Good Works and God’s Sure Foundation

Today we will move on from the foundation. In the first five posts we saw that …

  1. … God’s sure foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11),
  2. … only two things are inscribed on God’s sure foundation: “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness” (2 Tim. 2:19).
  3. … the way to stand and build on God’s foundation is to hear and obey the words of Jesus and his apostles (Matt. 7:24-27).
  4. … we can build on the foundation of others by our teaching (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

In the fifth post are links to the first four if you want to review.

Good Works

The next thing to cover is good works. Why good works?

One major reason is this verse:

[God] will recompense everyone according to his deeds. To those that pursue glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good [he will reward] eternal life.

This is really in the Bible. You will find it in Romans 2:6-7.

It is true, and important, that the next chapter in Romans tells us that “none, no not one” actually patiently continues to do good (3:10-11). I need you, however, to at least acknowledge that if a person could patiently do good through their life, this verse promises that God will reward that person with eternal life.

Is that true, or is it not true?

Read the verse and think about it, and in the next post I am going to show you the incredible, shocking emphasis the Bible puts on good works.

I am using the word “shocking” honestly. I told a friend just today that there are two things I found in the Bible that shocked me, that put me in stunned surprise. One was finding out that in the book of Acts, in all the places that the apostles preached the Gospel, they never told any lost person that Jesus died for their sins. They told Christians in their letters that Jesus died for our sins, but they did not tell the lost that.

I was so surprised about this that I eventually wrote a book on what the apostles did cover in their sermons. The book is appropriately named The Apostles’ Gospel. (I am required to tell you that I get a commission if you use that link to buy the book.)

The other thing I discovered in the Bible that shocked me was finding out the emphasis put on “good works” even for those that are under grace.

  • … we are supposed to be constantly urging each other to do good works.
  • … we are supposed to be thinking about how to get each other to do good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us for good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of grace is to teach us to do good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of being born again is to re-create us to do good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of the atonement is to make us zealous for good works.
  • … sowing to the Spirit is equated with doing good works.
  • … even Christians will be judged by their good works.

I challenge you to find the verses for those claims before the next post. In the next post, I will give you the verses and discuss them, though they really do not need any explanation.

Again, I want to remind you of my claim that at the end of this study, there will be almost no verse in the New Testament that does not make perfect sense on the surface in its plain meaning. I claim also that I am teaching you the things that were held universally by the churches formed by the apostles, and I will show you this from their writings at the end of the study.

See you in the next post!

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Other Scriptures Regarding God’s Sure Foundation

Over the last four posts (1, 2, 3, 4), we have been building a foundation … or rather, letting the Scriptures tell us what God’s sure foundation is and how to build on it. There are four more passages on God’s foundation, and I will cover them quickly today.

Luke 6:48-49

This passage is the same as Matthew 7:24-27, which we covered. If we hear and obey Jesus’ teachings, we are building on the rock. If we do not, then we are building on the sand and are doomed to fall.

Romans 15:20

This verse has an interesting correlation to 1 Corinthians 3, which we covered. Peter and Apollos taught in Corinth, building on a foundation (Christ) that Paul had laid. Paul says that he does not want to build on the foundations of others.

Ephesians 2:20

This presents God’s foundation with a different allegory. The apostles and prophets are the foundation, and Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. After searching a few web sites, I think this is the best way to picture it. In ancient construction, one rock was placed in the corner, and everything else was measured from it. The other corners were squared to it, etc. (ref).

So here Paul presents Christ as the most important stone. The apostles and prophets then complete the foundation.

So who are these apostles and prophets?

It is easiest to answer who the apostles are. The apostles are the twelve, Paul, James (the Lord’s brother) and some others. In the early churches it was taught that God sent Jesus with the Gospel, Jesus gave it to the apostles, and the apostles were gifted by the Holy Spirit to pass the truths of the Gospel to the churches they started. The collection of their writings is how we got our New Testament.

Since Paul is saying that the prophets are foundational, it seems that he means the Old Testament prophets. Thus, he is referring to the Old Testament itself since this would have been his “Bible.” The use of “prophets” by Peter in Acts 3:18-21 and “prophecy” in 1 Peter 1:20-21 would confirm this interpretation.

Commentaries make a strong argument that he is referring to the prophets who at that time were common in the Church (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:8-9; Eph. 4:11).

No matter which prophets Paul is inluding, this passage does not change anything we have covered in the first four posts. It merely adds the apostles and either the Old-Testament prophets or the early New-Testament prophets to the foundation in a different allegory where Jesus is the Cornerstone. By using Scripture to build the foundation of our model of the Christian faith, we are already building on the apostles and prophets.

Hebrews 6:1-2

Hebrews 6:1-2 mentions foundational teachings. They are not “the foundation” because that is Jesus Christ. Instead, these are basic, beginning teachings. This passage will be a real confidence booster for us as we proceed. We have been examining the foundation. We will go on to examine obedience, the problem of us, and the solution to the problem in order to complete this foundational study. In the process we will created a framework of teaching upon which all other teachings can be hung.

The writer of Hebrews calls the six teachings of this passage the beginning principles. As we proceed we will find that these six things exactly match the framework of teaching we will be pulling from Scripture as we proceed.

Peter the Rock and Peter’s Confession

In the course of an exchange found in Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus gives Peter his name, which means “Rock,” and then tells him “… upon this rock I will build my Church.”

