Monthly Archives: March 2016

Our Need for Hope

Our Need for Hope
Week of March 27, 2016
Bible Verses:  John 11:17-27.
The Point:  Jesus is the Resurrection who gives us life now and forever.

The Resurrection and the Life: John 11:17-27.

[17]  Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18]  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19]  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20]  So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. [21]  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22]  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” [23]  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [24]  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” [25]  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26]  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [27]  She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

News of the death of a loved one has got to be among the hardest that anyone can receive. The range of emotions go from shock to sadness and in some cases even anger. Because we are all created the same the grieving process between believers and non-believers looks pretty much the same except for one exception. Because Christ has conquered death and the grave, and is “the resurrection and the life”, Christians experience a sense of tremendous hope. In our text we read how Jesus handled the news of His dear friend Lazarus. We also read how Jesus turns a funeral into an example of what is to come for all those who believe that He is “the resurrection and the life”.

Hope is yet another term that gets bantered about without much consideration of its implications. It is used as a term of temporal appeasement. Politicians might refer to themselves as the candidate of hope. In this context it sounds really good, but very little if anything is truly meant by it. This however isn’t the way in which Christians understand the term. In Christianity hope is legitimately substantiated by the person in whom the hope is being placed. Unlike an earthly politician who doesn’t truly have the means by which to make good on the hope that is invested in him; God can and does make good on the hope that is placed in Him.

Having said that we can now refer to our text and look at the hope demonstrated by Martha. The context is the death of Lazarus. In verse 20 Martha ran out to meet Jesus when she heard of His arrival. In verse 21 Martha confesses that if Jesus had been there four days ago her brother would not have died. It is true that Jesus authenticated who He was by doing miracles, and bringing someone from the dead is one such miracle that Jesus had the power to bring about. It is important to keep in mind here that Jesus is not in the business of conducting miracles to amuse or entertain like some cheap parlor trick often seen on television “healing ministries”. Jesus conducted miracles to show His compassion and to demonstrate who He was as the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament. So we see here Martha’s attitude of hope in Jesus and His relationship to God.

In verse 23 Jesus makes the simple statement “your brother will rise again”. Martha was quick to make assumptions about what he may have meant. She assumed in verse 24 that Jesus was referring to the beginning of the “tribulation”. Wait, that isn’t right. Perhaps she assumed that Jesus was referring to some time in the middle of “tribulation”. No, she doesn’t even mention the tribulation. She said she knew that her brother would rise again on the last day. Martha believed in the general resurrection. This is what is unique about Christianity. Our hope is eschatological which means that it is tied to the end when we are resurrected at Christ’s return. Much of the difficulty that we experience on a day to day basis is the result of a fallen humanity living in a fallen world. But our hope looks to the future with new bodies, new heavens, new earth, and eternity with the Lord of Glory. This is why Jesus says in verse 25, 26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”.

In verses 26 and 27 Jesus asks Martha for her affirmation when He says, “do you believe this?” The tendency is to shy away from asserting what one believes. However, asserting ones belief is a very significant practice for confessional Christianity. And Martha responds appropriately  “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world”. What follows is what we know from reading ahead. After making this statement Jesus demonstrates what is in store for all those who believe that He is the resurrection and the life as he brings Lazarus from the dead.

This is the essence of Christian hope. It is putting our trust and faith into a God that promises and has the means to fulfill that promise of a future glory for all those who believe that He is “the resurrection and the life”.

 

 

 

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Easter Meditation: Zechariah 3

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

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A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part II First Cause Argument

A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part II First Cause Argument

In the last post I discussed Russell’s definition of what it means to be Christian. You can read Russell’s presentation here. In this post I will discuss Russell’s first reason for not being a Christian, the First Cause Argument. There are different variations of the argument and Russell provides yet another variation. However Russell’s understanding of the argument can be framed this way:

  1. Everything we see in the world has a cause
  2. Each cause regresses back to a first cause
  3. The first cause is God

Russell’s response to the argument is:

  1. If everything must have a cause then god must have a cause
  2. If god had a cause then he cannot be the first or uncaused cause

The problem that comes up is found in premise one of the response. If everything has a cause “then God must have a cause”. The First Cause Argument never articulates or alludes to by implication a God that is caused. In other forms of the argument premise one is read “everything that begins to exist has a cause”. Notice the use of the term “exist”. In classical theism “existence” is never used of God because “existence” in its classical understanding assumes contingency. Only contingent things can “exist”. God is not contingent thus He at no time ever existed. In classical theism we believe in God’s Being or reality but not His “existence” because He is not contingent.  If God required a cause His Being would be contingent upon that cause and He would lose His God like quality since God cannot be contingent upon anything. In premise one of the argument Russell restricts causation to only those things seen in the world. Because of God’s non-metaphysical nature He can’t be grouped among those things that we see in the world, and therefore causation can’t be a necessary attribute of His Being. This is a categorical error that I believe to be of significant proportion.

However, to Russell’s credit, he is speaking from a naturalistic perspective. Arguments can be made that such a restricted perspective-like naturalism- does not reflect adequately on the whole reality of human experience, a discussion for another post. Suffice it to say, from his naturalistic assumption Russell is being consistent with his naturalism. If one begins his interpretation of reality with a naturalistic foundation as Russell does in his response, then all facts of his experience will be based upon that naturalistic assumption including causation when it comes to God. Notice how different Russell’s response is from the First Cause Argument he sites. The argument begins with temporal earthly “existent” or contingent things that owe their contingent existence to the “non-existent” or non-contingent universal first cause. However, Russell’s response assumes God is part of the temporal “existent” or contingent world. I think this demonstrates Russell’s inability to deal with the argument at had. His pre-commitment to naturalism cannot reflect adequately on the argument from First Cause.

For this reason I tend not to use the argument of First Cause outside of a Christian context that can make sense out of universal first causes. Even more problematic is that the First Cause Argument does not argue for a God who is triune, but rather a general first cause, what ever that might be. I think this approach misses the point. Purpose of teaching about God is not to teach an abstract form of God as a universal first cause but to teach Him as He is in His full triune Being. In any case I would say Russell’s first reason for not being a Christian is insufficiently articulated and should be reconfigured or rejected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 28:18

 

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Dispensationalism

“As was already said in the preceding, the distinction between the law and the gospel is not the same as that between the Old and the New Testament. Neither is it the same as that which present day Dispensationalists make between the dispensation of the law and the dispensation of the gospel. It is contrary to the plain facts of Scripture to say that there is no gospel in the Old Testament, or at least not in that part of the Old Testament that covers the dispensation of the law. There is gospel in the maternal promise, gospel in the ceremonial law, and gospel in many of the Prophets, as Isa. 53 and 54; 55:1–3, 6, 7; Jer. 31:33, 34; Ezek. 36:25–28. In fact, there is a gospel current running through the whole of the Old Testament, which reaches its highest point in the Messianic prophecies. And it is equally contrary to Scripture to say that there is no law in the New Testament, or that the law does not apply in the New Testament dispensation. Jesus taught the permanent validity of the law, Matt. 5:17–19. Paul says that God provided for it that the requirements of the law should be fulfilled in our lives, Rom. 8:4, and holds his readers responsible for keeping the law, Rom. 13:9. James assures his readers that he who transgresses a single commandment of the law (and he mentions some of these), is a transgressor of the law, Jas. 2:8–11. And John defines sin as “lawlessness,” and says that this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, 1 John 3:4; 5:3.”

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 613.

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