The Author Of Eternal Life

light-through-clouds-1264548_1920

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9).

The text is speaking about Christ. Indeed, the whole of the book of Hebrews speaks of Christ and his superiority over all things. Christ offers salvation and eternal life. But one may ask, why Salvation?

Salvation is needed because of humanity’s sin problem. We trace the sin problem to Eden where the fall of Adam became the fall of the whole human race. The image of God, in which we were created was defaced. We are alienated from God because of sin. Our mind lacks understanding, our hearts corrupted and hardened by sin and and only Christ can save us from this alienation.

Why Is Christ Fit To Offer Salvation?

1: He is a Perfect Saviour

Among many meanings, the word perfect denotes completion and fulfillment. Christ was made perfect in the sense that he fulfilled all of God’s plan for salvation. He kept and fulfilled all of God’s law that we couldn’t keep.

2. Christ is the author of Salvation.

Only through him can sinners be saved. He went to the cross for sinners. And he has a name above every name. In his name salvation is offered.

3. He paid the ransom

Christ gave his life as a ransom for our sins. He paid the debt of sin we owed.

The Call To Obedience

You don’t own your soul and without Christ you are lost eternally. And the salvation Christ offers is salvation of the soul—eternally. Seek Christ to save your soul. Those who hear him take his word preciously and obey the gospel.

The good news is this: you are helpless, bound for hell and a Saviour in Christ comes to appease for your sins and offered salvation. Come to Christ. Look to him for your salvation. Jesus shows us abundant love and mercy. While we were sinners he died for us.

—This is a summary of sermon notes I made of a sermon preached by  Pastor Ferguson Kcofie  on 26/11/2017 @ Truth Missionary Baptist Church, Dansoman-Exhibition. Truth MissionaryBaptist Church is a Reformed Baptist Church in Accra-Ghana and is the church I attend.

Also, the notes are mine and hence solely liable for any misinterpretation of doctrine or the sermon which may appear in this summary.

Advertisements

Philemon: A Practical Letter For Christian Living

bible-431483__340-33196aoivfiwbd6qoor30q

Download PDF or Word Document of article.

Philemon 1:1-25

There are twenty-seven books of the New Testament divided mainly into; The Gospels (Synoptics and John), Acts, Paul’s Epistles, General Epistles and Apocalypse/Revelation. Majority of the NT are epistles (Paul’s and others’) forming twenty-one of the twenty-seven. Paul wrote thirteen 13 letters–some to churches, pastors and individuals. Further, four of Paul’s letters are called prison epistles because they were written in Prison; namely: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. Philemon is an epistle and to study it we have to approach it as a letter. In doing so, we will seek to answer five questions: Who wrote Philemon, when and where was Philemon written, Who was/were the recipients, Why was it written and what can we learn from it? Answering the first four questions will lead us into a proper application—what we can learn from Philemon.

Who Wrote Philemon?

Letters in the New Testament world were written just as we write letters today, albeit with some differences. Letters in the then world starts with a greeting and salutation where the author(s) introduce themselves. Sinclair Ferguson in his book Let’s Study Philippians notes that “Letters began with three words: (i) the name of the writer; (ii) the name of the recipients; (iii)’greetings’.” [1] We see examples of these standard openings of epistles identifying authors in some of these epistles: 2 Timothy 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 John 1:1. Now in answering who wrote Philemon; let’s look at verse 1: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother…” Clearly, we see Paul introducing himself as the author. Timothy is also introduced to us as a co-author. Timothy, was Paul’s protégé who was being raised as a Pastor

When and Where Was Philemon Written?

Paul’s opening words “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus…” is no “spiritual language”. He wrote from prison (vv.1; 9; 10; 22). And Philemon as has been identified earlier is one of the four prison epistles. It was believed to have been written in Rome (Acts 28:16; 31) in A.D. 62

Who Was The Recipient?

Philemon, the name of the letter, is the recipient: “To Philemon our beloved fellow worker…” (v.1). The letter was also perhaps to be read by others as they have been included in the recipients: “…and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house” (v.1). Philemon was a wealthy and generous man who was hosting a church in his house. It is to be noted that “The early Christians met in believers’ homes” (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). [2] Again, Philemon was converted under Paul’s ministry. We know this because Paul mentions it in v.17 pointing out to Philemon that he owes him his very life: “A reference to the fact that Philemon was converted through Paul’s ministry, so that Philemon “owed” Paul something far greater, namely, his eternal life.” [3]

Why Was The Letter Written?

