Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: March 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Sometimes Almost Atheist

P.AllanSince I’ve been diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis, the devil has been craving my faith (1 Peter 5:8,9).  Days have dawned when I’ve doubted God.  Doubted his goodness.  Doubted his love.  Doubted even his existence.  (Thankfully, that’s rare.)

I’m confessing this hoping that it helps someone who shares my struggles.

Where Is God When It Hurts? Philip Yancey asked in his book by that title.  Indeed.  Suppose I could see and hear the totality of earth’s suffering.  Africa’s starving children.  Young girl sex slaves.  Soldiers shipped home in caskets to weeping parents.  Middle East and now Europe terrorist victims, as well, of course, here at home.  Children born without arms or legs.  What would I think?  How would I feel?  Next to most, my disability is an annoying squeak.  Yet, real.  So I admit:  every so often a day dawns when I’m almost an atheist.

I’ve diagnosed the process.  It starts with discouragement:  another day to suffer pain and sickness and limitations.  Then comes the “why?”.  (Although I know God’s answers are in his Word, I don’t like them.)  I get tired of pushing myself.  Romans 8:28 seems empty because I can see no good from any of this.  Why doesn’t he at least partly answer all the prayers prayed for my healing?  Then I wonder if my view of God as loving, good, powerful, merciful and kind is correct.  Which ultimately leads to the haunting question:  Is God there at all?

Mercifully, something in me (of course, it’s the comforting Holy Spirit), pulls me back from the chasm before I fully fall.  He teaches me (yet again) that this suffering is a faith-test.  Perhaps it’s devil-designed.  But our Lord holds the evil one short-leashed; he can wreak only so much havoc, prowl only so close, feast on my faith only so long.  It’s then the Spirit awakens a closed-down corner of my mind, and I remember:  this is our Lord’s faith-test intended to tone up my faith muscle more.   His discipline is painful.  Surely it will soon bear the fruit of holiness.  (Though, in the thick of the fight, it’s not holiness I long for; it’s deliverance.)

Today, I’m chastened.  ” . . . without faith it is impossible to please [God] * (Hebrews 11:6a).   At first, I find that odd.  I’m suffering and my concern is to please God?   He’s my Father!  Certainly when I’m in pain he should please me by soothing my hurt!  But if the catechism is correct (“Man’s chief end is to glorify God . . . “),  glorifying him should be my chief end even in suffering.  I should fear turning his smile into a frown.  Which reminds me of verse four of William Cowper’s “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” . . .

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Then I read the reason for faith’s necessity in the rest of Hebrews 11:6 . . .

And without faith it is impossible to please God,
because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists
and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Believe that he “exists”!  Literally the original Greek reads:  “anyone who comes to him must believe that he is”.  He simply is.  And he is all that he is, supremely revealed in Christ.  But that’s my battle today, isn’t it, believing that he is.  Two realities persuade me.

One, the universe.

If naturalism is correct, this universe is all there is.  Nothing (and no one) exists outside it.  Therefore, a world that screams “design” everywhere has no Designer.  And I’m left to drown in the murky soup of evolution.  I quickly find it impossible.  The design of the macrocosm and microcosm world must have a Designer.  I remember walking the beach, coming across a sandcastle.  Never once did I think, “Isn’t it amazing what sand and water and wind can create?”  Always I intuitively knew somebody made the sandcastle.  Simple, but convincing for me.

But what of the cruel weight of all the world’s wrong?  Should that disprove that God is?  And here I’m indebted to C.S. Lewis . . .

My argument against God
was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.
But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?
A man does not call a line crooked
unless he has some idea of a straight line.
What was I comparing this universe with when I
called it unjust?
(Mere Christianity)

The only answer:  the straight-line justice of God.

Two, Jesus’ resurrection.

It confirmed everything Jesus said and did.  If no resurrection?  Jesus is a lunatic or liar.  That’s why Paul wrote . . .

If there is no resurrection of the dead,
then not even Christ has been raised.
(1 Corinthians 15:13)

In one of his books and often in other writings, Chuck Colson noted how hard it had been for a few Watergate break-in leaders to keep their secret.  In fact, they couldn’t.  And here were 12 apostles, all of whom presumably could have been spared martyrdom had they recanted.  But they refused.  They couldn’t change their story, even under penalty of death.  They knew what they had seen.  And they had seen the crucified Christ now risen.

How could I possibly turn away from so powerful a witness?  What those men wrote about the Son of God the Father must be true.  My “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17) cannot possibly dismiss their weighty and continuing witness.

God not only is ” . . .he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”    Instead of angrily running from him (by denying his very existence), I  must receive a merciful  promise (a reward of his choosing).  By it, he gently pulls me toward himself.

But I do find “earnestly seeking” God who has sent (or at least allowed) suffering at first disagreeable.  I’m like a puppy called back to the guy who kicked him.  This, of course, is part of the faith fight.  Do I trust his promise?  And am I able to earnestly seek him and not healing?  That’s a thorny question.  But his promise, empowered by the Spirit, pulls me.

What’s my reward, I wonder.  At the very least (how can I possibly say that), the reward is more of himself.  Both in this age and in the eternal age to come.  There’s more though, more blessings than I can count, for he will be indebted to no one.  But it’s him I must earnestly seek.  In prayer.  In his Word.  In worshipful music.  In the fellowship of his people.  Him.  The kingdom of this King is worth joyfully selling everything to gain (Matthew 13:44).  He is worth losing even my health to have.