Protestants and Catholics fight over this passage, but it is unnecessary. Catholics admit that Peter’s confession is the rock on which Jesus built the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 424). Protestants agree with this, but most do not want to admit that Peter himself is the rock as well.

I could argue that the Catholic interpretation makes much more sense, but it is unnecessary because Paul told us in Ephesians 2:20 that Peter, as well as all the apostles, are part of the foundation on which Jesus built the Church. Peter just happens to be the very first rock placed because he was the very first to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

The point about Peter’s confession should not be missed. Protestants and Catholics acknowledge that Peter’s confession is the rock on which Jesus built the Church. Peter and all the apostles are part of the foundation, but so is Peter’s confession!

Almost all the non-Catholic Christians I know believe that the rock is Peter’s confession, but almost all of them do not apply it in any practical way. For us, Peter’s confession will become crucially important as we proceed. This is as it should be because Jesus said he would build his Church on that confession!

In the next post we will review what we have covered, and we move on to the next section of the framework of the Christian faith as found in the Scriptures.

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Building on God’s Sure Foundation

The last post talked about why God’s Sure Foundation is inscribed the way it is (2 Tim. 2:19). In this post, we will learn how to build on God’s sure foundation, which must always be Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).

Standing on God’s Sure Foundation

There are two ways to build on God’s Sure Foundation.

1. Building on Your Own Foundation

The Bible has one thing to say about how to build on God’s sure foundation. It is simple and clear.

Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them I will compare to a wise man that built his house on a rock. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house. It did not fall because it was founded upon a rock. Everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does not do them shall be compared to a foolish man that built his house upon the sand. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house. It fell, and great was its fall. (Matt. 7:24-27)

If you want to build your life on the foundation of Jesus Christ, then you must obey him. It is as simple as that.

I know that many of my readers will cry out, “Wait, what about faith in him?”

You have to be patient. Obviously, the Bible talks about faith in Jesus Christ; therefore, it will come up. But if you want to build a proper model of our faith, you need to begin at the foundation. The foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), and to stand on that foundation you have to obey him (Matt. 7:23-27). That is what the Bible says. It does not have anything other than that to say about how to stand and live on the foundation of Jesus.

Therefore, we bring up obedience here, and we bring up faith when its place comes up.

The next question is what do we obey? The context of Matthew 7:23-27 is the Sermon on the Mount, which starts in chapter 5. That sermon would be the immediate context of what we should obey, but of course we know that is not all Jesus taught. The Apostle Paul said, “If anyone considers himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 14:37). Both Jesus’ teachings and the Apostles teachings are to be obeyed.

We can’t leave this passage yet because it begins with a “therefore.” We have to find out what the “therefore” is there for.

In this case, Jesus has just finished telling his hearers that saying “Lord, Lord” won’t get them into the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to do the will of the Father in order to enter (Matt. 7:21). In the next two verses, he gives us examples of who won’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven. These include people who cast out demons, worked miracles, and prophesied. Jesus tells them that because they practiced unrighteousness, they need to depart from him (vv. 22-23).

Our study has produced fruit already on the fourth day! We learned previously that “depart from unrighteousness” is written on God’s sure foundation. Jesus confirms there is no hope for those who do not depart from unrighteousness, even if they did “many powerful works” (v. 22).

This is something we expected because of what we learned previously. Our goal is to make it all the way to the end being prepared as we go for what is coming. It is a great feeling to see the teachings of the Bible falling into place this way. This is just the start.

2. Building on the Foundation of Others

During the time of the apostles, the church in Corinth was fighting over who was the best teacher that had visited them. Some chose Paul, some chose Peter, some chose Apollos, and some chose Christ, who of course did not visit in person but who does teach us through his Spirit and through gifted men (and many other ways). In these last days, God speaks through his Son (Heb. 1:2). Read about this in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12.

Paul told them this was divisive, and that forming into parties like that was carnal (1 Cor. 3:3,4). Paul explained the roles of the various teachers. He had laid a foundation in Corinth, and Peter and Apollos had come along afterward and built upon that foundation (1 Cor. 3:5-10).

Paul then explains that it is possible for teachers to come to Corinth and build with precious metals and jewels that will survive the judgment of fire, but it is also possible to build with “wood, hay, and stubble” that will be burned up at the judgment.

Thus there are two ways to build on the foundation of Christ, and they are judged differently. You must build on your own foundation by obeying Jesus, and if you do not do so, you will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 7:21-27). You can build on the foundation of others by teaching, and your teaching will be judged as well. This can be a frightening judgment (Jas. 3:1), but the teacher can be saved despite the fact that his teaching did not survive the judgment (1 Cor. 3:15). He will be saved if he does the will of the Father otherwise (Matt. 7:21-27).

Again, we are addressing these things as they come up. My concern is to build a solid foundation for you, and if we pull from things that you or I believe just to make sure they are included, then we will be like a construction crew that threw studs, nails, drywall and coffee pots into the cement of their foundation. Studs, nails, drywall, and microwaves all have their place in a home, but not as part of the foundation.

Let’s not throw extraneous things into the foundation.

In the next post, we will conclude our study of God’s sure foundation by covering a couple important side notes as regards the foundation. For now, let’s sum up where we are at today.

