Reforms We Can Live Without

In 1 John chapter 4, the Word of God tells us:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

God, the deity of Christ, and the Bible are being attacked, criticized, and challenged like never before. It’s happening here. It’s happening abroad. It’s happening outside the church, and it’s even happening within the walls of the church as well.

There is a very quiet but growing movement being promoted by non-Christians and surprisingly, even by some Christian churches, that calls for the reformation and modernization of Christianity. I read about this recently and here are some of the changes being recommended:

Pastors should stop preaching about heaven and hell.

Stop preaching the Bible as the absolute authoritative word of God.

Stop making the claim that the Bible is inerrant.

Stop preaching Christ as the only way to God.

Stop preaching sermons that make people uncomfortable.

And the lists concludes with this preposterous claim – Christianity must adopt these changes if it hopes to survive. 

Why do I say it’s preposterous? The Christian faith has survived for 2000 years because of its universal relevance, which simply means that the Bible and Christian doctrine are as relevant now as they were in the first century, and that there has never been an age in which they were not relevant. I would challenge anyone to point to a time in human history since Christ’s incarnation and show me a period of time when the Bible wasn’t relevant. And yet these so-called reformists are saying that Christianity must now adapt to modern culture in order to survive. John MacArthur had this to say on the subject: “The Bible does not need to adapt to modern times. Modern man needs to go back to Bible times.”

When I read that list and got to the part that says, “Stop preaching Christ.………..” that was as far as I needed to go. The changes being promoted by these so-called reformers are not from God. To stop preaching Christ is to effectively deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. It denies His deity. It denies the cross and the Resurrection. It denies that Jesus is Lord and it denies the fact that someday, Jesus is coming again. If these proposed changes were some sort of litmus test, they’d fail on that one single point alone. We can never stop preaching Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father.

Someone may ask, “What about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation? Wasn’t reform needed then?” The answer is yes, reform was needed back then. By the time Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, the church had begun to stray off course. “So what’s the difference between the Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century and this modern day call for reform?”  The answer is very clear. Martin Luther and the other reformers turned to the Bible as their point of reference. They went to the Bible and sought out its truths. These modern day reformers are, for all intents and purposes, denouncing the Bible.

In 2 Timothy chapter 4, Paul wrote:  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

It appears that time is near, if it hasn’t already come. I reject with all my heart and soul every single one of those recommendations. Every pastor and every Christian must emphasize heaven and hell, and not water down any part of any sermon concerning the reality and horror of hell. We must stand our ground on the authority of the Bible as the absolute word of God. We must boldly defend Christ, for if we deny Him, He will deny us. If that makes people uncomfortable, then maybe a little discomfort is what they need. We must pray that God will open their eyes to the truth.

Yes, it may cause some discomfort, so we must make every effort to teach and preach the truth of the Gospel in a spirit of love and with genuine concern for those who might be corrupted and lost because of this kind of false teaching. Our nature as men is to bristle and get defensive when challenged. We must avoid that type of response. We want to win people to Christ, not push them further away. Our conduct and speech must be a reflection of Christ. All we do is for His glory. Do people see Christ in us? That’s our litmus test.

Contrary to the notion that Christianity must adopt these changes if it hopes to survive, I say any church that adopts these changes would cease to be a Christian church. Peter warned the church about false teachers in his second letter to the church:

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.

Beware of false teachers and false doctrines. Know what God’s word says. That’s the only way to defend it. When you make your stand, stand on His truth!

 

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The Great Gift

Genesis 22

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

“God will provide for Himself the lamb.” Basically, Abraham said to Isaac, “God will provide the sacrifice.” We all know the rest of the story. God did indeed provide the sacrifice. After the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing the life of his son Isaac on the altar, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in some bushes by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and sacrificed it instead. Afterwards, Abraham called that place, “The Lord Will Provide.”

The ram was sacrificed in Isaac’s place and was a foreshadow of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. By providing the sacrifice, God gave Abraham a gift, the gift of life, the life of his son.

Two thousand years ago, God gave all of humanity a great gift. But before a gift can actually be considered a gift, two things must happen. First, someone must give. That’s been taken care of. God gave His son who in turn gave His life for us. God provided the sacrifice. The other thing that has to happen for a gift to become a gift is that it must be received. Until the gift is received, it is only an offer and it’s an offer that’s only good in this lifetime. We can do nothing to earn the gift and that’s good news because we could never do enough to earn it. That’s why we call it grace. And it’s grace that saves us; God’s gift of grace. It is the greatest possible gift we could have ever hoped for and it’s received through faith in Jesus Christ.

Have you ever received a box at Christmas or on your birthday and opened it and discovered not just one gift inside, but several? As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this coming Sunday, let’s look closely at how much is packed into this gift of grace. When we open the package, we find not just one gift, but many.

There are the many lessons Jesus taught while He lived on earth. God could have forsaken sinful mankind, but He didn’t. He gave us His son and He gave us the Holy Bible with all its truths and principles to guide us and help us live God honoring lives.

There was Jesus’ willingness to suffer the punishment we deserve, which put his gift of love on display for all to see and was so vividly described by the prophet Isaiah: .

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

And of course, there is the gift of salvation and redemption through His death on the cross.

But perhaps the greatest of all the gifts that came packaged with the gift of grace, the reason we celebrate Easter Sunday, is the resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no Christian faith. There is no hope. But Jesus did defeat death. In the 11th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus spoke these words of eternal life: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. That is our hope. That is God’s great gift of grace!

The Resurrection Story

The Resurrection Story

Beginning with John 20, verses 1 and 2

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

While John mentions that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, he never said or implied that she went alone. There were other women with her as confirmed in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Luke does not mention any of the women’s names until later in the account.

Matthew said there was a violent earthquake and that an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone at the entrance to the tomb. According to Mark, we know when it happened. It happened before the women arrived at the tomb because they found that the stone had already been rolled away, according to John.

Matthew’s account is not completely chronological. And in fact, none of the gospels are a second by second, minute by minute transcript of what took place that morning. Keep in mind too that it only takes us a few minutes to read about the Resurrection and everything that went on. In real time, all these events actually took place over a much longer period of time. There is no mention of Roman soldiers lying in front of the empty tomb pretending to be dead in any of the other gospels. Matthew is the only one who mentions that. As far we can tell, the soldiers apparently picked themselves up off the ground and were long gone when the women got there. Then the angel that had been sitting on the stone frightening the daylights out of the soldiers went inside the tomb, or disappeared, or whatever it is that angels do to keep from being seen.

At the end of the 23rd chapter of Luke, the scripture tells us how the women knew which tomb Jesus had been placed in. Verse 55: The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. This refutes modern day arguments against the resurrection of Jesus which claim that Jesus was not raised from the dead, but that the women merely went to the wrong tomb. They knew where Jesus was.

And at the beginning of Luke chapter 24, Luke continues: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

When the women went inside the tomb, they encountered two men in bright white clothing.

As Luke explained: While they (the women) were wondering about this; suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

Remember the part of that passage that says, “In their fright, they bowed down with their faces to the ground.” We going to come back to that.

The parallel to this in Matthew’s gospel said they ran quickly from the tomb to go find the disciples. Matthew also said Jesus met them along the way and the women worshiped at His feet. But based on what we read from John’s gospel in the first paragraph, it seems that Mary Magdalene left the other women behind and continued on to go look for John and Peter. From Matthew’s account, it seems that the other women must have immediately recognized Jesus. But as we’ll see in a moment, John says later on in chapter 20 that Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener. So it’s most likely that she ran right by Jesus in her rush to go find John and Peter. In those disputed verses in Mark chapter 16 (verses 9 thru 20), verse 9 says that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. There is no indication that she immediately recognized Jesus, however.

When she found John and Peter, she told them about the empty tomb. Continuing with John 20 verse 3: So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He (speaking of John) bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then (verse 6) Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 Most commentators agree that in verse 8 where it’s written that John saw and believed, it means he believed that the tomb was in fact, empty; NOT that Jesus had risen. The very next verse says they did not yet understand.

But if Mary Magdalene had seen and recognized the risen Lord, if she had seen Jesus and worshiped at His feet with the other women like Matthew described, it makes no sense that she would have told Peter and John that someone took His body. So it’s reasonable to conclude that she did indeed continue on to go look for John and Peter after she and the other women left the tomb.

We can conclude also that Mary returned to the tomb with Peter and John. Or at least, she wasn’t very far behind. In the very next verse, (John 20, verse 11), John said Mary stood outside the tomb crying. We can also conclude that she remained behind after Peter and John left. She is now alone.

