Reflections – 2 Timothy 4:17

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

2 Timothy 4:17 (ESV)

The apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, his son in the faith. He was referencing an event in which all of his friends deserted him – nobody came to his aid when he was being persecuted. Paul couldn’t rely completely on the faithfulness of his fellow Christians. When things got too dangerous, they fled away from him, frightened of the physical harm that might come to them on account of the Gospel.

Our friends and siblings in the Faith will definitely help us through the tough times in our lives. We will have to rely on their help when we face trouble in our lives. But they are still sinful human beings – they are prone to turning their backs on us when they are placed in harm’s way.

God, however, is faithful in all circumstances. Even when we are faithless towards God, He remains faithful to us. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:13 – “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God has promised countless times in the Bible to remain faithful to His people, and He remains faithful to us through the work of the person Jesus Christ and our faith created by the Holy Spirit. God is faithful on account of what Jesus did for us, not because of anything we have done. If God was not faithful and merciful to all Christians, He would be denying the redemptive value of Christ’s atonement. Therefore, God must always remain faithful. To do otherwise would go against the very nature of who He is. When the LORD spoke through the prophet Malachi, He made this statement of faithfulness – “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6) He had mercy on the nation of Israel because He had made a promise to them – the promise that He would send the Messiah.

Back to the story of Paul – God showed His faithfulness to Paul by strengthening him and allowing him to escape from the danger surrounding him. Even more importantly, in the grand scheme of things, He rescued Paul for the sake of the Gospel. If Paul had died then and there, we wouldn’t have most of the New Testament. God preserved Paul so that we could hear the complete Word of God.

Eventually, God allowed Paul to die a gruesome death on account of his faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Does this made God unfaithful? Of course not. In reality, our death and departure from this sinful world is the point when we will fully taste the ultimate act of God’s faithfulness. God has conquered death, our greatest enemy, and transformed it into a gateway to eternal life through the death of Jesus. The end of our sinful worldly lives is also the beginning of our eternal reign with Christ.

Of course, God does clothe, feed, and provide for Christians in their temporal lives. He does this only out of His mercy and love. However, our lives in this sinful world will still be filled with sorrow and suffering. Jesus’ words to His disciples also ring true for us (though maybe not to the same extent) – “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name.” (Luke 21:16-17) It is in these times when we can look towards the ultimate act of God’s faithfulness – our redemption through the atonement of Christ. We should not expect our earthly lives to be blissful and enjoyable the whole way through – God’s blessing through Jesus comes to its fruition not in this world, but in the next. Jesus didn’t suffer for our ability to live prosperous and wealthy lives. (Looking at you, Joel Osteen.) Rather, He gives us the ultimate gift of wealth on account of Christ. We spend our entirely earthly lives focusing our eyes on the cross, running the race of faith, whose finish line is everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)

Christianity’s Greatest Proof: The Resurrection

It’s astonishing and slightly disheartening how little the Resurrection is used in modern Christian apologetics. I’ve only rarely heard people cite the Resurrection of Christ when making a case for the truth of Christianity. One argument is tossed around in debate and conversation that stands out from the others: “I believe in Christianity (or Jesus) because the Bible says so” (or some variation of this argument.) As Christians, we do ultimately believe in Jesus because of what the Scriptures have to say about Him. This is because we believe the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God. However, this is one of the least helpful or effective arguments to make to an atheist or a skeptic. In order for this argument to hold any water, one must come into the conversation with a presupposition: the Bible is inerrant. This statement on the authority of the Bible only means something if the person already believes in inerrancy. Without the belief of inerrancy, it is a circular argument. In other words, “the Bible is true because the Bible says so.”

This statement on its own doesn’t prove a point or hold any logic from the perspective of an unbeliever. There must be a presupposition in order for this argument to make any sense. A logical case must first be made to prove the inerrancy of Scripture. How do you prove this supernatural concept to someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural?

Making the Case
People who grow up in an inerrancy-believing church will for the most part accept inerrancy because it’s what they’ve always been taught. They learned from a young age that God doesn’t lie or make mistakes. Sadly, when some of these Christians attempt to logically validate the inerrancy of Scripture, they don’t know where to turn. If they happen to mention their doubt in conversation, they’re often told, “You just need to believe. Have faith.” However, faith is not something that exists apart from logic or reason. Faith is founded on a reasonable claim, more specifically, the belief that Christ suffered and died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day. In short, the supernatural claims of Christianity are founded on the natural things that God has used, such as a fully human savior, normal bread and wine, and drinking water.

