjoyed one another's company with no sense of hurry. Yet in churches today, we use the word much differently. We try to have a "supper" without a meal setting at all!
Those who deny the necessity of baptism often reference two verses in 1 Corinthians 1 to prove their point (“I thank God that I baptized none of you” and “Christ did not send me to baptize”). However, the surrounding context actually makes one of the strongest arguments for baptism. Likewise, brethren who oppose eating a meal when gathered together often reference two verses in 1 Corinthians 11 to prove their point (“Do you not have houses to eat and drink in” and “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home”), when the surrounding context actually authorizes eating together.
The evidence indicates that 1 Corinthians 11 is describing an abuse of the “love feast” mentioned in Jude 12. It was a meal eaten in the assembly which expressed the love and devotion that Christians share. And as Dyron Daughrity said in his book on church history, "Something was lost when the Eucharist lost its original association with a fellowship gathering where like-minded people enjoyed food together" (Roots: Uncovering Why We Do What We Do In Church, p. 103).
"There can be no doubt that the Eucharist at this period (shortly after Pentecost) was preceded uniformly by a common repast, as when the ordinance was instituted. Most scholars hold that this was the prevailing usage in the first centuries after Christ; and we have traces of this practice in 1 Corinthians 11:20ff.”
— Alexander Campbell
Ants in Your Pants
Paul Railton of Consett, England, was fined and barred from driving for six months after a cyclist witnessed him "walking" his dog while driving. Railton was holding the leash out the car window as he drove slowly down the street. Though he pled guilty to the charge of "not being in proper control of a vehicle," the real crime was sloth.
"Sloth" is laziness. It can denote either inactivity or sluggishness in the performance of a task. Words like "apathy," "idleness," "indifference," and "lethargy" are often associated with sloth. A slothful person delays work and does not complete work already begun. He lives by the saying, "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow." He cuts corners and looks for the easy way out.
A slothful person asks someone else to change the channel, walks by an overflowing trash can without emptying it, drinks straight from the milk carton, coughs without covering his mouth, daydreams with a deadline approaching, doesn't flush the toilet, never uses a blinker, hides from the boss, cheats on tests, and arrives late to appointments. He walks a dog while driving.
The Bible has a lot to say about sloth, especially in the book of Proverbs. The writer frequently condemns the "sluggard" (ESV) or "slacker" (HCSB). Young's Literal Translation uses the word "slothful:"
"As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the slothful to those sending him" (10:26).
"The soul of the slothful is desiring, and hath not. And the soul of the diligent is made fat" (13:4).
"The way of the slothful is as a hedge of briers, and the path of the upright is raised up" (15:19).
"The slothful hath hidden his hand in a dish, even unto his mouth he bringeth it not back" (19:24; also 26:15).
"Because of winter the slothful plougheth not, he asketh in harvest, and there is nothing" (20:4).
"The desire of the slothful slayeth him, for his hands have refused to work" (21:25).
"The slothful hath said, 'A lion is without, in the midst of the broad places I am slain'" (22:13; also 26:13).
"The door turneth round on its hinge, and the slothful on his bed" (26:14).
"Wiser is the slothful in his own eyes, than seven men returning a reason" (26:16).
The above verses describe the slothful person as an aggravating, unmotivated, excuse-filled, self-conceited drain on society. He is a disgrace to himself and his Creator. He will rust out long before he will wear out! This is the opposite of what Christians are to be. We are to be energetic and hardworking people (Colossians 3:22-24) who use our time wisely (Colossians 4:5).
God has always required man to work. It was expected of Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:15) and of Israel in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:9). In fact, there was a saying that developed among the Jews, "He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal." It is no wonder then that Jesus worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3).
Christians who were unwilling to work were disciplined in the early church. Paul said to "keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness" and "have nothing to do with him" (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14). He also taught that those who would not work should not eat (v. 10) and that those who do not provide for their families are worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8). This emphasizes just how important it is for Christians to have a strong work ethic.
Ants in Your Pants
Ants are amazing creatures. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. They have the largest brain among insects; they have a second stomach to store food for other ants; they can communicate with one another through chemicals known as "pheromones;" they can farm smaller insects; and they can enslave other ants. Some ants are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight. (The dung beetle can lift 1,000 times its own weight). Ants move an estimated 50 tons of soil per year in one square mile. They are tiny yet industrious creatures.
In Proverbs 6, the slothful person is urged to consider the ants and learn from their ways.
"Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber" (vv. 6-11, NLT).
Ants are diligent. They work hard without having to be overseen. They do not procrastinate or piddle around. They are astute, energized, and motivated to do their tasks. Therefore, the writer of Proverbs says to the slothful person, "Get some ants in your pants!"
An old man and his wife were sitting in front of the fireplace one evening when she said, "Jed, I think it's raining. Get up and see." The old man continued to gaze into the fire for a while and then replied, "Why don't we just call in the dog and see if he's wet?" Sadly, that same slothful attitude characterizes many in our society. They are stuck in neutral. They have no drive in their lives. However, it should never characterize members of the Lord's church. Slothfulness is sinfulness (Matthew 25:26-30).
Was Jesus Forsaken?
There are seven recorded sayings of Jesus on the cross. They were apparently said in this order:
• “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
• “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
• “Woman, behold, your son!... Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27)
• “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
• “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
• “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
• “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
All of the Gospel writers include at least one saying, but none more than three. Luke records the first and last sayings, which were both addressed to the Father. The fourth saying is perhaps the most intriguing and most misunderstood of them all. Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At first glance, those words seem to suggest that Jesus was abandoned by the Father on the cross. But is that really the case? I do not believe it is.
Many teach that Jesus literally took our sins upon Himself and made them His own on the cross. Since God cannot have fellowship with sin, this required the Father to abandon Him as a loathsome thing during that time. However, this view does not harmonize with other passages of Scripture and has some serious unintended consequences. I hope you will consider the following points carefully.
(1) Jesus promised the Father’s perpetual presence. On two different occasions during His earthly ministry, Jesus promised that the Father would never forsake Him — even on the cross.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:28-29).
“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32).
Notice that Jesus was speaking about His crucifixion (“when you have lifted up the Son of Man” and “when you will be scattered”) and said He would not be abandoned by the Father. We should also note that the promise in both passages is present tense in Greek, which denotes an on-going, continuous action. Though others would forsake Him, God would not!
(2) Jesus was not asking a question in search of information. Jesus was not inquiring to gain knowledge, He was quoting a Scripture to teach the people. And why quote Psalm 22:1? Because that psalm depicted the very scene before them. He was calling their minds back to that passage to show them they were fulfilling prophecy.
“By drawing their attention to a Psalm that described the very scene before them, perhaps they could see that they were fulfilling prophecy at that very moment. They could look into the mirror of scriptures and see themselves there. They could understand that Jesus was indeed the Christ because Psalm 22 was a prophecy of the Christ which, in turn, declared His Godhood” (Maurice Barnett, The Person of Christ, p. 115).
There are approximately 20 prophecies relative to the crucifixion in Psalm 22, including “they have pierced my hands and feet” (v. 16) and “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (v. 18). It’s no wonder Jesus would want them thinking about that text.
(3) Jesus was not affirming the perception of unbelievers. To the unbelieving Jews, Jesus was a God-forsaken man. They thought He was a blasphemer and law-breaker. It is absurd to think that His words affirmed their perception. He was not confirming their thoughts, He was correcting their thoughts by pointing them to a messianic psalm.
(4) Jesus was not a sinner. If Jesus took our sins upon Himself and made them His own, then He was a sinner. I may not ever acquire a million dollars on my own, but if someone gives me their million dollars I am still a millionaire. Though Jesus may not have ever acquired sin on His own, if our sins were given to Him on the cross He was still a sinner. Martin Luther understood the logical conclusion of this view (which he espoused) in his writings:
“All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer, that ever was or ever could be on earth. When he took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner…” (Luther, Lectures on Galatians 3:13, p. 277).
Do you believe that? Do you believe that Christ became “the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer, that ever was or ever could be on earth?” Do you believe that Christ “was no longer an innocent person… a sinner?” If you take the position that Jesus took our sins upon Himself and made them His own, you would have to accept these things to be consistent.
Here are two more quotes, which are equally disturbing:
“Because he was ‘made sin,’ impregnated with sin, and became the very essence of sin, on the cross he was banished from God’s presence as a loathsome thing” (Paul Billheimer).
“As the one great Sinner — the one who had become sin, the one who was accursed beyond all that ever lived — all the wrath of God Almighty was poured out upon Him” (J. Rodman Williams).
John the Baptist said that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), not “takes on the sin of the world.” That is an important distinction to make. He did not make our sins His own!
(5) Can God forsake God? It seems illogical to me that God could ever forsake God. Though a man, Jesus was still fully divine on the cross. He did not divest Himself of deity. Therefore, you have a situation in which God forsakes God. In other words, if one claims that the Father actually forsook Jesus during the crucifixion, then he admits to a fracturing of the Godhood, which amounts to a denial of the very nature of God.
(6) Jesus went on talking to (and trusting in) the Father. There were three more sayings after the one in question, and they certainly suggest that Jesus was still in fellowship with the Father. In fact, His last words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
(7) Not even David had been forsaken by God. The words Jesus quoted on the cross were originally said by David in Psalm 22:1, which describes a time of severe trials for David. He felt hopeless and helpless, as if God had abandoned him. However, God had not abandoned His servant. He had always been with him, even in those darkest moments. David finally realized that and declared, “For he forsook not, neither despised the prayer of a poor man. Neither he turned away his face from me; and when I cried to him, he heard me” (v. 24, WYC).
