An Easter Surprise

The disciples were expecting Jesus to conquer the Romans and install Himself as King. To their minds, the Messiah would be the conquering King. The predictions by Jesus of His death were not heeded. When He did die, they were totally unprepared.
—Don Stewart1

A condensed version of this article is available here.

As Pastor and author Don Stewart affirms in the above quote, the disciples saw Jesus as a conquering Messiah who would rescue Israel from the Romans. Their hopes were dashed after they saw Jesus arrested, tried, beaten, crucified, and buried. It was over. Jesus was dead.

No disrespect is intended here, I assure you. In describing the certainty of Jesus’ death, it seems appropriate to borrow from Charles Dickens. “Yes, Jesus was dead. Dead as a door-nail. There was no doubt whatever about that!”

Descent from the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens

Jesus’ followers, however, were in for a huge Easter surprise! Jesus had died on a Passover Friday. Following the Passover, early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene made her way to Jesus’ burial cave and found it empty. Right away she went to Peter and John and told them someone or a group of people — “they” — had removed Jesus body, and she didn’t know where they’d put it.

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:1-2).

Doubtlessly curious, the two disciples went to the tomb themselves to see if they could figure out what had happened. What they would see would change their lives forever!

Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes (John 20:3-10).

John’s account rings with simplicity, and at the same time, authenticity. Here is an eyewitness simply relating what he actually had experienced. Peter and John started to make their way to the burial site. In their excitement and curiosity, they “ran together,” but soon John outran Peter, so he was the first to arrive. John, “stooping down and looking in,” saw Jesus’ grave clothes but didn’t venture in. Peter then arrived and went in. Inside, Peter “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around his head.” The “handkerchief”—the “cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head” (NIV)—was separate from the rest of the linen cloths, “folded together in a place by itself.” At this point, John also entered, and “saw and believed.” Peter and John did not yet fully understand all that had occurred; verse 9 tells us that “as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” Even so, this was a pivotal moment for these two close followers of Jesus in terms of their understanding and in terms of their commitment to the One who had taught and mentored them for three years.

Knowing About Burial Preparations Helps Us Understand What Peter and John Saw

Let’s rewind in our minds the events of the previous few days to Friday afternoon when Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. John 19:38-42 says that after Jesus had died on the cross and had been confirmed dead,

Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.

According to Jewish custom of that day, no less than two persons were needed to prepare a body for burial. The body was washed thoroughly with lukewarm water. Those involved in the preparation made sure the mouth of the corpse was covered so that none of the water would get inside.2

After they had washed the body, those working on it prepared the burial spices. In Jesus’ case, probably 75 to 100 pounds of aromatic spices were used; we see in verse 39 that Nicodemus had brought with him “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” Myrrh, a gummy substance, was blended together with the spices and aloes—fragrant wood that had been pounded into dust particles. The preparers then wrapped the body in linen cloths that women had sewn together without using a knot a single time. A minimum of three linen garments had to be used.3

Beginning at the feet and moving toward the head, the preparers wrapped the body in the linen cloths, placing the myrrh and spices between the folds as they worked. They wrapped the body in this fashion from the feet to the armpits; then, with the deceased’s arms placed alongside the wrapped torso, preparers enveloped the arms in the linen and spices as well. They continued this process all the way up to the neck. For the head, they used an additional, separate cloth. What was the total weight of the encasement for an adult? Typically, about 117 to 120 pounds.4

Encasement is an appropriate word to use here, because that’s just what it was. The myrrh and spices placed between the linen cloths hardened. The grave clothes, therefore, did not consist of loose material but became a shell snugly surrounding the deceased individual.5

Back to the Tomb

Now, return to the tomb in your mind. Do you now see why Peter and John were blown away? What an Easter surprise this was! These disciples didn’t see the linen material that had enveloped Jesus’ body wadded up into a heap or otherwise loosely placed. Nor did they see the grave clothes neatly folded and resting where Jesus’ body had been situated after it was brought into the tomb; although, as the Scripture indicates, the headpiece was “folded together in a place by itself.” The “linen cloths lying there”—the grave clothes that had surrounded Jesus’ body—now were an empty shell made of linen and hardened myrrh.6

Here was proof positive that no one had taken Jesus’ body. Had anyone or any group of people stolen it, they would have had to carry out the grave clothes with it! Otherwise, they would have had to cut open the encasement and pry the body loose—something they would have had neither the time nor the resources to do.

The hollow encasement lay there, intact. No rips, tears, or cuts! Even though Peter and John didn’t yet understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead, they knew that something supernatural had happened.

John testified that he “saw and believed.” No wonder!