John 20, verse 11 continues to tell us: As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

This is not the angelic encounter described by Luke and Matthew. When we look closely at the gospels, we can conclude that this was her second visit to the tomb that morning. The fact that John did not mention the other women here is inconclusive because he didn’t mention them earlier either. John did say Mary saw two angels in white, but notice that he did not give any indication that she was frightened by them. Usually, whenever the Bible says someone saw an angel, the very next words are…..and they were afraid. And in fact, Luke did say the women, in fright, bowed at their feet. But John said nothing like that here, which leads me to believe that this was her second encounter with the two angels. The first time she saw them was when she first arrived at the tomb with the other women, as we’re told in the other gospel accounts.

This passage confirms then, that for whatever reason, when Jesus appeared to the group of women as they ran from the tomb, Mary did not immediately recognize Jesus. If she had recognized Him, why is she now asking about His body? The reason is this: Mary, like John and Peter, did not yet understand that Jesus had risen. Even though Jesus was standing right in front of her, the scripture says she mistook him for the gardener.

(Picking up in John 20 verse 15) Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

I believe verses 11 through 18 are in chronological order. Some have suggested that verses 11-18 should follow verse 1 to be chronological. That makes no sense. Again, why would she then run to Peter and John and tell them someone took the body, if she had seen Him alive and recognized who He was?

So Mary returned to wherever it was Peter and John and the other disciples were gathered. She went to the disciples with the news I have seen the Lord. The disciples had probably been scattered prior to this time, with no more than two or three of them in the same place. Remember, Jesus predicted they would scatter when He quoted the prophecy from Ezekiel the night before His death. “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But now it appears that they’re all in one place. Luke’s gospel tells us what took place when Mary got there, and he now identifies the women by name.

Again, reading from Luke 24

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

It seemed like nonsense because, according to John, they still did not understand what had happened. As I said previously, they all appear to have gathered in one place from what we just read in Luke. We know Jesus appeared to a large group of His disciples not long after this, and they were all in one place. It may have taken a while to get everyone together. When the other women went to look for the disciples to tell them this news, they may have had to split up because it’s very likely that the disciples had divided up into smaller groups.

Regardless of how it all came about, they told the Eleven that they had seen and talked to Jesus. This took place after the other women saw Jesus and worshiped at His feet after leaving the tomb, and after Mary finally recognized and spoke with Jesus.

Now we turn out attention to Peter. When the women told everyone they had seen Jesus, that got Peter’s attention. Luke said he got up and ran to the tomb when he heard what the women said. I think this was his second visit to the tomb that morning because Luke made no mention of John going with him. Luke also said nothing about Mary Magdalene running behind him. I don’t believe Luke would have missed those details. He was the only gospel writer to mention the repentance of the second criminal during the crucifixion. Plus, we’re told in John’s gospel that Mary first went to John and Peter which seems to imply that the other disciples were not present when she told them someone had taken Jesus’ body. So based on that and based on the movements of Mary Magdalene that morning, I believe Peter visited the tomb not once, but twice. The first time was when Mary Magdalene told him and John that Jesus’ body was missing, and the second time was when he heard all the women talking about having seen and spoken with Jesus as described by Luke.

It only makes sense that Peter was anxious to see Jesus. What happened three days before this? Peter denied Jesus, not once, but three times. So I think Peter was eager to see if it was really true. Because if it was really true, he needed to get right with Jesus. They didn’t part on good terms the night before Jesus was crucified.

How anxious was Peter to see Jesus again? In John chapter 21 beginning with verse 7 the scripture tells us just how eager he was:

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

I’d say if Peter was eager enough to see Jesus that he was willing to swim 100 yards to shore, he was eager enough to make two trips to the empty tomb.

In what you’ve just read, I’ve tried my best to take Biblical evidence and come to what I believe are logical conclusions. If I missed anything or made an error, as W.A. Criswell once said, we’ll settle it in Heaven!

The reason I’ve attempted to describe the resurrection in one single account is because – even though there are four gospels – there is only one truth. Jesus came into the world. He walked on the earth as man. He was crucified for our sins, but on the third day He rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven. That’s the truth. God could have easily inspired one writer to document the life of Jesus, but He didn’t. He inspired four, knowing full well that people would come along in ages to come and would claim that the four gospels contradict one another, or that they’re inconsistent, or that they contain errors. And it’s not just non-believers and critics who say this. There are Christians out there today saying the same thing. That does not surprise God any at all. The truth is, the gospels do not contradict each other. They complement one another. We praise God for inspiring four writers to write four accounts of the life of Jesus because it only makes us work that much harder and dig that much deeper into the scripture to find the truth about Jesus Christ!