Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Other Name

As I began to study the book of Acts, I came across an old familiar verse, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). I remember learning that as a memory verse when I first became a Christian. The assignment was part of a Bible study class and they wanted us to learn verses so we could share our faith with others. The idea was a good one, but I remember being so frustrated with this verse because it didn’t say the actual name “Jesus” and so I always kept my eye out for a better verse. I know it sounds sort of silly, but I really did want the whole gospel in one easy to learn verse that I could spring on unsuspecting unbelievers in a “ah-ha” moment during some spirited debate.

Anyway, here I am about 28 years later, coming across this same verse and it still seemed odd to me that it didn’t say the word “Jesus”. So, now being the good Berean I am, I got out my shovel and I started digging! I began by looking up the Greek word for “name”. I found that our “name” isn’t the sound of the letters used to address us; instead our “name” in the biblical sense refers to our title, position, honor, authority, character, fame, possessions, etc.
This made sense to me as I realized I have two collections of books by various authors: one that talks about the names of God, and the other about God’s attributes. Even a casual glance through these books reveals that the topics covered are the same – for in every name God has given us, He also reveals to us an aspect of His NAME – an attribute with which to better understand Who He is.

Jesus means, “God saves” and that is an important Truth. But it isn’t the 5-letter word “Jesus” that saves – I think this has to be biblically correct because there are thousands of babies born in Mexico who are given the same name – and regardless of your sincere faith or the extent of your trust in them, not one of these can offer you eternal life! Instead, our salvation is in the One beheld behind the NAME: The Only Beloved Son of God, Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, the sinless Lamb of God who died on the cross, the Resurrected Lord of the Universe, God  Incarnate, Living Word, Messiah, Christ, and Glorious King who reigns eternal!

Furthermore, we are not called by the name of Jesus (Jesusians or Jesusites) but we are called by His NAME – by His title as Christ – Christians, and our faith is called Christianity. This may be just a coincidence, but I think not. It shows that even in the days of Jesus that there may well have been more than one man by this name; but through all of time, in every land, and every tongue, in all the earth, there has only been ONE who has the NAME – title, position, honor, and authority of the Christ.

Look at Acts 4:12 again in this way: And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other title, position, honor, and authority under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. And there are many other verses in the New Testament that oddly omit the word “Jesus” yet clearly refer to Him. Luke 10:17 says the disciples healed and cast out demons “in His name”. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 tells us to baptize “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Peter preached the Good News saying, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:43). Finally, in John 14:13, Jesus teaches us to pray, asking “in His name”.

Jesus asked His disciples the most important question anyone could ever answer: “Who do you say that I am?” He is not the Santa Clause figure of the health and wealth prosperity gospel preachers. Nor is He a hippie-like pacifist love-guru (Jesus taught more on hell than He ever did heaven!) The Apostle Peter’s correct response is recorded for us in Matthew 16:16; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There are those whose opinion of Jesus is so unbiblical that they practice a form of idolatry when they worship! Have you studied the Bible to know Him well enough that you easily recognize a counterfeit?

My purpose here is to encourage you to be more careful about how you think of the name of Jesus, to take the time to think through if you hold a correct and biblical worldview of who He is. I also want to ask that you encourage others to do the same. There are so many cults and false religions that claim the name of Jesus—but they do so without understanding His NAME; they do not know of His title, position, honor, and authority. They mistakenly think that Jesus was just a good and moral teacher, the spirit-brother of Lucifer, a transformed angel-being, or another one in a long line of Jewish prophets. And at the root of all these thoughts, they have each denied His deity. Furthermore, Jesus Christ has no equal, no substitute, and no vicar who can speak for God and forgive our sins.

Beginning today, when you hear someone say that they “believe in Jesus”, spend a few minutes with them and make sure they know more than just the 5-letter word, “Jesus”; see if they know the NAME of Jesus. Don’t be one of those folks who think they shouldn’t ever talk to people about their faith. Introduce them to the Real Jesus -- the only NAME given under heaven by which men must be saved.

Philippians 2:9-11 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here are journaling suggestions to try:

Write about what prompted you in choosing a particular memory verse.

Describe the outcome of a recent witnessing experience.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Feasts of the Lord

Happy Spring! Our Bereans’ class has finished Luke and is about half way through the book of Acts. It’s been a windy March outside and I can feel a whirlwind in my mind too as I’ve been racing to keep up with all the key events going on in these chapters. Luke, of course, ends with the crucifixion and resurrection events and then Acts picks up with Pentecost and the early beginnings of the Church. These familiar Bible stories are each linked to a Jewish spring festival. Leviticus 23:4 tells us that these festivals are more properly called, “The Feasts of the Lord”, in other words, they belong to Him. These are not holidays like Mother’s Day here in the United States which was begun by a presidential proclamation. The Lord God Himself established these Holy Days. There are seven feasts in total and they depict the entire redemptive work done by the Messiah. Four of the seven feasts are observed in the spring and their meaning was fulfilled in the chapters we studied this past month. The other three feasts are observed in the fall.

The first “Feast of the Lord” is Passover. Jesus IS the Passover Lamb, His perfect sacrifice on the cross makes possible our redemption from Satan’s bondage. If you haven’t read this in a while, I suggest you curl up with your Bible some evening soon to enjoy the first 14 chapters of the book of Exodus. Yes, the story is familiar, but it is so much better than anything you’ll find on your television!

 The very next day after Passover, begins the week long “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. In Bible times, Jewish people commonly referred to the entire holiday season by this name (Mark 4:12). Today however, they usually lump all these holidays together in the word “Passover”. In orthodox Jewish homes, the tradition is still carried out where they search the house for all leavened bread – even the crumbs - and ceremoniously remove it. Leaven is a symbol for sin and, like yeast, it takes only a tiny bit to ferment or rot an entire batch of dough. The day after the Lord’s crucifixion, His body was in the tomb. Yet it did not, and could not, decay   because there was no sin (leaven) to be found in Him.

The third day is called “The Feast of Firstfruits”. It is in the spring that the first green blades of barley appear. The first sheaf is cut and presented to the Lord. If it is accepted, it is His promise, His earnest pledge, that there will be a full harvest. The resurrection of the Lord on the third day is evidence of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. How dear it is to know we are part of the harvest to come, pledged nearly 2000 years ago when God the Father accepted Jesus as the Firstfruit.

Then there is a fourth spring festival, “The Feast of Weeks”. We commonly call this “Pentecost” meaning “fiftieth day” because it is observed on the day after seven weeks beginning with the “Festival of Firstfruits”. 7 x 7 is 49, then the next day is Pentecost, or 50 days after our Easter Sunday.

Most everyone recognizes this day as when the Holy Spirit fell from heaven and the New Testament Church began to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. But there’s more to it than that! “Pentecost” marks the beginning of the Jewish harvest season. Did you catch that? The celebration of Pentecost is the birth of the Church and the beginning of the harvest; but not just any harvest, this is the Lord’s harvest of souls!

Now let’s look closer at the promise of the Holy Spirit: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Notice that Jesus tells the disciples that the gospel message is to spread in three stages throughout the world. This is a key verse in the book of Acts and actually forms an outline of how the message was indeed carried to the world. In Chapter 2, the message is preached in Jerusalem, in Chapter 8, it spreads to Samaria, finally in Chapter 10, the message breaks out into the entire world with the household of Cornelius being the first Gentile converts.

If we study carefully the instructions given for the harvest as begun on the Day of Pentecost in the Old Testament, we learn that the gospel’s spread was long ago foretold. Leviticus 23:22, “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” Note that there are three parts to this harvest: the main harvest, the far corners, and the gleanings. And there are three groups of people who will enjoy these harvest sections – the land owners, the poor, and the aliens or strangers. Each of these corresponds to one of the groups of people in Acts 1:8. The Jewish people are the land owners, the Samaritans are the poor, and the Gentiles are the aliens and strangers.

The next Feast of the Lord on the Jewish calendar is celebrated in the fall at the end of the harvest, known as the Feast of Trumpets. This Holy Day will be fulfilled when Christ returns at the sound of the trumpet on the Day of the Lord.

As for today, Jesus tells us, “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (John 4:35). Let this spring mark a time of harvest in the lives of people you know, begin now to pray for those you will invite to church this Easter – April 8th. For today is the day of salvation! (Hebrews 3:13).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Can a Virgin Give Birth?