  1. God’s sure foundation is Jesus, for no other foundation can anyone lay except Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
  2. The only two things written on that foundation are “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness” (2 Tim. 2:19). As we build our model further, it will be essential to remember those foundational truths.
  3. There are two ways to build on God’s sure foundation. We can build on our own foundation by obeying Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27), and we can build on the foundation of others by teaching (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
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The Inscriptions on the Sure Foundation of God

We talked yesterday about 2 Timothy 2:19 and the fact that God’s firm foundation only has two things written on it. Why those two things?

There is a lot of scriptural backing coming for the things I am teaching in this series, I promise. For now, though, I am trying to get us to really look at each verse we cover.

Since God’s firm foundation only has “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness” on it, it seems apparent that we must ascribe no small importance to those two things. In fact, as we go on, we will see that other Scriptures ascribe great importance to those two things as well. For now, though, we will get everything from this verse what we can.

The point of that first inscription has to be that it is not our job to worry about who is in and who is out. At least in some sense this has to be true. “The Lord knows,” at least in this case, is suggesting that we do not know.

The second inscription is telling us that it is highly important to turn away from unrighteousness. In other words, “Stop doing bad things!”

This is written on God’s foundation, and other things that could have been written there are not there. That makes “Stop doing bad things!” one of the most important teachings in the Christian religion.

That is enough building for today, but today I am going to start chipping away at the old foundation too. A lot of people think that “dos and don’ts” are not part of the Christian system. Apparently they have not read the New Testament. I am going to guess that there is not one book of the New Testament that does not have lots of commands in it. If I’m wrong, I’m only barely wrong. Even Paul’s letters are full of “dos and don’ts.” That is undeniable. Go read the last half of any of his letters.

Because this is an area of conflict between the old foundation, which says “dos and don’ts” are not really a part of faith or if a part, certainly a very small part, and because we must tear down the old foundation to properly build the new one, I will give you a couple of supporting verses, even though the commands in the New Testament books are supporting enough by themselves.

If you believe that commands issued in the Bible are issued to us, or at least most of them are, then the Bible tells me and you to “Affirm constantly that those who have believed in God be careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). That command certainly indicates that departing from unrighteousness is very important. We are told, or if we are not told, certainly our leaders are told to tell us “constantly” to do good works.

I am going to guess that being told constantly to do good works is not the experience of many of my readers. If I am wrong about that, great!

I am jumping ahead of myself, but let’s look at a great passage expressing the importance of departing from unrighteousness and doing good deeds instead:

The grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us so that he might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good deeds. (Tit. 2:11-14)

Paul gets an “F” in grammar for his run-on sentence, but an “A+” for poetically expressing one of the greatest and most important truths of the Christian religion. Jesus died to redeem us from lawlessness and purify a people hungry to do good works. This is fantastic! It is foundational to depart from unrighteousness, so Jesus died to redeem us from lawlessness and make us zealous for good works. Not only that, but he gave us grace that would continually be teaching us to depart from unrighteousness and to live sensibly and righteously and godly! Awesome!

Then there is the next statement: “These things speak, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you!” (Tit. 2:15).

So not only is grace going to be teaching us to depart from unrighteousness, but our leaders will too, and both grace and our leaders will be “constantly” teaching us to maintain good works.

At this point, I think we are all getting an inkling that “depart from unrighteousness” might be appropriately inscribed on the sure foundation of God.

So now that we know the foundation (Christ, 1 Cor. 3:11), what is written on it, and an inkling of why, let’s talk in the next blog about actually building on the sure foundation of God.

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Rebuilding the Foundations: Beginning at the Beginning

Yesterday I said we would have to tear down the old foundation to build a new one. That is true, but spiritual things do not exactly relate to physical things. On this spiritual foundation, we can limit the tearing down to making room for the new things we are building.

Step 1: The Sure Foundation of God

The sure foundation of God stands firm, having this seal (insignia): “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.” (2 Tim. 2:19)

This discussion and all that follow will not mean anything unless something practical comes from it. One way to test any teaching you receive is to compare what the teaching tells you to do with what Scripture tells you to do. Today, I am going to tell you to depart from unrighteousness. I hope that is not new to you!

I am going to take it one step further, though, and I am going to tell you that departing from unrighteousness is foundational. It is so foundational that, according to the apostle Paul, God wrote it on his firm foundation.

Not only did he write it on his foundation, but he did not write anything else except “The Lord knows those who are his.”

Here is a good time to say Selah. That word is used in the Psalms a lot, and most scholars think it means “pause.” Selah. You should pause and think about this.

God, through the apostle Paul, lets us know that departing from iniquity is not only foundational, but more foundational than almost anything else! Mind you, the foundation itself is Jesus, for no one can lay any foundation but Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), but the only two things written on the foundation are “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.”

Wow.

Here’s the important thing to think about. If you had only one, or maybe two, short inscriptions to make on God’s sure foundation of Jesus Christ, what would you write?

I am going to suggest that not many, if any of us, would choose “depart from unrighteousness” as so central a theme that it should be written as the only, or almost only, inscription on the foundation of God. And surely no one would inscribe “The Lord knows those who are his” before anything else.

God would.

In the next blog we will talk about why. Until then, I ask you please to think about the inscription on the foundation of God. I would also ask you to think about what would happen to a building if you got the foundation wrong, or even the things close to the foundation wrong. How likely would it be that the structures higher in the building would have worse problems than the foundation?

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Rebuilding the Foundations

Rebuilding the Foundations is the name of a teaching that I gave at a missions conference in Pittsburgh last year. About 40 missionaries and roughly the same number of donors were there. The mission is Heaven’s Family, and I am one of the donors because I love the work they do.

