Who killed Jesus?

“A new poll finds that 26 percent of Americans believe the Jews killed Jesus. They’re historically ignorant, but they do read their Bible — that is who the New Testament blames, after all.” (Candida Moss, The Daily Beast)

Is there really conflict between history and the New Testament? Does the New Testament “blame” one group of people for the death of Jesus Christ? Evidently Candida Moss did not read her Bible.

It’s completely inadequate to say that the Bible blames one group of people for the death of Christ. Instead, Scripture presents a convergence of different participants in the death of Jesus. The historically accurate way to answer the question of who put Christ to death is to acknowledge the full account outlined below:

The leaders of Israel

  • “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4).
  • “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:1-2).
  • “His blood be on our hands and on the hands of our children” (Matthew 25:27).

Judas Iscariot

  • Judas betrayed and sold Him but later said, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4).
  • Prior to this, “Satan entered Judas, …. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus” (Luke 22:3).

The leaders of Rome

  • “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” … “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified” (John 19:10,16).
  • “… the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him” (Matthew 27:27-31).

Jesus himself

  • The night before his betrayal, Jesus prayed, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27,28)
  • “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. …This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:11,18).

God the Father

  • “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 4:4-5).
  • “God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us” (Romans 8:3-4).
  • “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
  • “God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might have right standing with God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

A convergence of participants

  • “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:22-23).
  • “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).

We are all to blame

  • The apostle Peter, who exposed his “fellow Israelites” for using “the help of wicked men” to put Christ to death, included himself as responsible when he wrote, “He (Jesus Christ) himself bore our sins in his body on the cross…” (I Peter 2:24).
  • “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18).

A display of God’s love

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
  • “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:9-10).

“How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom”

Steve Cornell

What does it mean to be gospel-centered?

The gospel is the great news about what God has done to make it possible for us to be forgiven and restored to fellowship with Him in Christ.

A summary of the gospel is outlined in II Corinthians 5:17-21. 

Gospel-centered living happens when three tenses are kept in view:

  1. What we were apart from Christ (past)
  2. What we already have in Christ (present)
  3. What we will have through Christ (future)

Reflection: Titus 3:5-6 – “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Galatians 2:21 – ”if right standing with God could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Colossians 3:1-4 – “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”

Gospel-centered living is based on two confessions:

  1. Romans 7:24 – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (my imprisonment to sin)?
  2. Romans 7:25 – “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – 8:1)

Reflection: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). (see: Romans 3:19-20). “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32).

Have you responded to what God has done for you through Jesus Christ? 

Here is a way to express your need to God:

“God, I am ready to admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself and deserve to be punished for my sin. But I believe that Jesus Christ died for me to pay the debt I owe.”

“Today, the best I know how, I am placing my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I am turning to you for forgiveness and salvation. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty my sin deserves. I believe that when he died on the cross, his death was for my salvation. Through Jesus death and resurrection, you did what I could not do for myself.”

“I thank you right now for the gift of eternal life promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ. I now turn my life over to you. I thank you that by believing in Jesus Christ I can be your forgiven child and be completely assured that I will never perish but have eternal life with you. Help me to always recognize that my relationship with you is only based on what Jesus did for me. Protect me from the kind of pride that thinks that I can do what is needed to make myself right with you.”

Reflect on these Scriptures: Luke 18:9-13; John 3:16-18; Romans 10:9; II Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 2:8-10;

Share this with others. 

Steve Cornell

Resurrection is life after life after death

I expect to be resurrected one day because Jesus promised that, “…everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

But when I say I expect to be resurrected, I am not only saying I expect to live after the death of my physical body. I do expect this, but resurrection is more than life after death.

Resurrection is bodily life after life after death. It is postmortem existence stage two. In other words, I expect to return to identifiable bodily existence just as Jesus did.

