Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is Jesus God?

Is Jesus God? And if so, to whom is Jesus praying when the Bible speaks of him praying? Is he praying to himself?

To the first question, “Is Jesus God,” I answer, “Yes, he is.” But having said this, I must be careful to explain exactly what I mean.

When we say that Jesus is God, we are talking about his nature, not his identity. In other words, we are not saying Jesus is the Father. Rather, we are saying that with respect to his nature, Jesus is what the Father is.

Sometimes when we use the word God we specifically mean God the Father. When we speak about praying to God, for instance, we are identifying the one to whom we are praying.

But sometimes we use the word God in a different way. For instance, when we say Jesus is God, we are saying he is God as opposed to human or angelic. We’re talking about his nature. We are talking about what he is.

The Scriptures are very plain on this point. John makes it quite clear when he says at the very beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this verse, “the Word” is a reference to Jesus in his pre-incarnate state, that is, before he came to earth as a human being. And John says very clearly, “the Word was God.” But notice how he also makes it clear that he does not mean that Jesus was the Father. He says, “The Word was with God [the Father], and the Word was God [that is, with respect to his nature—meaning that he was what the Father was].”

This is not the only place where the Scriptures speak of the deity of Christ. In his letter to the Romans Paul says that “Christ…is God over all” (Rom. 9:5). In Philippians he speaks of Jesus being in the form of God and being equal with God (Phil. 2:6-7). In Colossians he says that the “fullness of deity dwells bodily” in him (Col. 2:9).

In addition to these explicit statements regarding the nature of Christ, we find that divine works are attributed to him. Chief among these is his work of creation.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Jn. 1:3)

The world was made by him, yet the world did not know him. (Jn. 1:10)

There is…one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:6)

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16)

Who can create except God alone? And yet several times over Jesus is said to have been the Creator of all things.

Clearly, Jesus is God. He is not God the Father, but with respect to his nature, he is what the Father is.

And since Jesus is distinct from the Father in terms of his person, we can see how the Bible can speak of him as both being God (in his nature) and praying to God (the Father).

Is the Devil real?

I’ve heard it said that the devil doesn’t really exist and that whenever the Bible mentions the devil it is simply a personification of evil. What do you think?

Many people have questioned whether or not it’s possible in this day and age to believe in a personal devil. Many otherwise sincere Christians, who have been affected far more than they should by the Enlightenment, have suggested that “Satan” or “the devil” is simply a personification of evil; that there is no real personal being, no real malevolent spirit, known as Satan. They think this is just the Bible’s way of speaking about evil to a pre-scientific and superstitious people. “Now, of course,” they say, “we know better. Now we’re scientific. We’re rational. We now know that this is just a figure of speech.”

We know nothing of the sort. In fact, just the opposite is true. The devil is mentioned often in such a way and in such contexts that lead us to exactly the opposite conclusion. He is a very real being, spiritual in nature, malevolent in character.

It is one of his tricks in our day and in the West to make people think he doesn’t exist. He then has an easier time of deceiving them, because they are not standing guard against him.

Let me ask you, who is easier to assault, someone who has no idea he has an enemy, or someone armed to the teeth and ready for battle because he not only knows he has an enemy but also knows the enemy is on the move, seeking to destroy him?

This is how the Bible speaks to us about the devil. The apostle Peter warns us:  “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)

The names which are used in Scripture to speak of him are very instructive. The word “Satan” means opponent or adversary or enemy. And indeed he is the enemy of both God and men. He aims at nothing less than the complete overthrow of God’s kingdom and the damnation of human souls.

The chief means by which he opposes us and seeks to overthrow the kingdom of God is by tempting us to do evil. In fact, twice in the NT he is referred to simply as “the tempter.” The first is in Matthew chapter 4. Our Lord Jesus Christ had just spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matt. 4:4)

The devil sought to devour Jesus; sought to undo him; sought to entice him to sin, not only here but at other times as well. On this occasion there were three temptations the devil used against him. But of course Jesus stood firm and never yielded to temptation.

The apostle Paul also refers to Satan as the “tempter.”

For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. (1 Thes. 3:5)

So “Satan” means opponent, adversary, enemy. And the chief ploy he uses to undo us is to tempt us to do evil.