That teaching was so well-received that one missionary asked if he could translate it to Chinese and take it to China.

Over the next few blogs, or perhaps over all the blogs I write from now on, I will cover the tenets of that teaching. Here is my plug for what will be coming:

  • Rebuilding the Foundations is neither fluff nor run-of-the-mill. It is what it says it is, a theological rebuilding of Christian foundations.
  • It is a rebuilding, not novelty. Every step of this rebuilding is founded upon Scripture and was once the universal teaching of the Christian churches.
  • It will very likely require replacement of foundational teaching you have received. One can only build a foundation on prepared ground. The rubble of a previous foundation is hardly good ground for a new one.
  • I dare to tear down other foundations because what I am building is both biblical and historical. As said, it once was the foundational teaching of all Christian churches.
  • My main target for bulldozing are the foundation teachings I received in my trek through the Assemblies of God, the eight years I spent in charismatic churches, my experience with Baptist churches, and the theology I see taught in most Evangelical study Bibles.
  • I dare to bulldoze those foundations because of all the problems caused by those foundations: nominalism, worldliness, division, etc.
  • The foundational teachings we will cover are simple, easy to follow, and do not require a knowledge of history or original languages. The only reason they may be hard to understand is because of false traditions that many evangelicals adhere to and love.

I have had a number of new subscribers lately because of my videos on faith and works on Youtube. Welcome aboard. If you have been able to handle that series, you ought to love what is coming on this blog.

I hope I have piqued your curiosity. If it is piqued enough that you don’t want to wait, the basics of future blogs are available at RebuildingTheFoundations.org.

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Through the Bible: John 1:7-18, John the Baptist and Jesus

We have been going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are in Section III, and today we are covering John 1:7-17.

John’s Gospel is the last of the Gospels written. It may well have been written in the AD 90’s. John would have been living in Ephesus in those days, watching over the churches in that area (Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man Who Must Be Saved, ch. 42). The churches he would have been watching over are the ones we read about in the Revelation chapters 2 and 3, all of which are within about 100 miles of Ephesus in an area known as Asia Minor. The area is in the far west of what is modern Turkey.

John the Baptist

This man came to bear witness, that he might bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through his mediation. He was not the light, but [came] that he might bear witness to the light that was the light of truth that gives light to everyone coming into the world.

John’s Gospel is careful to point out that John the Baptist is not the light. In doing so, John gets away from John the Baptist and focuses on Jesus for a little while. He goes back to John the Baptist in verse 19.

The focus that John gives to distinguishing John the Baptist from the true light, who was Jesus, makes me wonder if there were people in Asia Minor who were still following John, but I know of no history of such a sect.

The Creator and the New Creation

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. Those who received him, to them he gave the power that they might be sons of God, those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.

This is our introduction to being born again. Jesus talks with Nicodemus about being born again in John chapter 3, but John does not wait until then to get to the subject. The context does not call for a discussion about the new birth. John brings it up out of the blue, making sure to insert it into the discussion of receiving him.

This is where the time frame of John, well after the other Gospels, matters. He is emphasizing things because he thinks they are being missed. It is obvious that John’s letters are battling problems in the church because he mentions “those who are trying to seduce you” (1 Jn. 2:26), talks about antichrists (1 Jn. 4:3), and even discusses a church takeover (3 Jn. 9-10). We don’t always think of John’s Gospel being written with the same concerns in mind, but it was.

John wants to centralize the new birth. It is one thing to devote ourselves to obeying God. It is even a good thing, but that commitment is not going to be an effective one without our being born again (Jn. 3:3-5). That is not new to John. Paul calls the new birth a new creation (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17), but he means the same thing. If we lean on ourselves, with no transformation from God, we will live in the powerlessness described in Romans 7. God has a deliverance from that powerlessness (described in Romans 8:1-13), which is the new birth.

Apparently some were forgetting the importance of the new birth towards the end of the first century because John takes the time to put the new birth back at the forefront and to remind us that it is a work of God, not of man.

The passage began by letting us know that the world was made by Jesus, and the people he came to were his own, not because they were Jews like him, but because he made them. I do not know how to give that the emphasis it deserves. The Creator was walking around in our midst, offering new life and giving the power to become children of God to those who received him. That is worth stopping to meditate on.

The Word became flesh and took up his abode among us. We saw his glory as the glory of the only Son from the Father, who is full of grace and equity.

Many missed who he was. Though he has ascended to heaven since the days his apostles saw him, he has sent the Holy Spirit to the earth to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8). As those who know him, we have to trust that our testimony that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9-10) is backed up by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That is why there are so many Christians today, two thousand years later. Our Gospel does not come only as the word of man, but it is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Those who do not yet know him, I warn not to miss him. It may seem like 2,000 years gives sufficient excuse for doubt, but God desires truth deep down inside (Ps. 51:6). He will hold you accountable for ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit that is in the world (1 Jn. 5:10).

Then the apostle John returns to John the Baptist, but even there it is to testify even more about Jesus.

John bore witness of him and cried and said, “This is the one that I said comes after me and was before me because he was before me.” And of his fullness we all received grace for grace. For the law was given through the mediation of Moses, but truth and grace were through Jesus Christ.

One of the great emphases of the Gospel of John is that the incarnation was not Jesus’ first trip to earth. John starts by pointing out that Jesus is the Maker of the world, but repeatedly he testifies that Jesus has been around a long time. Here, John the Baptist testifies that “he was before me.” Later, Jesus himself says he was before Abraham as well (Jn. 8:58).