Everyone should expect to be resurrected because Jesus also promised, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

The last experience of life is death. It is the most certain thing in every person’s life. “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). But death is not final. Some definitions for death use the word irreversible. One defines it as the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning. Another includes the irreversible loss of personhood.

Do these definitions oppose all forms of postmortem existence? Or, do they only deny the possibility of physical life after death? 

Six events of history remind us of how important the body is to God.

  1. Creation: God fashions the body from the dust of the earth
  2. Incarnation: God enters the body prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5)
  3. Resurrection (Christ’s and ours)
  4. Ascension: Jesus has bodily existence at the Father’s right hand
  5. Salvation: The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
  6. Glorification: Final redemption of the body (Romans 8 )

Most people expect some kind of life after death and also fear the possibility of postmortem accountability.

Yet how many really expect dead people to rise from the dead in actual bodies? Clearly the early disciples of Jesus did not expect his bodily resurrection. Despite his repeated predictions of his death and resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus crushed their hopes of a kingdom with Jesus as their king. The notion of a crucified Messiah (much less a resurrected one) was not part of their worldview. And, to be fair to them, the resurrection of Jesus is unparalleled in ancient near eastern religion.

But after the unavoidable evidence that Jesus had broken the power of death and was alive again, the disciples became bold witnesses and the Christian Church was born. Apart from the actual resurrection of Jesus, it would have been exceptionally strange for his dejected disciples to go everywhere spreading the message that Jesus had risen from the dead. They boldly announced to everyone that, “God raised him up putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

If this was only a self-fabricated story, there is no reasonable explanation for the birth and flourishing Christianity. And they didn’t go to some distant town to preach the resurrected Christ. They began announcing it in the very city where Jesus had been buried. Their message would not have lasted for one day if Jesus’ body were still in the tomb. The religious leaders who were eager to silence the message could have easily done so by revealing Jesus’ body.

Even more incredulous are theories about a stolen or resuscitated body. It is nonsense to suppose that the disciples got past a Roman guard, rolled a massive stone aside, unwrapped the grave cloths and restored Jesus’ body to health after crucifixion.

The first recorded witnesses to the resurrection were women. This is significant because a woman’s testimony was not credible in first century legal systems. Yet the documents telling the story don’t pander to the expectations of the times to make the story more plausible. The facts are presented as they happened.

The four gospels were written by and on behalf of eyewitnesses. They were circulated during the lifetimes of those who were alive at Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus’ body had still been in the tomb, these people could have easily discredited the accounts.

It is simply beyond imagination that Christianity and two thousand years of the legacy of Jesus would have flourished based on a resurrection hoax. I realize that other religions have flourished based on lies but most of those who embraced them did so under coercion. True Christianity is not spread by forced allegiance.

Certainty of death, judgment and resurrection

Scripture says. “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The Apostle John wrote, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12-13).

Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

“when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (I Corinthians 15:54). “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Steve Cornell

 

 

What kind of Savior do you want?

83327-truth_in_loveOur songs of praise and worship often focus on God’s power to help us and the fact that there is nothing that He cannot do.

A possible danger in this emphasis is that (like the Palm Sunday crowd) we will connect these songs to a God who is primarily interested in delivering us from difficult circumstances rather than from the power of sin and death. 

This is the emphasis found in a therapeutic gospel promising that God will heal your damaged emotions and broken relationships. Certainly God is gracious to work in every area of our lives but the greatest display of His love and deliverance is what Christ did to free us from the curse of the Law and the power of death (Galatians 3:13; Romans 3:19-25; II Corinthians 5:17-21). 

Let’s not set people up with false expectations about the Christian life being one of boundless triumph over all obstacles. While it’s true that there’s nothing that God cannot do, we must honor His timing.

One day God will restore us to a place where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” but this will not happen until “the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And the possibility of such restoration is solely based on what God has done for us “when the set time had fully come,” and “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).

We live in the time of history when Jesus calls his followers to take up the cross and follow him. We are not called (at this time of history) to take up our scepter and rule with him. It’s so easy in a fallen world to want a Savior who offers temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances more than one who offers eternal deliverance from sin and death.

Loss of focus

Is it possible to become so consumed with wanting God to solve our temporal problems (a broken relationship or a physical limitation) that we no longer joyfully celebrate what God has done to remove our greatest enemy, sin and death? Don’t allow the temporary things of this life to diminish your grateful worship of the God who, “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).  

Steve Cornell

Triumphal Entry of Jesus

Palm-Sunday-650x487Today is Palm Sunday, a time when churches throughout the world pause to remember a special event that occurred on the Sunday before the crucifixion. The event is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Many will leave their places of worship today with palm branches as a symbolic identification with the original crowd who cried out,

“Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”

In reconstructing the scene, all four gospel accounts are necessary for a complete picture. This triumphal entry is recorded in each gospel (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12).

The Triumphal entry took place during the time of Passover when hundreds of thousands of Jews made their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. 

One historian noted that during this time:    

“All the open ground near the city and perhaps the sides of the very hill down which our Lord had recently passed were now being covered with the tents and temporarily structures of the gathering multitudes …” (Ellicott, quoted in Pentecost, pp.372-373)

Matthew 21:1 – offers a geographic point of reference: “When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives…” 

Concerning this path, D. A. Carson wrote:

“The Roman military road from Jericho to Jerusalem passed near the village of Bethphage (a name which means “house of figs,” reminding the reader of the many fig trees in the area). The village stood on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives so Jesus’ route would … afford Him a spectacular view of the city, rising to the heights of the next, slightly lower hill, the hill of Zion; but equally it would enable watchers in the city to detect His approach” (p. 128, Themes From Matthew).

“The Mount (of Olives) stands about three-hundred feet higher than the temple hill and about one-hundred feet higher than the hill of Zion, affording a panoramic view of the city.” (p. 437, E. B. C., v. 8)

John 12:9-19 offers a detail that intensifies the excitement and expectation,

“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

“Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” 

The raising of Lazarus from the dead made a big impact on the expectation of the crowd and on the hostility of the Jewish leadership.

Jerusalem: the destiny to which Jesus has been moving in submission to the divine plan

  • Luke 9:31 – And they (Moses and Elijah) were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
  • Luke 9:51 – “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
  • Luke 13:31-35 – “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.’”
  • Luke 18:31-33 – “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Jesus will only be in Jerusalem for one week but it will be a week that changes the world.

As the scene progressed, Jesus prepared for His entry in a very notable way:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (Matthew 21:1-3)

What is the significance of this preparation?

Matthew 21:4-5 reveals that it was prophetic, quoting portions of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.

“This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:4-5).

This was a purposeful act of self-disclosure on the part of Jesus sending a clear signal to the Jews of His day that he was presenting himself as their King. The words “King” and “Kingdom” were consistently associated with Jesus from his birth to his death (see: Matthew 2:1-2; Mark 1:14-15; John 18:33-37).

In considering what Jesus did,

Unlike so many other times in Jesus’ ministry, at this point, He does something to purposefully draw the crowd’s attention. 

Alexander Maclaren wrote: “If He had planned to create a popular rising, He could not have done anything more certain to bring it about than what He did that morning when He made arrangements for a triumphal procession into the city, amidst the excited crowds gathered from every quarter of the land (p. 291, Mark)

  • Although horses and chariots were often associated with the procession of kings, it was not out of the ordinary for kings and rulers to use the donkey in times of peace (Judges 5:10; 1 Kings 1:33—horses w/ war times; donkeys w/ peace times)

At the triumphant re-entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (recorded in Revelation 19), the scene will change.

In Revelation 19:11, John observed “heaven open; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”

But, in this triumphal entry, Jesus clearly presented Himself to the nation as the Messiah/King in keeping with the prophecy of Zechariah given 500 years earlier. 

Yet He presents Himself in humility and meekness, riding the lowly beast of burden, preparing to bring a very different peace than the crowd wanted — peace with God—and preparing to bear the burden of their sin — as the Passover lamb of God — not the burden of their temporal circumstances, their yoke under Rome .

Alexander Mclaren wrote:

“For so we see blended two things, … absolute authority, and meekness of poverty and lowliness. A King, and yet a lowly-King! A King claiming His dominion, and yet obliged to borrow another man’s colt in order that he might do it! A strange kind of monarch! — and yet that remarkable combination runs through all of His life. He was obliged to a couple of fishermen for a boat, but He sat in it, to speak words of divine wisdom. He was obliged to a lad in the crowd for barley loaves and fishes, but when He took them into His hands they were multiplied. He was obliged for a grave, and yet He rose from the borrowed grave the Lord of life and death. And so when He would presents himself as a King, He has to borrow the regalia, and to be obliged to this anonymous friend for the colt which made the emphasis of His claim. ”Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.” (292, Mark)

Before moving forward in the account, it’s important to understand an historical reality of the time.

  • The Jewish people had lived for many years under the domination of heathen nations. Presently they were under the yoke of Rome, and the desire for a Messiah as a deliverer from heathen power ran deep in their hearts and minds.
  • When you combine this strong desire with the speculation that surrounded Jesus, you can see why the crowds erupted in praise.
  • Since Jesus had demonstrated miraculous powers, maybe He would use those powers against Rome and deliver the Jewish people and establish His kingdom.
  • The time seemed right. After all, it was Passover — that feast commemorating the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage.
  • And the means of Jesus’ entrance — was full of prophetic significance— which no doubt stirred the crowd with even greater expectation.
  • And they showed it in their words and deeds. They spread their garments in the road; they spread palm branches down before Him. And putting the accounts together, they cried out, “Hosanna!” – an exclamatory plea meaning “Save now!”

The crowd was filled with excitement and expectation regarding Jesus! And even when some of the Pharisees objected, telling Jesus to rebuke them, so significant was this occasion that Jesus said, “I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.’”

Their words of honor and praise were appropriate but they were also tragically short-lived.

How little this crowd understood.

  • They rightly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah — the son of David, but they misunderstood His purpose at this moment of history.
  • They were right in recognizing His kingship, but they had little perception of His kingdom on spiritual terms.
  • Jesus did not come to conquer Rome. He came to conquer a greater enemy — sin and death.
  • He did not come at this time to make war; he came to make peace with God. 
  • In fact, Jesus would soon predict the very destruction of Jerusalem!

So, in just a few days, when they realized that He would not deliver them on their terms, they turned on Jesus and unanimously demanded the release of Barabbas (John 18:40) after which, they began an ominous chant concerning Jesus: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

As a nation, they united in official rejection of their Messiah, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us!” And then, the physical sons of Abraham made a chilling request, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

From “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” in just a few days.

Their misguided expectation — broke out into superficial praise — but quickly gave way to a bitter and costly rejection when Jesus didn’t meet their expectations. Isaiah spoke accurately of them saying, “This people draws near to Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me. 

One commentator noted that:        

“The people wanted Jesus on their own terms, and they would not bow to a King who was not of their liking, even though He were the Son of God. They wanted Jesus to destroy Rome but not their cherished sins or their hypocritical, superficial religion. But He would not deliver them on their terms, and they would not be delivered on His. He was not a Messiah who came to offer external peace in the world but to offer the infinitely greater blessing of internal peace with God.”

“Many people today are open to a Jesus who they think will give them wealth, health, success, happiness, and the other things they want. Like the multitude at the triumphal entry, they will loudly acclaim Jesus as long as they believe He will satisfy their desires on their terms. But like the same multitude, a few days later, they will reject Him when He does not deliver as they expect” (Matthew 16-23, p. 262, John MacArthur).