Philemon had a slave–Onesimus– who run away with stolen money from his master. However, in the course of his “runaway life” Onesimus encountered Paul’s ministry and was converted. He served Paul in his imprisonment for some time. However, Paul knowing the right thing to be done sent Onesimus back to his master. And the letter to Philemon accompanied Onesimus’ return. Paul wrote appealing to Philemon to receive Onesimus back. Now, there is a clarification which needs to be done concerning slavery as it occurred in New Testament. This is necessary because one may ask why Paul, an apostle will want a slave to return to his master when he has had the opportunity to escape. Also, the repulsive imagery of slavery in a modern world may be imposed on the New Testament hence losing entirely the lessons contained in this letter. To this, I quote the below for clarification.

People became slaves in various ways: Many were prisoners taken in war; others were kidnapped by slave hunters; still others were enslaved through debt; and, of course, there were the children born to slaves. The slavery many English-speaking readers of the Bible are most familiar with is that of the blacks in America, but the Roman situation was more complicated. Within the general category the most burdensome form of slave life was endured by those who did heavy manual labor, e.g., in the mines, building construction, and the rowing banks on ships. By contrast many who worked in households for understanding masters would not have been much worse off than servants in wealthy British homes at the end of the last century known to TV watchers through “Upstairs, Downstairs.” On a particularly high level were the very well-educated slaves who administered their master’s estates or businesses, instructed the children, and even earned their own money. These would have been the group from which many emerged by gaining or being given freedom.[4]

How Do We Apply The Letter To Our Lives? (What Can We Learn From it?)

Having explored the first four questions, we can now go further to find out how the letter is relevant or can be applied to our live. Below we will identify some lessons in the text relevant to our Christian living.

Christian Interpersonal Relationships

Christians relate in divers ways with one another (Ephesians 5:1-33; 6:1-9, Mark 12:33) and the heart of the letter is about Christian relationships and reconciliation when things go wrong. One of the first lessons we learn in our relationship with each other is the place of intercessory prayers for each other (James 5:16). Paul tells Philemon “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers” (v.4). This teaches us about gratitude to God for our fellow believers and we must make it a point to remember all believers—those we know and believers in general—in our prayers. People often ask us to remember them in our prayers and yet many are guilty of not honouring this request. It shouldn’t be so. Let’s get involved in each other’s life through intercession. We must also pray for the needs of those who minister the gospel. We see this in Paul’s closing words in Philemon: “…for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (v.22). Paul here asks for prayers for his release.

Philemon also teaches generosity towards one another marked by love and faith in Christ. Christian relationship must be characterised by love that shares—Koinonia (vv.5-7; 1Corinthians 13, Philippians 1:5). Philemon, as a person is presented to us as a generous person: “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (v.7). He was a generous man concerned with the upkeep of the saints. Not only that, he had opened his home for Christian fellowship. His faith in Christ overflowed into generosity towards the saints and in service to the Lord.

Christian relationship is also not manipulative. Paul, though he was an apostle, he found it necessary not to impose his will on Philemon with regards to the return of Onesimus. Paul tells Philemon”…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…” (vv.8-9). The subsequent verses were all appeals from Paul for Philemon to receive Onesimus—not “by compulsion but of your own accord (v.14). A window is opened here for us to see into Paul’s heart. He practices what he preaches. Remember in 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul has written that love is not selfish—it doesn’t insist on its own. Here is Paul living what he preaches. He could use his apostolic office to get what he wants; but rather, for love’s sake he appeals to Philemon. In our Christian relationships; especially in places of leadership, we must ensure we are not abusing our authority over those God has given us responsibility over.

Finally, Christian relationships must be marked by forgiveness and not be vindictive (vv.17-19). In the New Testament Hellenistic world, a captured slave who attempted running receives a harsh punishment. According to John MacArthur, recounting the lives of slaves in the then world, points out that “Their master’s had virtually unlimited power to punish them, and sometimes did so severely for the slightest infractions.”Paul however calls for something radical than what the culture promotes. He calls for reconciliation, especially so because Onesimus is now not just a slave, but a fellow believer. Christian relationships must be that of forgiveness. We have been forgiven and reconciled to God and we must in that same spirit seek to forgive one another. In the prayer our Lord taught the disciples, he taught them and by extension us to pray “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12; see also 18:21-22).