Someone might ask, “But doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus bore our sins on the cross?” The answer is “yes” (1 Peter 2:24). However, that does not mean He made our sins His own. Jesus “bore” our sins in the same way He “bore” their diseases in Matthew 8:16-17. That passage says,
“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’” (Matthew 8:16-17).
Obviously, Jesus did not make their diseases His own. He bore them in the sense of removing them or taking them away. And that’s what He did when He bore our sins on the cross. He took them out of the way. Jesus was still that perfect lamb “without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
Some argue that Jesus “became sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). However, there are many examples in the Old Testament where the original text says “sin” but means “sin offering.” For instance, Leviticus 6:25 says,
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD; it is most holy.’”
When “sin offering” appears in this text, it is just the word “sin” in the original Hebrew and Greek Septuagint. Yet it was rightly understood to mean sin offering. And the same is true in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Jesus became a “sin offering” (NIV footnote). The Jewish New Testament says, “God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf,” and the Mounce Reverse-Interlinear says, “He made him who knew no sin to be a sin-offering for us." Precisely the point!
Others argue that Jesus “became a curse” (Galatians 3:13). However, Paul goes on in that text to explain what he meant by those words. He added, “For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Hence, the emphasis is the manner in which Christ died. He suffered the death of one cursed by God by being hanged on a tree.
The quote is from Deuteronomy 21:23, which deals with the treatment of a body after execution. The one hanged on a tree was considered cursed by God since He gave the law requiring such punishment. Christ died as if He were cursed by God because He had been hanged on a tree. This passage has nothing to do with His spiritual condition during that time.
Suppose there were two lambs grazing in a field. One of those lambs was white as snow while the other was black as coal. Which one would best depict Jesus on the cross? I would say the lamb white as snow. However, if you take the position that Jesus literally took our sins upon Himself and made them His own, you’d have to say the lamb black as coal. What a scary thought!
Jesus promised the Father’s perpetual presence, even during the crucifixion (John 8:28-29; 16:32). Hence, He was not forsaken by the Father. We need to realize that He was quoting a Scripture to teach the people, not affirming the thoughts of unbelievers. He was never guilty of being a sinner!
Jesus the Lamb
There have been many stories of amazing animals who saved lives. These remarkable creatures behaved in extraordinary ways to rescue someone in danger. Here are a few examples.
Mila the Whale. When a 26-year-old woman experienced leg cramps during a diving competition without breathing equipment and was unable to reach the surface, Mila the Whale gently grabbed her leg and pushed her to the top of the pool.
Willie the Parrot. When a 2-year-old girl began choking on a Pop-Tart while her babysitter was in the bathroom, Willie the Parrot started screaming, flapping his wings, and saying things like, “Mama! Baby! Mama! Baby!” The babysitter ran out of the bathroom and found the girl gasping for air. Her face and lips were blue. The babysitter was able to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver on the child.
Lulu the Pig. When JoAnn Altsman had a heart attack and collapsed to the ground, Lulu, her daughter’s pot-bellied pig, ran out of the house and laid down in the street to stop traffic. Finally, one person stopped and followed the determined pig back to the house, where they found Altsman in pain on the floor. She was immediately rushed to a hospital.
Mandy the Goat. When Austrian farmer Noel Osborne fell in a remote area and was severely injured, his goat Mandy huddled beside him for five days, keeping him warm. She even fed the man with her milk. Eventually, his friends found him.
These stories of animals “coming to the rescue” are impressive and heartwarming. They show that heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and smells. However, my favorite story involves “Jesus the Lamb.”
When mankind fell into sin and was in danger of eternal death, Jesus the Lamb knew just what to do. He left the comfortable confines of heaven and wrapped Himself in the womb of a woman. Nine months later he emerged as an infant in the tiny town of Bethlehem.
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7).
Jesus the Lamb was on a rescue mission, though you would not have known it by looking at Him. As He was growing up, Jesus appeared to be just like everybody else. He had a mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and cousins. He played in the streets, attended synagogue services, and helped his dad in the family business. There was that one occasion in Jerusalem, however, that must have raised some eyebrows.
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:41-47).
Jesus the Lamb started garnering more attention when His ministry began at age 30. He was a powerful preacher who spoke with authority and offered hope, help, and healing to the people. He also performed miracles. It was not long, though, before envious enemies tried to destroy Him.
Jesus the Lamb attracted those who weren’t very attractive. He was a friend to the despised and downtrodden. In fact, one of the most memorable chapters of the Bible, Luke 15, came in response to the self-righteous ranting of the religious leaders about Jesus’ associations.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable” (Luke 15:1-3).
Jesus the Lamb knew this rescue mission would require bloodshed. He knew that in order to save man’s life, He had to lay down His own life. It was not a surprise. He even told the apostles exactly what was going to happen.
“And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’” (Luke 18:31-33).
Jesus the Lamb voluntarily went to the cross to save man. He was “lifted up” to lift us up!
“Crucifixion” was the worst form of execution in the Roman Empire. It was a particularly prolonged, painful, and public way to die. In fact, the word “excruciating” means “out of crucifying.” The person usually lingered for hours before finally succumbing to heart failure, shock, asphyxia, or dehydration. The ISBE says, “The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
Mila the Whale saved a woman from drowning, and Willie the Parrot saved a child from choking; but only Jesus the Lamb could save mankind from eternal death. The question is, do our actions demonstrate that we truly appreciate what He did? Do we pray fervently, talk graciously, help willingly, give generously, evangelize eagerly, and attend services regularly? Are we growing in grace and knowledge, and letting our light shine before others? Jesus the Lamb died for you, are you living for Him?
Helping Needy Non-Christians
We all agree that individual Christians are to help those in need, regardless of their spiritual status. We are to “do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). However, there is disagreement about whether churches have that responsibility. Some believe churches may use the treasury to help all those in need, while others say the treasury can be used only to help members. These positions can properly be identified as “saints first” versus “saints only.”
The “saints first” doctrine says that Christians are to be the priority when needs arise, but that non-saints can also be helped by the church; while the “saints only” doctrine says that non-Christians may not receive assistance from the church under any circumstances. So, which is it?
The weakness of an argument is often exposed in the realm of “consistency.” If it is wrong for the church to provide for the needs of non-saints, then it is not permissible to let them drink from the water fountain. After all, the fountain has been purchased and maintained with money from the treasury. (And calling it an “expedient” or “incidental” doesn’t change that fact). Moreover, if the church can provide them with something to drink, why couldn’t it provide them with something to eat? Why can it satisfy their thirst but not satisfy their hunger?
If the “saints only” doctrine were true, it would be wrong for the church to provide non-Christians shelter during a storm, a diaper from the nursery, or a tissue from the restroom. Think about it. The building and all its amenities have been supplied through the treasury; therefore, one would have to turn those folks away to be consistent. If the Lord’s money cannot be used to help needy non-saints, then they would have to be denied.
The weakness of an argument is also exposed in the realm of “absurdity.” Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine have no problem using the treasury to maintain the building and its grounds. Hence, they will spend the Lord’s money to feed the lawn (fertilizer) but will not take a dime to buy food for starving children. To do that, we are told, would be an offense worthy of damnation. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider a proposition that was defended in public debate:
“The Bible teaches that it is a sin for the church to take money from the treasury to buy food for hungry destitute children, and those who do so will go to hell.” (A. C. Grider debate with W. L. Totty)
Surely one can see that this is an absurd position that completely contradicts the loving and compassionate spirit of Jesus Christ. He was deeply concerned about the wellbeing of little children (Mark 10:13-16), yet we are told that His church should let them starve rather than take money from the treasury for food.
Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine will permit the church to “take” from non-saints, but not “give” to them in times of distress. Though generous members often step up in such situations, one can see how bad this doctrine makes the church look. You can help it, but it can’t help you!
God the Father & Jesus
God has always required His people to be benevolent, even to those outside His own. He made sure provisions were set aside for all the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28-29); and it is obvious that the Lord’s disciples were in the habit of using their treasury for all the poor in society (John 12:5; 13:29). It is no wonder then that the “churches of Galatia” and the “church of the Thessalonians” were told to “do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). They were to follow that same benevolent spirit.
Everyone acknowledges that Jesus did not practice limited benevolence, yet the “saints only” brethren say that His body must do so or be condemned. They label any congregation that would dare follow the Lord’s example in helping a non-believer “apostate” or “unsound.” Think about that. Any church that follows the example of Christ in the sphere of benevolence will not be accepted by “saints only” brethren.
Jesus said that those who love “only their brothers” are no better than tax collectors and Gentiles (Matthew 5:46-48). Would that principle not apply to the church, or is it only individual Christians who must be better than them in showing love to everyone? This is devastating to the “saints only” position, for it encourages churches to practice the very kind of “selective love” that Jesus spoke against!
Two passages that draw a lot of attention in this discussion are Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27. Both of those verses speak of helping more than just Christians. They say we are to help “everyone” and especially the most vulnerable in society like “orphans and widows.” However, those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine argue that this is strictly for individuals and that the church must be excluded from such work. Is that true?