Please understand that no deliverance can compare to the deliverance Jesus provided at the cross. He gives deliverance from the power of sin and the curse of the law.

On a more positive note, we might safely assume that some from among this group were true believers. There were the 120 and the 500 brethren whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.

We can also assume that some of them were among those who heard the apostle Peter’s convicting message —in Acts 2 — on the day of Pentecost when about 3,000 souls were saved.

And, not long after these events, in Acts 3, at the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the temple, all the people were full of amazement rushing toward Peter and John. And Peter delivered another powerful message to which thousands responded.  

Finally, consider another large group who hold palm branches and give praise to God. 

 In Revelation 7:9, John wrote,                

“After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

And verses 14-17 identified this group:                

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.” 

What about you? 

  • Like the crowd on Palm Sunday, do you draw near to God with your mouth and yet have a heart that is far from Him?
  • Have you elevated temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances over eternal deliverance from sin and death?
  • Many of our songs of praise and worship focus on God’s power to help us and the fact that there is nothing that he cannot do. The danger is that we (like the Palm Sunday crowd) interpret the songs as God’s deliverance from troubling temporal circumstances rather than from sin and death.
  • We live in the era of history when Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. We are not called (at this time of history) to to take up our scepter and rule with him. It’s altogether too easy for us to want a Savior who offers temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances over eternal deliverance from sin and death.

For reflection:

  • Romans 5:8- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • Romans 8:32 – God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”
  • John 10:18 – “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily.”

Steve Cornell

Should we always use the Bible in witnessing for Christ?

Paul’s approach to outreach and ministry is a great model for followers of Christ. His normal pattern was to bring the gospel message first to the Jews using synagogues as his base.

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah” (Acts 17:2-3, NLT).

But the apostle also expanded his outreach to the market place or the public square.

“While Paul was waiting … in Athens, he … went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16-17).

Consider Paul’s method of communication revealed through the terms used to describe it. He “reasoned with them .. explaining, proving and proclaiming ….” These are not words that describe passive engagement. Paul was clearly intense and passionate in communicating the gospel.

But take special not of how he “reasoned with them” (see: 17:2,17). This is a translation of the Greek word behind our English word “dialogue.”

“Dialogue implies a free and open exchange of ideas, perceptions, problems and options with a desire to arrive at an understanding of truth. Since it allows for people to really communicate where they are spiritually, socially, intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally, we believe it encourages a more relevant kind of instruction” (John Stott, Romans). (See also: I Peter 3:15).

This was Paul’s method. He didn’t shout bible verses or form a team to march around Athens. He didn’t target territorial demons of Athens and cast them out. He simply found people who were open to discuss the truths of the gospel and presented Jesus to them.

Paul no doubt presented these truths passionately and persuasively. He was a master at dialogue and a strong apologetic evangelism in tune with his audience. He was a clearly man of action who was ready to enter the arena of conflict between truth and error.

The synagogue and market place today

Paul spoke to Jews on the Sabbath and went to the agora (the market place) where people did business and gathered for casual conversation and exchanging ideas (“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” – Acts 17:21).

The apostle seized the opportunity to intelligently and persuasively present Jesus and the resurrection to all who would listen.

“Today the nearest equivalent to the synagogue is the church, the place where religious people gather. There is still an important place for sharing the gospel with church-goers, God-fearing people on the fringe of the church, who may attend services only occasionally. The equivalent of the agora will vary in different parts of the world. It may be a park, city square or street corner, a shopping mall or market-place, a ‘pub’, neighborhood bar, café, or student cafeteria, wherever people meet when they are at leisure. There is a need for gifted evangelists who can make friends and gossip the gospel in such informal settings as these” (John Stott).

It is significant to note how Paul “used the Scriptures to reason with the people” in the synagogue (Acts 17:2), but he did not quote a single Scripture in his message to the philosophers of Athens (see: Acts 17:22-34).

Paul’s opening text for the philosophers was actually “an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god” (Acts 17:23). He also quoted Greek poets, (“‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” Acts 17:28). 

What should we take from this?

Paul’s message in Athens was clearly based in truth that could only be known by revelation from God. Look closely at his opening words, 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:24-27). 

How could Paul speak so definitively about such great truths? Only based on revelation from God. All that Paul proclaimed to these philosophers was true and based on revelation from Scripture. But Paul did not use the Scripture explicitly as he did among the Jewish people in the synagogue (“he used the Scriptures” Acts 17:2).

This is important to recognize for our method today. When people are unfamiliar with the Bible, sometimes explicit use of it with phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “Scripture says…” or “In John 3:16, we read….” can become an obstacle to their willingness to hear the truth revealed in Scripture. We must be careful about “canned methods” of outreach that take a one-size-fits-all approach. We might also want to ask if we hold some kind of mystical belief in the use of quotation as a necessary means for God’s power and truth to be heard. 

There was nothing “watered down” in Paul’s message to the philosophers. He didn’t avoid things that might offend their belief system. “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’” (Acts 17:32). Paul did not compromise God’s truth in bearing witness but he communicated it differently in different settings based on the context and worldview of the audience.

Does the truth he spoke to the philosophers bring the power of conviction in the same way as a quotation of Scripture? Evidently it does since we learn that, “Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34).

My title for this post might be a bit misleading: “Should we always use the Bible in witnessing for Christ?” The answer is obvious. But, based on Paul’s method in Athens, we should also ask, “How we should use the Bible?” 

Is it possible that it requires an even greater knowledge of Scripture to effectively use the truth it reveals as Paul did in Athens? 

I think the diversity of models for outreach in Acts 17 deserves more thoughtful dialogue in the Church today.

Steve Cornell

Mind, emotions and the gospel

“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life.” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).

Mind and emotions

Emotions are based on concerns. They arise because one cares about something that gives occasion to certain feelings.

Emotions are deeply connected to how one chooses to construe her circumstances in a matter related to a real concern. A construal – is an interpretation of the meaning of something; a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, or person.

Emotions and construals

  • To feel indignant is to choose to see myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself.
  • Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
  • To feel despair is to see my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
  • To feel envious is to see myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
  • To feel guilty is to see myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe.

How to dispel emotion

“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some ‘terms,’ to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.”

Control over emotions

“It is important to Christians that emotions are partially within people’s control, that they can be commanded. Scripture commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When Scripture reminds us that love is not jealous, or irritable, or resentful it seems to assume that these feelings are broadly within the control of the reader. Being resentful is not like being five foot six or having congenitally bad teeth.” (R. Roberts, p. 21).

Emotions and the Gospel

The ‘terms’ of the Christian emotions are provided by the Christian story, there is a necessary connection between the Christian emotions and the Christian story” (Ibid. p. 21)

“The gospel message provides people with a distinctive way of construing the world: the Maker of the universe is your personal loving Father and has redeemed you from sin and death in the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus. You are a child of God, destined along with many brothers and sisters to remain under his protection forever and to be transformed into something unspeakably lovely” (Ibid., p. 16).

  • To experience peace with God is to view God as a reconciled enemy.
  • To experience hope is to see one’s own future in the eternity of God’s kingdom,
  • To be Christianly grateful is to see various precious gifts, such as existence, sustenance, and redemption, as bestowed by God.

Not our whole story

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end” (Roberts).

Steve Cornell

Evil and death are conquered!

As we approach the time of year when Christians focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we stand in awe of the way God chose for victory over evil and death. 

Take time to reflect on this great quote and the Scriptures and song of worship below:

“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented” (Henri Blocher).

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21, NLT).
  • Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25, NLT).

God will not be mocked

Many years ago, Reinhold Niebuhr warned against proclaiming, “a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

His words have a sad prophetic feel to them as I look at the landscape not merely of mainline protestant denominations, but of popular evangelicalism.

The subtlety of how this often begins is captured in the following advice. 

“We shall do well to play down the picture of God or Christ as Judge. A range of alternative models, the healer, the therapist, the patient lover, the counselor, all seem more appropriate for bringing out the primary interest of divine judgment, namely, the restoration of the creature to integrity and the winning of his love, despite what he has done or made of himself in the past” (B. Hebblethwaite, The Christian Hope [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984], 215). 

I suspect that this counsel would be heard by many (even among evangelical leaders) as wise. But it’s actually very dangerous in that it risks a therapeutic gospel where a Savior from sin might feel unnecessary — or at least not the most pressing concern. 

Ultimately, we must see that this kind of counsel mocks God by proposing man-centered philosophy in the place of the word of God, the cross of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who faithfully proclaim a God of righteous judgment will increasingly find themselves on the outside if this counsel prevails. 

God’s servants in Old Testament times faced similar challenges:

  • II Chronicles 36:16 - “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.”
  • Ezekiel 8:17-18 - “Have you seen this, son of man?” he asked. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger? Therefore, I will respond in fury. I will neither pity nor spare them. And though they cry for mercy, I will not listen.” 

Let us heed the warning, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Let us also remind ourselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as taught by Jesus himself, “…when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” (John 16:8-9).

The apostle Paul closed his message to the philosophers of Athens declaring that, “God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Salvation occurs in connection with a series of experiences that trace to judgment and guilt. Four sequential elements are involved - conviction, contrition, confession and conversion.

Steve Cornell

Have we misunderstood sowing and reaping in Galatians 6:7-8?

If someone asked you to explain how we could have eternal life, would you answer him by saying, “whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8)?

Most Christians would be uncomfortable with this answer because it appears to imply a works-based salvation. So what does this verse teach?

The words “to please” used by the New International Version are not in the original text. The New Living Translation translates this verse more explicitly as a lifestyle, “those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8).

Is this what Paul meant by “sowing to the Spirit”? Both versions translate Paul’s words in a way that indicates lifestyle or personal choices (flesh or Spirit). But the end of the verse is clearly about outcome in terms of eternal destiny.

How should we understand the original intention?

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8, ESV).

These are familiar verses reminding us of a general truth about reaping what you sow. But what was the intended application when these words were written to the believers in Galatia? Is there a purpose to these words (in the context of the book of Galatians) that has been overlooked?

The difficulty is not really with what is presented in verse 7 where the Apostle Paul simply issues three warnings that are applicable in many circumstances. In a kind of staccato form, the apostle warned,

  1. Do not be deceived (cf. I Corinthians 6:9;15:33; James 1:6, 22)
  2. God is not mocked (cf. Genesis 3:1-6; II Chron. 36:16; Ezek. 8:17;Pr. 1:26-27)
  3. You reap what you sow (cf. II Corinthians 9:6; James 1:13-18)

Each warning has broad application to many areas of life. The question in context, however, is why the warnings were given to the believers in Galatia. Why do they appear at this point in the letter? The opening of verse 7 has an abrupt and unexpected feel to it following verse 6. Why such a seemingly significant shift of tone and focus?

The apostle had already issued strong words of rebuke and dismay about how easily the believers drifted from the true gospel toward a blend of gospel and law (Galatians 1:6-9). He referred to them as “foolish” and “bewitched” (3:1-3) and said he was “perplexed” by their actions (4:20).

False teachers had gained influence in the Churches by teaching that believers could not have acceptance with God unless they were circumcised. This was a direct assault on the gospel because it required works of the law as an addition to faith in Christ.

This is the primary concern of the book of Galatians and is addressed pointedly in Galatians 5:2-4.

“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace” (Galatians 5:2-4, NLT).

Earlier he wrote,  “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Galatians 2:16,21, NLT).

This concern had eternal implications because it was an assault on the very basis of salvation. “… those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law’” (3:10, NLT).

The part of the law that the false teachers were pushing was a need to be circumcised. This was perhaps a way to elevate Jewish identity as necessary for acceptance with God. They wanted the Gentile believers to honor the sign of the old covenant. This is the issue behind the contrast that dominates the book between faith and Law in the first half and Spirit and Flesh in the second.

Reference to flesh has a range of meanings from physical flesh (as in circumcision), to relying on human effort instead of God; to works of the flesh in moral terms.

Toward the close of Galatians, the apostle exposes the motivation of the false teachers,

“Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13, NIV).

How then should all of this help our understanding of Galatians 6:7-8?

Is the apostle primarily concerned about sowing to the flesh in terms of salvation or way of living?

Recent translations like the New International Version and the New Living Translation make the decision or the readers by applying these verses to Christian living.

The more contemporary translations involve more interpretation in the process of translation. This is done to help the reader understand what is being said in a way that they can apply more readily to their lives. These two versions have done a helpful job in many places.

The tricky point for the teacher of Scripture is to decide if he agrees with the interpretation reflected in the translation. (Remember that all translation involves some interpretation).

For example, Galatians 6:7-8 are translated as follows:

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV).

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8, NLT).

“Sowing to the flesh” is applied in these translations as “sowing to please the flesh” (NIV) and “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature.” The English words “please” and “satisfy” (although not in the original) are used by the translators to explain the intended meaning. They both imply lifestyle choices that reach back to a contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit (5:19-23).

This is the way most people have understood and applied these verses. But there is possibility that the original intention was an application to the gospel itself — a reference to eternal salvation. The verses end with this in view.

Consider the way the English Standard Version translates these verses:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8, ESV).

As with the New American Standard, the ESV tends to render more of a word for word movement from Greek to English. In verse 8, the concern is about “the one who sows to his own flesh.” The word “own” translates the Greek reflexive pronoun and raises a question as to why “his own flesh” is emphasized.

Could this be a reference to the primary concern about these believers being deceived into thinking that salvation requires “works of the Law” in relation to the act of circumcision of the flesh?

Earlier the apostle used rhetorical questions with salvation in view, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3)

If “sowing to the flesh” is about distorting the gospel by adding law to grace, we understand more clearly the contrast at the end of verse 8 between reaping “corruption” or “eternal life”? The term corruption or destruction could have a more general meaning than eternal ruin (II Corinthians 4:16-18), but when placed in contrast with eternal life, it likely refers to ultimate destiny in contrast with eternal life.

One could argue that those who live lives of sowing to the flesh show by their actions the eternal destiny that awaits them. After listing the works of the flesh, Paul clearly stated that, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21).

It is possible that a choice of “sowing to the Spirit” involves both a rejection of salvation in Christ alone and an expected lifestyle of the works of the flesh resulting in destruction rather than eternal life. But we must always be sure that this is what the text means and is not our effort to rescue the text with our theology from what we don’t want it to mean.

The hard-hitting warnings of Galatians 6:7 about deception, mocking God and reaping what one sows, along with the implied responsibility and accountability in sowing and reaping, could be aimed at the issue of how one approaches God regarding salvation. The close reference to “flesh” in Galatians 6:12-13 draws the focus back on circumcision.

“Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13, NIV).

Conclusion

While I see how one could apply sowing and reaping to lifestyle choices about flesh and Spirit (cf. Romans 8:5-9; 13:14, see: You harvest what you plant), the focus at the end of v. 8 is clearly on eternal salvation. This is what requires careful explanation.  

However we choose to apply Galatians 6:7-8, the clear appeal to personal accountability reminds us that we are not passive recipients of God’s work in our lives. We are unworthy recipients. We do not attract God to us by personal worthiness. He loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and we can only love Him because he first loved us (I John 4:19). But we are called to believe (John 3:16) and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God works in us (Philippians 2:12-13).

Steve Cornell