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Duccio This portrays a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples. See John 21:1-14

And this was just the beginning. As Luke later would write, Jesus “also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them [the apostles] during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is risen, indeed!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note: The content of this article is available in two separate articles (also written by B. Nathaniel Sullivan) at www.sundayschoolzone.com (here and here).

Notes:

1Don Stewart, You Be the Judge, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), 71.

2Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 174.

3,4,5McDowell and McDowell, 175

6McDowell and McDowell, 194.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Scripture passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Billy Graham’s Critical Hour of Decision—and How God Used It to Change the World

As you go through this world with all its storms and its trials…keep your eyes on the Bible, keep your eyes on Christ, and you won’t go wrong. Don’t you follow your feelings. You follow Christ.
Billy Graham (November 7, 1918–February 21, 2018)—

 

Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry began in 1947. Although the man who would become the world’s best known evangelist had been the preacher at seven evangelistic campaigns prior to the crusade that began in September, 1949 in Los Angeles, it was during the Los Angeles campaign—his eighth—that the press took notice. When it did, Graham was thrust onto the national stage.

Interestingly, the series of meetings held just prior to those in Los Angeles didn’t go well at all, at least not according to human standards. That crusade was held in Altoona, Pennsylvania. On one hand, apathy seemed to prevail, just as it could in any city or town. On the other, various ministries in the area were competing with one another, and squabbles broke out over insignificant issues. Also, the larger religious community was polarized. Altoona was home to several advocates of a strong fundamentalist perspective, and tensions erupted between them and others on the opposite side of the theological spectrum. And as if all that weren’t enough, during one of Graham’s sermons, a woman in the choir with obvious mental problems yelled repeatedly—then she wouldn’t cooperate when members of the evangelistic team tried to calm her down. Billy Graham later wrote that after the services in Altoona, “I pondered whether God had really called me to evangelism after all.”1

Billy decided not to quit—not yet. Looking ahead to Los Angeles, Graham and his team evaluated the most common criticisms people had offered regarding evangelistic meetings. They took steps to address those issues, which included complaints about finances and concerns about a lack of follow-up for people who indicated they wanted to know Christ.

Two large circus tents were erected together as one in a parking lot in downtown LA. The resulting canvas arena could seat 6,000 people. The first service of what was originally planned as a three-week campaign was held on Sunday, September 25; but near the conclusion of the three-week period, several of the organizers asked Graham to extend the effort one more week. Billy agreed to do so after a well-known radio personality attended one of the services, came under great conviction, and committed his life to Christ.

William Randolph Hearst

During the fourth week, the news media took notice, which represented a sharp contrast from news reporters’ prior indifference to the crusade. William Randolph Hearst, an influential power broker in the newspaper industry, eyed the meetings and told reporters to “Puff Graham

The evangelistic services became the talk of the city. Stories of changed lives—including those of numerous well-known individuals—abounded. The tent was enlarged so it could hold up to 9,000. Yet as massive as it became, even this coliseum couldn’t accommodate everyone who attended. Loudspeakers had to be set up outside the tent for those who couldn’t get inside. The time was extended as well, until, eight weeks after it started, on Sunday, November 20, the last meeting of the Los Angeles crusade was held. Graham was thirty years old at the time. In these eight weeks, 350,000 people had flocked to hear him—and about 3,000 individuals made decisions for Christ. The Los Angeles crusade was a turning point for Graham and his ministry. As it turned out, it was a turning point for the nation and the world as well.

Billy Graham in 1954

An Even Bigger Story

Poster for a 1946 Youth for Christ Rally in Detroit that alluded to the European Tour

As newsworthy as the Los Angeles meetings were, perhaps the bigger story is what happened in Graham’s life between Altoona and Los Angeles. Billy Graham was struggling. Chuck Templeton, a close friend with whom he had ministered in England during an effort led by Youth for Christ several years earlier, had begun to doubt the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Templeton was no lightweight. He had been pastor of one of the largest churches in Toronto. He was an unusually gifted communicator, and people had sensed God’s hand on him. In fact, before Chuck Templeton began vocalizing his doubts, many people who had heard both Templeton and Graham preach were especially impressed with Templeton. But now he’d resigned his church. He had become a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and was captivated by intellectual arguments against the trustworthiness of the Bible. One of Billy’s friends overheard Chuck say, “Poor Billy, I feel sorry for him. He and I are taking two different roads.”2

At that point, though, Graham was not on a path different from the one Templeton was traveling. Rather, he stood facing a fork in the road, struggling over which path to take. He never doubted Christ’s deity or God’s plan of salvation. Yet He agonized over whether or not the Scriptures could be trusted, whether or not they were fully reliable.