The fact that Jesus is the eternal Word of God is the reason that he could bring more than Moses. Moses brought something good in the way of the law, but the sin that abides in us keeps us from following that Law (Rom. 7). Jesus, however, could do something more. As Romans 8:3 puts it, “What the Law could not do, God did.” The Law could not make us doers of the Law (Rom. 3:10ff), but God was able to do so through his Son (Rom. 8:3-4).

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Through the Bible: Luke 2:41 – 3:3; Matthew 3:1-3, John the Baptist

We are going through Tatians Diatessaron, a harmony of the Gospels compiled in the mid-second century. Today, we are in Section III, and we will be going over Luke 2:41-3:3 and Matthew 3:1-3.

[Jesus’] kinfolk used to go to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the feast according to their custom. When the days were finished, they returned. The child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and Joseph and his mother did not know. They supposed that he was with the children of their company. When they had gone one day’s journey, they sought him among their people and those who knew them, and they did not find him. So they returned to Jerusalem and sought him again. After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, hearing them and asking them questions. All who heard him wondered at his wisdom and his words.

At twelve he could speak freely because he was not a threat to the teachers. When he got older the teachers in Jerusalem would not received him so favorably.

When they saw him, they wondered, and his mother said to him, “My son, why have you dealt with us in this way? Behold, I and your father have been looking for you with much anxiety.”

He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” And they did not understand the word which he spoke to them. He went down with them, came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother used to keep all these sayings in her heart.

Mary, like everyone else, did not fully understand who her Son was. She was getting a front-row seat as he slowly revealed himself, though, and Luke tells us she was paying attention.

And Jesus grew in his stature and wisdom, and in favor with God and men.

We talked about this in the last post. Luke uses statements like this as a transition to the next story. The fact that it is a transition—that is, not a sentence of central focus—means this is a typical picture of what growth should look like. Jesus grew not just in size and wisdom, but he gained favor in the eyes of both God and men.

In this case the transition is to the story of John the Baptist (that starts in Luke 3).

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor in Judaea; and one of the four rulers, Herod, in Galilee; and Philip his brother, one of the four rulers, in Ituraea and in the district of Trachonitis; and Lysanias, one of the four rulers, in Abilene; during the chief-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the command of God went forth to John the son of Zacharias in the desert.

Apparently Luke wanted us to get the time right in regard to the appearance of John the Baptist. Tiberius Caesar rose to power in AD 14, so that would put the beginning of John’s ministry in AD 28.

If you are not following the math there, think about Tiberius’ second year. The first year of his reign was AD 14, so the second year would be AD 15. His third year would be AD 16, and so on, until AD 28 was his fifteenth year. A professional sports career that was from 2001 to 2007 would be seven years, not six. Count them up and see. Subtraction doesn’t work for kings and professional sports careers.

He came into the region which is around the Jordan [River], proclaiming the baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.

I left “unto” in there, which I would usually change to “to,” because baptism is a hot doctrinal issue. Is it or is it not “for” the forgiveness of sins. Interestingly enough, Tatian’s Diatessaron, from which I am pulling this text, has a couple conflicting readings. One is “unto” as here, and the other is “with.” The second would read, “proclaiming the baptism of repentance with the forgiveness of sins.”

Thus, Tatian’s rendering of this passage will not be useful for either side of the argument. I’ll address baptism when we are out of the Diatessaron and into Acts.

He was preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is come near.”

I almost missed that Tatian had jumped back to Matthew here. This is Matthew 3:1. I caught it because only Matthew uses “Kingdom of Heaven.” All the other New Testament books use “Kingdom of God.” The reason for this is that Matthew’s Gospel is directed towards Jews. Jews, always afraid of taking the name of the Lord in vain, found many ways not to say God’s name at all, including saying “heaven” whenever it could replace “God.”

There is a lot to be said here about what the Gospel really is. I have written on the Gospel of the Kingdom, and a friend wrote a concise history and explanation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. If the gospel of the Kingdom is a mystery to you, you should follow those links and clear up that misunderstanding.

For now, let’s just point out that John the Baptist was preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Now Tatian combines Matthew 3:3 and Luke 3:4-6 to give us the prophecy about John’s ministry.

This is he that was spoken of in Isaiah the prophet, “The voice which cries in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight paths in the plain for our God. All the valleys shall be filled, and all the mountains and hills shall become low; the rough shall become plain and the difficult place, easy. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

One of my favorite figures in church history is George Fox, the founder of the Quakers. I loved him because of his journal and his unrestrained love for God and God’s righteousness, not any particular Quaker doctrine. He took the Bible very figuratively. He loved this passage about John, and he took it to mean that Jesus would level the mountains of pride and valleys of sins in our lives. While I cannot be comfortable with George Fox’s figurative interpretations as being the only way to read the Bible, I love them as an additional way.

The context of this passage is preparing a way for the Lord. John began the announcement to prepare a way with “Repent!” Then he talks about leveling mountains and hills and raising up valleys. God wants a straight path, which is always a reference to walking righteously. Proverbs 3:5-6 and 2 Timothy 2:15 both talk about getting things straight. In each case, the Scripture is talking doing things in a righteous manner. In Proverbs 3, if we trust God, he will make our paths to be righteous. In 2 Timothy 2:15 if we are diligent to present ourselves to God, then he will teach us to rightly handle his Word.