While it is true that Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 are for individuals, they are not for individuals only. The “saints only” advocates draw a line of distinction that was never intended. We will consider each passage separately.
Galatians 6:10. The fact that Paul addressed “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2) and used plural pronouns indicate that collective action was not being prohibited. Furthermore, earlier in chapter six Paul said to “restore” those caught in a transgression (6:1) and to “share” with the preacher (6:6). Could the church assist in efforts to restore and share? Then why couldn’t the church assist in efforts to “do good to everyone” a few verses later? That seems inconsistent. Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine draw a line of distinction that was never intended; a line that no one would conclude on their own without help from “saints only” proponents.
James 1:27. The fact that James addressed “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), which is a reference to the church, and used plural pronouns indicate that collective action was not being prohibited. He also discussed behavior in the assembly just a few verses later (2:2), dispelling the argument that he intended to distinguish between individual and collective action.
Some say the word “himself” in James 1:27 proves that it is exclusively for the individual. However, it is not uncommon for personal pronouns to be used when the church is being addressed. For instance, the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3 repeatedly use “he” and “him” even though they were sent to churches. That is because churches are made up of individuals!
James 1:27 defines “pure and undefiled religion” as helping the most vulnerable in society — orphans and widows. Yet the “saints only” brethren say churches cannot do that and be pleasing to God. To them, it is an egregious sin for any congregation to practice pure and undefiled religion.
When a writer in the New Testament wanted to make a distinction between the church and the individual, he said so clearly (1 Timothy 5:16). That is not the case in Galatians 6:10 or James 1:27. There is nothing stated anywhere in those texts to indicate collective action was being forbidden.
Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine point to passages where a collection was earmarked for needy Christians and argue that this is the exclusive pattern for the church. However, Paul said the collection was “for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Since “all others” is from a Greek term used of non-saints in many other passages (pantas — John 12:32; Acts 5:11; Romans 16:19; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Peter 2:17, etc), it is certainly plausible that they were to be included. Even if one does not think it is a probability, he should at least be willing to admit that it is a possibility. Therefore, we should not be overly dogmatic in saying non-saints must be excluded.
While it is not the church’s responsibility to eliminate poverty from the world, which is an impossibility (Mark 14:7), it is to do good as means and opportunity permit. That task is not just for the individual. I hope that has now been proven. The Scriptures teach saints first, but not saints only.
If a congregation does not want to use the treasury to help non-saints, that is their decision. However, they should not condemn those churches who decide differently. It is a shame that lines have been drawn and fellowship severed over this issue. I would suggest that we respect autonomy rather than require allegiance in such matters. As for me, I would rather stand before God having done too much to help others than not enough.
(1) If the church cannot provide a hungry non-Christian with food, how can it provide a thirsty non-Christian with water? To be consistent, wouldn’t the water fountain need to be for saints only?
(2) What kind of religion is the church to practice? Is it to practice pure religion, impure religion, or no religion at all? See James 1:27.
(3) Is it scriptural for the church to buy fertilizer to feed the lawn? If so, is it okay to feed grass but not needy people?
(4) Did God the Father practice limited benevolence?
(5) Did Jesus and the apostles practice limited benevolence?
(6) Suppose a widow needs financial assistance after her husband’s sudden death. He was a devout Christian, but she is not. Could the church help her and the kids?
(7) Could a church participate in efforts to “restore” those caught in a transgression (Galatians 6:1) and to “share” with the preacher (Galatians 6:6)? If so, why couldn’t the church also participate in efforts to “do good to everyone” a few verses later (Galatians 6:10)?
(8) Does the teaching of Jesus about “loving more than just your brothers” in Matthew 5:46-48 apply to the church or is it only individual Christians who must show love to everyone?
Officials in Berkeley, California, unanimously approved an ordinance to remove all gender-specific language from the city code. For instance, “manholes” will now be referred to as “maintenance holes,” “manpower” will be referred to as “human effort,” and “manufactured” will be referred to as “machine-made.” They will no longer use the terms “male” and “female” or “he” and “she,” either. “Sororities” and “fraternities” will be called “collegiate Greek system residences” and “sibling” will be used in place of “brother” or “sister.”
It is yet another step toward lunacy in a state that was already at the front of that line. In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that replaced the terms “husband” and “wife” with the gender-neutral term “spouse;” and in 2017, California became the first state to provide a third gender option on state driver’s licenses, identification cards, and birth certificates.
I heard that the book “It’s Perfectly Normal” was being read in some California Elementary Schools, so I bought a copy of it for myself. The book depicts homosexuality as a normal practice and says that those who disapprove of it “know little or nothing about homosexuals, and their views are often based on fears or misinformation.”
Christians need to understand that this is all part of a deliberate effort to undermine core biblical principles. It is part of an agenda to erode basic and fundamental truths of Scripture, like what we read in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
We also need to recognize that this “systematic desensitizing” is occurring on a daily basis in a variety of ways. We are being bombarded with it non-stop. For instance, here is a list of just some of the companies who have made it a point to feature same-sex couples in their advertising. — Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Nordstrom, Tylenol, Kohl’s, Head & Shoulders, Honey Maid, Chevrolet, IKEA, Calvin Klein, GAP, Campbell’s Soup, Bud Light, DirecTV, Kodak, Colgate, Coca-Cola, Cheerios, Dove, Target, Apple, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, David’s Bridal, JC Penny, Wells Fargo, Project Juice, Doritos, Oreos, and Tide. — This is not an exhaustive list!
Catchy songs like “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, and most recently “You Need to Calm Down” by Taylor Swift are big hits that many of us probably sing along with, yet they are deliberate attempts to legitimize (or better yet, normalize) homosexuality. The same is true with popular television shows like “Will & Grace,” “Modern Family,” and “Glee;” and movies like “Brokeback Mountain.” They also seek to normalize gay behavior.
Even Disney World, which is supposed to be a safe place for kids, has joined the movement. They have had “Disney Gay Days” since 1991, and it has now become one of the largest “gay pride” events in the world, attracting over 150,000 LGBTQ attendees each year.
In 2012, a pro-homosexual group published a Bible translation dubbed the “Queen James Bible.” It is based on the King James Bible and has the expressed purpose of “reinterpreting” passages that condemn homosexuality. Moreover, so-called preachers have tried to make arguments from Scripture to justify the practice and churches have proudly ordained gays and lesbians to their clergy.
In June of 2015, President Barack Obama had the White House lit up in rainbow colors to show support for a Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage. Our kids see that and think, “Oh, if the President thinks it’s okay to be gay, how bad could it be?” Again, we’re being desensitized!
Where God Stands
God is not neutral or indifferent when it comes to homosexuality. It is an issue that He addresses very directly in His Word. For instance, we read this in the Old Testament:
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).
Homosexuality is called an “abomination” in the above passages. That term, which means “detestable” or “loathsome,” expresses the strongest degree of disdain. Hence, this is something God obviously opposes. And that sentiment does not change in the New Testament. For instance, as Paul described the depravity that existed among the Gentiles, who had rejected God and served their own carnal desires, he wrote,
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).
Paul called the practice of homosexuality “dishonorable” and “unnatural,” and referred to it as a “shameless act.” How then could anybody read something like that and possibly argue it is okay to be gay? They can’t. However, this has not stopped some from trying. John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, tries to explain away Paul’s harsh condemnation by suggesting that these were the words of someone repressing their own homosexual desires. He wrote, “Yes, I am convinced that Paul of Tarsus was a gay man, deeply repressed, self-loathing, rigid in denial.” How sad!
The New Testament also says this:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Notice that those who “practice homosexuality” are listed among the groups that will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. They are in the same boat as idolaters, adulterers, and thieves. Interestingly, though, condemnation turned to commendation in the next verse. Some of the Corinthians who had been homosexual changed their ways when they came to Christ.
"And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
June is recognized as “gay pride month.” It is a time when the LGBTQ community celebrates their sexuality with parades and rallies. However, there is another group that rallies each year in June as well, even though the media tries to ignore them. They are ex-homosexual and ex-transgender people who descend upon Washington D.C. for a “Freedom March,” where they celebrate the freedom they’ve found in Christ. This verse not only says that such is possible, but some of the Corinthians could have been part of their rallies!
Finally, consider this text:
“Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire (“pursued homosexual perversion,” EHV), serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).
In Genesis 19, two angels appearing as men came to Sodom. A righteous man named Lot greeted the men and even offered them a place to stay for the night. After dinner, a mob of male citizens from Sodom (both young and old) surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he send the men out. They wanted to have sexual relations with them. Lot tried to reason with the mob, but they just hurried past him and tried to break down the door. As a result of their “perverse intentions,” they were struck with blindness and the city was destroyed with fire. This is what Jude was referencing in this text. They were condemned for their homosexual activity!
Creator or Creature
All of this begs an important question: Who then are we going to listen to on this issue? Who will be our standard and source of truth? Will it be some politician or professor or pundit? Will it be popular opinion or personal preference? Are we going to let our peers determine our position? Perhaps the best way to put it is like this, “Are we going to listen to the Creator or the creature on this issue?”