I’ve been having internet conversations with folks who call themselves atheists. These are interesting people, but after a while, they all start sounding the same (But in their defense, I’m sure they think the same of Christians). The thing that seems to bother them the most about the Bible is all the miracles, the biggest one being the virgin birth. They can’t understand how or why anyone can believe in something that is so “obviously false”. They usually begin and end their argument saying something like this: Can a virgin give birth? No! The Bible lied. You’ve been duped! Case closed.

I don’t think that what I’m going to write here will change their minds, the people I’ve been talking with are all pretty sure about what they feel they know is true. But I want to maybe help someone out there who has still not made up their mind and has an honest question about this.

These folks have made an error in their reasoning. They begin by thinking that nature would not allow for a virgin birth to happen – and they’re right; naturally speaking, this would never happen. But then they think that God is limited by nature and, therefore, He couldn’t cause the virgin birth to happen SUPERnaturally. The prefix “super” means “above”. God is above nature, not controlled by it or even equal to it, but ABOVE it. How did I come to that conclusion? Because the Bible says God created everything, and that includes nature. God is not controlled by the natural laws of His own creation.

So HOW did the virgin birth happen? That is something these atheists are asking as sort of a “gotcha” question. But again, they’ve made an error in their reasoning. They think that if something can’t be explained, then it must not be true. Do you understand all the details of how you are there reading what I wrote from over here? Our grandparents would have thought an “online blog” was impossible. But this is an even bigger question, because in 3 or 4 generations, we still won’t understand HOW the virgin birth happened.

That sounded a little smug, didn’t it? How can I be so certain that we won’t understand it? Well, I guess there’s a possibility that we will, but I seriously doubt it, and here’s why: The God of the Bible is infinite, His thoughts are infinite, and His methods are infinite. The human mind is finite. There are going to be things about God and God’s methods that no human can possibly understand. And it has to be that way for Him to be the Creator and us to be His creations.

Think of God as being the ocean and your mind is an 8 ounce drinking glass. Can you pour the ocean into the glass? No. Does that mean the ocean does not exist? No! Then when I say you can’t understand everything about God because He is too big, why does the atheist leap up to say then that God doesn’t exist? Just because we can’t explain all that He is, does not mean that He does not exist! If anything, it proves that He IS the Creator and not something made up in a finite brain belonging to a human being. And then why would I choose to worship something so small that I could fully comprehend it?

So let’s revisit the atheist’s arguments I gave you earlier: Can a virgin give birth? Yes, because God created nature and is not controlled by natural laws. Then how did the virgin birth happen? We will probably never know the answer this side of heaven because our finite minds cannot fully comprehend the infinite wisdom and methods of an infinite God.

Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Make it Real

Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before Me in My Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’ – only to go right back to all those evils again?” NLT Jeremiah 7:9,10

It is amazing how some people think they are safe from harm because they go to church. I’ve always wondered where those folks get their theology. They are the ones so surprised when life jumps up and bites them. But in the New Testament we are told over and over again to expect trials, tribulations, and persecutions – and that’s for those who are following after God with all their hearts. Imagine the wrath to be poured out on those who are calloused toward the Lord God!

This passage of Jeremiah is talking about people who came to the Temple on the Sabbath (or church on Sundays) and seemingly worship Him while they are there. But then they leave the building and their thoughts of God seem to be left there as well. They go on throughout the coming week with little or no regard to God and His laws. Verse 7 lists specifically six of the Ten Commandments that the Israelites were brazenly and repeatedly breaking.

The bottom line for these folks is that their religion has no personal commitment; there wasn’t anything that made it real. But not much has changed. For some people today; church is just a club where you socialize with friends and family. As Christians, we need to make sure that our church membership, attending meetings, wearing fancy clothes, or holding positions of honor doesn’t take priority over letting God change our hearts and our behavior during the week ahead. Remember, God will not be fooled. He sees your actions and your motives every day of the week, not just on Sundays. And just like in Jeremiah’s day, you won’t be safe from harm either just because you were in church a few days ago.

In a similar way, I can’t let my blog writing be for show. The stuff I write here has to make a difference in my life or I am wasting my time. Personal application has to be the focus of my writing. But it is much worse than just wasting time, because really, God will not be fooled. I am putting on a false face of worship, devotion and prayer if I don’t allow all this writing to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring me closer to His image.