Perhaps my confession is shocking.  (Just remember, God’s grace has always held me.  He’s always brought me back to where I end this blog.)  If you understand—if you can even say, “Amen.  I’ve been there”—

then I hope you’ll join me in listening (even singing) the song above. 

I make the invitation praying that, through it,
we might enjoy a taste of his reward in our faith-fight .
Until the Day dawns when faith-fighting will be no more.

Targeting Christians

O PreacherThe park in Pakistan is a regular gathering place for Christian families on Easter Sunday.  Muslim families, too, in this majority-Muslim nation, flock there for fun.  Yesterday it became a place of exploding terror.

A suicide bomb killed at least 70 people.  Many more lie in critical condition.  Among the dead:  29 children.

“The target was Christians,” a faction [of the Taliban] spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered [the city of] Lahore.”.  So far, 14 of the dead have been identified as Christians.  The rest were Muslims.  Since Christians were targeted, I assume Muslims were merely collateral damage—unless the murdered weren’t the “right kind” of Muslim.

This comes only days after an airport-and subway-terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium that left 35 dead and nearly 300 wounded, four Americans among them.

I can’t begin to comprehend taking my children to a park on an Easter Sunday afternoon, when suddenly a bomb explodes and a raging fire seriously burns over 33 people and incinerates 70, including 29 children.  If I learned one of my children had been

Image: Pakistanis Hunt Militants Behind Blast That Killed at Least 70

burned to death, what would I do next?  What would I think?  How would I pray?  Where would I go?  How would I endure the pain of the next days?  Of the next months?  Would I hold on to my faith, knowing I and my dead child have no other hope but the Lord?  Or would I curse God and die?  Surely, were I to persevere through so dark a valley, it would be only by God’s grace.

I think of Jesus’ words . . .

“I have said this to you,
so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you face persecution.
But take courage; I have conquered the world.”
(John 16:33).

I’ve been warned.  And promised.  But could I possibly have peace and courage after that?  Perhaps God gives a special gift of faith for such evil days.

I think, too, of that unsettling passage in the Book of Revelation . . .

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar
the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God
and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice,
“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true,
until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Then each of them was given a white robe,
and they were told to wait a little longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and brothers
who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
(Revelation 6:9-11).

I’m not a Revelation expert.  But three implications seem clear here.

One, the Sovereign Lord has a day when he will avenge the blood of his martyrs.  If I was a parent whose child burned to death yesterday, I would want revenge.  (I suppose I should call it “justice” to be more holy.)  I would be briefly angry at God.  I would be angry at President Obama for his nonchalant attitude toward terrorist attacks.  But eventually, by grace, I would put my hope for justice in the hands of the Sovereign Lord whose judgment day is coming.

Two, this world is not a friendly place for Christians.  It doesn’t seem so hostile to us in the U.S.  Even the persecution some have recently endured here (a baker forced out of business) is pretty mild compared to bombing innocents in a park.  For the most part, we can feel rather at home here.  That’s not only because persecution so far is little.  It’s also because we get co-opted by the culture , until the biggest difference between us and the world is we go to church on Sundays and read the Bible occasionally.  Reviewing violence in today’s world, I’m reminded it’s coming here.  With eight grandchildren whom I dearly love, I don’t even want to think that.  But how can I blind my eyes to what seems a blatantly fearful reality?  When you come down to it, we are really aliens and strangers in an unfriendly world (1 Peter 2:11).

Three, more committed Christians will be killed.  In the text above, the martyrs in heaven (!) are told they must wait a little longer for the Lord to avenge their blood “until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”  More will be martyred.  There’s a number that God knows or perhaps has set.  Then his justice will prevail.

I sometimes wonder what professed Christians in America’s churches will do if terrorists show up here to target us.  Will our numbers sharply shrink?  I think, too, of those preachers who invite unbelievers to come to Jesus with promises of practically heaven on earth.  And of pastors who blithely welcome new members thoughtless about the day membership may make them a terrorist’s target.  And I wonder, too, if I would shut down my blog and become a closet Christian if terrorists targeted us here.

I hope I sound realistic, not pessimistic.  I’m concerned that our—and my—Christianity may be too weak to stand whatever tests may come.  So I write to remind us all—and me especially—that now is the time to prepare.  Today I must toughen up in my faith.  And I must remember, come what may, I’m on the winning side.  After all, our Sovereign Lord said . . .

“But take courage; I have conquered the world.”

Listen! This may help.  He’s “Overcome”!




Mourning into Dancing

O PreacherHolidays are heart-hurting times if a loved one has been lost.  Christmas must be the loneliest, but Easter can’t be far behind.  Celebrating Jesus’ resurrection that points to coming reunion which in turn must make the present only emptier.

When the Bible predicts the future, it leaves foggy spots and unanswered questions.  It’s a sunny and clear forecast, though, when it tells us we will live because Jesus does (John 14:9).  Consequently, we have hope, but not without grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

What follows is a passage from Walter Wangerin’s excellent book, Mourning into Dancing.  (Wangerin is a Lutheran minister, award-winning author, radio broadcaster, professor, husband, and father, who is slowly dying of cancer.)  Mourning into Dancing is available from Amazon–-

Softly, without raising her head, Gloria whispered to me, “Where is he?”                        