Repentance has a hugely central role in following God. It is at the start and heart of every message in the Bible. The apostle Paul described his entire ministry as declaring that people should “repent and turn to God and do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20). Repentance brings the mercy of God, and it always has (Ezek. 18:21-23). It is not just the way we begin, but the way we live (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2). We must always be willing to rush to the throne of grace, obtaining mercy and finding grace to help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Tatian returns to John after this, and we will get to that in our next post.

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Through the Bible: Matthew 2:19-23 and Luke 2:40

We are going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are on Section III. Today’s post goes through Matthew 2:19-23 and Luke 2:40. (A harmony of the Gospels means Tatian is going through all four Gospels in attempted chronological order.)

Matthew 2:19-23: The Bible and Christ

When Herod the king died, the messenger of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said to him, “Rise. Take the child and his mother and go into the land of Israel, for the ones who sought the child’s life have died.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother and came to the land of Israel. When he heard that Archelaus had become king over Judea in the place of Herod his father, he was afraid to go there. He saw in a dream that he should go into the land of Galilee and that he should live in a city called Nazareth so that the saying in the prophet might be fulfilled, that he should be called a Nazarene.

I know it is unpleasant for a lot of you to read things like what I am about to write, but we should talk about it here, among believers, not encounter these things unprepared from those who do not want God as a ruler (Luke 19:12-27).

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, which we are reading here, Joseph is sent to Nazareth as though he was new to the city. In Luke’s account, Joseph and Mary were already living in Nazareth when Gabriel came to them (1:26-27). Luke has them leaving Nazareth for a census, then returning. Matthew writes as though they were living in Bethlehem when Gabriel came to them (1:18-2:1).

Matthew was an apostle, writing from memory about a story he heard from the people who lived it, even Mary herself. Luke was an investigator, asking questions of many, trying to determine the original story many decades after it happened (Luke 1:1-4).

The accounts should be added together. Matthew’s history contains much more detail and is more likely to be accurate. Luke covered the birth in Bethlehem probably thinking the family was always from Nazareth because it was well known that Jesus was a Nazarene.

Again, God is not concerned about inspiring exact historical knowledge. The little glitches in unimportant things, like how many stalls of chariots Solomon had (1 Kings 4:26 w/ 2 Chr. 9:25) or whether Jesus was going into or out of Jericho when he encountered Bartimaeus the blind man (Matt. 20:29-30; Mark 10:46: Luke 18:35-36) are ways to tell us not to get obsessed with details. Jesus healed blind men. He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem in fulfillment of a prophecy that revealed him as the Lord from heaven (Mic. 5:2). These are the important things.

The book is not the issue. The Man, the Messiah Jesus, is the issue. The book can tell you how to live. The Man from heaven, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, can give you the Holy Spirit and empower you to live the way the book tells you. As Jesus said himself, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life, but these are they which testify of me. Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn. 5:39-40).

Do not deify the Bible. It is a testimony about a person. The Bible can make you wise for salvation through Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 3:15), but Jesus can actually save you. Perhaps some of these meaningless little contradictions are an attempt to cure those afflicted with an undue attachment to the sign that points the way rather than the One who is the way (Jn. 14:6).

By the way. No one knows where the prophecy “He will be called a Nazarene” is from. Obviously, Matthew didn’t know either because he attributes it to “the prophet.” The commentaries think the most likely spot is Isaiah 11:1 where the Hebrew word for branch is netzer. It is entirely possible he is referring to prophecy or prophetic book that is no longer known.

Tatian now jumps back to Luke 2:40.

Luke 2:40: Spiritual Growth

The child grew, became strong in spirit, becoming filled with wisdom, and the favor (grace) of God was upon him.

I like translating the Greek word charis as favor rather than grace. I wrote a booklet explaining that preference. For now, if you read a definition of grace in the New Testament, just about every lexicon will give you “unmerited favor,” so there’s no problem with my using “favor” as a clearer word than “grace.”

The fact that Luke is using this sentence as a transition from the birth narrative to the next story puts even more meaning to it. This is Luke’s picture of what growing means. I think he is saying, “We are done with the birth narrative. Let’s move on to the next story I know, which is when Jesus was twelve. I will transition by telling you that he was growing from his birth to age 12.”

If this is what he was saying, then he was also saying that becoming strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and having the favor of God is what growing, in God’s eyes, looks like.

The reason this is important is because it tells us what to focus on for our own growth … and what not to focus on. Gain wisdom. Rest in the favor of God. Build a strong spirit. These things mark growth. Agonizing over your spiritual condition as though you had to find a way to gain God’s favor will not produce growth. You should rise each day like a little child, running to leap into the arms of your heavenly Father because Jesus has opened a way to the Throne of Favor (Heb. 4:16).

Awesome picture, isn’t it?

Luke uses a similar transition in 2:52 to jump from his story of Jesus at age 12 to his introduction to John the Baptist. We will get to that story in the next post, but I just want to add that transition to this one. There Luke writes that Jesus “grew in his stature and wisdom and in favor with God and man.”

Favor produces more favor. If God grants you his favor, then you will be a recipient of his gifts, right? That just follows logically? God’s gifts are spiritual. You will find righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17) from the Holy Spirit that he is happy to give you as a loving Father (Luke 11:13).

Let’s live in the favor of God, not agonize over trying to obtain something Jesus already obtained for us (Heb. 4:16). That favor will teach you how to live in this world (Tit. 2:11-14).