At the time of his struggle, Billy also was influenced by Miss Henrietta Mears, who was on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California. Miss Mears had built a phenomenal Sunday school at her church. In the first three years of her leadership, the enrollment grew tenfold to 4,500. A sincere and humble lady with a positive, enthusiastic manner, Mears strongly believed in the authority and reliability of the Bible and encouraged Billy to do the same. But she didn’t do so with a blind eye to scholarship. Mears was familiar with the arguments being used to discredit the Bible.

Meanwhile, Templeton made no secret of his views: “Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.”3


Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.
—Charles Templeton, who, at one time, was thought to be more likely to influence the world for Christ than Billy Graham—


Billy Graham later recalled, “I ached as if I were on the rack, with Miss Mears stretching me one way and Chuck Templeton stretching me the other. Alone in my room one evening, I read every verse of Scripture I could think of that had to do with ‘thus saith the Lord.’”4 Among other things, he reflected on Jesus’ own attitude toward the Bible—one of wholehearted acceptance and affirmation. Billy knew that if he could not trust God’s Word, he would have to leave the ministry.

Finally, he took a walk. He’d become a Christian years before, but this also would be a critical hour of decision5 for him. He continued to struggle for a while, but at last he came to a point of surrender. He knelt and opened his Bible. It was too dark to read, so he prayed. He recalls that his prayer went something like this: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”

Billy knew he needed to say more, and soon he felt liberated to say it: “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”6


Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.
—Billy Graham, in a prayer of commitment, at a critical hour of decision—


As he rose from his place of prayer, Graham later recalled, he felt God’s power as he had not felt it in many, many weeks. While he had numerous questions that remained unanswered, he now had chosen the path he would take. He writes, “In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”7

The evangelistic campaign in Los Angeles would begin one month later. It would be a series of meetings that would set the stage for a ministry God would use to change the world. Yes, that’s how critical Billy Graham’s hour of decision was!

Setting the Record Straight

It’s important here for us to make four clarifications.

First, we do not mean to imply here that if an effort for God “flops,” it was because the person who was seeking to serve Him was having theological problems or struggles. Church history testifies that many initially apparent “flops” actually turned out to be tremendous successes when viewed long term. Yet it is undeniable that if a spokesman for God isn’t sure what he believes, God’s blessing on his efforts will be hindered.

Second, we also are not saying that a trust in God’s Word automatically will bear immediate abundant fruit, as was the case with the crusade in Los Angeles. Of course, God’s promise is sure:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please.
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

Sometimes, however, fruit does not appear until many, many years after the seeds were planted.

A third thing we are not implying is that a person must or even should believe God’s Word in a total blind leap of faith, without any rational reasons for doing so. Faith in God’s Word is reasonable.


Faith in God’s Word is reasonable.


Lee Strobel

Just ask Lee Strobel, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune who was an atheist. He became a Christian after he investigated the historicity and viability of Christianity. After becoming a believer, he wrote an entire book titled The Case for Faith.8

One final word of caution is in order. This is our fourth consideration. While faith is reasonable, we must never approach the Bible expecting all our questions to be answered. If the Bible really does have God as its ultimate author, as the Bible affirms (see 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21) and as Christians historically have believed, should we not expect that at least some parts of it will be beyond our comprehension? God, after all, is infinite, and we are finite. God has revealed Himself in ways we can understand, but part of the understanding we acquire when we learn about God includes the reasonable idea that we cannot fathom everything about Him and must exercise faith regarding what we don’t see or comprehend.

Let’s put it another way. If you had no unanswered questions about the Scriptures, you wouldn’t need to exercise faith. Keep in mind that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Why does God require faith? I believe at least part of the answer is that you can’t have any kind of meaningful, deep relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Why does God require faith? I believe at least part of the answer is that you can’t have any kind of meaningful, deep relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Have you trusted Christ as your Savior, as Billy Graham did when he was 15 years old? If not, you can do so today. Here’s how.

As a Christian, have you experienced doubts about God’s Word? Doubts and struggles occur at times in the Christian life, but we need to make sure we don’t respond to them in the end with unbelief, as Chuck Templeton did. Thus, a critical hour of decision like the one Billy Graham had may be necessary for you.

God can be trusted, and He honors those who put their faith in Him.

You can take that, my friends, to the bank!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.


newsreel on the LA Crusade, 1949


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

top image: Billy Graham (right) with son Franklin in 1994

Los Angeles Crusade Poster, Billy Graham Library

credit for photo of Billy Graham in 1954

credit for photo of Lee Strobel

 

Notes:

1Billy Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham, [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997], 134

2Graham, 138.

3Graham.

4Graham.

5Hour of Decision would become the title of a weekly radio broadcast produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

6Graham, 139.

7Graham.

8Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000).

 

Sources cited:

Graham, Billy. Just As I Am. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Pages 98-100,133-143. All quotations in the account of Billy Graham’s struggle come from this work: pp. 134,138,139.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000.

Additional sources used:

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador, (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1999), 45-54.

http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/exhibits/LA49/01readmore.html

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/02/local/me-then2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Templeton

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 12

Why Jesus Is the Only Way to God, and Why Truth Claims to the Contrary Are False

We are living in a post truth era, where people are searching for solid ground, they’re looking for something to say this is true, I can rely on this. Christianity claims to be true. It says it’s not wishful thinking or make-believe or legends or mythology, but it’s based on actual historical evidence. And I think these days young people especially are looking for something solid like that to put their trust in.
Lee Strobel, in an interview about the film The Case for Christ, which tells the story of Strobel’s journey from atheism to Christianity—

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

This week I want briefly to drive a home a key point in last week’s post by providing answers to two common objections to God’s plan of salvation.

Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God?

First, many people seem to be offended when Christians say Jesus is the only way to God—yet they are only relating what Jesus Himself declared. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He said. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Why should this challenge our sensibilities? God, after all, is God. He has a right to establish how people should approach Him and what will be required of them to enter His home. One former pastor offers this insightful account.

While I once was witnessing to a young couple, the husband said he believed there were many ways to be saved. I asked, “If I came to your house at night, put a ladder up to a second-floor window and climbed in, what you would do?” After the man told me he would shoot me, I asked, “You mean you require someone to enter your house only in the way you prescribe, but you believe you can decide how you are going to get into God’s kingdom?”

He responded, “I guess that doesn’t make sense, does it?” I left hoping my challenge eventually would come to represent a true turning point in this man’s perspective on Jesus.1

Rather than asking how God could exclude those who wish to approach Him in ways other than through His Son, we need to appreciate the cost He paid to provide the one way He provided. God’s perfect character requires Him to judge sin—even those actions we might deem the smallest and least significant violations of His law.

Is God Being Fair?

In a letter to his employees explaining why he believed in the God of the Bible Robert Laidlaw (1885-1971) declared,

A young man once asked me, “Do you think it is fair of God to set the standard of holiness so high that we cannot reach it, and then judge us for falling short?”

This is the second objection we need to consider. Laidlaw continued,

I replied, “God has not set an arbitrary standard of holiness as an official sets an arbitrary standard of height for his bodyguards. In such a case, a man may have all the other qualifications, but if he is an inch too short he is disqualified.

God has not really set a standard at all: He is the standard. He is absolute holiness, and to preserve His own character He must remain absolutely holy in all of His dealings with man, maintaining that standard irrespective of the tremendous implications which it may hold for both Him and us” [emphases added].


God has not really set a standard at all: He is the standard. He is absolute holiness, and to preserve His own character He must remain absolutely holy in all His dealings with man, maintaining that standard irrespective of the tremendous implications which it may hold for both Him and us.
—Robert Laidlaw—


So the question isn’t really one of fairness, but divine holiness. God cannot violate His own character.

God Demonstrates His Love Through His Son

The good news for us is that God also is loving, and His love compelled Him to make it possible for Him to offer us forgiveness. The only way He could do that was to send His Son, Jesus Christ, down to earth to fulfill the law by living a perfect life, and then to die a substitutionary death for sinful humanity. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead affirms God’s acceptance and approval of His Son’s sacrifice.

Respecting the choices of all, however, God will not credit Jesus’ death to the account of anyone who doesn’t express a desire to have it applied to him or her personally. The lost son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32 learned the hard way that absolute personal autonomy is a myth, but he still had to choose to return home with an attitude of sorrow and repentance. We must seek God in the same way. We can be certain that just as the father in Jesus’ illustration rejoiced, God also rejoices whenever anyone approaches Him with humility and repentance. You can learn more about God’s plan of salvation here.

The Bottom Line

Jesus was cruelly flogged and then crucified. He died the most horrible of deaths. It is inconceivable that God would allow His only Son to endure such torment to secure salvation and then shun Him by allowing people to come to Him through other means! This never will happen.


Having allowed His Son to secure salvation by dying the most horrible of deaths, God never would shun Him by permitting people to come to Him through other means. 


This is why Jesus is the only way to God. This is why we cannot approach Him any other way. And unfair? How can we accuse God of unfairly upholding His absolute standard of perfection when He met it Himself through His Son, who sacrificed His life for our eternal benefit?