The Creator set forth His plan for sex and marriage in the very beginning, and it has not changed. After creating Adam, He made a woman to be his wife. Then we are told that a man is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Max Lucado made this observation about that original plan. He said, “This is no casual date, no clandestine affair… God could have given Adam a man, but he didn't. God could have given Adam two women, but he didn't. God could have given Eve to Adam for one night, but he didn't. He gave her to him for life. And, in doing so, he gave us his definition of marriage. One man-one woman for life. Heterosexual monogamy.”
If we’re going to listen to the Creator on this issue and not the creation, this is where we will take our stand. We will uphold the original plan — one man with one woman for life! Regardless of the consequences, we will oppose that which God opposes.
And let me make a few more quick points:
(1) Homosexuality is not a civil rights issue. It is not parallel to being black or female.
(2) Preaching against homosexuality is not hate speech. It is actually an expression of love. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t say anything.
(3) There is no such thing as the “gay gene.” That myth has long been debunked by science and is counter to the Word of God.
(4) The rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise, not gay pride. It was the sign of a pledge God made to never again destroy the world with a flood. As Christians, it ought to offend us that the rainbow has been hijacked and defamed like that.
Though Christians cannot condone their lifestyle, we should treat homosexuals with love and compassion. We should be just as kind and pleasant toward them as we would be with anyone else. As the saying goes, “We hate the sin but love the sinner.” Acting in a hateful or malicious or self-righteous way is unbecoming of our Lord.
Berkeley, California no longer approves of “manholes.” No more saying “manpower” or “manmade” or “manufactured,” either. Not even the terms “brother” and “sister” are welcome there. This is just another symptom of the same disease; another part of the same agenda. And as Christians, we need to make sure we’re not “desensitized” by all of the madness. We need to recognize what’s going on and do what we can to counter it with the truth of Scripture.
Instruments in Worship
One can hardly imagine worship services with no singing. It would be like a McDonalds restaurant without its golden arches. The two just seem inseparable. Singing has been a fixture in the church from the beginning. The early Christians sang praises to God in their assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:15). However, some wonder why we do not use instruments when we sing. That’s a good question.
The absence of instruments has nothing to do with personal preference or financial expense. It has everything to do with seeking to please God. We do not read about instruments being used in the early church. While they were mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament just says to sing. Here are some of the passages:
“I will sing praise” (1 Corinthians 14:15)
“Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19)
“Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16)
“In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Hebrews 2:12)
“Offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips” (Hebrews 13:15)
The church sang without instruments for several hundred years after the apostles. This may come as a surprise, but it is true. Instruments were a late innovation to the worship service that many people opposed. Here are some quotes:
The great stories of the Old Testament were preserved for our learning (Romans 15:4). Some of those stories emphasize the importance of authority in worship. For instance, Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). These men worshipped God the wrong way, and they were punished. That should serve as a lesson for Christians. We must have proper authority for our religious practices. To put it another way, we must worship “in truth” (John 4:24).
Some suggest that since we read about instruments in the Old Testament, we can use them in the church today. However, those who say that fail to realize that Christians are to follow the New Testament. We are under the law of Christ, not the law of Moses. Others contend that since instruments are mentioned in Revelation about heaven, they can be employed in our worship services. However, we need authority for instruments in the church, not heaven. There are many things in heaven that are not in the church (angels, infants, the throne of God), and there are many things in the church that are not in heaven (hope, marriage, the Lord’s Supper). Moreover, one misunderstands the apocalyptic style of Revelation if he thinks material instruments will literally be in the spiritual realm of heaven.
There are two kinds of music — instrumental and vocal. The New Testament specifies the kind of music God desires for the church. It says to sing. Thus the term a cappella, which means “in the manner of the church.”
We all agree that God approves of singing in worship. The issue arises when instruments are added. Why risk your soul over something that was introduced centuries after the apostles and has been the source of such bitter division among the Lord’s people? Let’s just sing!
When I was a child, my parents would sometimes watch the television game show “Family Feud.” Contestants had to name the most popular responses to a question posed to 100 people in order to win cash and prizes. The host would say something like, “The top 7 answers are on the board. We asked 100 people…” Does that ring a bell?
If 100 people were asked to name the one word most often used to describe the deceased person at a funeral, what would it be? My guess would be “good.” — He was a “good” man. He was a “good” neighbor. He was a “good” father. He was a “good” friend. — The one word that you hear over and over is that the deceased person was “good.” And most of the time, there is a lot of truth to that assessment.
The world is full of good people. They work hard, help others, and behave properly. They make an honest living, donate to charities, coach little league baseball teams, cut their elderly-neighbor’s lawn, and tip generously at restaurants. They are dependable and trustworthy. They are good people.
(1) A woman found 30 abandoned Chinese babies on the roadside. She gathered up those babies and cared for them, even though her only means of support was recycling rubbish.
(2) A kid was shopping with his mother and asked her to buy him a new bike, for his had recently been stolen. His mother told him that she could not afford to purchase a new bike. Then a large man covered in tattoos walked over and handed the boy $350. He said, “No child should ever be without a bike in the summer.”
(3) During WWII, a lady named Irena received permission to work as a plumbing specialist in the Warsaw Ghetto. However, she had an ulterior motive. Irena used her tool box and a sack to smuggle out Jewish infants. She even trained her dog to bark around Nazi soldiers to drown out any noises the infants might make. Irena smuggled out 2,500 children, though she was eventually caught and had her arms and legs broken.
(4) A 15-year-old boy chased a car on his bike for 15 minutes to save a little girl who had been kidnapped from her front yard in Pennsylvania. Because of his relentlessness, the kidnapper eventually pulled over and let her out.
These four examples, along with countless others that could be mentioned, demonstrate that there are good people in the world. They look out for others, go the extra mile, and act in ways that are praiseworthy. But is being good, good enough?
Before we answer that question, let me clarify my use of the word “good.” I recognize that no one is “good” in an absolute sense (Romans 3:23). However, the Bible does speak of “good” people. Paul wrote, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (Romans 5:7). You may recall that Joseph of Arimathea was described as a “good” man in Luke 23:50 and Barnabas was called a “good” man in Acts 11:24. Furthermore, older women are to teach younger women to be “good” (Titus 2:5, YLT). Now back to our question.
Is Being Good, Good Enough?
Many people answer that question in the affirmative. They think that all good people go to heaven. Regardless of a person’s religious convictions, so long as they have some sense of decency and morality about them, they will be saved. However, the Scriptural answer to the question is “no.”
Before we look at biblical examples of “good” people who were not saved, let me impress upon you the consequences of this idea. If being good is good enough, then we don’t need God’s grace, Christ’s sacrifice, the church’s existence, or the gospel’s power. If good is good enough, those things are unnecessary. Now let’s look at some examples.
(1) Cornelius. He was described by the Holy Spirit as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2). Even his men spoke highly of him. They said that Cornelius was “an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation” (v. 22). Here was a man who was pious, charitable, prayerful, and highly regarded. Yet he still needed to be saved (Acts 11:14).
(2) Eunuch. He was described as “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure” (Acts 8:27). That implies the eunuch was a man of great integrity, for the queen would never appoint an untrustworthy person to such an important position. If he had a shady reputation or was sneaky and sly, the eunuch would never have been made treasurer. Moreover, he had “come to Jerusalem to worship” and was on his way home “reading the prophet Isaiah” (vv. 27-28). Hence, he was very religious person who traveled a great distance to serve God and was still reading his Bible! The eunuch was also a humble person, for no prideful person would ask a stranger to help him understand the Scriptures. Yet he still needed to be saved (vv. 35-39).
(3) Rich young man. He was a zealous keeper of the Law who was interested in eternal life. When Jesus said, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19), the rich young man replied, “All these I have kept” (v. 20). Obviously, he was a good person. Yet he went away sorrowful when Jesus pointed out his weakness (v. 22).
There are other examples we could consider. For instance, Jesus said that some at Judgment will stand before Him having done many good things. Yet they will be lost (Matt. 7:21-23). Furthermore, the Jews on Pentecost were described as “devout men” (Acts 2:5). That means they were decent, pious people. However, they still needed to be saved (v. 40).
(1) “Good” is a relative term. Our perception of “good” is often subjective. It may vary from one person or group to another. For instance, Saul of Tarsus was considered “good” to the Jews, but he was anything but “good” in the sight of Christians.
(2) Some are too good. There are people who put so much trust in their own perceived goodness that they have no need for the church or the gospel. “I am good enough already,” they think. Hence, they are “too good” to be saved.
(3) Goodness is absolutely necessary. We do not want to diminish the importance of being good. One simply cannot be a good Christian without being a good person (3 John 11).
The world is full of good people. They can be found in every denomination and every world religion. They can even be found among those who have no religious affiliation at all. However, the Scriptures are clear that being good is not good enough. One must obey the gospel and faithfully serve God to have eternal life.
Mary & Roman Catholicism
“Emma” has been the most popular girl name for the last three years. However, that streak pales in comparison to “Mary,” which held the top spot for 30 consecutive years from 1917-1946. It had another streak of 9 years from 1953-1961. That means “Mary” has been the most popular name for baby girls 39 of the last 100 years. According to the Social Security Administration, 3,455,228 females have been named “Mary” during that time. Many of them were named after the mother of Jesus.
We are first introduced to Mary when she was a betrothed virgin living in Nazareth. An angel named Gabriel visited Mary and announced that she would give birth to the promised Messiah. This would fulfill prophecy, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Mary gave birth to Jesus nine months later in Bethlehem. God had providentially brought her to that small peasant village just in time to deliver the Messiah so that another prophecy could be fulfilled, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” brought forth the Bread of Life (John 6). How fitting! Mary and her new family eventually settled in Nazareth, the fulfillment of yet another prophecy (Matthew 2:23).
After the Lord started His public ministry, there is not much said about Mary. She was present at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), she came to speak with Jesus in Capernaum (Matthew 12:46-50), and she stood near the cross when Jesus was crucified (John 19:25). The last mention of Mary is in the upper room following the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14).
Mary & Roman Catholicism
One does not have to be raised in the Roman Catholic Church (as I was) to know that it puts a great deal of emphasis on Mary. She is called "Mother of God," "Queen of Heaven," "Refuge of Sinners," and more. There are also special feasts, shrines, and prayers in her honor. In Catholic tradition, few are mentioned more than Mary.
Though Mary was a special woman who certainly deserves our respect, the Catholic Church has exalted her above measure. She has been given an exaggerated position that goes far beyond Scripture. For instance, Catholics pray to Mary, bow before statues of Mary, and see Mary as active in dispensing God's grace. As Monsignor J.D. Conway wrote, "It is the common and explicit teaching of the Church today that every grace given to men comes to them through Mary" (What the Church Teaches, p. 211).
The Catholic view of Mary is perhaps best seen in the highly regarded book, The Glories of Mary, which bears the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur (official declarations that the book has no doctrinal or moral error). Here are some quotes:
P. 17 — “Mary so loved us that she gave her only-begotten son.”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of God, John 3:16)
P. 18 — “No one besides Mary has loved us so much as to give an only-begotten and well-beloved Son for us.”
(What about God the Father?)
P. 34 — “That pledge is Mary, whom he has given them as a champion or advocate.”
(Jesus is our advocate, 1 John 2:1)
P. 44 — “If Mary is for us, who is against us?”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of God, Romans 8:31)
P. 52 — “Mary is the mother and dispenser of every good.”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of God, James 1:17)
P. 57 — “She is the city of refuge, the only hope of sinners.”
(What about Christ?)
P. 59 — “She restrains her son’s hand and withholds him from punishing.”
(A mere mortal restraining the hand of God?)
P. 72 — “Mary conquered and bound the devil.”
(Jesus destroyed the devil, Hebrews 2:14)
P. 74 — “At the name of Mary every knee bows.”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of Jesus, Philippians 2:10)
P. 78 — “Mary’s intercession is necessary for salvation.”
(Man’s salvation depends on a mere mortal?)
P. 87 — “Mary… no one is saved, except through you.”
(They substituted Mary in place of Jesus, John 14:6)
P. 95 — “At the command of Mary, everybody obeys, even God.”
P. 96 — “Jesus, who is omnipotent, has also made Mary omnipotent.”
(They have attributed a divine characteristic to Mary)
Surely one can see that the above quotes are way over the top. They insert Mary's name in place of God and Jesus, attribute to her divine power, and portray her as an essential component of salvation. That is far more than Scripture permits.
The last recorded words of Mary appear at the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry (John 2:5), and the last mention of Mary by name is in the upper room at Jerusalem (Acts 1:14), which was before the church's establishment. Her name does not appear in the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, or Jude. This is not said to disparage Mary, but to put our view of her in the proper perspective. She was not the iconic focal point that Catholicism makes her out to be.
A passage that drives home this point is Luke 11:27-28. In that text, a woman yelled out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” This would have been the ideal time for Jesus to give Mary an exalted position, if that were His desire. However, He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Mary was among the greatest women to ever live. She truly had a heart for God. When one considers her age at the time of Gabriel’s visit, the likelihood that she lost her husband with at least seven kids to raise, and the heartache she endured seeing her oldest son executed, they cannot help but be impressed. Her example is worthy imitation by all. However, Mary is not honored by creating fanciful traditions that give her positions of power and influence unknown to Scripture. She faithfully fulfilled her role in the divine plan and then faded into the background. I hope this helps.
The Sunday Babies
A Philadelphia abortionist named Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been charged with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a woman and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors. Nine of his employees, including his wife, were also charged.
District Attorney Seth Williams said that Gosnell, who is suspected of killing hundreds of living babies, "induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord." The woman died from an overdose of painkillers.
Gosnell's "house of horrors" was uncovered when authorities raided his clinic on drug-related complaints and found the remains of aborted babies scattered throughout the building. The clinic reeked of cat urine, instruments were not properly sterilized, and disposable medical supplies were used over and over.
Below is an excerpt from the lengthy grand jury report.
...one was Baby Boy A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant -- seven and a half months -- when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could "walk me to the bus stop." Another, Baby Boy B, whose body was found at the clinic frozen in a one-gallon spring-water bottle, was at least 28 weeks of gestational age when he was killed. Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord, just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times. And these were not even the worst cases. Gosnell made little effort to hide his illegal abortion practices. But there were some, "the really big ones," that even he was afraid to perform in front of others. These abortions were scheduled for Sundays, a day when the clinic was closed and none of the regular employees were present. Only one person was allowed to assist with these special cases -- Gosnell's wife. The files for these patients were not kept at the office; Gosnell took them home with him and disposed of them. We may never know the details of these cases. We do know, however, that, during the rest of the week, Gosnell routinely aborted and killed babies in the sixth and seventh month of pregnancy. The Sunday babies must have been bigger still.
Some may dismiss Gosnell as a "rogue" abortionist. However, there have been other reports of abortionists performing illegal late-term abortions and killing babies who were born alive. For instance, Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacques Renelique was sued by a Florida woman who claimed that her baby girl was put into a plastic biohazard bag and thrown into the trash as she struggled to survive. A police search later found the decomposing body of a baby in a cardboard box and an autopsy showed that the baby had filled her lungs with air prior to death.
We must understand that abortionists have been trained to end life. It should not surprise us that those who can so easily kill babies in the womb also have the audacity to kill them out of the womb. Even the Sunday babies!
Psalm 23 is undoubtedly one of the most popular passages in the Bible. It appears on pictures, paintings, plaques, and pillows. I have seen it on bumper stickers and billboards, and even tattooed on people’s bodies. We sometimes sing it in worship services and often read from it in eulogies. On the night of September 11th, 2001, as President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office, he quoted from Psalm 23. It is the name of a healthcare agency in Texas and a music store in Florida. And according to Biblegateway, Psalm 23 contained four of the top 10 most-popular Bible verses in 2018.
Not only is Psalm 23 a very popular passage, it is also a very powerful passage. David, who had been a keeper of sheep, compares himself to one of those weak, dumb, and defenseless creatures who must rely solely on God for his protection and provisions. And because God is such a strong and trustworthy shepherd, David can confidently say, “I will fear no evil.” Hence, it is a psalm of the shepherd’s shepherd!
A group of 1st graders took turns telling the class what they wanted to be when they grow up. One boy said, “I’m going to be a lion tamer. They are going to be big and strong, and when I walk into their cage they’ll roar.” The boy then paused for a moment as he thought about what he had just said and added, “But I’ll have my mommy with me.” That kind of illustrates how David felt about God as his shepherd. So long as He was there with him, everything would be okay.
This is how the psalm reads:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).
Though we typically read this psalm at funerals, it is intended for the living. It is about God’s care and concern for us in the present as we dwell in the flesh. The psalmist was expressing confidence that the Lord would continue to guide, guard, and direct him as he journeyed through this life. In other words, it is not a psalm for the hereafter; it is a psalm for the here and now!
“The Lord is my shepherd”
The beginning phrase of this psalm literally reads “Yahweh Ra’ah.” It combines the personal name of God with a Hebrew word that means to tend or pasture a flock. Hence, the translation “shepherd” in English. This is certainly not the only time in Scripture where God is referred to as a shepherd. There are several examples of that. For instance, Jacob referred to God as his shepherd in Genesis 48:15 and God is extolled for being Israel’s shepherd in Psalm 80:1. But what exactly does that mean? What does the image of a shepherd denote?
“Shepherds” are keepers of sheep. They lead, nurture, and protect the flock at all costs. In fact, a good shepherd lives by the idiom “over my dead body.” He will boldly stand between a predator and his sheep putting his own life on the line to defend them. Jesus made mention of this fact when He described Himself as a shepherd in John 10. He said,
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15).
I think it is noteworthy that David does not merely refer to God as “Israel’s shepherd” or even as “our shepherd,” but as “my shepherd.” That denotes a personal and intimate relationship. I read that good shepherds often know their sheep by name and can easily distinguish each one from the others. One Lebanese shepherd said, “If you were to put a cloth over my eyes and bring me any sheep and only let me put hands on its face, I could tell in a moment if it was mine or not.”
To help us get a better understanding of the intimate relationship that exists between shepherds and their sheep, I want to quote from the book “They Smell Like Sheep” by Lynn Anderson. It really captures the beauty of this bond. He writes, “When a tiny lamb was born into the wilderness world, the shepherd took the trembling newborn into his hands, warming it and caressing it. Among the first sensations felt by the shivering lamb was the tender hands of the shepherd. The gentle voice of the shepherd was one of the first sounds to awaken the lamb’s delicate eardrums… Each sheep came to rely on the shepherd and to know his voice and his alone. They followed him and no one else. Of course, the lambs understood clearly who was in charge. Occasionally, the shepherd might tap an unruly lamb on the ear with a shepherd’s crook. But this was a love tap, embraced in an enfolding circle of relationship. The shepherd smelled like sheep” (pp. 19-20)!