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Through the Bible: Matthew 2:13-18, A Spiritual Bible

We are going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are on Section III. Today’s post goes through Matthew 2:13-18.

The Bible and Inspiration

When [the wise men] had departed, the messenger of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said to him, “Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I speak to you, for Herod is determined to seek the child to slay him. Joseph arose and took the child and his mother in the night and fled into Egypt and remained in it until the time of the death of Herod. [This was so] that which was said by the Lord in the prophet might be fulfilled, which was, “From Egypt I called my Son” [Hos. 11:1].

Let’s definitely talk about the Bible here!

If you read the Bible slowly enough and if you ensure that you do not remember what you read previously, the Bible is clean and inspired and neat and tidy. If you never look up the references, that helps too. If, however, you read through it fast enough that you still remember Genesis when you get to Revelation, or if you look up all the references you hear in a sermon, or if you look up all the Old Testament references quoted in New Testament passages, then the Bible gets a little messy.

Here, for example, we see that Matthew tells us that Joseph, Mary, and baby went to Egypt from Bethlehem. This is more difficult to reconcile with Luke than the fact Luke left out the Magi visit. Luke said Joseph and family went back to Nazareth as soon as the sacrifices were done. Matthew says they stayed in Bethlehem for at least a year (explained below) then went to Egypt.

Tatian skipped the genealogies, so I did not get to tell you that Matthew skipped three generations of kings in his genealogy. If you find Jehoshaphat in Matthew 1:8, you will find that he lists Joram as his son (correct), then Uzziah as his grandson (incorrect). Ahaziah was Joram’s son, and then three generations later, Azariah, also known as Uzziah, was born. He had a son name Jotham. I suspect that the Joram/Ahaziah and Azariah/Jotham connection threw him. Whatever the cause, Matthew skips Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (see list).

This causes another problem, because Matthew makes a point of saying there were three sets of fourteen generations (v. 17). That only worked because he skipped three kings. Otherwise, it would have been fourteen, seventeen, fourteen.

Commentaries give various ways to reconcile this. I get called a liberal—or sometimes a heretic—for saying that Matthew made a mistake. If you want you can choose one of the explanations the commentaries give, but since they seem far-fetched (at best) to me, I can’t.

I believe in the inspiration of not just the New Testament, but the apostles in general. As Irenaeus, one of the leading bishops of the second century said:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us. At one time they proclaimed it in public and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed it down to us in the Scriptures to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed perfect knowledge … for after our Lord rose from the dead, they were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down, were filled from all, and had perfect knowledge. (Against Heresies, Bk. III, ch. 1, par. 1)

I believe this. I believe this was promised to the apostles in John 16:13. I believe Matthew was inspired when he wrote his Gospel.

I don’t believe that Matthew, Moses, or anyone else was inspired to write perfect history or perfect science. You can think what you want, but I think it is obvious that Matthew made a mistake. My brain loves truth. It will not let me live in purposeful contradiction. I can see Matthew made a mistake. I can’t get myself to pretend he didn’t.

Let me give another clearer case. In 2 Corinthians 9:25 we read that Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his horses and chariots. In 1 Kings 4:26, the Bible says he had 40,000.

I remember reading a Catholic Bible back in the 80’s when I was a young Christian. The comment on the verse in 2 Chronicles said the writer of Kings was prone to exaggeration. I was shocked! I was also deeply offended. How could they even suggest such a thing! The Bible is inerrant!

Over the years I have learned that it’s not. You can pretend that there are not contradictions, historical or scientific errors, but that is what it is: pretending. I just can’t do that.

Please remember I said I believe the apostles are inspired. I am not attacking our mutual faith in Jesus, nor in the Scriptures.

The general argument that people obsessed with inerrancy use to explain the conflict between Kings and Chronicles is that this was a copyist error. The original manuscripts, they say, agree with one another.

Why? So that God could say, “Look at the miraculous historical accuracy I put into the Scriptures, which you cannot see because I allowed copyists to change things and you don’t have the originals”?

To me, that’s just weird. If a prophet came to town and accurately exposed your deepest thoughts and also gave a word from God on how to resolve your deepest issue, but while he was talking he made an error and called you by the wrong name or got the name of your town wrong, would you then reject his prophecy? Of course we wouldn’t. We would think, wow, this guy really is a prophet, and he is also really middle-aged because he forgot the name of the town he was in.

Whether we like it or not, Matthew skipped three names in his genealogy. If this is going to make you ignore his testimony of Jesus’ life, then you are way too picky. If God has called you, then you should have his Spirit inside you. The words of Matthew have God’s Spirit inside them. That is what inspiration means. The fact that we don’t know whether there were 4,000 or 40,000 chariots in Solomon’s stall or that Matthew made a mistake in listing a genealogy … why would that make you doubt something that is spiritual, not intellectual.

The breath of God is in those words, and the breath of God is in you. As we read the Scriptures, the inspiration of God in the words and the inspiration of God in the words connect, producing guidance, encouragement, and revelation. We are not children of the letter; we are children of the Spirit, holding to a spiritual covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).