I misunderstood her.  I thought she meant Jesus, and I said, “Here.  He has always
been with you—-“

“No, Pastor,” she said, looking at me now.  “Where is Sonny Boy?  Where is he?”

Before I could answer, the Senior Citizens broke into song and distracted Gloria
and gave me a respite from the question.  But I didn’t forget it.

And I answer it now:  “He is with the Lord.”

But I want to refine that answer until it truly comforts you, Gloria.  It is not meant cheaply.  It comes after long thought.

Listen:  when Sonny Boy left this life, he left creation as God gave it unto us.  He left all things and the space that contains things.  He left history and the time that contains history.  He departed time, Gloria, immediately and entirely to be with God.

You and I are still inside of time.  We will move in tiny ticks of seconds through long months and the interminable years.   Through days and days we creep toward the Last Day, when all of us will meet God, the living and the dead together, because on that Day the dead will be raised to life, and Sonny Boy too.

From our perspective, that’s a long time away.

But Sonny Boy has popped free of time.

From his perspective, there is no time any more.  He doesn’t have to wait.  He is there already!  For him it is already the Great Gettin’-Up Morning—and he’s up!  He is raised from the dead.  And we are there too.  And we are meeting each other in the joy of the saved.  And when you and I have died, all that is now for Sonny Boy will be now for us as well, as if no time at all had intervened.  He is with the Lord.

But we have a while to wait yet before we experience the now he knows.  But he’s not waiting.

Between you and Sonny Boy, Gloria, you are the lonelier one.  All your sorrow has been for yourself while still you are stuck in time.  He’s the glad one.  From his perspective he has never been apart from you.  The instant he rises from the dead, so do you.

It’s a mystery.  We shall not all sleep (which sleeping makes time a mere blink to the sleeper).  But we shall all be changed.  In a moment.  In the twinkling of any eye.  At the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound the long and sudden note, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  This mortal shall put on immortality.  Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,

DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY!                           

O death, where is they sting?

O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved Gloria, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain.  No, not in the Lord.


May our resurrected Lord
fill us who grieve
with hope and peace
and, yes, even joy,
this Resurrection Sunday!

The House Is On Fire!

P.AllanSometimes the situation is so urgent, but . . . Well, listen to Bob Deffinbaugh’s story:

“Several years ago a friend of mine was working in his garage.
He was the kind of person who did not like to be interrupted
while engaged in a project.
Knowing this, his wife walked into the garage
and stood quietly at his side for several minutes,
waiting for the proper time to speak.
At last her husband looked up, the signal
that she was free to say what was on her mind.
Very calmly, and without a trace of panic, she said,
‘The house is on fire’”
(Galatians:  The Gospel and God’s Grace).

In the churches of Galatia (recently planted by Paul and Barnabas), “the house is on fire.”  Time to interrupt whatever’s going on and shout, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).   But let’s go back and begin at the beginning.  (For a general introduction read ).

Throughout Paul’s ministry, starting here in the Galatian churches of Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, Paul was typically attacked on two fronts.  One, his authority as an apostle.  Two, the substance of his gospel.

With a succinct response to that two-front attack, Paul begins his letter . . .

Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead– and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (1:1-5).

Apostolic Authority. 

Does Paul have it, or not?

“Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead . . . ”

It’s an extravagant claim.  An apostle not sent by the first apostles or the Antioch church, but sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.  “God sent me” just a funny movie line today.

It’s also an extreme claim.  We no longer associate authority with God.  He’s a helper or moral guide, but certainly not the Sovereign.  Yet, when Paul refers to him as God who raised Jesus from the dead, he is pointing  us to the authority and power of God, even over death.

Consequently, the risen Christ declared . . .

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)

Paul later wrote about . . .

” . . . the immeasurable greatness of his power . . .
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named, not only in this age,
but also in the one to come.”
(Ephesians 1:19-21) 

And when the Lord sent his hesitant disciple Ananias to blind Saul, he told him . . .

” . . . he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name
before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
(Acts 9:16).

This was Paul’s claim to authority.  Believe it or not.  Just remember this:  if Paul was right, all other claims are false.

Substantive Gospel.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (1:3-5).

Paul wastes no time getting to the heart of his Gospel.  Greeting the Galatians he identifies Jesus Christ as the one “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

That Christ “gave himself for our sins” implies we are sinners before the holy God.  We transgress his laws and disobey his commands.  It also implies a substitutionary sacrifice was possible and that the sacrifice was Jesus Christ.  No effort of ours–whether Jewish circumcision, Old Testament law-keeping, or any other credit-gaining work is needed.  The Gospel announces a most-costly, life-changing gift received by faith . . .

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.”
(Galatians 2:20).

The purpose of Christ’s self-sacrifice extends far beyond sins-forgiven:  ” . . . to rescue us from the present evil age.”  This present age is “evil” because it’s under the dominion of “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and so humans worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).  Because of this, God’s wrath is coming (Romans 2:5).  But, we who trust our lives to Christ, are rescued.

When I was about 15, some of my church buddies came to swim at the lake near my house.  Ernie and I swam out to a deep part of the lake.  Suddenly, he panicked.  Grabbed my neck and shoulders.  Smaller than him, I found myself trapped under his weight under water.  About then  the lifeguard showed up in a rowboat and dragged Ernie back to shore.  Apparently he though I could save myself; Ernie couldn’tSimilarly, we can’t do anything to rescue ourselves from sin and God’s wrath; we are rescued by Christ alone through faith alone.

Rescued from God’s wrath  to what?”  Eternal life in the new creation of the new age to come.  It’s an age that  began when Jesus was raised.  Already then, by the Holy Spirit,  we enjoy a  taste of it.  Already the new age has come by the Spirit, but not yet has it come fully.  Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 10:11 when he writes . . .

These things happened to them as example
and were written down as warnings for us,
on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
(1 Corinthians 10:11)

[God]made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions–

it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

 in order that in the coming ages
he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,

expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
(Ephesians 2:5-7).

House On Fire!

On this Good Friday, a cacophony of “other gospels” are babbled about—some secular, some religious, some even in Jesus’ name.  The biggest church in America preaches a false gospel.  The American Dream is the greatest—that’s a false gospel.  You can be anything you want to be is a false gospel.  Jesus forgives your sins but you have to do your part is a false gospel. Listen!  When ideas contrary to Christ subconsciously stick in our minds from mindless reruns, the “house is on fire.”  Get the fire out!

Good Friday.  Sin’s debt was paid.  Jesus endured God’s wrath due us.  “It is finished!” he said (John 19:30).  All that remained was resurrection, by which he would inaugurate the new age for new creatures.  That would come Sunday. 


it is finished jesus photo: It is FINISHED ItisFinished.jpg


The Meaning of History

P.AllanMonday of Holy Week dawns.  Holy Week:  from Sunday when Jesus “triumphantly”  entered Jerusalem through Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, climaxing  Sunday when he rose from the dead.

The events of Holy Week happened in “the real world”.  Our world.  Here where we live. That’s such an elementary truth I often forget it.  This isn’t a once-upon-a-time-story.  It is  historical events recorded in writing.  Jesus entered a real city–Jerusalem–about 30 A.D.   He was nailed to a cross of wood from a real tree at a real crossroads just outside the city.  All the week’s events belong to authentic human history.  They’re not part of a hidden, spiritual revelation mysteriously whispered to one man in a desert.

They happened here.

Jesus came for all to see.  Breathed our air.  Walked on our dirt.  Touched our people.  Was buried in our tomb.  Rose again in the grayness of our pre-dawn.

Which brings me to the most-amazing thing I’m thinking about today:  all human history–including the history of Holy Week –has meaning It’s not just a pointless succession of events.  Of course, given the state of the world, one could be excused for assuming that.  Take politics, for example.  Another presidential election cycle.  “Unprecedented” say the pundits.  No.  We’ve had our share of “crazies” before.  Or take the Middle East.  Chaotically violent for as long as I can remember.  One war.  Then another war.  Then another.  Peace summits.  Peace meetings.  Nothing much changes.  Follow the news, read history and you know why Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) brooded,

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless'” (Ecclesiastes 1:1,2).

Was he right?  Is there no reason for life?  Does history have no purpose?  Was Holy Week nothing more than a collection of random events that ended with another Jew crucified, then rumored to have risen?

In his book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary until his death in 1988, argued that history has meaning.  He explained that the Christian (biblical) view of history has five main features . . .

First, history is a working out of God’s purposes.  God works, not in some ethereal realm removed from this time-space world, but in history.  And he works to work out his purposes.  That means that the political and moral state of America at the moment is somehow the working out of God’s purposes.  It means that all the events of Holy Week from the triumphal entry to the tomb, and all the hostile debates with Jewish leaders in between, were also the working out of God’s purposes.

Second, God is the Lord of history.  This means God not only works in history to work out his purposes but in the same way he uses “bad” things for “good” to those who love him (Romans 8:28).  It means that God reigns over and governs history.  God’s kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).  Hoekema writes, “God overrules even the evil deeds of men so as to make them serve his purpose.  No more breathtaking example of that exists than Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.  The apostles prayed . . .

“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles
and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power
and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27,28).

Third, Christ is the center of history.  History books are thick.  In fact, a complete history of the world would require, not a big book, but a library.  Think of all the dates and people and events you had to learn in just one history class!  Add to that all the other history classes.  Imagine every significant event that’s occurred from the beginning until now.  And the radical Christian claim is that Christ is the center of history.  Oscar Cullmann, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, wrote that in this central event “not only is all that goes before fulfilled but also all that is future is decided.”  Thus each event of Holy Week–even Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in an unknown upper room–was a main scene in the center of history.

Fourth, the new age has already been ushered in.  The Bible sees two ages:  the present age from creation until Christ’s return and the age to come from Christ’s return on into eternity.  In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes,

“He (Christ) has delivered us from the domain of darkness
(i.e., this present evil age–Galatians 1:4) and transferred us
to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.”

Already, we who have trusted our lives to Jesus Christ have started to enjoy a taste of the eternal kingdom in the age to come!  This is because Jesus in his person inaugurated the new age.  Jesus said . . .

” . . . the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).

When Jesus died, he opened the way to the age to come.  And when he rose again, it rose on earth in him.

Fifth, all history is moving toward a goal:  the new heavens and the new earth.  God is taking this creation somewhere—to the new creation.  As Karl Lowith, a 20th century German philosopher, wrote, “The ultimate meaning of a transcendent purpose is focused in an expected future.  Such an expectation was most alive among the Hebrew prophets; it did not exist among the Greek philosophers.”  Jesus’ resurrection was eventually followed by his ascension.  And at his ascension two men in white robes stood by the apostles and said . . .