If the Lord was his shepherd, what did that make David? A sheep. One cannot help but be impressed with the humility in those words. After all, sheep are not especially impressive animals. They are cowardly and dependent creatures who seem to lack wisdom. They wander aimlessly and must rely on the shepherd for their own survival.
Too often we live like we are the shepherd rather than the sheep. We act as if it all depends on us, and that we must protect and provide for ourselves. This brings a lot unnecessary stress into our lives and makes it nearly impossible to rest. We need to do as David did and truly trust in the Lord as our shepherd!
Next we read,
“I shall not want”
With the Lord as his shepherd, the psalmist knew that he would never lack what is needed. He knew that God would be there to provide for him. Though he may not always have an abundance, he would always have enough; he would always be cared for sufficiently. Perhaps David is his own best interpreter on this phrase. In Psalm 37:25, he wrote, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” I think that’s the point. The watering hole may run low, but it will never run dry!
Next we read,
“He makes me lie down in green pastures”
This line is extremely rich in meaning. First, note that the sheep “lie down.” That alone is quite significant. In his book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” Phillip Keller, who was a shepherd himself, makes the point that it is almost impossible for sheep to lie down unless certain requirements are met. For instance, they have to be free of fear (they can’t be anxious of predators or other threats), free of friction (they can’t be dealing with turmoil in the fold), free of flies (they can’t be aggravated by pests), and free of famine (they can’t be hungry and worried about their next meal).
Second, the sheep lie down in “green pastures.” That denotes food. When a sheep lies down in green pastures, he’s satisfied. He’s had enough to eat and is ready for a nap. We might liken that to reclining on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. You’re ready to relax!
The “green pastures” that David refers to were not nearly as lush and thick and beautiful as we might envision. It was not knee-high grass for as far the eye could see. The terrain in Israel is rocky and barren, and there is not a lot of vegetation. But there are places where moisture blowing from the Mediterranean Sea causes sprouts of grass to appear around the rocks. It was certainly not a meadow, but it did allow for the sheep to go from rock to rock eating a mouthful of grass at a time. Hence, the idea is not that God will provide all you’ll ever need for the rest of your life right now. Rather, He will give you mouthfuls of green grass each day. He’ll make sure you have enough!
Next we read,
“He leads me beside still waters”
The first thing we notice is that word “leads.” Unlike a cowboy who forces the herd to go his way by shouting, cracking whips, and poking them with sticks, a good shepherd does not drive the sheep, he leads the sheep. He does not goad them, he guides them!
A tour-guide in Israel was explaining the tender relationship between a shepherd and his sheep to a bus full of people, when he was interrupted by a guy chasing sheep outside. He was throwing rocks, hitting them with sticks, and siccing dogs on them. The guide jumped off the bus and ran over to the man yelling, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What kind of shepherd assaults the sheep like that?” The sheep-chaser paused for a moment and said, “Man, you’ve got me all wrong. I’m not a shepherd, I’m the butcher.”
The Hebrew word translated “still” means calm, quiet, or restful. Still waters are the opposite of rushing waters (or strong currents), from which sheep will not drink. Hence, the image is one of being provided for in peaceful conditions; having your thirst quenched in a serene environment.
Next we read,
“He restores my soul”
This is not referring to the inner part of man that lives forever (our spirit), but to the restoring of our vitality; to the renewing of our strength. The Message paraphrase probably captures the idea best when it says, “You let me catch my breath.” Such refreshment would certainly be needed given the heat and terrain of that region.
Next we read,
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”
Sheep are dumb creatures who are prone to wander off and lose their way when left to themselves. That’s why the Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” They were kind of known for it. And David recognized that he needed guidance and direction in life, which could only come from one who knew the way. He knew that God could be trusted to lead his sheep down the right paths!
The phrase “for his name’s sake” means on account of His reputation. Our shepherd knows that our well-being is a reflection on Him. Therefore, He takes this job personally and will not stain His reputation by misleading the flock. The ERV says, “he leads me on right paths to show that he is good.”
Next we read,
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”
Interestingly, there is a subtle shift when we get to this verse in the psalm. David goes from talking “about” God to talking “to” God. He goes from “he” does these things to “you” do these things. He now addresses the shepherd directly!
The blessing extolled here is not the elimination of danger, but the perpetual presence of the shepherd in the midst of such danger. The psalmist acknowledged that he would still have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death sometimes, but He knew that the shepherd would remain there with him. And because of the shepherd’s presence, the sheep have no need to fear.
There is a real place in Israel called “the valley of the shadow of death.” It is a steep and narrow canyon that is dark most of the time and potentially dangerous. But whether David was referring to a real place or this is just a metaphor, the point is the same. Even when we are in uncertain and vulnerable conditions — surrounded by darkness and doubt — there is still no need to fear for God is with us. Even in those times when we have to tread lightly, we do not have to tread alone!
Are you familiar with the little poem called, “Footprints In The Sand?” It’s about a man walking across the sands of time, looking back over the course of his life. He sees two sets of footprints — his and the Lord’s. Then he notices that at the most troubled times of his life there is only one set of footprints, so he asks, “Lord, I don’t understand why, when I needed you the most, you would leave me.” The Lord replied, “My child, I love you, and I would never leave you. During those tough times, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” That kind of captures the point David was trying to make.
Here you have a sheep saying, “I fear no evil.” Really? You might expect a lion or bear or wolf to say something like that, but not a sheep. Left to themselves, sheep have everything to fear. They are practically defenseless creatures who make easy prey for any predator that might come along. I read that sheep have teeth suited for chewing grass, but not for tearing flesh; they have hooves suited for climbing, but no claws for protection; and they can run, but not nearly as fast as their enemies. Yet because of the shepherd’s presence they have nothing to fear.
Next we read,
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me”
The “rod” was a piece of wood that had been carefully selected and shaped into a club. It would have been smooth and rounded. Young shepherd boys spent hours learning how to handle their rod properly, learning how to swing it and throw It with great accuracy. Afterall, the rod was their primary weapon of defense for both themselves and the sheep. Phillip Keller wrote, “The rod was, in fact, an extension of the owner’s right arm. It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation. The rod was what he relied on to safeguard both himself and his flock in danger… The skilled shepherd uses his rod to drive off predators like coyotes, wolves, cougars, or stray dogs” (pp. 112-113, 117).
In addition to driving away predators, the rod was also used to beat down brush and nudge straying sheep back onto the path. Hence, the rod was a source of comfort because it symbolized protection and precaution.
The “staff” was a long and slender stick, usually with a hook on the end of it. It was used to manage the sheep — drawing the sheep together, steering the sheep in a certain direction, or pulling one of the sheep to himself for examination. One shepherd said that he often used his staff to retrieve sheep that fell into the water or had gotten tangled up in thorns. Hence, the staff was a source of comfort because it symbolized attention and guidance.
Next we read,
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
Many commentators believe that the imagery changes here from “shepherd” to “host.” They suggest that it is no longer about a sheep in the field, but a guest in the house. For instance, Keil and Delitzsch, in their commentary on Psalms, say, “After the figure of the shepherd fades away in v. 4, that of the host appears” (p. 208). However, that may not be correct. This could certainly still refer to a sheep in the field.
Sheep would often graze in the sight of their predators. The lion, bear, and wolf would enviously watch them from a distance wanting to attack, but not willing to risk death at the hands of the shepherd.
Shepherds would also go ahead of the sheep into a field to prepare it for use. They would pull up poisonous plants, clear out watering holes, remove debris that had accumulated, and pinpoint a good spot for the sheep to bed down. Hence, the idea of “preparing a table in the presence of my enemies” would be applicable. That’s something a shepherd would do for his sheep!
Next we read,
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”
In the Bible, anointing someone’s head with oil can have several different meanings. It was done to appoint kings, to honor guests, and for healing purposes. Keeping with our imagery, it could also refer to the practice of rubbing oil on the head of a sheep to relieve them of irritation from insects, especially nasal flies. I read that nasal flies would get into the sheep’s nose and literally drive it crazy. The sheep would go so far as to beat its head on rocks or repeatedly rub its face into the soil to get relief. Again, I quote from Keller, “At the very first sign of flies among the flock he will apply an antidote to their heads… What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep’s head, there was an immediate change in behavior. Gone was the aggravation, gone the frenzy, gone the irritability and the restlessness. Instead, the sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment” (pp. 139-140).
Hence, the idea could be one of alleviating irritations or helping in times of distress. A good shepherd is keenly aware of what his sheep are going through and tries to help!
“My cup overflows” just means that the sheep are very blessed. They are provided with more than enough from their shepherd. As the NLV says, “I have everything I need.”
Next we read,
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”
This future expectation is based on past experiences. God had always been there for David and he was sure that God would continue to be there down the road; that He would remain faithful and true.
Finally we read,
“And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”
The “house of the Lord” could refer to the temple or to eternal life in heaven. If it refers to heaven than David would be acknowledging that God not only provides for him on earth but will provide for him throughout eternity. Or, there is a third possible interpretation. This could just be a way of saying that His sheep are so perfectly content and “at home” in the fold that they want to dwell there forever; that they have no desire to ever leave their shepherd.