But he also uses slander and accusation. In fact, the word “devil,” diabolos in Greek, means accuser or slanderer.

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. (Zech. 3:1)

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev. 12:9-10)

He slandered and accused Job before God by suggesting that Job only served God for the personal benefits he received from him.

There is another means he uses to tempt us to depart from God which is particularly effective, and that is to stir up persecution against us. In his message to the church at Smyrna in the 2nd chapter of Revelation, Jesus says,

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10)

When the Bible mentions the devil, it is not merely a literary device for the purpose of personifying evil. It means a very real malevolent spiritual being, against whom we are to guard ourselves.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph 6:11)

On Jesus' Genealogy

In Matthew it says that Jesus’ father was Joseph, and in Luke it says that his father was Eli. How can this be?

The genealogy of Christ is given by both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38). There are some important differences between them. In Matthew, the genealogy runs from Abraham forward to Jesus, while in Luke it runs from Jesus backward to Adam.

From Abraham to David, the two genealogies agree. But from David, Matthew traces Jesus’ descent from Solomon, while Luke traces it from Nathan. So here is our first question:  How can Jesus be descended from two different sons of David? But more importantly, how can Joseph be the son of Jacob as Matthew asserts, and also the son of Eli as recorded by Luke? Several theories have been advanced to reconcile this apparent discrepancy, but the two most probable ones are as follows:

Some have suggested that Matthew gives Joseph’s genealogy, while Luke gives Mary’s. In this case, Eli (Joseph’s father according to Luke), was really Mary’s father. Why then is he said to be Joseph’s father? It may have been the case that Eli had no male heir. According to the law, his inheritance would then pass to his daughter Mary (Num. 27:8), and in turn would be transferred to her husband, Joseph (Num. 36:1-9). Joseph, then, would be the actual, biological son of Jacob (as per Matthew), but a reputed son and legal heir of Eli (as per Luke).

A second possibility is that both Matthew and Luke give Joseph’s genealogy, but that he is said to have two different fathers because of a levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10).

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel (Deut. 25:5-6)

In a case such as this, the son who is born is the actual biological son of one man (the living man) but is regarded as the legal son and heir of another (the dead man). The son, then, in a sense, has two fathers. This may be the best way to account for the difference in the two genealogies of Christ. This solution was first proposed by a church father named Africanus (c. 200).[1]

It is not uncommon to hear skeptics of the Bible point to the genealogies of Jesus as recorded in Matthew and Luke as a discrepancy, or a contradiction which disproves the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. However, as we have seen, the genealogies are capable of being reconciled with each other.

Whatever the true relationship of the genealogies and the people involved, one thing is clear: the early Jewish opponents of Christianity who had access to the official genealogical records, as well as the Gospel accounts, never raised an objection concerning the Gospel record at this point, which in itself is sufficient evidence that they do not contradict each other.


[1] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 1:7

Why was Jesus Baptized?

Why was Jesus baptized? The Bible says that John preached a baptism of repentance, but Jesus wasn’t a sinner who needed to repent. So why was he baptized?

It’s interesting that John wondered about this himself. So we’re in good company if we wonder why it should be that Jesus came to him for baptism. Scripture tells us that when Jesus came to be baptized, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matt. 3:14). John was aware that he himself was a sinner and needed cleansing. He was also aware that Jesus was not a sinner in need of repentance.

But Jesus didn’t come to John and receive baptism for the purpose of confessing his sins and seeking forgiveness. His baptism served a different purpose. He hinted at this when he said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This fulfilling all righteousness has to do with Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17).
All that Jesus did, he did for us and for our salvation—not only in the death he died but also in the life he lived. This is important for us to understand. We normally think of his work on the cross as being the whole of his saving work. But it was necessary before his death to lead a perfect life, to perfectly obey the Law, to fulfill all its requirements. He not only died for us, he lived a perfect life for us. This was necessary in order to qualify him to be our Savior. Our savior had to be a righteous savior, an obedient savior, a covenantally faithful savior.

Israel had been unfaithful. Israel had broken God’s commandments, had dishonored God and his Law. But Jesus came and kept the Law…entirely.

Every obligation that God imposed upon Israel was necessary for Jesus to fulfill. God required Israel to receive John’s baptism; and thus it became a requirement of Israel’s substitute as well. This is what Jesus means when he says, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It was one of his duties as our substitute.

On the day of his baptism, which was also the day when he was anointed with the Holy Spirit and became the Messiah, that very day was the day on which he officially began taking our place. That’s when he began his ministry of substitution. At waters of the Jordan he began to take the place of sinners. He was not a sinner, of course. But he came to take the place of sinners and to identify with sinners.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From our dear friend, Rev. Steve Schlissel

Ministering in Corinth, NY
An intro to the texture of ministry in NYC
by Steve Schlissel

The report on the radio said a husband in Coney Island became enraged when he found his wife with another man. He stabbed his wife, his two daughters, seven and three years of age, then stabbed himself and set his apartment on fire, further injuring himself. No one died, all were hospitalized in stable condition. I wondered if I would meet any of them on my rounds as a volunteer Protestant chaplain at the local municipal hospital. Later that week, I did.

As I left off speaking with a patient in a ward I turned toward the Chaplain whom I assist and found him speaking in Spanish with a Black female patient who appeared to be in her early thirties. The woman’s head was bandaged. Her sister, a portly and pretty woman, was visiting her. The sister did most of the talking. My grammar school Spanish helped me to keep up with much of the conversation. She said the children were on the ninth floor of the hospital, the husband on the sixth. Yes, this was the wife I had heard about. Somehow, the sister detected that I was aware of the circumstances of the case. “You read about this?” she asked me in English.

“I heard it on the radio,” I replied

She warned me, “Don’t believe all that you heard,” obviously concerned about her sister’s reputation, “Thank you for telling me,” I said.

The Chaplain asked me to pray for the victim and I did. There was cordial conversation and good wishes exchanged. When we got into the hall I asked if we could go see the husband. The Chaplain consented. At the wing entrance was a police officer whom we informed of our plan to visit the prisoner-patient. We found him handcuffed to his bed in a regular population ward of six men. Face burns could be seen through an oxygen mask. There were also severe burns on his hands and body. He told us of his stab wound, the most serious injury. The Chaplain, a dear Black man of 67 and an all-to-eager Arminian, proceeded to tell this man of Jesus’ “love” for him almost immediately following our greeting. After a moment of antinomian “comforting,” he said, “The pastor [me] will speak to you now and pray for you.”

I always feel awkward when I am thrust, as it were, into prayer or counseling, but this time I was both more and less so. More, because ministering to a man who had just stabbed his wife and children is not something I do daily. Less, because I was eager to remove any false hoped of God’s indulgence that my Arminian friend may have inculcated.

While he was not openly enthusiastic about our visit (he was too weak to show it if he was), he certainly was not resistant to our presence. What should I do? What would Christ do? I try to bear in mind the background of some in the Corinthian church; former fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners, as well as “regular” sinners (I Cor. 6:9-11). Sounds a lot like Messiah’s Congregation.

“Listen carefully to me,” I began. “After you did what you did to your wife and children, you stabbed yourself, you tried to destroy yourself. Isn’t that right?” He nodded, but seemed fearful.

“I am not the police, so you may speak to me freely, I am a pastor, a minister. The police are not your biggest problem. You must face God. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“When you tried to destroy yourself you began to carry out the punishment that you know you deserve for what you did. If you do not repent, what awaits you is far worse than anything the police or courts may do. Do you understand?”

He nodded. While I’m certain my companion would have wanted me to lead this man in “the sinner’s prayer,” I tried only to impress upon him the justice of God and His mercy. “What you tried to do to yourself, God did to His Son. He destroyed Him on the cross because of our sins. He is your only hope. You must repent.” Then I took his hand and prayed that God would impress upon him the seriousness of his sin, the enormity of his guilt, and cause him to flee to Christ for refuge. We prayed for his wife and children. We prayed for mercy. Then we went and did the same for the two beautiful children on the ninth floor. The stab wound on the chest of the three-year-old was visible when we approached her bed. How is one supposed to feel at such a sight? Compassion for the baby? Rage at the father (and possibly the mother)? Sadness? Illness? The sisters, fearful at first, seemed put at ease when they learned that, in the marvelous Providence of God, the Chaplain was a fellow Panamanian. They accepted prayer and managed a smile. I touched the cheek of the little one. She is such a beautiful child. What will her future be like?

