Apr 15

The Darkness that Came Upon the Land

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This blog is from Derek Thompson’s free eBook, Achieving Atonement (download PDF or ePub). The devil tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness and these temptations were repeated in his final hours.

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The devil’s third temptation, to gain the world in return for worshipping Satan (Matt 4:8-9), offered Jesus success in his mission of saving the lost and doing so without suffering or risk of failure. But for Jesus, good ends do not justify evil means. Besides, the devil is a liar and Christ put no credence in his offers.

With Jesus helplessly nailed to the cross, Satan demonstrated his power and caused darkness to come over the whole land: “From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” (Matt 27:45). In the gospels, darkness is characteristic of the devil’s realm (e.g. Matt 4:16; 6:23; 8:12; 22:13; Luke 1:79; 11:34-36; 22:53; John 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46). Conversely, John called Christ “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Of course, light and darkness are used metaphorically and the Old Testament even has God hidden in darkness and thick clouds (Ps 18:11). God is a spirit and his holiness makes him unapproachable by sinners, which can be expressed by light or darkness according to the context. The darkness at the crucifixion was not descriptive of God’s holiness but was a subterfuge of Satan to arouse fear and awe of his power and tempt Jesus to abandon his intended mission.

Traditional atonement theories assume the darkness that came over the land signified God turning away from his Son because he bore humanity’s sin. Whether a solar eclipse caused the daytime blackout is immaterial. Integral to the penal substitution theory is the teaching that atonement could only be achieved if Jesus was rejected by God on the cross. The theory presumes darkness implies God’s judgement. Even the feminist theologian Kathryn Tanner (2004, p. 36) who was critical of the traditional theories said, “The cross is the final act of divine humiliation, or the inter-Trinitarian act whereby the second person of the Trinity is abandoned by the first.”

Scripture does not say the darkness implied God rejected his son. The surrounding text in Luke’s Gospel offers no explanation (Luke 23:44). Matthew and Mark follow the mention of the darkness by the cry of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But even this provides no conclusive proof of a break in fellowship between Jesus and God.

No doubt Satan used the darkness to make Jesus think God had turned against him. This deception added strength to the devil’s temptation for Jesus to take up his offer. Hence, Jesus response of quoting the first line of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1; Matt 27:46; Mark 5:34) is a reference to the whole of Psalm 22. It is inconceivable that Christ would ask God such a question. Moreover, he addressed God as “Father” when he prayed, so here Jesus is not praying but declaring Ps 22 back at Satan.

Ps 22 expresses faith in defiance of suffering and death: “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him” (Ps 22:29). This is because “… dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (Ps 22:28). The psalm is a denial of the penal substitution theory’s contention that God turned his face away from his Son. Psalm 22:24 says “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” Scripture says of God, “he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut 31:6b & 8b; similarly 1 Kgs 6:13; Isa 41:17; 42:16; Neh 9:31), so Jesus would expect his followers to take his quotation in that light.

Furthermore, if God would forsake his Son, Christians could not be certain God would not forsake them. The argument that God forsook Jesus to save humanity is not sufficient. If God’s nature is such that he could forsake the Son of God for any reason, he might forsake humanity for some other reason.

Christ rejected the devil’s offer. The Son of God did not come to save Satan’s kingdom.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.5icm.org.au/blogs/2019/04/15/the-darkness-that-came-upon-the-land/

Feb 19

The “I Am” Statements in John’s Gospel.

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I keep hearing that there are 7 “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel. I know a lot of Christians have a fondness for the number 7, but there are a lot more than 7 “I am” statements.

Here are the “I am” statements spoken by Jesus in John’s Gospel:

  1. I am … the Messiah (John 4:25-26)
  2. I am the bread of life which came down from heaven (6:35 & 41);
  3. I am the living bread (6:51);
  4. I am the light of the world (8:12 and 9:5);
  5. I am from above … I am not of this world (8:23)
  6. I am … the Son of Man (8:28);
  7. “before Abraham was, I am.” (8:58)
  8. I am the gate for the sheep (10:7 & 9);
  9. I am the good shepherd (10:11 & 14);
  10. I am God’s Son (10:36)
  11. I am in the Father (10:38 and 14:10-11 & 20 and 17:21)
  12. I am … Teacher and Lord (13:13)
  13. I am the way, and the truth, and the Life (14:6)
  14. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25);
  15. I am the true vine (15:1, 5).
  16. I am King of the Jews (18:37; 19:21)

And why stop at the “I am” statements to find out who Jesus is? John had a lot more to say about Jesus in his Gospel.

  1. The Word (John 1:1, 14)
  2. Lamb of God (1:29, 36)
  3. Glorious / zealous (2:11, 17)
  4. Son of man / God (3:13-16)
  5. Son of God (5:19-23)
  6. King of the Jews (12:13,15; 19:19)
  7. Sent by God (16:5)
  8. Source of peace (16:33)
  9. Preexistence (17:24)
  10. God (1:1; 10:30)
  11. Friend (15:13-15)
  12. Lord and God (20:28).

So if you are doing a sermon series or Bible Study series on who is Jesus from the Gospel of John, please don’t stop at 7. I hope my lists help.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.5icm.org.au/blogs/2019/02/19/the-i-am-statements-in-johns-gospel/

Feb 15

Escape from the Transactional Gospel

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Evangelist: “This is the deal: You place your faith in Jesus and God will save you. All you have to do is say the prayer, repent and give yourself to Jesus, make him Lord of your life, which means obey him, tell someone about your decision, find a good church, and Jesus will forgive your sins. How good a deal is that?”

Lost Soul: “But you said it’s free, that I didn’t have to do anything.”

Google “transactional gospel” and you will find hundreds of blogs criticising the “if I do this, then God will do that” formula. The prosperity gospel is a subset. But the Covenant of God is not a contract we enter with God.

Google “how to become a Christian” and you get millions of websites giving you the transactional steps you need to take to gain God’s approval. The Reformers, concerned to avoid a transactional gospel, came up with the “regeneration precedes faith” doctrine to ensure salvation is solely God’s work. But this understanding of the sovereignty of God goes too far. It makes God responsible for everything and does not allow God the freedom to create humans with free will. Can we escape this impasse? I think so.

Faith is the key. It is significant that God uses faith in salvation, and not hope or love. We are not responsible for producing the gospel that we receive by faith. The object of faith is not of our making. If we think of faith as what we believe about Christ, we cannot avoid responsibility for having those beliefs. God would decide whether to save us by checking our brains for the doctrines we hold as true to. It would be like having a doctrinal exam to get into heaven. If we jettison this understanding of faith, how would we decide who are Christians? But we are not supposed to. Jesus said “Do not to judge” one another (Luke 6:37a). If people in another denomination say they are Christians, rejoice and treat them accordingly. Disunity in the church is worse than doctrinal errors.

Instead, we might think of faith as a gift from God (Eph 2:8) in much the same way that our faculty of sight is a gift from God. As such, everyone has faith, and the difference is in what they receive through faith. Jesus applied the image of the eye of the body (faith) making us full of light or full of darkness (Matt 6:22-23). To use a more contemporary metaphor, faith is like a radio receiver. We turn the radio on and tune to a particular station. But the receiver does not save us, nor does tuning in to God’s Word, but God’s Word saves us. Jesus came to save the entire world. God broadcasts the message of salvation to everyone, but not everyone wants to receive it. Unlike a radio station, God knows who are listening, that is, those who receive Jesus by faith. The gospel proclamation is powerful to make alive the human spirit (1 Cor 1:18). With this understanding of faith, we may replace the Reformers’ proposition with “regeneration operates through faith.” Human free will and responsibility remain intact and salvation is a free gift from God.

So, there is no transaction, nor is it needed. People cannot gain salvation by anything they do. There is no deal. God intends the gospel message for everyone. People have an entirely passive role in salvation, but an active role in hearing the gospel. As Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is near “and everyone tries to enter it by force” (Luke 16:16b). As for salvation, we trust that Jesus will save us. Salvation and ultimate freedom from sin is the eager hope of everyone living by faith in God’s Kingdom (Gal 5:5).

Things such as saying “the sinner’s prayer”, confessing sins, being baptised, going to church, etc., play no role in a person’s salvation. These are things the born-again believer does in God’s Kingdom. Just as loving others is a fruit of the Spirit and evidences his presence with us, such things also evidence our salvation, but do not cause God to save us. We cannot, and do not need to, negotiate our salvation.

Proclaiming the gospel this way frees us of the cringe factor of feeling we are manipulating someone to change his or her mind so we can make the sale. The Parable of the Sower shows that the Word of God will produce a harvest of righteousness in fertile soil (Matt 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). As Jesus explained of those who refuse to receive the gospel, “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look but never perceive.” (Matt 13:14) while to people of faith, Jesus said, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt 13:16). Faith as a faculty allows us to escape the transactional gospel.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.5icm.org.au/blogs/2019/02/15/escape-from-the-transactional-gospel/

Feb 05

Was Jesus Rich?

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2 Corinthians 8:9 (NRSV)
“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

The promoters of prosperity theology teach that Jesus was rich. Doesn’t 2 Cor 8:9 say as much? Phil Pringle re-worded the verse to say, “Jesus became poor regarding the wealth of this world on the cross, that those who receive Him may become rich with the wealth of this world.” [Phil Pringle, Dead for Nothing?: What the Cross Has Done for You (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 2007), 58]. Ken Copeland in his Believer’s Voice of Victory magazine, Oct 2018 issue, listed his reasons.

  1. Jesus’ father was a businessman wealthy enough to pay taxes;
  2. the presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh given by the wise men were very valuable;
  3. Jesus’ ministry had a treasurer, which indicates they had a large amount of money;
  4. Jesus financed his ministry team and gave to the poor;
  5. Creflo Dollar and Jerry Savelle add that Jesus wore expensive clothing as noted by the Roman guards at Jesus’ crucifixion.

This teaching allows the prosperity teachers to vindicate their affluent lifestyles as blessings from God. But to do so, they twist scriptural teaching. First, they take 2 Cor 8:9 out of context to assure their “partners” that if they give to their ministries, God will reward them financially.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth telling them of the Macedonians who despite their poverty gave to the collection for the saints as they were able (2 Cor 8:2). Apparently, God did not bless the Macedonians for their generosity because they remained poor. Neither did God deliver the saints in Jerusalem from the curse of poverty. Far from assuring the Corinthians of financial blessing, Paul says the saints in Judea may one-day be helping them (2 Cor 8:14).

My replies to the arguments for Jesus being wealthy are as follows.

  1. Joseph was a carpenter, not a wealth businessman. When Jesus’ parents brought him to the temple for Mary’s purification, they could only afford “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”, the offering of the poor (Luke 2:24).
  2. The gifts from the wise men would have been useful in funding his family’s escape to Egypt but would have been spent long before Jesus started a public ministry.
  3. Having a treasurer does not mean that an organisation has abundant wealth. I am the treasurer of a small charity which needs to manage its meagre funds carefully. Besides, Scripture does not call Judas a treasurer but the keeper of the common purse which he stole from (John 12:6; 13:29).
  4. As Paul said, the poverty-stricken Macedonians followed Jesus’ example and gave generously to the poor as they were able. Jesus’ disciples knew he gave to the poor (John 13:29). But, you do not need to be rich to give to the poor.
  5. Jesus’ seamless robe worn to the Passover, arrest and crucifixion does not mean he was rich. It was probably given to him by his supporters since he claimed not to wear fine clothing (Luke 7:25). It is only noteworthy because the soldiers cast lots for the garment in fulfilment of prophecy.

Although Jesus at one stage lived in a house at Capernaum (Mark 2:1), later he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matt 8:20b. He probably was neither rich nor poor. So, if Jesus was not rich what does 2 Cor 8:9 mean?

Christ becoming poor refers primarily to the incarnation (see Phil 2:7; John 17:5), not to the circumstances of Jesus’ life or his crucifixion which follow from the Son of God’s gracious act of taking on human form. Jesus’ wealth on earth is not the point. Paul refers to the riches of Jesus’ followers as their salvation in Christ. Paul urged them to give of whatever wealth they have in service of righteousness: He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Cor 9:10). The Macedonians were eager to give out of their poverty because of their joy at receiving the mercy of Christ. Likewise, God would bless the Corinthians in their giving.

Worldly wealth in God’s Kingdom is a means to the greater end of loving and serving others. Amassing wealth can only be vindicated by spending it in delivering justice for the poor (Prov 16:8). Giving to the poor does not mean you are not poor yourself. But for the rich to part with their money is, for many, too difficult (Matt 10:22).

Permanent link to this article: http://www.5icm.org.au/blogs/2019/02/05/was-jesus-rich/

Jan 31

Proverbial Wisdom

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We should label the book of Proverbs in the Bible “handle with care”. Proverbs are not statements of absolute truth. We might assign them this status because King Solomon wrote most of them, and Solomon was reputed to be the world’s wisest man. Their inclusion in Scripture means God inspired them. But are proverbs intended to be nuggets of truth? We need to interpret them in context.

One reason to suspect there is more to Proverbs than the face value meaning of a proverbial saying is that some proverbs are contradictory. They have this in common with non-scriptural proverbs (e.g. “Too many cooks spoil the broth” opposes “More hands make light work”). King Solomon raises another issue in the book of Ecclesiastes. Things often turn out unfairly in a fallen world: “All is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Ecc 1:14; 2:17; 4:4, 16). Proverbial claims sometimes do not come to fruition.

A case that highlights this issue is the misuse of Proverbs to support prosperity theology. Proverbs 3:9-10 (NRSV) appears to link righteousness with wealth:“Honour the LORD with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” So, if you are a faithful and generous giver, you will enjoy prosperity. You can’t out-give God, right? But the verses that follow this proverb declare wisdom is better than wealth: “Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.” (Prov 3:13-14).

The book of Proverbs acknowledges that the unrighteous gain wealth: “The timid become destitute, but the aggressive gain riches.” (Prov 11:16b). Injustice pervades the world: “The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” (Prov 13:23). “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.” (Prov 21:15). This proverb presumes justice is often not done.

Prosperity is not coordinate with righteousness. Besides, righteousness delivers more than mere wealth. “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.” (Prov 10:2). In contrast to those who urge people to sow their money into their ministry, Proverbs urges us to sow righteousness: “The wicked earn no real gain, but those who sow righteousness get a true reward.” (Prov 11:18).

Churches that teach prosperity theology use “Giving Talks” to assure Christians that God will look after them financially if they are faithful in giving and it is okay to seek wealth so they can give more to the work of God. In so doing, they inadvertently teach that those who are poor must have failed to live righteous lives. But is this how Christians should view worldly riches? Even Proverbs teaches, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold. (Prov 22:1).

Proverbs do not teach that wealth is good and poverty is bad but, “Better is a little with righteousness than large income with injustice.” (Prov 16:8). Prosperity theology teachers can only find sporadic examples of their claim that God blesses their supporters financially. Abraham, Moses and Israel did not receive everything that God promised them (Ps 44; Heb 11). The reality is that righteous behaviour is no guarantee of blessing and prosperity this side of the grave. Success and riches may follow proverbial hard work, but sometimes failure and injustice results.

God asks us, no matter what our circumstances, to trust him to ultimately establish justice. Perhaps Solomon used proverbs to cause people to think more deeply about life? Proverbs encompass both the good life and injustice. But either way, God invites us to respond in righteousness.

In this blog, I have drawn on Raymond C. Van Leeuwen’s article “Wealth and Poverty: System and Contradiction in Proverbs” (Hebrew Studies, 33, 1992).

Permanent link to this article: http://www.5icm.org.au/blogs/2019/01/31/proverbial-wisdom/

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