While this is an extremely comforting passage for those in the fold, what about all the lost sheep wandering aimlessly without a shepherd? This is how the psalm would read for them:
“I have no Shepherd, I constantly want. In discontent, I graze in parched fields; I can find no water to quench my thirst. My soul is weary; I wander in the paths of sinfulness, for my own selfish desires. When I walk in the darkness of danger and death, I am afraid; for I am all alone. No power or principle gives me comfort. There is no one to protect me against my enemies. There is no ointment for my head. My life is empty. Even though God's goodness and mercy have been available all the days of my life, I shall be banished from the house of the Lord forever."
Is that how you want this psalm to read in reference to your life? I know you don’t. Then you need to be real with yourself and submit to the good shepherd before it is too late. You need to get into the fold!
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is referred to as our “shepherd.” He is our provider and protector who leads us down the right paths. He is the only one who can keep us safe from danger. Why not come to Him while you still can? It is the best decision you’ll ever make!
There is a big difference between dating and marriage. Dating is like a test drive; the person is still kicking the tires and weighing their options. They are interested in what they see but are not quite ready to make a purchase. Marriage, on the other hand, is a done deal. The decision has been made and the title transferred.
There were certain characteristics that existed when I was dating Jill which do not exist in our marriage. For instance, I sometimes let things comes between us (sports, other people); I felt uncomfortable talking about her (my parents, teasing friends); I did not feel responsible for her problems (braces, car repairs); I was not overly generous (dinner, but not a house); I took our relationship for granted (on again, off again); and I hid my weaknesses. Perhaps these same characteristics will help us to determine whether we are dating the church or are married to it.
If you let things come between you and the church, you’re just dating. If you feel uncomfortable talking about the church, you’re just dating. If you do not feel responsible to help the church with its problems, you’re just dating. If you are not overly generous to the church, you’re just dating. If you take your relationship with the church for granted, you’re just dating. If you hide your weaknesses from the church, you're just dating.
Research has shown that churches are suffering from a “commitment crisis.” While over 40% of Americans say they go to church weekly, less than 20% are actually going. Are you among the non-committals? Are you just dating the church? If so, I encourage you to take the next step and have a “church” wedding.
Ellen G. White
Ellen G. White emerged as a visionary and prophetess in the mid-nineteenth century. She claimed to have the “spirit of prophecy” and wrote extensively. During her lifetime, she wrote more than 5,000 articles and 40 books. She was also a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Ellen G. White was born on November 26, 1827 in Gorham, Maine. Her parents were Robert and Eunice Harmon. She had several siblings, including a twin sister named Elizabeth. At age nine, Ellen was struck in the face with a rock. This left her severely injured and disfigured. Ellen’s health was so impaired that she could not continue her formal education.
Though Methodists, Ellen’s family became involved with the Millerite movement when she was twelve. This movement was named after William Miller (1782-1849) and taught that the Lord’s return was imminent. In fact, they expected Him to come back on October 22, 1844. When that did not happen, thousands abandoned the movement. This became known as the “Great Disappointment.” William Miller later admitted that he was mistaken and warned against “the spirit of fanaticism” which resulted from it.
Ellen was deeply disappointed when the Lord did not return, but she did not give up. Rather than admitting failure, she came to believe that they had the correct date, but had expected the wrong thing. Ellen also claimed to have visions. The first came in December of 1844.
“From this time, up to December, 1844, my joys, trials, and disappointments were like those of my dear Advent friends around me. At this time I visited one of our Advent sisters, and in the morning we bowed around the family altar. It was not an exciting occasion, and there were but five of us present, all women. While I was praying, the power of God came upon me as I had never felt it before. I was wrapped in a vision of God’s glory…” (Early Writings, p. 13).
Ellen’s visions breathed new life into the disillusioned movement. She was considered a prophetess and her writings inspired. She actually said that her work included “much more” than the term “prophet” signified (see “Her Claims” below).
Ellen married James White on August 30, 1846 in Portland, Maine. They had four boys, Henry Nichols (1847-1863), James Edson (1849-1928), William Clarence (1854-1937), and John Herbert (1860). John Herbert lived only a few months, and Henry Nichols died of pneumonia at the age of sixteen.
Ellen and her husband were both active in the Adventist ministry. Shortly after their marriage, the couple read a tract by Joseph Bates entitled, “The Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign.” It had a profound impact on them and they became Sabbath keepers. Ellen later claimed to have seen a vision with a halo of light around the fourth commandment.
“Jesus opened them, and I saw the ten commandments written on them with the finger of God. On one table were four, and on the other six. The four on the first table shone brighter than the other six. But the fourth, the Sabbath commandment, shone above them all; for the Sabbath was set apart to be kept in honor of God’s holy name. The holy Sabbath looked glorious — a halo of glory was all around it” (Early Writing, pp. 32-33).
Ellen claimed to have over 2,000 visions and dreams during her life. They varied in length and covered a wide range of issues, including physical health. This led to the establishment of the Western Health Reform Institute in 1866 at Battle Creek, Michigan, which provided care and education to the sick. Ellen was a strong proponent of vegetarianism.
James White died on August 6, 1881 in Michigan. After his passing, Ellen continued her work until she fell and broke her hip on February 13, 1915. She was confined to a bed and wheelchair for five months, and then passed away on July 16, 1915, in California. Ellen was 87 years old.
Ellen G. White claimed to have the “spirit of prophecy.” She said that her writings were divinely inspired and should be accepted as truth. Below are just some of the statements she and the church have made in this regard.
“In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper, expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision — the precious rays of light shining from the throne” (Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 27).
“Why have I not claimed to be a prophet? — Because in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word ‘prophet’ signifies” (Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 32).
“Others have called me a prophetess, but I have never assumed that title… My work includes much more than this name signifies… My commission embraces the work of a prophet, but it does not end there” (Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 36).
“I saw that in striking against the visions they did not strike against the worm — the feeble instrument that God spake through — but against the Holy Ghost. I saw it was a small thing to speak against the instrument, but it was dangerous to slight the words of God” (Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 40).
“Some are ready to inquire: Who told Sister White these things? They have even put the question to me: Did anyone tell you these things? I could answer them: Yes; yes, the angel of God has spoken to me… God has seen fit to thrust me into positions in which He has not placed any other one in our ranks” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, pp. 314-315).
“But the Spirit of God rests upon me with power, and I cannot but speak the words given me… I speak the words given me by a power higher than human power, and I cannot, if I would, recall one sentence” (Diary, January 10, 1890).
“Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her lifework God has been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light that God has graciously given His servant to be given to the world” (Colporteur Ministry, p. 125).
“One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction” (28 Fundamental Beliefs, The Gift of Prophecy, 18).
Ellen G. White emerged as a visionary and prophetess at a time when published accounts of visions abounded. There were many people making similar claims. Why then should we believe her but not them? The only we can know what to think about Ellen G. White is by comparing her and her teachings to the Bible.
This writer has spent countless hours scouring the writings of Ellen G. White. Below is a list of 30 teachings that seem most startling. The quotes have been carefully preserved and can easily be verified.
(1) The time of salvation for sinners ended in 1844: “…for the time for their salvation is past” (Early Writings, p. 45). This viewed was later repudiated.
(2) Jesus was making final atonement in 1844: “Jesus entered the most holy of the heavenly, at the end of the 2300 days of Daniel 8, in 1844, to make final atonement” (Early Writings, p. 253). Compare that to Hebrews 9:26-28.
(3) She was told when the Lord will return: “…we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus’ coming” (A Word to the Little Flock, p. 14). Compare that to Matthew 24:36.
(4) Only a few months remained in 1850: “My accompanying angel said, ‘Time is almost finished.’ …Said the angel, Get ready, get ready, get ready’’ (Early Writings, p. 64). Time has continued for hundreds of years since then.
(5) The end of the world was imminent: “But now time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months” (A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, p. 55). The world did not end in a few months.
(6) Some at the 1856 Conference would be alive when Jesus returned: “I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: ‘Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus’” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 131-132). They have all long died.
(7) She would be among the living saints when Christ returned: “The graves opened, and the dead came up clothed with immortality… and in the same moment we were changed and caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (The Day-Star, January 24, 1846). She died on July 16, 1915.
(8) The blood of Christ was not to cancel sin: “The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel sin” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 357). Compare that to Matthew 26:28 and Ephesians 1:7.
(9) Sickness is a sin: “It is a sin to be sick” (The Health Reformer, Aug. 1, 1866). Compare that to upright Job.
(10) England would soon declare war on the (northern) States: “This nation will yet be humbled into the dust… when England does declare war” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, p. 259). That did not happen as she expected.
(11) Old Jerusalem would never be built up: “I also saw that Old Jerusalem never would be built up…” (Early Writings, p. 75). Old Jerusalem has been greatly built up since Israel became a nation in 1948.
(12) Certain races are the result of amalgamation (interbreeding) of man and animal: “But if there was one sin above another which called for the destruction of the race by the flood, it was the base crime of amalgamation of man and beast which defaced the image of God, and caused confusion everywhere… Every species of animal which God had created were preserved in the ark. The confused species which God did not create, which were the result of amalgamation, were destroyed by the flood. Since the flood there has been amalgamation of man and beast, as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men” (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3, pp. 64, 75).
Uriah Smith wrote a defense of Ellen G. White in 1868, in which he addressed her statement about amalgamation and put forth as examples “the wild Bushmen of Africa, some tribes of the Hottentots, and perhaps the Digger Indians of our own country” (The Visions of Mrs. E.G. White, A Manifestation of Spiritual Gifts According to the Scriptures, objection 39, pp. 102105). James White reviewed Smith’s book and gave it a glowing endorsement in the “Review and Herald” (August, 1868), and the White’s took 2,000 copies of it to camp meetings that year.
(13) She met Enoch on another planet: “The Lord has given me a view of other worlds… I was taken to a world which had seven moons. There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated” (Early Writings, pp. 39-40). This is fanciful imagination, similar to Emanuel Swedenborg claiming to see Aristotle on Mercury.
(14) Noah and Enoch were Christians: “Those who lived then were not without teachers to instruct them in the path of life; for Noah and Enoch were Christians” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, p. 392). To be a Christian, one must believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, and be baptized into Christ, which they did not do.
(15) Enoch was taught by Noah: “Enoch first received instruction from Noah, and he observed the law of God, and served him with singleness of heart” (The Review and Herald, April 29, 1875). Enoch was translated to heaven long before Noah was even born.
(16) Enoch was alive while the ark was being built: “God determined to purify the world by a flood; but in mercy and love He gave the antediluvians a probation of one hundred and twenty years. During this time, while the ark was in building, the voices of Noah, Enoch, and many others were heard in warning and entreaty. And every blow struck on the ark was a warning message” (Australasian Union Conference Record, Sept. 15, 1902). Enoch was translated to heaven hundreds of years before the building of the ark.
(17) Jesus was not God: “The man Christ Jesus was not the Lord God Almighty” (Letter 32, 1899, quoted in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p. 1129). Compare that to Isaiah 9:6.
(18) Satan has a body: “I was then shown Satan as he was, a happy, exalted angel. Then I was shown him as he now is. He still bears a kingly form. His features are still noble, for he is an angel fallen. But the expression of his countenance is full of anxiety, care, unhappiness, malice, hate, mischief, deceit, and every evil. That brow which was once so noble, I particularly noticed. His forehead commenced from his eyes to recede backward. I saw that he had demeaned himself so long, that every good quality was debased, and every evil trait was developed. His eyes were cunning, sly, and showed great penetration. His frame was large, but the flesh hung loosely about his hands and face. As I beheld him, his chin was resting upon his left hand. He appeared to be in deep thought. A smile was upon his countenance, which made me tremble, it was so full of evil, and Satanic slyness” (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 1, pp. 27-28). Satan is a spirit being.
(19) The Father has a body: “The Father is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and is invisible to mortal sight” (Evangelism, p. 614). God is a spirit, which does not have flesh and bones (John 4:24; Luke 24:39). She inserted “The Father” in place of “Christ” (Colossians 2:9).
(20) Christ had to plead with God for our salvation: “He then made known to the angelic host that a way of escape had been made for lost man. He told them that He had been pleading with His Father, and had offered to give His life a ransom…” (Early Writings, p. 149). This is fanciful imagination. The loving Father did not need to be pleaded with to make a way of escape for lost man.
(21) Paul learned the gospel from men in the church: “Jesus directs him to His agents in the church for a further knowledge of duty. Thus He gives authority and sanction to His organized church. Christ had done the work of revelation and conviction, and now Paul was in a condition to learn of those whom God had ordained to teach the truth… The very men whom Paul was purposing to destroy were to be his instructors in the very religion that he had despised and persecuted” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, p. 430). Compare that to Galatians 1:11-12.
(22) The plan of salvation was made after the fall: “The kingdom of grace was instituted immediately after the fall of man, when a plan was devised for the redemption of the guilty race” (The Great Controversy, p. 347). Compare that to Ephesians 1:4 and 3:10-11.
(23) There is a temple in the Holy City: “I saw an angel flying swiftly to me. He quickly carried me from the earth to the Holy City. In the city I saw a temple, which I entered” (The Early Writings, p. 32). Compare that to Revelation 21:22.
(24) Jesus is Michael: “Michael, or Christ, with the angels that buried Moses…” (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 4a, p. 58). That was not the only time she used “Michael” and “Christ” interchangeably in her writings (see Early Writings, p. 164 and The Desire of Ages, p. 99). This idea is also seen in "The Clear Word" translation, which was written by Jack Blanco, former dean of the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University: “When Christ descends from heaven as the Archangel…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16); “…the Lord Jesus, also called Michael the Archangel” (Jude 9); “…God’s Son Michael” (Revelation 12:7). Many Adventists use this translation.
(25) Tall people live on other planets: A dedicated Adventist recalled witnessing one of White’s visions. She wrote, “After counting aloud the moons of Jupiter, and soon after those of Saturn, she gave a beautiful description of the rings of the latter. She then said, ‘The inhabitants are a tall, majestic people, so unlike the inhabitants of earth. Sin has never entered here’” (Mrs. Truesdail’s letter, Jan. 27, 1891). This is fanciful imagination. Those planets do not have a solid surface to sustain life.
(26) Sunday worship is the mark of the beast: “The sign, or seal, of God is revealed in the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath… the mark of the beast is the opposite of this — the observance of the first day of the week” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 8, p. 117). Compare that to Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2.
(27) The same Herod that tried Jesus killed James: “Herod’s heart had grown still harder; and when he heard that Christ had risen, he was not much troubled. He took the life of James, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews, he took Peter also, intending to put him to death” (Early Writings, pp. 185-186). They were not the same Herod (Antipas and Agrippa I).
(28) God sent an angel to talk with Cain: “God condescends to send an angel to Cain to converse with him. The angel inquires of him the reason of his anger, and informs him that if he does well, and follows the directions God has given, he will accept him and respect his offering” (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3, p. 48). Compare that to Genesis 4:6-7.
(29) In these last days God speaks through her Testimonies: “In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these last days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, p. 661). Compare that to Hebrews 1:1-2.
(30) There is no eternal torment for the wicked: “It is beyond the power of the human mind to estimate the evil which has been wrought by the heresy of eternal torment…The theory of eternal torment is one of the false doctrines that constitute the wine of the abominations of Babylon” (The Great Controversy, p. 536). Compare that to Matthew 25:41-46.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other startling - and false - teachings of Ellen G. White that could be noted. For instance, she taught that Satan deceived Adam (Evangelism, p. 598), which contradicts 1 Timothy 2:14, and that the Tower of Babel was built before the flood (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3, p. 301), which contradicts the Genesis record.
Though she boldly asserted that “the testimonies… never contradict His Word” (Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 32), the honest heart knows better. She frequently did that very thing.
Ellen G. White claimed to have divine guidance, yet she contradicted herself several times. For instance, in The Spirit of Prophecy, she said that Jacob knew it was the angel he was wrestling with and pled with him all night, as the angel continually called out his sins (Vol. 1, pp. 118-119). However, in Patriarchs and Prophets, she said that Jacob did not know that it was the angel until about daybreak and that no words were spoken (p. 197). Which is it?
Furthermore, in Christ Our Savior, she said that Jesus’ features were like those of other human beings and that nothing made Him stick out from others (p. 9). However, in Questions on Doctrine, she said that no one who saw His childlike countenance could say He looked like other children (p. 649). Again, which is it?
Ellen G. White had no problem going beyond and adding to the revealed Word. She indulged in endless speculations. For instance, she said that Adam was “more than twice as tall as men now living upon the earth” and that Eve’s head “reached a little above his shoulders” (Spiritual Gifts, Volume 3, p. 34). She also said that angels had warned Adam and Eve “not to separate from each other in their employment, for they might be brought in contact with this fallen one” (p. 39). Obviously, none of this information is found in Scripture. It is pure speculation. Ellen simply added to the text.
Ellen G. White taught that Sunday worship was the result of Roman Catholicism during the fourth century. This is contrary to Scripture (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) and to historical evidence:
• Barnabas (A.D. 100): “Wherefore also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose from the dead.”
• Ignatius (A.D. 107): “And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all days.”
• Justin Martyr (A.D. 140): “On the day called Sunday all who live in cities, or in the country, gather in one place, and memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly.”
• Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 174): “The old seventh day has become nothing more than a working day.”
• Tertullian (A.D. 200): “We solemnize the day after Saturday in contradistinction to those who call this day their Sabbath.”
• Victorinus (A.D. 300): “On the Lord’s Day we go forth to our bread with the giving of thanks. Lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews, which Christ himself the Lord of the Sabbath in his body abolished.”
All of these quotes predate the time when this supposed corruption came about. They show that the early Christians worshipped on Sunday and did not keep the Sabbath (see Colossians 2:14-16). Sunday worship was not the mark of the beast!
Ellen G. White emerged as a visionary and prophetess at a time when published accounts of visions abounded. However, her false teachings and failed prophecies prove that she was not a true prophet.
“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).
Ellen should be placed in the same category as Joseph Smith Jr., Mary Baker Eddy, and Charles Taze Russell. They were not what they claimed to be. And let us not forget that Ellen was part of a movement that started on a failed prophecy! The Word of God was “once for all” delivered in the first century (Jude 3). It was a complete, perfect, and permanent deposit. That is why the miraculous gifts, including prophecy, ceased when it was “completed” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). There are no true latter-day prophets.
[Nearly all of the above quotes were taken from the official “Ellen G. White Estate” website].