How does this relate to something like the inerrancy of Scripture? Basically, a logical proof must be presented that correlates to the doctrine of inerrancy. Christians sometimes have difficulty coming up with reasons for some of their more miraculous beliefs. In reality, the logical and historical proof to present in simple: Christ died. He was buried in a tomb. He didn’t stay dead.

Christians who have believed in the Resurrection from childhood usually accept this fact on account of their belief in the Bible. However, even to a skeptic, the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a well-supported historical event. This is what sets Christianity apart from other world religions. It’s a historical religion. Mormonism and Islam’s holy texts were written in a corner without any historical proof of their claims. Christianity, on the other hand, has Scriptures that span across thousands of years, citing and relating to historical events, prophesying about and mentioning people who the secular world actually recognizes as historical realities. Think about this for a moment: Christianity’s earliest and most well-known creed, the Apostles’ Creed, contains a seemingly trivial reference to an obscure Roman governor who lived in the first century. This actual, historical person is part of the evidence that attests to the Truth of Jesus.

Examining the Proof [1]
Atheists and secular historians have offered various rationalistic explanations for Jesus’ resurrection. None of them, however, actually present a reasonable and natural explanation, as we will soon see. From a secular perspective, there are essentially three different arguments that have arisen. There are additional arguments from people who believe in Christ, yet don’t believe in a physical resurrection, but those can be examined another time. The three main theories are as follows:

The Swoon Theory
This theory suggests that Jesus did not actually die on the cross. He was merely unconscious or not “completely” dead, and He was revived or resuscitated after His burial. Basically, there wasn’t a real resurrection from death to life.

The Theft Theory
After Jesus’ death, the Pharisees were worried that the disciples would steal Jesus’ body to make it seem as if He had come back to life. They were so paranoid that they had the tomb closed off with a heavy stone and guarded by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:63). Supposedly, the disciples of Jesus gained access to the tomb and carried off His body, hiding it somewhere safe.

The Mass Hallucination Theory
This is probably the most desperate and comical theory. It is suggested that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, but His disciples and the other 500 who saw Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6) all had a simultaneous, identical hallucination that caused them to see Jesus appear, when, in fact, it was all in their heads.

Debunking these Claims
I’m sure most people would immediately be able to spot the flaws in these explanations, but I want to lay them out here for clarity.

The Swoon Theory – Anyone with a basic understanding of human anatomy can see how ridiculous this claim is. Jesus was crucified on a cross, bleeding from every square inch of His body. On top of that, the Roman soldiers pierced His side with a spear, causing blood loss that no person could withstand (John 19:34). (Side note – John mentions the specific detail of both water and blood flowing from Jesus’ body. Christians can appreciate the image given by these details – Christ’s body and blood given in Communion, along with water used in Baptism, are portrayed.) The Romans would have made absolutely certain that Jesus was dead before burying Him. All promoters of the “Swoon Theory” most likely don’t believe Jesus was anything more than human. If He was somehow placed in the tomb while still living, He would have had to roll away the massive stone and fight of the Roman soldiers guarding His body. (Which, admittedly, would be a pretty cool to see.)

The Theft Theory
This theory has its fair share of problems as well. Not only would have stealing the body from under the nose of Roman soldiers been a difficult feat to accomplish, the Bible presents clearly how astonished all of the disciples were about the Resurrection. It would have proved near impossible for them to lie about the Resurrection and falsify all the widespread belief that followed. Unless the body was hidden extremely well, one would expect Jesus’ opponents to discover it eventually to prove He was a fraud.

The Hallucination Theory
I think most of the flaws of this theory are glaringly obvious. First of all, the disciples and everyone else following the events of Jesus’ death were skeptical to believe in the first place. It would have taken some exceedingly realistic hallucinations to change their minds. From what we know of psychology, hallucinations are isolated events that happen inside an individual’s mind. They aren’t contagious or consistent between different people. We also know that even minor hallucinations are very rare occurrences, much less ones as major as this theory would require.

General Refutation of These Theories
If all of the apostles were not completely certain that the Resurrection happened, would they have continued confessing Christ until the grave, facing brutal torturous deaths? How did these disloyal and cowardly disciples (Mark 14:50-52) suddenly transform into the most dedicated, determined, fearless missionaries the world has ever seen? How did Paul of Tarsus, one of the most fundamentally anti-Christian individuals in history, become the greatest most most effective missionary of the Christian faith? How did a religion founded by an obscure and insignificant Jewish man – which would become outlawed – spread like wildfire throughout the world at such a phenomenal rate? How does it still stand as the largest religion humanity has known? As Christians, we can answer these questions. Jesus did rise from the dead. He proved Himself to be God. He breathed out His Spirit on the apostles, driving and compelling them to become courageous evangelists and martyrs. Christ blessed the growth of His Church and continues to preserve it today – and will preserve it for all time (Matthew 16:18, 28:20).

