Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 2_THE ALEXANDRIAN’S OF THE THIRD CENTURY [Pgs. 31-38]

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We now turn to Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 214) who after much searching for the truth converted to Christianity and succeeded the Sicilian apologist Pantaenus, at the catechetical school in Alexandria (about 200 AD)  [Pp.31-34].  His Principal Works are The Protrepticus (Converter) the focus of which is an apologetic exhortation to conversion.  In its literary form, it resembles Aristotle’s Protrepticus and Cicero’s Hortensius. He also wrote The Paedogogus (Tutor) and The Stromata (Miscellanies).

In His arguments Clement resembles Justin Martyr’s and other 2nd century apologists.  The difference however is that they are more polished given his literacy of Greek mythology, philosophy, and mystery cults.  For him Greek music is lauded for its ability to strengthen and give peace to the soul.  Yet Christ is the minstrel who imparts harmony to the universe making music to God.

Clement contrasts the Greek mystery religions with their mythic stories of the gods, and idol worship as truly atheistic, but not Christianity.  And even though Greeks did receive light of the truth, Clement held that it’s incomparable with the revelation of the Old Testament and the New Testament ultimately exemplified in the Word (Logos).

His acumen is revealed in his work which is well ordered; combined both with variety and with symmetry.  Clement is a Christian Humanist who combines piety with the highest values of ancient culture.  And his body of work focused on Christ as the Incarnate Word who works in all men’s souls, so they can experience his true presence.

Another Alexandrian apologist is Origin (born about 184) who while still a boy, lost his father to martyrdom.  How that event shaped Origin, is for another time to reflect, but perhaps it did play a vital role in turning him into a man given to a life of study and one of the Church’s first expository preachers of Holy Scripture. [Pp.34-38]

His Major Work is Contra Celsum, where he defends core Christian doctrines like the Virgin Birth, Miracles, Deity of Christ, Reliability of Scripture, etc.

First, Celsus attacks the Virgin Birth account by affirming what so many in Jesus’ day held—that he was born of fornication.  Today, for many, this is not a big deal, but in that day it was a disgrace.  How could anyone claim to come from God if they were an illegitimate bastard child?

Second, Celsus held that the miracles of Jesus and his alleged wonders were performed through magic arts learned in Egypt.  Interestingly, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons (miracle) by Satan’s power, but Jesus put that notion to rest quickly.

Third, there’s a denial of the historicity of the Resurrection.  Celsus, like so many today, held that this account was nothing more than a fabricated lie.

Fourth, Celsus denied the Deity of Jesus.  Of the many reasons advanced, the clincher for him was the disciples’ disbelief and reaction to the crucifixion.  Their reaction “proved” Christ was not divine.  Added to these objections, Celsus held that “faith” was irrational because it could not be verifiably true in history; the Bible was not a reliable source of information but instead is full of legends and childish doctrines.  Moreover, the exclusive claims of Christianity left no room for pluralism and he thus saw it as intolerant.  And when it came to Christendom’s ethical teachings, Celsus was not impressed since these teachings are also found among other philosophers.

In Contra Celsum Origin responds to several charges:  First, biblical faith is not based on philosophical arguments but on the Spirit’s power (1 Cor.2:4) and even if Christians are not educated, it does not then follow that they despise wisdom; they only despise the wisdom which leads to destruction.

Second, in light of Jesus’ Character, it’s actually incredible to hold that he would have made up the story of the virgin birth.

Third, as far as Jesus’ miracles or those of the apostles, the power behind said phenomena was not fraudulent magic, which rather than bringing them wealth and fame earned them public shame martyrdom.

Fourth, the Bible’s historicity is selectively chosen by Celsus, for the Moses in whom he professes to believe, is far harder to prove historically than Jesus of Nazareth.

Fifth, Origin argued for Christ’s Deity by using messianic prophecies to show he was the Messiah along with his miracles, which allegedly was present in Origen’s contemporary Christianity.

Sixth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection accounts could not have been a fabrication for the disciples gave their lives to preaching the risen Lord.  Moreover, the resurrection was no fantasy, nor hallucinations, for these things happen not to sane people.

Seventh, regarding Ethics, just because similarities obtain among Greeks and Christians, does not mean that our Scriptures are not revelation.

 Final Thoughts: Contra Celsum ranks high as an apologetics classic as this letter reveals the first apologist who is very prepared for battle.  It is however very ad hominem. Nevertheless, it reveals how there’s nothing new under the sun.  Some of the objections raised against Christianity’s truth claims by Celsus have been repeated over and again throughout history.  It’s encouraging to know many stalwarts intellectually and spiritually have dealt with the same objections we encounter and gave us a model to consider for our day and era.

Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES: 10-14 “WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EVIL & GOOD KING?”

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Ruling comes with much pressure.  That burden is an opportunity to either submit to the LORD God or to rebel against Him.  Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam instruct us on what it means to be objectively evil, regardless if our relativistic culture denies this reality.

First, Rehoboam shows us the brazen foolishness of youth.  He discards the wise council of the elders to gently and kindly deal with the people for the foolish advice of those with whom he grew up.  Instead of being gentle, he was counseled to be brutal with the people:

 

Then King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you counsel me to answer this people?” They spoke to him, saying, “If you will be kind to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him. So he said to them, “What counsel do you give that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to the people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter for us.’ Thus you shall say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! 11 Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”  12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, “Return to me on the third day.” 13 The king answered them harshly, and King Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the elders. 14 He spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of events from God that the Lord might establish His word, which He spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.(2 Chron.10:6-15)

 This ultimately came from God’s hand (v.15) and yet they were culpable.  This tension in Scripture is rife where one’s actions while evil are somehow ordained by God and He is not unjust in punishing their evil deeds.  Rehoboam did what so many kings before had already done, “…he and all Israel forsook the law of the LORD (12:1)” and because of this “He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD (12:14)”.  It is evil to turn a deaf ear to God’s word and thus seek some other “word” by which to ultimately live; it is evil to have a predisposition to listen to the creatures’ voice above and beyond the Creators.

Why, because the creature is finite and contingent, whereas the Creator is infinite and self-existent; because as Creator He owns everything and thus the creature owes its very existence to the Designer of all things.  When we as people look to creatures for ultimate understanding, purpose and meaning for life; “empty will be our fill”.

Rehoboam was not the only ruler who did evil in God’s sight, so too did Jeroboam for the king set-up “teflon” priests in order to worship other gods:

14 For the Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord. 15 He set up priests of his own for the high places, for the satyrs and for the calves which he had made.

Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his master, and worthless men gathered about him, scoundrels, who proved too strong for Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, when he was young and timid and could not hold his own against them.  “So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the Lord through the sons of David, being a great multitude and having with you the golden calves which Jeroboam made for gods for you.” (2 Chron.11:14-15; 13:6-8)

To worship any “god” (which is no god at all), instead of worshipping the One True God of Israel, is ultimately damnable.  Too many around me think this statement is truly “nonsensical” poppycock!  (Look up this word).

The two characteristics that were evil and remain to this day is first that God’s word and thus His law are neglected and replaced for the creatures’ word and law in order to rule.  And secondly such neglect leads to idolatry and the worship of false gods.  But another king did not do evil in the eyes of the LORD.

Asa, unlike these previous two evil kings, “…did good”:

Asa did good and right in the sight of the Lord his God, for he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment. He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah. And the kingdom was undisturbed under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, since the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest.(2Chron.14:2-6)

Redirecting people who have gone astray into idolatrous living are never just told to stop, instead they are told to turn to the LORD God, which means to repent!  This king models an amazing prayer for divine help in the face of war and a foe far too great for the people to overcome:

11 Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.” 12 So the Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.

In this petition for help, king Asa affirms first a personal relationship to the Creator by means of the covenant name of Yahweh; he secondly recalls the rescue through the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s army and in his plea he continues, thirdly to confess human weakness comparing it to God’s might which is incomparable.  Moreover, he acknowledges that it’s because of the renown of the LORD that they are meeting the enemy in battle (God’s glory is at the core of this event), and finally, he reaffirms the covenant relationship between Israel and God thus “Your name be exalted!” is the final cry.

I see this petition as a model for doing spiritual warfare, especially with the idea of scientific naturalism that blatantly and brazenly mocks God’s existence.  But I also see that this prayer is for the churched, the influential who are in charge, who unwittingly have forsaken the God of Creation, while giving lip service to His name.  LORD, act swiftly and let not man prevail against You.  As if we could.

(SDG)

Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES: 9-10 “THE QUEEN OF SHEBA AND THE GLORIES OF GOD”

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          Looking at a picture of the Eastern Sierra Mountains with snow-capped tops is a delight to behold.  At times it seems as if the photographs taken of these majestic peaks have been tampered with in order to make them look better than they are in reality.  But then seeing, smelling, and walking the base of such mammoth rocks illuminates the reality that its pictures are a faint glimmer of the actual glories they possess.   And, the joy of both experiences can’t compare for the former is a taste in abstraction, whereas the latter is a plunge into actual elation.

The queen of Sheba had a similar experience when she heard of king Solomon’s fame.  After answering all of her questions with absolute clarity all that was in her heart, the text reads:

When the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house which he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his servants, the attendance of his ministers and their attire, his cupbearers and their attire, and his stairway by which he went up to the house of the Lord, she was breathless.(9:3-4)

Note that to “hear” or to “see” through the words eye picture is one thing, but to actually taste and see the reality is incomparable.  The text continues to unfold her experience:

“ Then she said to the king, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom.Nevertheless I did not believe their reports until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half of the greatness of your wisdom was not told me. You surpass the report that I heard. How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you, setting you on His throne as king for the Lord your God; because your God loved Israel establishing them forever, therefore He made you king over them, to do justice and righteousness.” (9:5-8)

There are many lessons here to note.  First, there’s a difference between hearing about, as opposed to seeing and tasting this wisdom.  Now while Solomon’s riches astounded her, it was the wisdom with which he answered and disclosed to her every question that threw her over the edge.  How about Jesus’ wisdom, do we ever consider him as a top tier thinker among the great thinkers in recorded history?  According to Mathew 12:42, not even Solomon can compare to Christ’s wisdom and knowledge:

“The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” 

 This wisdom and knowledge that’s from another age came in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God where much confusion had to be corrected for the Jews regarding the Torah (Mt.11-12).  Unlike any Old Testament prophet, Jesus preached himself as the message; he was God incarnate and thus superseded the splendor of Solomon.

Second, when the queen says, “the half of the greatness of your wisdom was not told me”, reveals that there’s so much more that words could have described.  Solomon serves as a shadow example of the breath, width, height and depth of God’s wisdom and splendor that surpasses our ability to imagine or think.  It’s precisely this wisdom that culminates in the cross of Christ and its preaching that’s hidden from all of us until God the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see and taste the glories of God’s majesty revealed in Christ Jesus (1 Cor.2:1-16).

Third, to be continuously before said wisdom is cause for deep happiness in the soul.  “How blessed are your men…servants…”  Why, because it’s utterly rare and delightful.  That is, the knowledge and wisdom of God was given to Solomon by God because the king feared the LORD.  If the notion of God’s wisdom and knowledge conjures up a boring notion, then we haven’t tasted said knowledge or wisdom.

Jesus said that he was greater than Solomon (Mt.12); the Hebrews writer explains that Jesus upholds creation by the word of his power (Heb.1:1-3) and thus by virtue is better than the rest of creation combined.  And the reason the generation of Jesus will be judged more strictly than other generations is based strictly on the ontological status of the one speaking.

Fourth, the place of power belongs to God always, but Solomon is placed as God’s vice regent to do justice, and righteousness (v.8).  The qualities of love and delight, justice and righteousness are what moved God to make Solomon king over Israel.  God delighted in Solomon and thus set him up on the throne of power which ultimately belongs to God, not man.  Moreover, it was God’s love for Israel that moved Him to choose Solomon to be their king (v.8.c) for the purpose of doing ruling justly and righteously.

Since God by virtue of being the Creator, is the ground of what is just, right and true, when a nation departs from His ways and ignore the Designers understanding of reality, what ultimately awaits is misery, not bliss.

(SDG)

Summaries__CHAPTER 2: THE PATRISTIC ERA [Pgs.23-71]

images The Patristic (Latin—Father) era of the Church historically describes the times and writings of the “Church Fathers”.  During this time we see the end of the Apostolic age (i.e., Christ’s apostles) and one where their first disciples make a mark on their generation.  Dulles points out that the main apologetic focus during this era tackled both the political and religious venues.

APOLOGISTS OF THE SECOND CENTURY [pp.24-31]

 First, there was the Preaching of Peter, an apocryphal fragment that exalts Biblical monotheism and ridicules idolatry.  This fragment differentiates between Jesus’ miracles and magic because Christians didn’t want their faith confused with pagan religions. [pp. 24-25]

Second, we have Aristedes, who was the most important apologist before Justin Martyr.  In his Apology addressed to the Emperor Hadrian (125 AD), Aristedes focuses on five groups of humanity in a sort of comparative religion excursion, these are; Barbarians, Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, and Christians.  When coming to Christians, he asserts that they surpass all the above because of their worship of the one true God, and their moral pure conduct.  This is a powerful apology for its brevity and cogency. [P.25]

Third, we have Justin Martyr [pp.25-27] who wrote several apologies. In his First Apology, Justin addresses the Emperor Antoninus Pius and Lucius Commodus and argues that Christians should not be condemned based solely on their name.  However, if they deserve condemnation for wrong acts, so be it.  In his Second Apology, much like in the first apology, Justin seeks to defend his brethren from unjust condemnations and in some parts he alludes to pagan philosophies that achieved similar insights Christians believe because of divine revelation.

In Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, he attempts to show that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament, that the New Covenant has abrogated the Old Covenant and that only Christians are in a position to properly interpret the Hebrew text, not the Jews.

The value of his writings consists of his sincere character, his frank and open esteem of pagan philosophers, and his respect for Jewish Theologians.

Fourth, there’s Tatian a disciple of Justin Martyr [p.27] who wrote a bitter polemic against the Greeks deploring: their immoral Olympian gods; the absurdities of their myths; the indecency of their public religious festivals; and the vices and contradictions of the philosophers.  Then, he advances the superiority of Christianity in his search for truth through the prophetic writings which superior to those of their philosophers.  He would take Moses’ writings over Homer’s texts any day.

Fifth, there’s Athenagoras of Athens [pp.27-28] who Johannes Quasten calls ‘unquestionably the most eloquent of the early Christian apologists’.  In his Embassy for the Christian, he pleads with the Emperors Lucius Aurelius Commodus and Marcus Aurelius (176-180) for civil toleration of Christians.  He demonstrates that the charges against Christians (E.g., atheism, cannibalism and promiscuity) were misguided.  He also produced an apologetic work On the Resurrection of the Dead.

Sixth, there’s Theophilus the Syrian Bishop of Antioch is impressed with Moses’ wisdom and of the creation account of Genesis as the only reliable guide to the origins of the universe.  For Theophilus, God is manifest to the soul who is open to the Spirit’s light, but God is hidden to the man who loves darkness. [P.28]

Seventh, in a Letter to Diognetus, whose author is unknown, is a text considered by many critics to be the pearl of early Christian apologetics.  The letter’s aim is: respond to what sort of cult Christianity is, to answer why Christians love each other so much, to answer why Christianity came about so late in the world’s history.  The letter reveals that the author was a brilliant rhetorician and that early Christendom was serious [pp.28-29]

There are however several Weaknesses of the Apologists [pp.30-31].  The following examples: they demonstrated certain excesses in exegesis; they exaggerated the Bible’s antiquity; they lacked any consistent view of classical literature’s value; unfortunately they too rapidly rejected Judaism (although at times it is warranted).  Moreover, they make too little of the Character of Jesus in their apologetic, they were often unclear between the relationship of reason and revelation.  Given that the church emerged from the catacombs, what the apologists did cover is to be lauded and their strength is worthy to be emulated.

Summaries__CHAPTER 1: APOLOGETICS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT    [Pgs.1-21] 

 

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Apologetics and specifically apologists have had a bad rap among modern Christians for various reasons.  Some have been known to be arrogant, pushy, snobbish, graceless, prayer-less people who ironically have diluted the gospel message. But a few bad apples “don’t spoil the whole bunch”.  There have been many who have been faithful to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God and have paid the price for it as a result.

The church has been graced with many apologists since the inception of the primitive church who were marked by: prayer, erudition, genius, talent, and true piety.  In this book Avery Dulles aims to reveal how the heroes from the past understood and lived out what it meant to fulfill the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15.

Although nothing “new” can be said, recurring issues from the past resurface with “new” garb, which at the core are the same old problems.  Dulles gives special attention to both Catholic and Protestant contributors.  This text is a historical must read for those would learn from those who have gone before us.          

APOLOGETIC MOTIFS IN THE EARLY TRADITION

Christianity was a message before being an apologetic.  Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified, buried, and Risen from the dead was at the story’s core [pp.2-3].  The Earliest Preaching focused on Christ’s Lordship (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26); backed up the claims of his Messiahship through fulfilled prophecy (Ps.2:7-8; 110:1; Acts 2:26; Heb. 1:5; 5:5); emphasized his resurrection as the core of the apostolic proclamation (Dan.7:13; acts 2:25-28); and Jesus’ passion was seen as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s account (Is.53):

Who has believed our message?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But he Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

APOLOGETIC DEVELOPMENT:  [Pgs.3-9]

The early believers confronted and answered their objectors with amazing precision, penetration and practicality.  One objection was explaining: “the Ascension of Christ—where is He now?”  He’s presently in heaven (Ps.16: 11; 110:1); he will return as the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 3:21); and his dominion is presently exercised through the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2:16-21).

When it came to the Passion of Christ, Jesus was seen to be cursed by God through the crucifixion (Dt.21:23), but this humiliation was part of God’s redemptive plan (Is. 52-53, see 53:5) in order to justify many from the curse of the Law through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:10-14).  Moreover, the blindness of the Jews was predicted by the prophet (Is.9-10; Acts 28:26-27); and was caused by God even though God has not forgotten them (Rom.9-11).

Another issue that had to be addressed was the betrayal of Judas.  How could Jesus have miscalculated the treachery of this disciple?  This betrayal was also predicted in scripture (Jn.13:18; cf., Ps.41:9) and points to the sovereignty of God in all things even when our choices are significant and we’re culpable.

Then there’s the issue of Jesus’ Origin being from Nazareth.  He’s in the line of David (Ps.89:3-4; Jn.1:45-46; Mic.5:1; Mt.2:5; Jn.7:42) seen by his birthplace to be in Bethlehem.

Again, there’s the issue of Jesus’ Public Life: where he never claimed to be the Messiah.  Nevertheless, God pointed to Jesus as his beloved Son (Ps.2: 7; Is.42:1; Lk. 3:22; 9:35; Acts 10:38; 2 Pet.1:17); the writers of the New Testament later understood that Jesus’ Messiahship was to be secret (Mk.1:34; 3:12; 5:42) perhaps because the Jews could not conceive of the type of Messiah Jesus was, or maybe because of Jesus’ ambivalent attitude toward the messianic appellations, or possibly because their hearts were hardened (Mk.6:52; 8:17; Jer.5:21).

When it came to the Miracles of Jesus they had a specific purpose.  Miracles were aids to faith, evoking wonder and amazement; they are seen (especially in the casting out of demons) as Satan being overthrown by the inauguration of the Kingdom of God; and they authenticate Jesus’ message because they blend in with the Good news of salvation.

CHANGING CONTEXTS: ACTS, PAUL, AND HEBREWS [Pgs.9-13]

In The Book Acts [pp. 9-11] we see Stephens defense of Christ and the gospel (Acts 7) by pointing to Old Testament redemptive history, where God is to be sought through the prophets, who ultimately point to the exclusivity of Jesus as the only means of salvation (Is.6:9-10).  Then there’s Peter’s address to the uncircumcised (Acts 10) where he undergoes a major paradigm shift of who can be saved and explains that Jesus is the healer, wonder worker, and risen Lord from the dead.

We also observe the Gentile world addressed through the agency of Natural Theology employed by Paul (Acts11…).  This apostle is seen contradicting polytheism (14:15-17); on the Areopagus address to the Athenians (17:23) Paul confronts their worship, explains God’s necessity and his transcendence.  Moreover, because Paul knew their authorities he could speak more forcefully to the gospel truth of coming judgment and Christ’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul [Pgs.11-13]

This converted Pharisee who once persecuted the church was now its most influential spokesmen especially to the Gentile world.  When Paul addressed the Corinthian church he tackled the issue of Faith and Reason; refused to capitulate to their love of human wisdom (1 Cor.3: 6); would not ground his preaching on the hot philosophic views of the age, but instead rested his proclamation on the Spirit’s power so that their faith (the Corinthians) be not based on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

When Paul addressed the Romans, he focused on the hindrance to worship (Rom. 1).  This was the classic case against idolatry (vv18-23) that’s inexcusable, self-delusional, self-exalting, self-destructive, and is the reason for why God’s judgment obtains.

The Book of Hebrews [Pg.13]

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Hebrews but it’s the first apology to the Hebrew Christian Community where Christianity is seen as the perfect religion which eclipses the religion of Israel because of who Jesus of Nazareth is.  Here, the Old Covenant is compared to the New Covenant, Moses is compared to Jesus, the Levites are compared to Jesus’ Priesthood, the constant sacrifices are compared to Christ’s final sacrifice and Christ’s supremacy is placarded throughout the letter.

THE FOUR EVANGELISTS AS APOLOGISTS [Pgs.13-19]

The gospel accounts come from four different perspectives concerning the life and teachings of Christ.  At the core their message is identical, yet due to their audience, each biography has a different emphasis.   For example, Mark’s Gospel focuses on [p.14]; the edification of converts, the explanation for why Christianity began, the supply of preaching material for missionary preachers, an armory of apologetic arguments for Jewish and heathen opposition, with the view always to remember that Christ is risen indeed.

Matthew’s Gospel intentions [p.15] focused more on the believing community where apologetically the writer was concerned with fulfilled prophecy—as a summary of Jesus’ career (Is.14:1-4), with ecclesiastical hierarchy (Mt.16:19), with combating Rabbinic thought (Mt.23), and finally with unfolding the Passion narrative (Mt.27-28).

Luke-Acts intentions [Pgs.16-17] focused on demonstrating the accurate historical account of the life of Jesus (to know the truth of all Theophilus had heard (Lk.1:1-4), it was geared toward the Roman ruler it was focused on redemptive history, and the need to establish a harmonious relationship between the Church and the supreme secular powers.

John’s Gospel intentions [Pgs.17-19] are for people to come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the goal of which is eternal life.  This would be realized through; the Signs of the miracles, emphasis on Jesus as the Light of the world to a Hellenistic audience.  John’s aim in all of this is to sustain and intensify the life of believers.  As such, it has apologetic affinities.

CONCLUSION

The Resurrection of Jesus was indubitably the centerpiece of early Christian apostolic preaching.  Since the majority of audiences held the OT Scriptures as authoritative, it was the sacred text used apologetically to demonstrate Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and Redeemer of all mankind.  However, when ignorance of such literature obtained, preachers like Paul would employ natural theology to proclaim the Gospel.

This brief outline is packed with Gospel truth that you believer would do well to meditate on, understand and impart to those God has called you to disciple.

Reflections From 2 KINGS 21-24: “WARNING COMES BEFORE…JUDGEMENT IS REALIZED”

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            The last chapters of 2 Kings, concludes with God’s judgment being exacted on idolatrous Israel and Judah.  The word was given at Sinai, God’s dealings in Israel were known, but the people followed their “hearts” to exile.  The patience of God was taken for granted such that the mind of the nation became mad due to their calloused hearts.

We’re no different.  As God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to discipline back-sliden Israel, so He may very well do it again today…even if it’s not as clear from a written text.  When the herald proclaims his masters will, eventually it will come to pass.

Idolatry at the core propels us to ask, “Has God said?…” or question what He has already clearly revealed.  We doubt His integrity and treat Him as the creature.  The creature ends up calling the creator a liar by implication and decides to become His judge.  But those who ontologically and epistemologically are finite can’t be trusted to become the infinite One’s judges, nor should they be trusted.  But as it was then so it is today.

Nothing has changed and nothing will until God transforms the stony heart into one of flesh by His Spirit.  In all my studies, I must give myself over to intercession and guard my soul from idolatrous bents the creature constantly encourages.  So must the church in a day where what is wrong is called right, what is evil is called good, and what is righteous is labeled wicked.

(SDG)

 

Reflections From 2 KINGS 19-20: “WHAT MADE HEZEKIAH ISRAEL’S BEST KING?”

crown-8-persian-persepIt’s painful reading through Hebrew history, beholding Israel’s continued cycle of rebellion, idolatry and waywardness.  To see this lifestyle in her leaders is especially difficult to behold.  This was their legacy, a people chosen by God who for the most part hated Him.  They instead chose to worship and serve the creature not the Creator who is blessed forever.

Today however reading about Hezekiah felt like a breath of fresh air, for unlike most of the previous monarchs and unlike any of the rulers in Israel’ history, Hezekiah’s heart was fully devoted to the LORD God as the text reads in (18:3-6):

“He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.”   

He did not hold syncretistic sympathies with Yahweh, but was instead a faithful ruler in both word and deed.  His loyalty to God, according to the text, surpassed all the kings in Israel’s history because he never stopped following God whole heartedly (This includes king David and Solomon who are authors of sacred texts).

And yet, this truth did not keep him insulated from troubled times.  On the contrary, evidenced through the Assyrian kings’ taunts of Israel and Yahweh (19:8-13):

“Then Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. When he heard them say concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has come out to fight against you,” he sent messengers again to Hezekiah saying,10 “Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared? 12 Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them, even Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and of Hena and Ivvah?’”

Sennacherib defied God including him with the rest of the gods of the nations conquered by Assyria.  Despite all this, Hezekiah prays for the glory of God’s name to be upheld (19:15-19):

“Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19 Now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God.”

The zeal of God had consumed Hezekiah and God answered his prayer because it was offered to God (19:20) and the angel of the LORD killed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp (19:35).

I’m so grieved over the leadership in our country who; daily deny Your name, oppress Your people, and conspire to harm them.  Oh LORD, arise and rectify that which is so twisted in the land.  My heart grieves, my soul aches so for the sake of Your glory and Name, act now and don’t delay.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 19: “FEAR CAN CRIPPLE EVEN MIGHTY ELIJAH”

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            The prophet Elijah is one of the most significant memorable Biblical characters especially because of the signs and wonders he through God’s power.  He predicts the drought that ravaged Israel for three years (17:1).  By Gods command he’s fed by the ravens (17:6); he’s also fed by the widow at God’s direction (17:9-16); he’s the man of God who raised the dead widows’ son (17:21-24) and he’s the prophet who on Mount Carmel demonstrated God’s power vengeance (18:1-40).  He showed God’s power as the sacrifice was consumed from heaven and the LORD’s vengeance as he slew the false prophets of Baal, all of which was in keeping with God’s law.

Moreover, after the land was cleansed from idolatry, the drought ends (18:41-46) and the prophet outruns the chariot of Ahab to Jezreel.  Something perturbing however occurs when Jezebel hears of the events at Mount Carmel: she threatens to take Elijah’s life and the prophet flees in fear (19:1-4).  Why?  The queen is a mere mortal but Elijah is God’s man as previously noted, so why is he afraid of her threats?

God in the wilderness entreats the prophet, “…what are you doing here Elijah?” (19:9), as if God had changed His power and favor toward the prophet.  God asks the Elijah the same question and he gives the same answer essentially, “I’m sold out for You and Your ways, but Your enemies want to kill me” (19:14).  Puzzled by the prophet’s behavior, I consulted a commentary [Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol.4, pg.148] and several explanations were offered.

First, Elijah could have fled because Jezebel was no mere woman, but a cold hearted fierce, unrepentant queen and because this movement of revolution she knew could not succeed without a leader, Elijah knew he was the target.  But the prophet had come to see himself as too important as a result of his God-given success and now pride arose in him [pg.148].  Why did he go from such glorious heights to the depths of despair?  Perhaps because Elijah was basking in the glory of the spectacular…but God does not always move in the realm of the extraordinary.  To live seeking one spiritual high after another is to have a misdirected zeal for most of life is lived in the valley, in the quiet humble routines of obedience to God’s will [Ibid., pg.148].  Jezebel’s unrepentant heart after said events seemed to have disheartened Elijah.

Another view rests on the use of a vowel in the MT.  According to Allen, “and he was afraid” is not a correct translation but rather, “and he saw” is the proper rendering of the term in line with the MT vowel system.  The point is that Elijah fled not for fear but because of a broken heart over the queens unrepentant soul (Ibid., Pg.149) and paganism’s continuing power over the nation.

Third, perhaps Elijah knew that he was no better than his fathers (19:4) and so he desired to die.  This extreme request sees the prophet going into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to Horeb.  This experience is similar to Moses’; both waited for 40 days without food on Horeb, both experienced Gods presence in a new way—Moses with the tablets of stone and glory that shone on him, Elijah found God in a sound that gently blew (19:12).  This is not an animistic reference to God where he is the gentle blowing wind, but shows that God acts through the most insignificant ways of which often we are unaware.

Thus far, a faithful man of God emerges who is burdened with a nation (Israel) that truly does not love nor worship the one true “God”.  The LORD is despised by Israel seen through their idolatry where the worship of the creature trumps worshipping the creator.  God however is gentle with his prophet and patient with wayward Israel.

Reflections From: 1 KINGS 4-7 “THE OPULENCE OF SOLOMON—SOURCED IN GOD”

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REFLECTIONS FROM 1 & 2 KINGS

My goal in writing reflections from 1 & 2 KINGS are the following: First, to encourage you the reader that if you will pay attention to the words on the page and listen carefully you will mine a lot of truth for life without the need of a commentary or any secondary source.  That is, “take up and read” to enrich your soul Christian.

Second, I write to give you a model of how observations can be done in scripture that do not read into the text something foreign to the author’s intent.  This will help you experience the joy of discovery and increase your confidence in your ability to comprehend God’s word.

Third, by doing the above my hope is that you will be able to hear God’s voice all the more clearly because it is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven, and not our subjective impressions, however valid they may be.  That is, we have a more sure word of prophecy according to Peter—meaning the inscripturated word of God—then a glorious experience we may claim to have (2 Peter 1:16-21).  Too often we Christians have bizarre ideas of what “God” is supposedly speaking to us and when it contradicts the Bible, be assured we are not hearing his voice.

1 KINGS 4-7: “THE OPULENCE OF SOLOMON—SOURCED IN GOD”

Solomon’s true wealth was not his material possessions (which were massive), but the wisdom God gave to him.  This wisdom was given to the young king in response to his petition for; “An understanding heart to judge Your [God] people to discern between good and evil…” (3:9).  What would occur if leaders and rulers would make this petition the content of their desires, rather than the obvious prestige and power which come along with said positions?  I think those following would be more joyful and less oppressed because this mark of a righteous leader mirrors God’s priorities in ruling.

Solomon’s petition God granted but much more; “I [God] have also given you what you have not asked…” which was a staggering amount of material treasure (3:10-13).  During this time, Solomon had his “team” of co-reigners with him to assist in the ruling of the land  (4:1-19), and Judah along with Israel lived in an abundant prosperity never before seen or experienced after Solomon’s reign (4:20, 25).

We must not forget to make much of God here rather than Solomon because the LORD is the source of said staggering wealth, not the king.  The Scriptures are clear that God—by virtue of being the creator—is the owner of everything in the earth, not his creatures; “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains”.  Solomon’s true wealth (wisdom) shows itself by gathering the needed skilled workers for building the temple of the LORD (5:13-18) and by the ability to organize the labor force.  Unless one has tried such an endeavor, it’s difficult to appreciate the difficulty of said task.

The description of both the temple and Solomon’s palace is impressive strewn with its cedar, gold and stone materials used to aesthetically adorn the windows and carvings by the smiths.  In all this activity, God essentially tells Solomon; “What you are doing is good, but if you forsake Me, you won’t be blessed.  However if you follow Me, I’ll be with you” (6:11-13).  The fruit of Solomon’s work was grounded in God’s favor toward him, but it was conditioned on his obedience, not his rebellion.  That is, above and beyond the material wealth and even wisdom God granted to Solomon, there was and is no greater wealth than to be right with god for here is where His presence is promised for blessing, not cursing.  Nevertheless, Solomon like so many of us disobeyed Gods command.  He made alliances with the surrounding nations, marrying for political gain which became a snare to him—his spouses led him away to worship other “gods”.

The fact is that such power can turn one to madness if it is not submitted to God.

This was Solomon’s experience (read Ecclesiastes) and yet God remains faithful to his faithless children working out his providential will even through their disobedience (Rom.8:28-29).  That’s amazing!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 15: “THE WEAK AND STRONG OUGHT TO LIVE FOR THE EDIFICATION OF THE OTHER”

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             Paul continues his thought from the previous chapter regarding the strong and the weak who are both accepted by God and therefore are to accept one another on issues not central to the Gospel (e.g., eating meat vs. vegetables) specifically addressed to the Jewish and Gentile believer.  We obey this command in obedience to (Rom.12:1-2) where our living holy is made possible by God’s mercies toward us.  Thus Paul commands:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”

So then, Paul exhorts the strong to live for the good of their weaker brother and not just live for themselves which he grounds on the example of what Christ previously accomplished.  Here, the apostle quotes Psalm 69:7-9 which reads:

Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons.  For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

The context of this psalm depicts in large measure Christ, the Son of God, the Most High, bearing the insults of friends and neighbors, relatives and siblings because of who he was and what he said.  This suffering he endured for God’s sake, so in the same way we are to emulate Jesus if we truly are the strong.  We ought to live in an understanding way with our weaker brothers who unjustly judge us and simultaneously think they are more acceptable before God than we.  We are to do this for God’s sake so that we may build up the body of Christ.

This depicts what it means for us to pick-up the cross, deny ourselves and follow Christ.  This is real suffering (Mt.5:10-12) and part of kingdom living.   To spur us on in the command he says:

“ For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

             Paul is reminding the reader here to consider the word of God and its content and to understand that its purpose is to edify us through hardship so that hope may arise.  Hope is a Scriptural word denoting a confident expectation of what God has spoken will come to pass.  He is the God who is present to meet our every need which includes the turmoil experienced by the soul when we are unjustly treated.  Christ knows this well by personal experience and will shepherd us safely through the storm.  Paul continues:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,

Instead of discord, Paul exhorts the reader to “grow-up” already and be of the same mind (i.e., I take to mean on things that are not essential to the gospel, don’t divide but rather build up one another, accept each other because God has accepted both weak and strong).  The purpose here is God’s glory.  Paul continues his point in verse 9-13:

and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

             Paul now will switch his focus from giving commands to appealing to his apostolic authority as the means of grace through which God enabled him to preach this gospel which demands the abovementioned directives for the edification of the church:

14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”      

             Paul now backs his apostolic authority by appealing to the Gentile fruit produced through the word preached evidenced in their obedience of faith (i.e., in word and deed, they talked and the talk and walked the walk) because of the power of the Holy Spirit in the gospel proclamation.  This proclamation left no stone unturned:

17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.”

             Paul rounds off this section of biography with a plea for intercessory prayer that struggles on his behalf so that the enemies of the gospel may not subvert his service in Jerusalem and so that he may arrive in Rome in order to be refreshed and filled with joy by the saints there:

22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

             Paul cared for not only the spiritual needs of the saints but also for their daily sustenance evidenced in his ministerial fruit from Macedonia and Achaia.  These Gentile believers emulated their example who was Paul, the former enemy of the gospel and now its’ greatest proponent.  Amazing!

(SDG)