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.

Summary of CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE GOD WHO DECLARES THE GUILTY JUST [Pages 169-185]

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In this chapter Carson tackles the issue of how and why God can and does declare the guilty just.  It’s largely Paul’s argument in Romans 1-11 and is perhaps the most misunderstood aspects of the gospel transculturally.

First, Carson explains why it’s impossible to be acquitted with justice on the ground of the good things we do.   The reason is because we are all law breakers: those with the Book, and those without the Book.  All of us have broken even our own lesser standards.  It’s ridiculous for the murderer to appeal to his “good deeds” before the judge after he in fact has been properly convicted of committing the crime.  How much more before the judge of Creation?!  And yet, people tend to flock to this absurdity when it comes to eternal matters.

Second, the main theme of Romans 1:18-3:20 is precisely how everyone is justly guilty before God.  All are under judgement; all are guilty, because they have denied God the Creator.  They have thus become fools and Paul reminds us that there are none righteous, none who understands, none who seeks God, none who does good, not even one—their deeds and words condemn them, none who fears God.  Humanity is the core of all the evil there is, for in wanting to go our own way we have all disowned the God who is there, The One, who has made us.

Third, Carson explains several ways in which the Old Testament anticipates the arrival of Jesus.  There’s the sacrificial system of the blood of bulls and goats which testify to what was to come in the new covenant.  Here the high priest came with sacrifices into the holiest place on the Day of Atonement—all pointing to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  Then, there are the Ten Commandments which anticipate a day when murder and adultery will not only be prohibited but unthinkable in the new heavens and new earth.  And there’s also the anticipated day from the law when the righteousness of God would be revealed in Christ. 

Fourth, Carson considers how God’s righteousness is available to all people without racial distinction but on the basis of faith.   The reason it’s good news for the above mentioned caption to be true is because all are guilty before God, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  All means everyone under heaven’s sky, on earth’s dirt and in the oceans water.  Carson then explains three terms related to our salvation in Christ.

There’s righteousness, which is achieved through Christ’s redemption.  This redemption involves buying back from the slave market one who is indebted to another and has absolutely no possible means to pay for the debt.  A redeemer is one who purchases the one in debt and delivers him and his family from slavery to another.  Biblically, Jesus justifies us freely through faith by the redemption of his blood.  Thus, believers are justified before the God of heaven!

Then there’s the act of propitiation.  Propitiation is that sacrificial act whereby God becomes favorably disposed to us.  He is set over against us in wrath, but now by the sacrificial act of His son, He has become favorable toward us.

Another term is expiation, which is the act whereby God wipes out sin from the board, sin here is cancelled.  The object of expiation is sin, while the object of propitiation is God.   The text says that God propitiated God through the sacrifice of His son.  This is mind boggling in light of the fact that in the pagan world those offering sacrifices for propitiation to the gods were the worshippers.  Not so in the Bible, God propitiates God.  Thus, turning away of God’s wrath and the cancelling of sin are achieved by both expiation and propitiation.

 Fifth, Carson explains what is meant when Paul says that in the cross God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.  God’s holiness must be maintained.  Therefore He must punish sin which He did through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  He maintained Justice!  God’s love has been demonstrated by paying for our sins on the cross. He displayed Love!  Unlike so many understand today, in the Bible faith is related to truth.  If it’s not true, it’s worthless.

In the Bible, Faith doesn’t mean that which makes you feel good and is not subject to verification.  Rather, it deals with that which is stated and argued as actually occurring in space-time history.  Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 15 where he affirms that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead the first witnesses are all liars.  Again, if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are still in our sins.  Then if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead our faith is useless.  And that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are to be pitied more than anyone else.  Our lives are a joke precisely because we consider that which is false to be true.

Conversely, if the resurrection is actually true, then all others rejecting the truth of these claims are sadly under the wrath of God and the “joke” is on them.  That’s sobering, sad, and must cause our hearts to live under God as we endeavor to shine in this world for Christ.

Summary of CHAPTER TEN: THE GOD WHO DIES AND LIVES AGAIN [Pages 151-167]

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Carson first addresses the reason for why the Bible insists that Jesus was born in order to die.  When we read biographies, never do we see, regardless of the person and their import; never is it emphasized that they were born to die.  Not Buddha, not Muhammad even though their deaths were recorded, it’s not the purpose for why they were born.  But the Gospel accounts are different.

In these biographies of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ it’s clear that his disciples did not understand why he insisted that he had to die; that Jesus understood that the Father’s purpose in him was to die; that his death was on his own initiative and that his death was not that of a martyr, but that of one willing to sacrifice (Jn. 10:17-18)

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

In Paul’s account, the apostle makes clear that which is of first importance in (1 Cor.15:1-4ff.,) specifically that Christ died according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.   Miss this, and we strip Christianity of its substance.  It’s the doing away of our basis for belief, conduct, and understanding.

 Secondly, Carson speaks of the ironies of the Cross.  An irony is a word in its context that means exactly the opposite of what is said.  This section is very sobering and penetrating to my soul for it deals with the cross.  First, Carson relates that the man who is mocked as king, is King (Mt. 27:27-31)

 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ” Hail, King of the Jews!” 30They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.’

 Jesus is not just the king of the Jews, but also of the universe, and yet he humbly served his persecutors rather than exercise his power to destroy them (Mt. 20:25-28).

 The second irony is that the man who is utterly powerless is transcendentally powerful (Mt. 27: 32-40)

“As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 38At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Jesus became the great meeting place between God and man—He is the temple of meeting.  He’s the temple of the living God.

The third irony is that the man who can’t save himself saves others (Mt. 27:41-42)

“In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42“He saved others; He cannot save Himself He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”

“Saving” in this gospel refers to saving people from their sin: from its guilt, its consequences, its eternal effects, and its power in this life.  Thus, the ultimate meaning behind physical healing, is the eternal effects of Christ’ rescue in this fallen evil age.  Had he saved himself, we would be lost.  It’s the very purpose for hanging on that cross so that he may bear the iniquity of us all in his body.  Had he saved himself, I would be damned!

Fourth, the man who cries in despair trusts God (Mt.27:43-51)

43“HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. 45Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 47And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Access to the holiest place has been purchased only because the son was in the darkest place for us. That’s amazing grace indeed.

Thirdly, Carson unpacks the issue of God dying.   In one sense it’s incorrect to say that God died, but Jesus is the one who died, not God the Father.   Thus the reason for some texts in the New Testament to warrant the truth that in one sense, when Jesus died, God died is to accentuate the cost that was paid for my ransom (Acts 20:28; Rom.5:8).  The truth is that you can trust a God who is not only sovereign, but One who also bleeds for you!

Fourthly, Carson unfolds the reason for why Thomas doubts that Jesus had risen from the dead.   This disciple did not want to be duped.  Can you blame him…no?! He believed that Jesus was the Messiah and all his hopes were dashed to the ground.  That’s a lot of pain.  He wanted to be sure that the body that died on the cross was the same body he would handle.

When Jesus appeared and Thomas saw he exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”  Why does he say so much, rather than a smaller and weaker—you are alive! Perhaps because of all that Jesus had said and taught privately to the disciples; (e.g., before Abraham was I am, he who has seen me has seen the Father,).  It’s quite possible that the elation and utter joy expressed the overflow of the revelation of Christ and his previously spoken words pointing to himself, that Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord, and My God.”  How utterly personal is that?!

Lastly, Carson tackles the issue of why it is that in the ultimate sense God alone can forgive sins.  This is because only the offended party can forgive.  According to Scripture God is always the most offended party (Ps. 51:4; Mk. 2:5, 7) David and the paralytic.  “Who can forgive sins but God?”

On Death and Dying

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Death is not ultimate!  God is!  I used these words to open my eulogy to honor the life and mourn the death of Specialist Koran Pulido Contreras, born on December 15, 1989, in Redondo Beach California and died on September 8, 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.  This man’s grief stricken family sadly experienced what awaits everyone one of us and belted out wails I had never before heard.  This last week, both the Lamay Family and Sovereign Grace Fellowship Church suffered the death of our Matriarch Pat Lamay, or Grandma Pat as many of us called her.

Too often the fact of death and the loss of loved ones are unbearable, even for Christians.  The loss of a father, a mother, a spouse, a child, even our pets can be utterly debilitating. Click here ON DEATH AND DYING_1 for pdf file.

 

Reflections From Acts 9: “SAUL THE JEW CONVERTED BY MEETING THE RESURRECTED JESUS”

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This chapter in Acts is one of the most significant in all of Scripture because the enemy of the Cross is confronted with the risen Lord.  There are many different “kinds of conversions”, but according to Jesus, there’s only one kind that is authentic—where the seed of the word is planted on good soil and thus brings in a harvest of kingdom fruit, be it 30, 60, or a 100 fold.

The text reads of Saul in verses 1-2:

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

There’s nothing more resolute than a religious zealot for here, belief fuels all of life, and such conviction can’t be bought nor bribed to compromise—usually.  Saul was a zealot but his encounter with the resurrected Christ would forever change the course of his life and that of the Gentile world.  While Saul could not be bought, he would be broken as Jesus’ interrogation ensued:

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.   

This is the event where Saul converted to the Way where he became a disciple of Christ.  This was as radical as it gets.  One author has commented on Saul’s conversion to be akin to the catholic Pope converting to Protestantism, this was huge but so is He who conquered the grave.

Jesus had to prepare the disciple Ananias of Damascus to receive Saul because there’s no way he could believe that this murderous zealot was genuinely converted (vv.10-14).  Jesus however assured Ananias of Saul’s purpose:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Vv.15-16)     

 Plainly Jesus describes Saul’s ministry call and the suffering allotted to him because of the Name.  Jesus is hammering the issue of persecution because of the Name which comes from religious and pagan people alike (Mt.5:9-12).  Up to this point, persecution seems to be the norm, not the exception in Acts.  Not only does Ananias give Saul back his sight, but he immediately begins to proclaim the risen Jesus in the synagogues that, “He is the Son of God”…and proving that Jesus is the Christ (Vv.17-22).  It’s as if Saul’s temporary physical blindness served as a reminder of his spiritual sightlessness concerning Jesus.

On two occasions we read that the Jews were plotting to kill Saul because of his message (Vv.23, 29).  When Jesus said, “You are either for me or against me” the hearer must not understand it’s actually a matter of life or death.  Side with Christ now and eternal life is assured with persecution and temporary death.  Come against Jesus now, and eternal doom is assured with temporary life.

If this is the case and Christ’s enemies have no chance, why then don’t they bow the knee to the Master?  They also can’t see as was true of Saul.  Spiritual blindness is lethal and satanic forces are all too glad to assist.  Interestingly, while Saul boldly preached Christ, he did not desire to die as is evidenced by his two escapes from death in Damascus and Jerusalem.  He did not have a death wish even though he was consumed with God’s zeal in truth and in deed.

The marvel of Saul’s conversion should not be missed.  Consider how the disciples feared him (Vv.21, 26-27) and if it were not for Barnabus, Saul’s reception among the disciples would have taken much longer.  We must nevertheless remember that the God of the living raises the walking dead.  Saul’s an example of just that.  We ought never to loose heart but always pray as Jesus commanded because of who God is.  For in God’s time and providence many of our requests will be the means through which God ushers souls into the kingdom.  What a Savior!

(SDG)