Back to Inerrancy
By stating this evidence and importance of the Resurrection, I’ve tried to make a point – Once someone realizes the Resurrection was a real historical event, the only conclusion they can come to is that Jesus is more than just a man. No mere human could have overcome death. Once Jesus is seen as the true God, His words and teachings suddenly become invaluable. Jesus and His sent apostles testify to the power and inerrancy of Scripture. Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can create faith through the proclaiming of God’s Word. By explaining these things to the skeptics, the message of Christ will carry the seed of faith through the Spirit.

I hope that the certainty of Christ’s resurrection will affirm all Christians in the Faith. I also hope that Christians would understand the apologetic and logical value that the Resurrection provides. As we live as witnesses of Christ, we seek to teach others to treasure and keep the things Jesus has taught us (Matthew 28:20).

(For a interesting perspective of an atheist’s view of the Resurrection, you should check out Gary Habermas’s “Did the Resurrection Happen?” In the book, Habermas discusses the historical proof of the Resurrection with atheist Antony Flew. Flew basically admits the historical evidence does affirm that the Resurrection actually happened, but he refuses to believe it because of its supernatural circumstances.)

[1]Information on the Resurrection theories gathered from this bible.org article.

Reflections – Deuteronomy 8:3

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)

The nation of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. Though they constantly rebelled against Moses and complained about how God was treating them, God remained faithful. When they had no food, he provided for them. When they had nothing to drink, God brought forth water from a dry rock (Numbers 20:11). He remained faithful in His promise to lead Israel into the prosperous land of Canaan.

There is no shortage of parallels between the nation of Israel and the Christian Church. (By parallels, I mean typology, not allegory. They’re two different things.) In fact, one of the main themes of the Book of Hebrews is just how important the Old Testament nation of Israel was in foreshadowing Christ’s work for the church. How does this verse from Deuteronomy hold significance for us today?

The wandering of Israel in the desert provides us striking images that we can use to explain the Church’s sojourn on this earth. What did God do to Israel? He humbled them. Yes, He eventually led them into the Promised Land, but not before they were disciplined time and time again for their rebellion. They were taught that without God, they all would have perished in the wilderness. God wanted them to learn that without Him, they amounted to absolutely nothing. He taught them not to just live on bread and physical food, but also to yearn for and treasure the life given by the Word of God, with which preserved His people.

Hopefully you can see the parallels begin to line up between Israel and the Church. Does the Church exist apart from Christ and His work? Certainly not. Just as Israel would have perished without God, so too would the Church perish if Christ were not to have complete reign over it. The people of Israel attempted to wander off in directions that differed from God’s plan. Ultimately, He made it clear to them that He was in charge, not them. We are told by Paul in Colossians 1:18 that “[Christ] is also head of the body, the Church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” Christians, as the Church, are the body of Christ here on earth, with Christ Himself as the head and king. Jesus Himself is the one who ultimately provides for and preserves the Church.

God gave the Israelites the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where their wandering and sojourning would cease, where they could live in peace. God brought them to Canaan only after He had humbled and disciplined His people. They were taught to be completely reliant on God and the words of promise from His mouth. God richly rewarded in His mercy and grace, continuing to guide them despite their rebelliousness.

This is a picture of our lives as Christians. Every single day, we are disciplined by God’s law, broken down, made completely worthless in our sin, only for Jesus to pick us back up, wash our sins away through baptism, and speak to us the message of God’s faithfulness. We amount to absolutely nothing on our own. Our worth cannot be found anywhere apart from Christ. We were killed, buried, and resurrected along with Jesus when we were linked to His perfect righteousness in baptism. We spend our lives in a sinful world, constantly clinging to Christ’s promise of Heaven. We are taught not to rely on worldly things, but on the Word of God. Our Heavenly Father feeds us holy and faith-sustaining manna in the gift of communion. Christ reigns over us, over the Church, and promises to never forsake us. He will guide us until He returns, leading us into the Promised Land of Heaven, where we will live under Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.[1] We recall these words of promise given to us by God years ago:

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.'”

Isaiah 25:8-9 (ESV)

 

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism, Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed