July, 2011

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Christian Mass-Murderers?

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

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The recent heinous terrorist attack carried out in Norway by the maniac Anders Behring Breivik has once more brought Christians into disrepute with many news outlets erroneously identifying this murderer as a Christian.i Putting aside this man’s personal case for a moment, it is all too common for people to be described by themselves or others as “Christian” without any legitimacy to their usage of the term. Christians themselves are in part to blame, for they frequently accept shallow professions by the famous and notorious merely in a misguided effort at publicity, legitimization in society’s eyes, or for increasing statistics of converts. The Lord Jesus Himself was quite stringent with those who wanted to follow Him. One’s bare declaration of faith was not sufficient; their profession had to be real, and He could read hearts (John 2:23-25.) His apostles also looked for true conversion and its subsequent fruits in the lives of those who professed to be Christians. Appreciating Jesus’ ethics, opposing His secular and religious enemies, and desiring the benefits of the kingdom were not sufficient grounds for really becoming a believer. For one to really be a Christian, they must receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior (John 1:12; John 3:16; John 5:24.). The Scripture puts it starkly: “He that has the Son has life, he that does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12.)


Words Have Meaning


One would scoff at a professing Marxist who had never read The Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital; his profession would be still less credible if he took up a career as a stock broker on Wall Street. Likewise, one could affirm themselves a member of a political party, but if they disagreed with the majority of that party’s platforms, disliked their candidates, and lived in a manner that thwarted that party’s agenda, one would surely be justified in rejecting their claimed adherence to that political party. Or what about a Vegan who owned a chain of burger joints and daily feasted on ¼ pound cheeseburgers?


Of course, the issue is complicated by the fact that often people declare that they are Christians but then do things that are diametrically opposed to the character and word of the Lord Jesus Christ. One thinks of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and in the more modern scene, the twisted theologies of certain white supremacist groups. Yet for all of these egregious abuses of the term “Christian” the standard remains the same: does their behavior agree with what the Lord taught in the Scriptures? As Christ said: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32.)


Imperfectly Reflecting Our Lord


It is true that a genuine Christian will not always accurately represent their Lord. Believers are the first to point to their own failings and their ongoing struggle with sin. As the Bible describes this ongoing conflict: the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Gal 5:17.) Having said that, the overall course of a Christians’ life ought to exhibit the fact that they are “new creatures in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 5:17.) If they do not exhibit fruits of righteousness then they and others might well question the reality of their profession. ii


The Lord Jesus taught that His followers would eschew violence in the advancement of His kingdom. He commanded them to love their enemies, to do good to their persecutors, and to patiently bear suffering without retaliation. In all of these things, He is the great exemplar, as 1 Pet. 2:21-23 says:


For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”


This recent Norwegian terrorist deserves the term Christian about as much as Attila the Hun deserves the designation of a pacifist. Terminology is important. Only those who possess a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus have the right to call themselves Christians; they demonstrate a life that is consistent with His will and teachings (2 Tim. 2:19.) To non-believers I say: read the gospels to see what a real Christian is; to believers: let us walk with our Lord in humility in such a way that men will see our good deeds and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16.)

i Tim Challies has a worthwhile post on this topic, see here: http://www.challies.com/articles/pondering-norways-darkest-hour

ii To consider evidence for the reality of one’s possession of eternal life, the author recommends the reader read 1 John.

The Lord Jesus Christ: Persona Non Grata Of The 21st Century

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

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These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” John 16:1-3

Much to the consternation of secular elites, spiritual beliefs continue to thrive in many parts of the world. But then again, not all spiritual ideas are equal. The Bible cautions us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1.) Just because something emanates from the spiritual world does not automatically ensure that it is from God. Satan is an enemy of human souls who is able to transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14.) Sometimes this diabolical deceiver walks in the halls of tyrannical and oppressive powers, sowing discord, violence, and pain. Just as often, however, this traducer is found in temples, churches, synagogues, and mosques, whispering doctrines of demons into the itching ears of religious men and women (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3.) Everything must be tested in accordance with the Spirit of truth who has revealed His will in the Holy Scriptures (1 Thes. 5:21.)


Hirelings Versus The Good Shepherd


It is astonishing to see the acclaim that is given to some religious leaders in our world today. The Dali Lama, the Pope, and other high level clerics are feted, praised, and consulted by celebrities, politicians, and academics. This world’s treatment of Jesus Christ stands in marked contrast to how these religious frauds are received. They are lauded, He was reviled. They preside over great material resources, He had no settled dwelling place, maintaining that, “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mat. 8:20.) They are sought out by the princes of this world, He was delivered up for crucifixion by them (1 Cor. 2:8.) Their opinions are carefully analyzed in the halls of academia, yet His Word continues to be ridiculed and excluded from centers of learning and power. In short, this world loves these men because they are part of the same human-exalting, God-denying system (1 John 2:15-16.) They represent idolatry and falsehood; conversely Christ represents His own unshakeable kingdom, which is based upon the truth and accurately reveals the true character of God the Father (Mat. 11:27; John 18:36-37; Heb. 12:28.)