Christ Saves

When Onesimus escaped from his master, he was an unbeliever. But now he is returning to his master not as a returnee slave so to speak; but as a brother in the Lord: “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother–especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (v.16). This is the beautiful message of the Christian gospel! It reconciles. It bonds together in love people from all status of life: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). What happened to Onesimus? He encountered Christ and was changed. Sinners need to come to faith in Christ to be forgiven, cleansed of their sins and above all be reconciled to God for eternal life. What Onesimus had in common with his master was that they have all come to faith in Christ through the gospel. We see Onesimus’ life transformed by Christ to the point that Paul wrote “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me” (v.11).

The Providence of God

Though not directly, Paul teaches the providence of God in this letter. Paul links Onesimus’ salvation to his running away. He run away to be saved so to speak: “for this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever” (v.15). Perhaps, if he had not run away, he wouldn’t have been saved, Paul seem to be saying. I see Paul trying to bring Philemon’s attention to the fact that whatever happened was for a reason, that is, Onesimus’ salvation. What Paul asserts here can be compared to the narrative of Joseph and his brothers. What happened, according to Joseph was meant for good by God for the sake of posterity (Genesis 50:19-21). We also read in Romans 8:28 that “for those who love God all things work together for good.”

As believers, we must come to the point of looking at our world through the lenses of God’s providential ordering of events to the accomplishment of his will: “God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” [5] The believer doesn’t live by chance but by the divine ordering of our God and King.

Christians And Suffering

There is a world of erroneous teaching out there that Christians must not suffer. But the Bible doesn’t teach such. Paul says in Philippians 1:29 that “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” This is the testimony of Scripture. If we are followers of Christ, we are going to face all categories of suffering however Christ promises us his peace (John 16:33).

In this letter, we see a clear picture of Christian suffering. Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. Philemon, a faithful brother in the Lord had also may have encountered an emotional suffering pertaining to his runaway slave. As Christians, we must not, in any way expect our lives to be rosy without any setbacks or suffering for that is not promised in the Bible. This doesn’t however mean the Christian faith is all gloomy for we have also been promised joy and peace in the Lord (John 14:27). However, this promise of peace is at the backdrop of suffering. We will suffer, but Christ is with us and we can have peace in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Keep Hope Alive

Despite the challenges and problems we will encounter in our Christian walk, we must not lose heart. We must continue to hope and believe in God in all of life’s circumstances. And Paul clearly points to the hope he has of been released from prison. He wrote: “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (v.22). Though he was in prison, Paul didn’t become despondent. He kept hope alive.

In fact if you read through his prison epistles, they exude with joy. In Philippians 3:1 he says “rejoice in the Lord”. In Ephesians he breaks forth with praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3). Finally in Colossians 1:24 he says “Now I rejoice in my sufferings….” With Paul’s hope of release from prison, we can learn something about our own situations. We must keep hope alive in Christ. As believer’s, what we have is a living hope and we must never cast it away in whatever situation

 

Notes
1. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians ( Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth, 2005), 1
2. R.C. Sproul, (Ed.), The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2189.
3. Notes on Philemon 1:18-19 in ESV Global Study Bible,2012
4. Raymond E Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament ( New York, Doubleday, 1997), 503-504
5. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1827-1828
6. Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.1

The Son Of God Is Not Called Jesus Christ. He is called Yeshua Hamashiach—Owusu Bempah

_lB-fJeF

A video has been making the rounds with Rev. Owusu Bempah of Glorious Word Power Ministry International purporting “that the real son of God is called Yeshua Hamashiach reiterating that Jesus Christ was an impostor. “The son of God” he said, “is not called Jesus Christ. He is called Yeshua Hamashiach.” The video and transcript can be viewed here.

Now, his statement doesn’t deserve a response because it is not an issue at least at the level of Christian scholarlship. It is simply a case of ignorance. But considering that he is a so called Reverend and the number of controversies he stirs in this country, it is right to put the issue in its right place.

In the first place, the name “Yeshua” is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word ישוע. Now unless one has the ability to read Hebrew, that word is meaningless. Yeshua in Hebrew simply means “Saviour” and the Greek transliteration is “Iesous” from which we have Jesus—the English transliteration. So unless you are reading the New Testament in Hebrew, there is no point for a Hebrew word —ישוע–Yeshua in an English Bible especially so when the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

He went on further to say that “The name Jesus Christ was given by Constantine”. This is incredibly ludicrous.  Yeshua Hamashiach, again is another transliteration from Hebrew to English. In English it means “Jesus The Messiah” which is English transliteration of the Greek Iesous Cristos; also a transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua Hamashiach. Mashiach means “anointed”. John recorded this in Christ’s discourse with the woman at the well:

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he. (John 4:25-26).

He continued Jesus Christ is not the name of the son of God. There was this man who came called Nero who was killing the followers of Jesus Christians who were not even called Christians but Nazarenes.  He could feed them to lions and other dangerous animals but their numbers increased.

There’s some truth in the above. Historically, it is true there was a man named Nero who persecuted Christians. An online article “Who Was Nero?” captures something about Nero worth considering:

Nero took the throne approximately two decades after Christ was crucified. Although still in its infancy, Christianity was spreading rapidly during this time. In fact, approximately fourteen of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books were written in whole or in part during Nero’s emperorship. Also during Nero’s reign the apostle Paul was confined to house arrest in Rome (AD 60—63), where he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Nero was the “Caesar” to whom Paul appealed for justice during his trial in Caesarea (Acts 25:10–12).²

Rev. Owusu Bempah in his statement also claims Christians were called Nazarenes. That is also false. The name Christians—believer and follower of Christ — was first used in Acts 11:26. The word is another Greek-English transliteration meaning follower of Christ: Christos; a Christian, i.e. Follower of Christ — Christian. ³

Before the name Christians (Acts 11:26), The followers of Christ were called People of the Way (Acts 9:2). Remember Christ said he is the way, the truth and the life ( John 14:6).  There are men on pulpits who don’t know what they believe. However, these men are drawing crowds and leading people astray. These things could have easily been cleared if Owusu Bempah had spent some time reading around. We live in sad times as a Church in this nation. I pray God gives us discerment and raises preachers who will only preach the truth and not engage in “irreverent babble, [which] will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2Timothy 2:16).

Notes

1:https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Jesus-Christ-not-the-son-of-God-he-was-an-impostor-Owusu-Bempah-597752?video=1

2:https://www.gotquestions.org/who-was-Nero.html

3: http://biblehub.com/greek/5546.htm

 

No Resurrection, No Christianity

art-2092530_1920

John Chapter 20

The whole of  John Chapter 20 speaks of Christ’s resurrection and the events surrounding it. The resurrection is a fundamental Christian doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls. Without the resurrection, Christianity has no hope to offer. Paul makes that point clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:11-19. Now considering the centrality of the resurrection to Christian doctrine, it is important we study it. In this article, an adaptation of a lesson I taught at a fellowship meeting, I will consider five points about the resurrection which can be gleaned from the text.

The Resurrection Is historical.

The empty tomb points to a true historical event. Christ was crucified. He was buried. And he resurrected. Dr Simon Gathercole of the University of Cambridge in an online article noted that,

The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur. [1]

To establish the historicity of the resurrection, let’s look briefly at three points worth considering about the resurrection in the text.

(i) It happened on a specific day.

The resurrection is recorded to have happened on the first day of the week which is a Sunday. Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday. He rose on the third day. The disciples will further adopt this day as the Lord’s day—the day of worship. That day became the believers “solemn assembly” when they met to worship (Deut. 16:8Jn 20:1926Acts 20:7).

ii) There Were Eye Witnesses Account

Jesus didn’t vanish into thin airwhen he resurrected. He showed himself to people as proof of his resurrection. Mary Magdalene (vv. 1-2; 11-18), Peter, John and the other disciples (vv.3-10; 19-20), Thomas  (v.26). In Jewish tradition, witnesses must be two or more to be admissible and the events met that criteria (See Deut. 17:619:5).

(iii) The Resurrection Wasn’t A Hoax.

Before Christ resurrected, there were fears his disciples will steal his body and feign a resurrection (Matt.27:62-66). However, firstly, the disciples were not expecting a resurrection to go to the extent of faking one (vv. 2; 9). They had also locked themselves up for fear of the Jews and there was no indication they had the capability of stealing the body (v.19). Moreover, the tomb, according to Matthew was under security guard (Matt. 27:66). Finally, the folded grave cloths defeats a robbery. What grave looter has the luxury of time to nicely fold grave cloths?

(iv) There Was An Empty Tomb

That there was an empty tomb is evidence for the resurrection. If Christ didn’t resurrect, then his body must have been seen in the tomb. However, all who came to the scene looked into the tomb and didn’t see Christ’s body. Mary Magdalene thought the body had been stolen. Peter and the other disciples looked into the tomb and saw nothing. There was simply no body in the tomb. A very informative article from the gospel coalition by Paul Rezkalla, titled 4 Reasons to believe in the empty tomb is worth our attention in this discourse. These four points are (i) The empty tomb predates the gospel, (ii) the body was buried in Jerusalem, (iii) the empty tomb was discovered by women and (iv) there were claims of a stolen body. [2]

A Fulfillment Of Scripture

John speaks of the resurrection in relation to Scripture: “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead (v.9). Jesus, while he was with them also spoke of his death and resurrection (John 2:19-22). Paul also speaking of the resurrection speaks “in accordance with Scripture” (1Cor.15:1-3). The resurrection happened as Scripture prophesied. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebuked the disciples for not believing what was spoken of him about the events in Scripture of his death and resurrection:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

We see Christ walking them through Scripture—the Old Testament— and opening their eyes to the truth of what was written about him.