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:11).

This prompted Paul to write . . .

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.
. . . For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption
and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
(Romans 8:18,20,21).

A flaming consequence of this Christian view of history:  HOPE!  Political progressives preach it.  Presidential candidates promise a better future.  Yet even high school history students know  that all human “progress” is marred with corruption, disappointment and death.  Our phones connect the Internet and deliver tons of information about ancient Greece or the latest hit movie.  But innocent civilians are still dying in Middle East wars.  We Jesus followers, however, “look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10).  Our hope is righteous and amazing beyond imagination (Ephesians 3:20,21).

Holy Week isn’t a commemoration of random events.  Holy Week has deep, transforming, eternal meaning.  Because of that, God is doing his saving work in the world today leading toward the fulfillment of his beyond-imagination purpose.  And when we see that purpose climaxed, we will bow and worship  . . .

The Lord of history.
The One in whom all history reaches its climax.
The Holy One before whom we stand in awe!

Circumcision Confrontation

O PreacherMight the Jewish rite of circumcision create conflict for us who are right with God by faith?

The Writing of Galatians.

When Paul and Barnabas finished their first missions trip
they sailed to Antioch, Syria.  “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had  done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they remained no little time with the disciples” (Acts 14:27,28).

It may have been during the “no little time” that Paul learned of trouble in the churches he and Barnabas had just planted in Galatia province—the churches of Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.  Jewish teachers had visited those churches arguing that these Gentile converts to Christ must be circumcised to be saved  (This was the issue prompting the soon-to-be-held Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35–-

In response, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote the Letter to the Galatians.  The year was probably 48 A.D.  That letter God has sovereignly preserved for us in the New Testament.  (By the way, if maps aren’t your thing, just ignore them.  But they help me get a better picture of events.)

An “Occasional” Document.

I find it noteworthy that God chose to reveal himself to us through what scholars called “occasional” documents like Galatians.  “Occasional” here means this letter, which is God’s Word to us, was occasioned by a real-life situation in the mid-first century A.D.  In fact, much of the Bible is like that.  A majority of the Old Testament is a God-inspired record of how God revealed himself among Israel.  (This includes the prophets who spoke to Israel in real-time history.)  This contrasts with Islam, for instance.  Muslims claim Allah revealed himself to Mohamed, who then wrote down those revealed words.  Notice, too, that God the Son revealed himself to us in real space-time (see Luke 1:1-4).   Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension comprised God’s supreme self-revelation.  We have that recorded in the Gospels.

I find this remarkable.  Rather than dictating words to a “holy man” in a cave somewhere, God revealed himself in real-life human situations and inspired men to write what he said and did.  Our God came and worked among us to make himself known to us.

All that to briefly step away from the Acts chronology (we’ll get back to it soon) to read through Galatians at the historical point Paul wrote it (that is, probably at the time described in Acts 14:27,28).  This will help us better understand  this short but profound letter.

The “Trouble” of Circumcision.

As I explained above, the “trouble” for the Galatian churches was the false teaching that Gentiles had to add circumcision to faith in Christ to be saved.  Ancient issue, right?  Not exactly.  How many of us, for example, subconsciously assume that our right standing with God is shaky this week because we’ve lied, lost our temper, looked at pornography, ignored our neighbor’s need, etc.?  If behavior like that is our normal way of life, of course we should question our standing with God.  But if we’re talking about occasional sins, let’s remember that our justification (right standing with God) is by faith not works.  And let’s remember nothing can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.  At times I’m his very disobedient child, but still his child.  My behavior may call for discipline, but he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6).

The Opposite “Trouble”.

Oddly, the opposite can spell “trouble” for us, too.   We (rightly) believe we can’t add “works” to faith, but we may be so nonchalant about our faith that it’s dead and we don’t even know it.  A person with “nonchalant” faith like that (actually faith on life-support) usually has no righteous works.  Because “faith without works is dead”.  Works (obedience as the direction of life) spring from living faith.  The absence of works as a life-direction is actually a sign of dead faith.  We probably have as many professed Christians dealing with this trouble as those in the former category (those trying to add works to their faith so they see obedience as meritorious for salvation).

A Supernatural Faith.

Paul will make clear in this letter a Good News truth we must always keep on the front-burner of our mind.  It lies at the very heart of the Good News . . .

I have been crucified with Christ.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20).

Christianity, you see,  is a supernatural faith.  Christ loved us and gave himself for us and now lives in us who live by faith in him.  That’s a life-transforming miracle.

We need not and must not add anything to that miracle.
And, if we understand and ponder that miracle,
we may be so captivated by it
our heart will be kindled with warm devotion
for the One who loved us and gave himself for us.








Critical Council

O PreacherToday the majority of the world’s Christians live in South America, Africa, and Asia,   Nowhere is this global shift from the north and west more stunning than in Africa.  In 1900, less than 10% of Africans were Christians; today more than 50% are.  With this southward and eastward shift come changes.  For example, generally theology is more conservative and worship style more charismatic. The shift raises questions, too.  What is the role of ancestors in Christianity?  Can indigenous music be used in worship?  What about exorcising demons and ecstatic worship experiences?  (Source:,

And since communications have made the world “smaller”, what effect might this shift have on the shrinking church in Europe and the leveled-off church in America?