And oh, there’s one more thing. Having hit an absolutely insurmountable wall and then then observed that God has opened a door for us, even as He has consistently upheld His standard of absolute perfection, we are compelled to reject all truth claims—including relativism—that compete with the Christian faith.  It simply can’t be otherwise.

Reality and integrity demand it.

Part 13 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top imageThe Parable of the Prodigal Son by Guercino (1591-1666)

Note:

1Jerry Price, “Jesus the One and Only,” in Life Words Personal Study Guide, Fall, 2010, (Nashville: LifeWay Christian Resources, 2010), 66.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Combatting Error with the Truth—In 5-Minute Presentations

If truth be not diffused, error will be.
Daniel Webster

Jason, a committed believer, entered his freshman year of college at a state university with a prayer that he would be able to defend his faith courageously and openly—but without being obnoxious. He enjoyed getting to know his fellow students and found that he and another incoming freshman, Steve, were both interested in restoring old cars. This point of mutual interest helped cement a strong friendship between the two, and it wasn’t long before Jason began to look for opportunities to talk to Steve about his relationship with God. One day, Jason decided simply to bring the matter up. He’d been praying for Steve and knew a few simple questions that could direct their conversation toward spiritual things.

“Hey, Steve,” Jason began, “I was wondering if you ever think much about God or spiritual things. Do you think it’s possible for people to have a relationship with God?”

“Jason, I really don’t believe in God at all.” Jason could tell Steve wasn’t offended but simply was sharing what he believed. “Honestly, I think the Bible is difficult to understand. It’s incoherent.”

“Really?” asked Jason. “That’s interesting. You know, I’d like to challenge you on that point. I’ve learned the Bible is a book with 66 major divisions written by 40 different human writers over a period of 1500 years. Despite all that, there really is amazing unity and agreement between the biblical writers. That unity points to the probability of God’s being the ultimate author. In fact, I believe God is the author, and that the Bible makes the most sense to those who know God personally. Think of the Bible as a love letter written by God to His children. Steve, your problem is mainly that you don’t know the author of the letter. You’ve been reading someone else’s mail!”

That same week at a sister school several hundred miles away, Sonya, another committed believer who also was beginning her college career, sat in class as her psychology professor attempted to shoot down the idea that the apostle Paul actually met Jesus on the road to Damascus. The professor had ridiculed Christianity and the Bible several times since the beginning of the school year and had described himself as an atheist. The idea that Paul’s life had taken a 180-degree turn because he’d met Jesus personally, he said, was ridiculous. Jesus, after all, was dead. How could he possibly have influenced Paul’s life? The professor continued, “There’s a phenomenon in psychology whereby a person who is vehemently opposed to a cause can go so overboard fighting it that he winds up embracing the very thing he opposed. I think that’s what happened to Paul.”

“Be careful, sir.” Sonya said as politely as she could. “You’re liable to become a Christian!”

These accounts are based on stories I’ve heard, and I can’t say with certainty that parallel events actually happened. Yet the accounts are instructive for us today. How many of our young people—or how many of us, for that matter—are prepared to defend what we believe?


How many of our young people—or how many of us, for that matter—are prepared to defend what we believe?


I’m not speaking just about our beliefs about God and the Bible, but also about

  • America
  • government
  • national defense
  • race relations
  • history
  • free speech
  • the faith of America’s Founders
  • the environment
  • evidence for God
  • Judeo-Christian values, including the Ten Commandments
  • the free market system
  • human relationships
  • life, and
  • morality

—to name just a few arenas where classic values are under assault today.

The above stories include what we might call “zingers”—memorable, attention-getting lines. In most debates, however, it isn’t the zinger that appears most frequently or that necessarily makes the biggest difference in the effort to win someone over. Of greater importance is the substance of one’s argument and how clearly and cohesively he or she presents it.

Where can people learn the truth about those things for which higher education and society at large have adopted a politically correct interpretation? If you haven’t already been invited, I’d like to invite you to attend Prager University.

prager

Led by Dennis Prager, a conservative radio talk show host, Prager University is an online reservoir of information about hot-button topics. In each “course,” the conservative perspective on the topic at hand is provided. Each one is a video 5 minutes long—and at Prager U, students learn more truth in 5 minutes than is presented in many college and university classes all semester long. Moreover, Prager University is free—and its impact is worldwide!

One final point: while we began this post with illustrations about defending Christianity, Prager U does not focus specifically on defending the Christian faith. It is not a Christian organization; Dennis Prager is a devout Jew who, in and through his work, articulately defends Judeo-Christian values—the values and principles that have made America the freest and strongest nation on earth. Also, while Prager doesn’t specifically defend Christianity, he readily defends Christians and partners with them to make the strongest case for Judeo-Christian truth.

Explore and utilize prageru.com. Share it with others. It’s a great way to equip conservatives—and challenge liberals—with solid information.

Welcome to Prager University

www.prageru.com

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Top image: Display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas

 

Speak Up!

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

p_dietrich_bonhoeffer

In the last two posts1 we have been challenged to confront the prevailing worldview of Secularism and its counterfeit conclusions about marriage with the plain truth evident in nature. Several months ago in a series of articles, we focused on “The High Cost of Denying the Obvious.”2 While the need to declare the truth is clear, so too is the price involved. In other words, there is a high cost associated with affirming the obvious. We know this to be true, because we have seen Christians persecuted, even through court rulings, for simply remaining true to their consciences. The January 14, 2016 ruling of a New York appellate court against Robert and Cynthia Gifford is just one recent example.

robert-and-cynthing-giffords

In 1 Peter 3:13-17, the apostle Peter told persecuted believers they were blessed if they suffered for the sake of righteousness. They were not to be intimidated or afraid, but were to honor the Lord in their hearts and be ready to defend what they believed whenever anyone asked them about their hope and confidence. Peter also told them to respond with respect and humility to those who disagreed with them. Then he wrote this: “having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

We need Peter’s God-breathed words of encouragement today. While it may appear as if Satan has the upper hand, he does not. God will use believers’ stands for the truth and their pure lives to convict those who would falsely accuse them of bigotry and hate.

In 2014, identical twins and house flippers David and Jason Benham were offered a television series on HGTV. Flip it Forward was to begin airing in the fall, but the reality show was cancelled in its early stages because the brothers were outspoken about issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. A network spokesperson told them the network did not object to their speaking out about their faith in Christ, but addressing social issues “may be a little much right now.”3

Benham-Brothers-Meet-Brothers-4

David and Jason lost their show, but God gave them a platform they otherwise might never have had. Articulate and engaging, the twins season their presentations with appropriate humor, yet also with clarity, conviction, and grace. They write, “we couldn’t be more thankful for all that has occurred and more steadfast in our desire to live for Christ and to love others with all the conviction we have.”4

Speak up! God—not those who disagree with you—will chart your course.

 

Copyright © 2016 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Blinded; Ten Ways Same-Sex Marriage Denies Reality

2The High Cost of Denying the Obvious, Part 1: A Dead End; The High Cost of Denying the Obvious, Part 2: God Speaks Clearly Through Nature; and The High Cost of Denying the Obvious, Part 3: God’s Definition of Marriage is Self-Evident

3David and Jason Benham, Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully, (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2015), 3.

4Ibid., 6.

 

 

A Christmas Study: “How Can This Be?” (update)

Note to all Word Foundations subscribers:

Yesterday’s post included an embedded You Tube video that wasn’t picked up and carried in the email. Because of its importance to the content of the post, I wanted to send you this revision. I apologize for the inconvenience. Thanks for receiving and reading Word Foundations emails!

Merry Christmas!

B. Nathaniel Sullivan

A Christmas Study: “How Can This Be?” (update)

[Today] you will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the cause of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which St. Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And St. Joseph obviously knew that.

C. S. Lewis

Among the top 25 Super Bowl ads of all time is this Xerox ad, which aired on Sunday, January 18, 1976.

superbowl-xerox-jpg_224042

Of course, the “punch line” of this ad is the Father’s concluding exclamation, “It’s a miracle!” Especially today, nearly 40 years later, the ad reminds us of a host of now commonplace occurrences that would have been considered miraculous centuries ago, a hundred years ago, and even just a few decades ago. Indeed, technology has brought us to a world where amazing things happen. For example, we have instant messaging through email, cell phones, and video platforms like Skype. And surely both Brother Dominic and the Father would consider it miraculous that many people have copy machines, in the form of printers, in their own homes. While to some extent these innovations may seem miraculous even to us, we know there are scientific explanations for them.

Some things have happened in history, however, that science simply can’t explain. These events could not have occurred unless God intervened. We see this over and over in the Christmas story, which is rich with evidence of God’s work even before Jesus was conceived in Mary’s body. If we could ask Zechariah and Elizabeth (see Luke 1:5-25,57-80), they doubtless would confirm God’s intervention—but let’s learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus herself. She was directly involved in one of the biggest miracles ever to have happened!