There is no “dramatic ending” to this episode. The episode was itself the drama. It is a drama that is repeated in different forms, in different ways and in different circumstances on a daily basis in this field of service: Corinth, NY. Every day the sensitive soul can rightly cry out, “Who is sufficient for such a task?” How does one minister Christ? There is no one answer, except if it be, “Faithfully.” But learning from the Word and Spirit exactly what “faithful” means in any given circumstance, well, it is arduous enough to make one confess, “Our sufficiency is from God!” And after we have confessed this, we still feel inadequate and needy. Earthen vessels, indeed. Pray that God would grant us wisdom as we walk through the doors He opens.

Diverse doors. Examples: A Jewish police officer who was injured pursuing an escapee was open to conversation about things serious. A woman with AIDS (from shooting drugs), and whose brother had recently died from the same plague, politely listened to the gospel and the hope in Christ on several occasions before she, too died. A Cambodian woman visiting her ailing mom, expressed interest in coming to church. The daughter of a Chinese woman forced $5 into my hand as thanks for the prayer offered for her mother, who did not understand a word of it. God did. A twenty-six-year-old paralyzed Black man who was just released from prison talked with me about his other convictions- concerning God. He is interested in understanding life. I pray that Christ reveals Himself to “True” (how’s that for a hopeful street name?). A twenty-year-old Puerto Rican girl had a miscarriage. And speaking of names, hers if Providencia! As I ministered to her, sharing my wife Jeannie’s experiences with miscarriages and a stillbirth, I discovered that this darling child did not know what her beautiful name meant. I excitedly explained Providence to her and when I left, I think we were friends. I really could go on and on. It is wonderful and burdensome to minster in Christ’s name. He is what everyone needs.

Corinth, NY, is swollen with need. Jews and Gentiles, young and old, rich and poor. (And whoever said that the poor, in virtue of their poverty, are humble, has never ministered to the poor!) They are sinners all, like me. Through our actively-reaching-out membership, and through referrals, we are called upon to minster to more people than we can competently handle. A young Jewish businessman who stands to make it big in the Big Apple- if folly and cocaine don’t kill him first. A mother of two whose husband walks out on her. A woman in her thirties who was sexually abused by her father. A young man climbing out of the pit of using drugs, getting drunk and patronizing prostitutes. A middle-aged homosexual man who calls us to talk, but refuses to listen.

Experience shows that the vast majority of those to whom we reach out will also “refuse to listen”; they will not enter the fold. People who push for numbers can only be regarded as foolish or blind. Ministry is not a numbers game. At least, not here it isn’t. Yet we must do all things for the sake of the elect, whether they be many or few.

As the fruits of our human sin and national apostasy begin to appear, they appear in Corinth, NY, first. Sow a great wind, reap a greater whirlwind. The winds are blowing so hard, it frequently seems overwhelming. But the words that Jesus spoke to Paul in Corinth were never more applicable than they are now, than they are here: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and not one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” We must care about His many, to be sure, but they must be cared for as people. People who need our time, our love, and sometimes our money. Living in this city, ministering to these people, one finds that Paul’s words must be repeated with urgency: “Brethren, pray for us.”

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Now go to Messiah's website and donate as generously as you can to this faithful ministry. Or, if you prefer, you can send a check to:  Messiah's Ministries, 2662 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11235

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A solution to Tiger's golfing woes

The LPGA just voted to allow "transgender women" to play on the tour.

As I read the story, it occurred to me that this may be the solution to Tiger Wood's golfing woes. Since returning from his short, self-imposed exile from the PGA, he's been having difficulty regaining his pre-scandal form. Perhaps he can undergo "gender reassignment" surgery and compete as a woman. I'm sure in the interests of egalitarianism no one would complain that he...uh, she (it?) would have an unfair advantage.

It's just this sort of thing that demonstrates the absurdity of rebellion against God. When we fail to acknowledge him, we lose touch with reality and seek to create an alternate reality--an enterprise which is inevitably doomed to failure.

How ironic is it that the man/woman/thing's name  is Lana Lawless? "Sin is lawlessness" (1 Jn. 3:4).