In 48 A.D. (15-18 years after Christ’s resurrection), the church faced a critical theological dispute due to the demographic shift of the church from entirely Jewish to mostly Gentile . . .

The Dispute.

From their missions trip, Paul and Barnabas had returned to the Antioch, Syria church.  There “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Then ” . . . some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1).  At that, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2).  Unable to resolve the matter, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and others to consult with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Danger.

For Paul, adding circumcision to faith in Christ was no small thing.  Circumcision signified one was taking on the obligation to keep the Mosaic (Old Testament) Law.  Here’s how Paul warned the Galatians (the people to whom he and Barnabas had just brought the gospel in Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe).   “Look:  I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

Earlier he had argued for justification by faith like this.   “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ (from Habakkuk 2:4) . . . Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ –so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:11-14).

The danger, then, was the loss of the very heart of the Gospel–the loss of Christ himself as the way to justification (not guilty before God for one’s sin; being declared right with God) which comes through faith.

The Debate.

At the Council in Jerusalem the Christian Pharisees stated their position:  “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).  Peter explained the apostles’ view, illustrated by his own experience with Cornelius (Acts 10). “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15: 7-11).

When God gave Cornelius’ Gentile household the Holy Spirit, that signified he “made no distinction between” Gentiles and Jews.  Peter’s conclusion:  if the church now yoked Gentiles with the Jewish law they would be testing God.  Salvation for Jew and Gentile comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus and is received by faith alone!

The Decision.

Finally James, Jesus’ half-brother, chief elder and chair of the meeting, gave his conclusion.  “Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.  The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:  ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,  that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages.’  It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:13-21).

James understood Peter’s experience with Cornelius was a major event in God’s saving work. He referred to it as God “taking from the Gentiles a people for himself”, as God had done with Israel (Exodus 19:5).  He asserted that this Gentile inclusion fulfilled Amos’ prophecy from the Lord . . .

“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things,
that have been known for ages.”
(Acts 15:16.17)

According to James, “David’s tent” refers to Israel restored through Jesus Christ, so that God might begin his mission to the Gentiles through them.  Jews and Gentiles, without surrendering their ethnicity, become God’s one people through faith in Jesus Christ.  This has been God’s plan all along.

“Gather together and come; assemble,
you fugitives from the nations.
Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood,
who pray to gods that cannot save.
Declare what is to be, present it–
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”
((Isaiah 45:20-23))

James also calls for four”abstentions” from the Gentile believers.  Three (“abstain from things polluted by idols . . . and from what has been strangled and from blood”) are intended to promote meal-fellowship between Gentile converts and Jewish Christians with their dietary laws.  The fourth (“abstain from sexual immorality”) addresses Jewish concerns about Gentile low ethical and moral standards.  But no surrender of their freedom in Christ is even implied.  Rather, these two ethnic groups as one people are to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

The Delivery.

James has the last word.  With that historical decision made, some men from the Jerusalem church are chosen to join Paul and Barnabas to communicate the council’s decision to Antioch.  When the people there received the letter they were “glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31).  The visitors from Jerusalem eventually returned home.  “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:36).

The Doctrine.

Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone!  The Jerusalem Council “wrote that in stone” and today we must stand resolutely on it.  That doctrine is to die for.  We’ve got to fight for it against every ideology and erroneous theology that would allow us to add even the feeblest of our own efforts to God’s saving work finished in Christ.  That is the Good News!

However, not all issues carry that weight.  In the years that lie ahead, we can expect positions and practices from the churches in the Global South to influence us.  How we respond will call for divine discernment, not because those influences will be inherently wrong, but because they will be ethnically different.  A few we may reject, deeming them contrary to God’s Word.  Most, hopefully, we’ll accept, even if they are different, because we count them as enriching the one Body of Christ—and because God in Christ is calling people for the glory of his name “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

But whatever changes may come,
this refrain we must never change:
“Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”



The Aberration of Now

O PreacherAberration:  “a departure from what is normal.”  Synonyms—“divergence, abnormality, rogue.”  Now–the time in which we live–is an aberration.

Compare these two passages of Scripture . . .

“In the beginning God created  the heavens and the earth . . .
And God saw everything that he had made,
and behold, it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:1,31)

. . . a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and there was no longer any sea. 
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
(Revelation 21:1-5a)

In the beginning God saw everything he had made and appraised it as being “very good”.  The apostle John was given to see a new heaven and earth which will have no tears, death, mourning, crying or pain.  The present “order of things” is “old” and will pass away.  Implication:  the new order will not pass away.  Thus there was a time when this creation was “very good” and there will be eternity when the new, never-passing-away creation will come. Implication:  now–this present world order–is an aberration.

Take two other texts . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,

yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and
momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far
outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on
what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice,
but by the will of the one who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay
and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning
as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons,
the redemption of our bodies.
(Romans 8:18-23)

According to the 2 Corinthians text what we see is temporary, a time of “momentary troubles”.  Whereas what is unseen is eternal, an eternal glory wonder.  In the Romans text Paul writes of “present suffering” in which “the creation [has been] subjected to frustration” (or, futility) and has been “groaning as in the pains of childbirth”.  What is coming is incomparable “glory”, the “redemption of our bodies” and “the sons of God [being] revealed.  With that, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  When Paul writes that present sufferings and troubles are “momentary”, he’s contrasting them with redeemed bodies in a liberated creation all of which will be as lasting as our “adoption as sons”.  Since the new creation will be filled with eternal glory and the present is filled temporary sufferings, the present order is an aberration–a departure from the normal–of what God intends.

Why this long aberration?  Genesis 3.  In the paradise of Eden our first parents fell for the devil’s lie, fell from the grace of trusting and obeying God, and fell into sin and death.  Ever since, humans have refused to honor God or give thanks to him.  We became futile in our thinking and darkened in our foolish hearts.  We exchanged the eternal Creator’s glory for images of created things.  Thus God has given us over to the depravity we crave (Romans 1:18-32).

 . . . but God shows his love for us
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us
(Romans 5:8).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

The “new” has come in us who are connected to Christ by faith!  Still we live in this sin- and- death-dominated world in unredeemed bodies.  But soon Christ will come again.  And with him, the restoration of all things.  So we can say . . .

. . . in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to
a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
(2 Peter 3:13)

Meanwhile, we live in “the aberration of now”–a comparatively brief time of troubles that will one day be swallowed up by the weight of eternal glory in the new creation.

I write “the aberration of now” for two reasons.  One, to correct the idea that our eternity will consist of fluffy white clouds on which we–disembodied spirits–will play in an all-harp praise band for an unending worship service.  When we die, we go to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8); but when Christ comes, heaven comes to a new earth forever.

Two, to stop thinking that this world is home.  I naturally sense it is.  It’s all I’ve known for 72 years.  The new creation is an unknown, except for the strange symbolic language of Revelation 21 and 22.  A river running through the New Jerusalem with fruit trees bordering both sides, though,  just doesn’t get my juices flowing, you know?  I wish the Bible had a photo section  of the new earth!  I’d be more excited about going there.

Nevertheless, God’s Word urges us to “fix [our] eyes on what is unseen” and to “wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” and to “[look] forward to a new heaven and a new earth.”  One thing helps me do that:  to remember this world is a brief aberration.  It’s a departure from what is normal, a divergence, an abnormality, a rogue world controlled by the evil one (1 John 5:19).  Together with all of you in Christ, I’m on my way to a better country (Hebrews 11:16).

“At present we are on the outside of [that] world, the wrong side of the door . . . But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Trickle-Down Tribulation

O PreacherIf we followed Paul’s model, we would remind each other that it’s necessary for us to go through many tribulations to enter God’s kingdom.  Paul makes his model evident during his missions trip . . .


Driven by persecution from Antioch of Pisidia (but leaving behind rejoicing new disciples of Jesus), Paul and Barnabas traveled 80 miles southeast through rolling hills to the commercial and agricultural town of Iconium,

Here, too, they went to the Jewish synagogue where “a great number” of both Jews and Gentiles believed.  But, as in Antioch, Jews who refused to believe stirred up Gentiles and “poisoned their minds against the brothers.”  Consequently, Paul and Barnabas “spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord” who confirmed their message of grace with signs and wonders.  When the apostles learned of a plot to stone them, they fled (Acts 14:1-5).


Lystra, a fortified Roman frontier outpost town, lay 18 miles south.  Paul and Barnabas sought safety there for preaching the gospel.  A man crippled in his feet from birth listened.  Seeing (somehow) he had faith to be healed, he called out to the man, “Stand up on your feet!”  By faith the man obeyed and jumped up and started walking.  The crowd thought the gods Zeus and Hermes had come in human flesh.

(“Ovid the Roman poet relates a legend of a previous visitation by Zeus and Hermes to the Phrygian region. They came in human form and inquired at one thousand homes, but none showed them hospitality. Only a poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, took them in. The pair were rewarded by being spared when the gods flooded the valley and destroyed its inhabitants. The couple’s shack was transformed into a marble-pillared, gold-roofed temple, and they became its priests”–William J. Larkin, Jr., A Commentary on the Book of Acts).  Apparently the crowds’ reaction was rooted in the legend.

Paul would have none of it:  “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.  In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:15-17).

That was when Jews from Antioch and Iconium appeared and convinced the crowd to stone Paul and drag him out of town, thinking he was dead.  “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city”.  The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe (Acts 14:20).


Derbe was a border town of Galatia Province, 60 miles east of Lystra.  “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (Acts 14:21a).


Then, instead of  heading for Tarsus, 150 miles east, they retraced their steps to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith (Acts 14:21b,22a). They also “appointed elders for them in every church . . . [and] committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).

After the persecution he and Barnabas endured, Paul knew these new converts would face the same abuse. (Some of it came in the form of Jewish false teachers, as Paul’s later letter to the Galatians shows).  This is why they retraced their steps to strengthen and encourage the converts “to remain true to the faith” and by warning them “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Thus Paul echoed Jesus who had told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33) and “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

Tribulation Encouragement.

Paul speaks of tribulation in the context of “strengthening the souls of the disciples.”  As he and Barnabas leave, he wants them to persevere in the faith knowing  “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  They’re on their way to God’s eternal kingdom, but the road will be rough.

Does this apply to us too?  Or only to these first Christians in Asia Minor?  Paul answers years later:  ” In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Everyone.  This is “trickle-down tribulation.”   Jesus told his disciples, “if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  We who follow Jesus can expect no different treatment from the world than it gave him.

We’re blessed to enjoy religious freedom in the U.S.  However, whole generations of Christians have come to casually expect it as our right without cost.  Additionally, a diluted version of the “prosperity gospel” has infiltrated the church; consequently,  we’re shocked when a Christian couple, instead of wildly succeeding, loses their business for living their faith.

Recently, Franklin Graham warned, “I believe we’re going to see persecution in this country.  We’ve already seen many laws that have been passed that restrict our freedom as Christians. I believe it’s going to get worse, and we see no question [that the Islamic faith is]  gaining influence in Washington . . . We do have a problem in this country and we are losing our religious freedom and we’re losing it a little bit day by day.”  (Franklin Graham on”Fox and Friends”)  Read more at

So here’s what I hear Paul saying to me–and to you . . .

Be inspired with courage, knowing you are on your way to God’s eternal kingdom.
Keep that kingdom in view as you face necessary tribulations along the way.
Stand stubborn and strong in your faith!
This is
Jesus’ tribulation trickling down to you.

God-Appointed for Life

O PreacherWhy do some people believe the gospel of Jesus crucified and resurrected and others don’t?  The aftermath of Paul’s sermon at the Pisidian Antioch synagogue contains an unconventional answer.

(If you missed it, you can read his sermon in Acts 13:16-41—

Thoughtful Response to the Gospel.

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue,the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.
When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked
with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:42,43).

Did resurrection prove Jesus is God’s Son, the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel?  The Jews’ answer would be life-changing, so they wanted more information.  They invited Paul and Barnabas back next Sabbath.  Others, however, followed the missionaries  to learn more that day.

We should commend people like that who recognize the gravity of the gospel and want to think deeply about it.  I grew up in a generation where responding to Jesus seemed more emotional than thoughtful.  Even today, I suspect many people’s reaction is knee-jerk.  Such a decision for or against Jesus is foolish.  This is the most transformative choice we will ever make.

Hostile Response to the Gospel.

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.  Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.  For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”  When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.  The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.  But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.  So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:42-52).

The next Sabbath “almost the whole city”–that would include a high number of Gentiles–attended synagogue. That made the Jews, especially the leaders, resentful.  They reacted, not by sending unwanted Gentiles home, but by openly contradicting Paul and criticizing him.

How might we feel if a guest speaker visited our church and attracted a huge crowd of “undesirable” people?  Especially when they sat in “our”seats!

Paul responded by saying, “We came to you first, since you are descendants of Abraham.  But you’ve refused to listen.  You’ve decided you’re unworthy of the gospel of eternal life.”  So we’ll go to the Gentiles, because the Lord made us a light to them to bring this salvation to the whole earth.”  At that the Gentiles were happy and the Lord’s word spread throughout the whole area.  But the Jews convinced the “women of high standing” to presumably persuade their husbands (city leaders) to drive Paul and Barnabas out-of-town.  It was an ignominious conclusion for the apostles, but a glorious one for the gospel.

God-Appointed Response to the Gospel.

That brings us back to our original question:  Why do some people believe the gospel of Jesus crucified and resurrected and others don’t?  The answer sits at the end of verse 48—all who were appointed for eternal life believed.  The implication is clear:  some were appointed for eternal life, others were not.  The ones appointed believed, the un-appointed did not.

The Greek word translated “appointed” is tasso.  It’s used in Acts 15:2 of Paul and Barnabas and others “appointed” by the church in Antioch to attend the important Jerusalem Council.  And it’s used of a day “appointed” for visiting Jews to meet Paul who was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:23).   The English definition of “appoint” is “to name or assign to a position, office, or the like.”  To “appoint” is to “assign, choose, name.”

Someone “appointed” some of these Antioch Gentiles (and probably some Jews also) for eternal life.  Who?  Certainly not Satan!  No human has such power.  The only possible answer is the Lord.  So Luke is explaining that those whom the Lord named to receive eternal life believed the gospel.  Those not named did not believe and did not receive eternal life.

Therefore, what looked like a chaotic defeat for the gospel in Antioch turned into a joyful win!  Despite city-wide, official opposition, despite the messengers being kicked out-of-town,  many believed with great joy and “and the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” 

Our Hope for a Gospel “Win”.

I don’t want to get into a Calvinist/Arminian debate.  (If you don’t know what those terms mean, you’re probably better off.)  Rather than debate, let’s be encouraged.  Obviously God was the initiator here.  He appointed many for eternal life.  Consequently, they believed.  This is what and why we pray for unbelievers we care about.  God must be the initiator.  (“Lord, please move Mary to believe in Jesus!”)

This gives us great hope for “Mary”, because her coming to faith doesn’t depend on our powers of persuasion.  It depends on the Lord acting on Mary’s mind and heart.  It depends on him appointing “Mary” for eternal life and giving her faith.

So, instead of getting tangled up in knotty theological questions, let’s stand firmly on this text and pray for the unbelievers we love, begging our Lord to act in mercy and grace and love to “appoint” them for eternal life and bring them to faith.  What an encouragement this is!  “Mary’s salvation doesn’t depend on us, though we have to speak the gospel.  Eternal life, and the faith that leads to it, depends on our God who has mercy on whom he has mercy (Romans 9:15).  Only he can enlighten dark minds and soften hard hearts!







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