The World Loving Its Own


It should not surprise genuine Christians that this world celebrates all sorts of immoral and perverse individuals. At the same time they reject those whose lives have been transformed by the unparalleled grace of God. Tolerance is the word of the hour and they will tolerate just about any absurd lifestyle or belief system, provided that it does not demand allegiance to the Lord Jesus. Intolerance is only permissible when it comes to Christian living and the preaching of the Word of God. One can speak about ethics, morality, improving the world, saving the environment, stopping war, and many other good causes, and they will find that they are not criticized for doing so (they may even win the Nobel prize!) But let one stand up and say the Lord Jesus Christ is God and is the only way to heaven, and one will be vilified and reckoned to be deluded. The true Gospel asserts that one cannot have eternal life apart from Him. It beseeches people to forsake their religion, their supposed good deeds, and throw themselves upon the mercy of the God who gave His Son to die on the cross; thereby He provided the right redemption price to save people from their sin and the judgment that they deserve. If they receive Christ they will escape an eternal hell and gain life which is of such superior quality that it gives spiritual freedom to serve God as one ought, as well as the assurance of a place in the Father’s house for all the endless ages to come. Such a beautiful message about an Altogether Lovely Savior is repudiated by this world. Furthermore, the notion that one can only be saved by the grace of God in Christ and His sacrifice – all of which is vouchsafed by His historic physical resurrection – is thoroughly ridiculed by modern people. Like their Master, Christians are held up to scorn and opprobrium by the religious and irreligious alike. Dear believer, get used to it, you are not going to win any popularity contests down here – not at least if you are faithful to the Lord who called you (Gal. 6:14.)


Thankfully, sinful humanity does not have the last word on the Lord Jesus and His prospects in this world. The Bible affirms that He is coming again to rule and reign for a thousand years (Rev. 20.) When He has put all enemies under His feet He will bring in His eternal kingdom wherein dwells righteousness in its absolute fullness. The opposition and hatred of this world notwithstanding, the Lord Jesus shall be exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords and God will be all in all (Rev. 19:16; 1 Cor. 15:25, 28.) What is more, according to His grace, His saints who suffer with Him now will reign with Him then (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:3-12.)


Who shall condemn us now?
Since Christ has died, and risen, and gone above,
For us to plead at the right hand of Love,
Who shall condemn us now?

‘Tis God that justifies!
Who shall recall the pardon or the grace,
Or who the broken chain of guilt replace?
‘Tis God that justifies!

The victory is ours!
For us in might came forth the Mighty One;
For us He fought the fight, the triumph won —
The victory is ours!i

iHoratius Bonar, “Blessed be God Our God,” Found here: http://stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/89 Accessed on 7/20/11.


Unconventional Prophets

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

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And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.’ Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation.” John 11:49-51 [Emphasis mine.]

There is nothing like raising the dead to get people’s attention. In the aftermath of the Lord Jesus calling His friend Lazarus forth from the tomb, many people “believed in Him” (John 11:45.) Christ’s enemies could not deny that He performed many miracles as signs of His identity as the Messiah. Therefore, they decided to do away with the One that they viewed as a wonder-working Nazarean upstart. What is more, they also plotted to murder Lazarus, the latest evidence of Jesus’ power (John 12:10-11.) “If one does not care for the evidence, just bury it,” seemed to be their motto. This incident was merely one more example of the long history of this world’s opposition to God’s Word.

Asleep In The Light

The Almighty has taken great care to reveal Himself to His creatures, but in their sin they habitually refuse to receive the light that He provides through the Scriptures. Of course, the Bible shows us the Son of God, Who in turn manifests the God the Father to mankind (Matt. 11:27; John 14:7-9.) Yet some of those who claim familiarity with its contents demonstrate a woeful neglect of the God Who is revealed on every page. As the Lord Jesus told the observant Jews who confronted Him: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40.)

The religious leaders who dominated the Temple and the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) set aside the miraculous evidence that vindicated Christ’s claims, electing instead to do away with this nettlesome teacher. They prejudged Him without giving due consideration to the facts surrounding His ministry (John 7:51-52.) They conceded that He performed “signs”; yet these mighty works failed to sway their stubbornly entrenched opinions concerning His provenance (John 11:47.) Judaism’s earliest position on the Lord’s miracles was to attribute them to Satanic power, a view that was later reaffirmed in their revered Talmud (Mk. 3:22; cf. Tractates Sanhedrin 43a & Toledoth Jesu.)i

The Fear Of Man Brings A Snare

The members of the council feared the Romans more than God, and so fretted that this Galilean wonder-worker would stir public emotions into a frenzy, thereby precipitating a political revolt. If this occurred, their Gentile overlords would depose them from their positions of honor and comfort. This would be disastrous for the nation, they reasoned, for they equated the destiny of the country with their own circumstances. Bruce Milne explains the tragedy of their thinking:

Thus the guardians of the sacred traditions of Israel were reduced to the level of political functionaries, to be met any day of the week in the parliaments and board rooms of the world. The primary issue is not one of principle but of expediency. Right has become equated with the avoidance of trouble and the preservation of their hold on power. Thus the cause of the living God, the glory of the age-old revelation from the patriarchs through the Red Sea and Mount Sinai, is all mortgaged in one sorry impassioned hour to save their political skins. The possibility that Jesus may in fact be authentic is not raised, even though the veracity of his miracles is universally conceded.ii

Later they displayed this same attitude towards the Lord’s apostles in the early days of the church (Acts 4:16-17.)

The Politics Of Self-Interest

Chief among these arrogant naysayers was the venal Chief Priest Caiaphas. If he had confined his remarks to verse 49 – “You know nothing at all” – then he would have been correct. Sadly, he went on to frame the situation in terms of politics and pragmatism, affirming that getting rid of Christ would be a service to the nation. He maintained that it was a question of one dying, instead of multitudes perishing – a classic philosophical problem which he solved by situational ethics. As one writer describes it: “His action upon this occasion illustrates his characteristic disregard of justice and religion, and shows with what adroitness he could hide self-interest under the cloak of patriotism.”iii Hendriksen agrees: “He did not shrink from shedding innocent blood. What he himself ardently craved, for selfish purposes, he made to look as if it were the one thing needful for the welfare of the people.”iv

Speaking The Truth In Spite Of Themselves

Despite their unbelief and cynical self-interest, God intervened to use their unjust machinations to achieve His purposes. This is apparent by His turning Caiaphas’ words from politically motivated calculation to genuine prophecy. As high priest he was in the position of representing the people before God and the Almighty before the masses. He was a poor representative on both counts; nevertheless, the Lord employed his words to describe the penal substitutionary death of His beloved Son. In other words, unknowingly the jaded cleric with the mercenary motives was momentarily transformed into a genuine spokesman for God. As at the Cross, man’s hatred was vented against Christ, but the Almighty sovereignly accomplished His purposes without condoning man’s wicked treatment of His Son (Acts 2:23; Acts 4:26-28.) Thus, the Lord elected to use the high priest’s office to make a bona fide prophecy in spite of the corrupt and unregenerate man who held that position (John 11:51-52.) Caiaphas would no doubt have been shocked at the true importance of his words, for it was the exact opposite of his own feelings towards Jesus of Nazareth.

In a similar fashion, a comparatively minor incident at Golgotha displayed God’s overruling control of history. The cynical, power-worshiping procurator Pontius Pilate decided to tweak his nemeses among the Jewish leadership by writing “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” They objected to this designation, and wanted it to be reworded in such a way that weakened its force (John 19:21.) But Pilate insisted on his own version, saying: “What I have written, I have written” (v. 22.) At his level, this was a way of highlighting their envy and antagonizing them through semantic gains. By doing this, however, he ignorantly left a lasting testimony of Jesus’ true identity. God worked through the Roman official’s casual words to glorify His precious Son.

Prophesying To One’s Own Destruction

Ironically, the Jewish leadership’s judicial murder of Christ eventually brought about their exact fears. Their rejection of the Prince of Peace hastened their dispersal from the land (Lk. 19:41-44.) Hendriksen agrees: “…when the Jews murdered Jesus, they sealed their own doom. The Romans came, indeed, and destroyed the city (with its temple) and the nation!”v Matthew Henry explains the principle in his inimitable way: “…Carnal policy, which steers only by secular considerations, while it thinks to save all by sin, ruins all at last.”vi The Jewish priesthood and civil leadership were deposed and exiled, fulfilling their fears to the letter (John 11:48.) Someday, by God’s grace, He will restore them to Himself nationally in the land that He promised (Rom. 11:25-32.) In the end, only God’s Word is completely trustworthy. He used men to speak and write it – even when, like Caiaphas, they did not realize they were being employed as His spokesmen (2 Pet. 1:21.) He turns human words and actions to accomplish His plans, and therefore, will triumph in the end.



i See also my article, “The Lord Jesus Christ: Vilified & Vindicated,” available here: http://goodwordsandworks.com/?p=72

ii Bruce Milne, The Message of John : Here Is Your King! The Bible speaks today. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993, p. 173.

iii J.A. M’Clymont, “Caiaphas,” ed. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible Dealing With Its Language, Literature, & Contents, Vol. 1, New York: Scribner’s, 1901, p. 338; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hastings/dictv1.i.vii.html, accessed on 2/8/10.

iv William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John, Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953, pp. 162f.

v Ibid., pp. 163f.

vi Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996 [Italics original]; electronic ed. (Logos.)