When Mary received a visit from Gabriel and learned that she would give birth to God’s Son, she naturally had a question. “Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?’” (Luke 1:34). It was a great question! Gabriel “replied to her: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God’” (v. 35).

The mystery of the incarnation—God’s becoming a man without ceasing to be God—must ultimately be accepted by faith, for it can never be fully understood by human minds. Yet Gabriel gave Mary—and he gives us—a glimpse of some of the things that were involved in Jesus’ conception.

  • The baby would be conceived and would begin to grow in Mary’s womb as a result of the Holy Spirit’s activity and God’s power. This does not mean Jesus’ life would begin in Mary’s womb. No, this wasn’t the case at all, for Jesus has existed from eternity past. (Note what John the Baptist, who was born at least several months before Jesus, said when He saw Jesus at the onset of His—Jesus’—ministry: “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me’” [John 1:30]). Instead of beginning to exist at the point of His conception, Jesus would, to put it rather primitively, relocate or move into a human body, tiny though it was when the conception occurred.
  • “The power of the Most High will overshadow you,” Gabriel told Mary (Luke 1:35). The idea of overshadowing or enveloping in a shadow has caused many to recall manifestations of God’s presence in the Old Testament when the Israelites were led by God through the wilderness after being freed from bondage in Egypt (see 25:2240:34-38; also see Gen. 1:21 Kings 8:10-11Isa. 60:2Ezek. 1:28Matt. 17:5Luke 2:9Heb. 9:5). While it probably is appropriate to make this connection, we must acknowledge that when God overshadowed Mary, He performed a miracle of creation and transcendence that was unparalleled in all of history.
  • “Therefore,” Gabriel said, “the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The birth that would result would not come because of Joseph’s actions or because of any human influence whatsoever. This was God’s doing, and the One to be born would be God’s own Son.

We are reminded here of John’s inspired words in John 1:12-13: To all who welcomed Jesus into their lives, “He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, [and here we see a truth that parallels Jesus’ conception and birth] not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” The miraculous conception that took place in Mary’s body, as unique as it was (a once-in-history occurrence), parallels the genesis of spiritual life in otherwise spiritually dead people today! As Ravi Zacharias has noted, “Jesus Christ did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.”1

Mary knew that within herself she had no power to generate divine life, so of course such a thing could happen only as a result of God’s power. Mary simply would be a willing participant in the process. So it is with us when we exercise faith in Jesus to forgive us of our sins. Through God’s power, we become His children—not divine ourselves, but born to new life by divine power. These are authentic miracles!

Copyright © 2015 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Explore various aspects of the first Christmas with a new Word Foundations feature: Breaking Bread. Visit http://www.wordfoundations.com/breaking-bread-the-birth-of-jesus/

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Note:

1Ravi Zacharias, quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 219.

A Christmas Study: “How Can This Be?”

[Today] you will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the cause of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which St. Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And St. Joseph obviously knew that.
C. S. Lewis

Among the top 25 Super Bowl ads of all time is this Xerox ad, which aired on Sunday, January 18, 1976.

Of course, the “punch line” of this ad is the Father’s concluding exclamation, “It’s a miracle!” Especially today, nearly 40 years later, the ad reminds us of a host of now commonplace occurrences that would have been considered miraculous centuries ago, a hundred years ago, and even just a few decades ago. Indeed, technology has brought us to a world where amazing things happen. For example, we have instant messaging through email, cell phones, and video platforms like Skype. And surely both Brother Dominic and the Father would consider it miraculous that many people have copy machines, in the form of printers, in their own homes. While to some extent these innovations may seem miraculous even to us, we know there are scientific explanations for them.

Some things have happened in history, however, that science simply can’t explain. These events could not have occurred unless God intervened. We see this over and over in the Christmas story, which is rich with evidence of God’s work even before Jesus was conceived in Mary’s body. If we could ask Zechariah and Elizabeth (see Luke 1:5-25,57-80), they doubtless would confirm God’s intervention—but let’s learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus herself. She was directly involved in one of the biggest miracles ever to have happened!

When Mary received a visit from Gabriel and learned that she would give birth to God’s Son, she naturally had a question. “Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?’” (Luke 1:34). It was a great question! Gabriel “replied to her: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God’” (v. 35).

The mystery of the incarnation—God’s becoming a man without ceasing to be God—must ultimately be accepted by faith, for it can never be fully understood by human minds. Yet Gabriel gave Mary—and he gives us—a glimpse of some of the things that were involved in Jesus’ conception.

  • The baby would be conceived and would begin to grow in Mary’s womb as a result of the Holy Spirit’s activity and God’s power. This does not mean Jesus’ life would begin in Mary’s womb. No, this wasn’t the case at all, for Jesus has existed from eternity past. (Note what John the Baptist, who was born at least several months before Jesus, said when He saw Jesus at the onset of His—Jesus’—ministry: “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me’” [John 1:30]). Instead of beginning to exist at the point of His conception, Jesus would, to put it rather primitively, relocate or move into a human body, tiny though it was when the conception occurred.
  • “The power of the Most High will overshadow you,” Gabriel told Mary (Luke 1:35). The idea of overshadowing or enveloping in a shadow has caused many to recall manifestations of God’s presence in the Old Testament when the Israelites were led by God through the wilderness after being freed from bondage in Egypt (see Ex. 25:22; 40:34-38; also see Gen. 1:21 Kings 8:10-11; Isa. 60:2; Ezek. 1:28; Matt. 17:5; Luke 2:9; Heb. 9:5). While it probably is appropriate to make this connection, we must acknowledge that when God overshadowed Mary, He performed a miracle of creation and transcendence that was unparalleled in all of history.
  • “Therefore,” Gabriel said, “the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The birth that would result would not come because of Joseph’s actions or because of any human influence whatsoever. This was God’s doing, and the One to be born would be God’s own Son.

We are reminded here of John’s inspired words in John 1:12-13: To all who welcomed Jesus into their lives, “He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, [and here we see a truth that parallels Jesus’ conception and birth] not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” The miraculous conception that took place in Mary’s body, as unique as it was (a once-in-history occurrence), parallels the genesis of spiritual life in otherwise spiritually dead people today! As Ravi Zacharias has noted, “Jesus Christ did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.”1

Mary knew that within herself she had no power to generate divine life, so of course such a thing could happen only as a result of God’s power. Mary simply would be a willing participant in the process. So it is with us when we exercise faith in Jesus to forgive us of our sins. Through God’s power, we become His children—not divine ourselves, but born to new life by divine power. These are authentic miracles!

Copyright © 2015 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Explore various aspects of the first Christmas with a new Word Foundations feature: Breaking Bread. 

Breaking Bread: The Birth of Jesus

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Note:

1Ravi Zacharias, quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 219.

The Need for Thanksgiving

We are blessed in the United States to have a special holiday set aside for thanking God, but today the media and popular culture emphasize Black Friday to a greater extent than Thanksgiving. As grateful people, we will stand out in such a culture, and God will use our gratitude to Him for His glory. We learn a great deal about the importance of thanksgiving (not the holiday, but the act of giving thanks) in Luke 17:11-19.

11 Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

This event reflects, and consequently reminds us of, several realities.

  • First, while all should be thankful, gratitude is a rare commodity. In this incident, just one out of ten returned to Jesus to give thanks. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”
  • Second, while certainly all ten men must have been relieved to have been healed, there’s a big difference between being relieved and being grateful. Quite often, once a crisis has passed, we forget our indebtedness to God. This apparently was true for nine of the ten who were healed.
  • Third, it is the nature of a grateful heart to express thanks. Unexpressed thanks isn’t really thanks at all. If you genuinely are thankful, you’ll find ways to express your gratitude. Luke tells us that the grateful man “returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”
  • Fourth, expressions of gratitude may surprise us. Luke tells us that the one returning “was a Samaritan.” After He observed that just one out of ten returned to Him, Jesus said, “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” Let’s make sure that we’re consistently thankful, thereby at times surprising others with our expressions of thanks.
  • When the ten lepers asked Jesus for mercy and thus for healing, Jesus responded by telling them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They obeyed, and “as they went, they were cleansed.” It is significant that in order to return and offer thanks, the healed Samaritan postponed his obedience. We assume he followed through after thanking Jesus, but the postponement to offer thanks was appropriate and necessary. Accordingly, our fifth observation is that, like the nine other healed men, we can get caught up in doing something good and right but fail to fulfill our greater responsibility of expressing gratitude. Jesus didn’t say to the man who returned, “Didn’t I tell you to go to the priest?” Rather, He commended him for returning and praising God.
  • Sixth, gratitude has tremendous benefits for the grateful person. Jesus told the healed Samaritan, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
  • Seventh, gratitude to God and faith are intertwined. While Jesus didn’t tell the healed Samaritan his gratitude had made him well, He commended him for praising God—something he wouldn’t have done had he not been grateful. Then Jesus told him his faith had made him well. It takes faith in God to express thanks to Him. Keep in mind that we can’t please God without faith (see Heb. 11:6).

Thanksgiving, you see, is essential for the believer. May we be people who are grateful for the blessings we have, and may we always express gratitude to the God who is the source of those blessings.

Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.