I like Origen’s explanation of mistakes and contradictions. Origen was the most respected scholar of the early third century. He was a prolific author, and a wealthy patron provided him with several scribes so that he could dictate without losing any of his words. He read enough to see the tiny, irrelevant contradictions in the Scripture. He said this about them:

So for that reason, Divine Wisdom took care that certain stumbling blocks—interruptions—to the historical meaning would take place. He did this by introducing into the middle [of the narratives] certain impossibilities and incongruities. (De Principiis, Bk. IV, ch. 1, par. 15)

What Origen is trying to communicate is that God wants us to look deeper, to really get the spiritual meaning of a text as well as the surface meaning. Thus, he put “certain impossibilities and incongruities” into the text to slow us down and make us search. He wants to reserve the deepest truths for those willing to work for them.

We’re not in Kansas anymore! I was in Kansas as a teenager from 1973 to 1976. It was very hot and very windy in the summer, but otherwise I liked it. A friend could tell me any dreamed-up bit of news back then, and I had no way of checking on it. Now I’m in Tennessee, and it’s 2017. The internet is in full swing, and it is available to everyone. There’s no getting around the small “impossibilities and incongruities” because they are listed all over the internet. We should recognize those among ourselves so that they are not introduced to us by wicked men and women who hate God and put the worst possible spin on things you don’t know about. I would much rather tell you about them myself and try to show you that they are not stumbling blocks to a real and robust faith.

Think about this objectively. How could a mistake on a genealogy possible affect the way you live? If I were your pastor, and I failed a driver’s test, would you trust my sermons less?

Origen would tell us that Matthew made a mistake, and God probably allowed it. We should look deeper. There is probably some other message God has for us. Perhaps that message is that we should not trust in the letter but in the Spirit because the letter kills but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).

Take it from someone who has been watching the power of God for 35 years. In 1982, the Spirit of God and the four Gospels convinced me that Jesus was the Son of God. When I admitted that to myself and to a couple people with me, the power of God fell on me, and I was transported to another realm. My whole life and perception changed. I have been in love with Jesus ever since, and I have seen him work miracles, transform lives, and rescue me from dramatic circumstances: homelessness, two cancers, a son’s death, and so many adventurous stories that people who hear them start wondering if I’m lying.

I’m not. His presence and his very real intervention in the affairs of my life has rescued me repeatedly. To see such power, you have to give up everything. Jesus has some breathtaking words about that (Luke 14:26-33).

Living like that will protect you from worrying about meaningless mistakes by the men who wrote Scripture. The experiences will make you know deeply that this life is not about words, but about power (1 Cor. 2:4; 4:20).

That all said, truth requires me to tell you that Matthew left three kings—and thus three “begats”—out of his 14 generations from King David to Babylon. Truth requires me to point out that Luke said the holy family went back to Nazareth while Matthew says they went to Egypt.

Long post, but I have to cover one more thing.

How Long Was Jesus in Jerusalem

Herod then, when he saw that he was mocked by the Magi, was very angry and sent and killed all the male children which were in Bethlehem and all its borders, from two years old and under, according to the time when he had inquired from the Magi. Then the saying in Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, which said, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and not willing to be consoled for their loss” [Jer. 31:14].

This is a horrific event. Having lost an 18-year-old son just two months ago, I can imagine, but barely, the pain that must rolled through Bethlehem. God will get his vengeance on Herod at the judgment.

King Herod did this based on the time that he got from the Magi. This means that he thought the Magi saw the star, and thus that Jesus was born, at least more than a year earlier, or he would have chosen a different age group to kill. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were in Bethlehem for a long time, at least a year.

Double Prophecies

This post is too long, but since we’re on the subject of how to interpret the Bible, let’s talk about double prophecies. In the first passage at the top of the post, the Diatessoron, quoting Matthew 2:15, says that the prophecy in Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) is about Jesus, even though the context indicates it is about the nation of Israel.

All prophecy can have a double meaning. In Matthew 1:23, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and applies it to the virgin birth of Jesus: “The virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel.” This one is a really cool double prophecy. If you read Isaiah 7, you will see that Isaiah made a prophecy to King Ahaz that was fulfilled in Ahaz’ time. Isaiah’s original prophecy, in Hebrew, can mean a young woman as well as a virgin so we don’t have to interpret a virgin birth in Ahaz’ time.

By Matthew’s time, however, the Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek. The Greek version is called the Septuagint, and the early Christians considered the translation inspired. That translation used a word that can only mean virgin and the prophecy was applied to Jesus.

Though prophecy is sometimes a warning, at other times it is a proof. For example, no one really understood the prophecies about Messiah in Isaiah 53 before Jesus came. After he came, though, it was obvious that Isaiah 53 was about him. It is the same with the Greek version of Isaiah 7:14. The prophecy did not reveal that Jesus was born of a virgin. Instead, Jesus was born of a virgin, which revealed that Isaiah 7:14 was a prophecy.

Spiritual Christianity

All of the post above ties together to bring this final point: we are in a spiritual religion.

God winds all things together in a story, a real story with real people in a real world that can be measured, touched, and experienced. When we try to make the Scriptures into neat, tidy, beautiful, and sweet story, as though it were a Disney princess movie, then it is not real anymore. Those who want to wrap the Bible in gift paper and honor it are alarmed when they find its contradictions and its horrifying parts.

The real Bible is hard to swallow and frightens us, sometimes a lot. It is because the Bible is not a novel, written at a writers desk. It is raw, real-life spirituality from Abraham’s departure from Babylon to the death of Jesus’ apostles and the words, prophecies, and churches they left behind.

That raw, real-life spirituality is what God offers. It can fill the soul with joy in the worst of circumstances, change sinners to saints, open the eyes of the blind, and it can reconcile you to God.

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