The Resurrection Is The Foundation Of The Great Commission 

When Christ appeared to the disciples, he charged them with the great commission: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (vv.21-23).

Christ sends the disciples, gives them his very breath of life — the Holy Spirit and puts authority in their proclamation of the gospel which when believed brings life and damnation to those who will not believe. Because Christ rose; the disciples had the power and basis upon which to witness about the gospel (1Jn. 1:1-31Pet. 1:16-20). Paul says  “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1Cor.15:14 ff). Christ rose from the dead and that’s the hope of believers and sinners who will run to him in faith. Matt Permann in an online article titled Historical Evidence for the Resurrection points out seven reasons for which the empty tomb gives credence to the resurrection. And he mentions preaching of the gospel as the first. He wrote:

…the resurrection was preached in the same city where Jesus had been buried shortly before. Jesus’ disciples did not go to some obscure place where no one had heard of Jesus to begin preaching about the resurrection, but instead began preaching in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had died and been buried. They could not have done this if Jesus was still in his tomb–no one would have believed them. No one would be foolish enough to believe a man had raised from the dead when his body lay dead in the tomb for all to see. [3]

The Resurrection Teaches Christ’s Divinity.

One thing we cannot miss in John’s gospel is Christ’s divinity. John opens his book with that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. (John 1:1). Thomas’ response to Christ  in v.28 is instructive: “My Lord and my God!” Been a Jew, that is blasphemous if Christ was not God. And knowing who Christ was, he would have rebuked Thomas if his assertion about him was inaccurate. Again, we will note in the text that, when Thomas first told the disciples he would see the marks on Christ’s hands before believing, Jesus wasn’t present. But in Christ’ second appearance to the disciples, he showed Thomas his crucifixion marks:

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. (vv26-27).

Christ’s omnipotence and omnipresence is displayed in that event. He knew Thomas’ doubts though he wasn’t physically present when Thomas expressed those doubts. All things are bare and naked before God (Heb. 4:13). Christ is God. Peter tells us it was impossible for death to hold him down  (Acts 2:24).

Faith And Eternal Life In Christ

John ends his account by saying:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God , and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30-31).

To John, this is his overarching motive for writing his gospel account; that people will come to Faith in Christ. The end goal of Christian ministry is leading people to faith in Christ by the preaching of the gospel. Anything else apart from this has no grounds. All we do as Christians and ministers of the gospel must have this one goal: that people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God , and that by believing [they] may have life in his name.” Anything else is, borrowing from  Paul, to be counted as dung.

Notes:

1 Dr Simon Gathercole, What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/14/what-is-the-historical-evidence-that-jesus-christ-lived-and-died.

2. Paul Rezkalla, 4 Reasons To Believe In The Empty Tomb, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-to-believe-in-the-empty-tomb

3. Matt Permann, Historical Evidence for the Resurrection, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection

The Gospel: God’s Message To Humankind

zoom-in-on-cross_b1qufnxwb__S0000

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus , called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1)

Paul introduces himself as a servant of Christ. He goes on further to say why he is a servant of Christ; he was set apart to proclaim the gospel of God. And as a servant, he Christ did not call him to proclaim his own ideas and philosophies; as many preachers do today in the name of preaching. The Christian message takes its source from God. It is God’s message to human kind. The word gospel simply means good news. Hence the Christian message — the gospel of God is the good news of  God.

Now good news exists because there is bad news. The bad news is that human beings are sinners separated from God by sin and damned for condemnation (Ps. 51:5, Jer. 17:9, Jn 3:18-19, Rom. 3:23, 6:23; Eph. 2:1).

However, God in his mercy has made a way of escape for the sinner and this way is faith in Christ Jesus (Jn.1:12, 3:16, Rom.3:24; 28, 5:1). Christ is the ‘content‘ of God’s message. The gospel of God, Paul says was “…promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh“(v.2–3). Paul here tells us plainly that God’s message is about Christ. And where we find this message is in Scripture. Christ is, as I have already mentioned, the ‘content’ of God’s message. Christ is our kerygma—the proclamation of the Christian message.

One may further ask, “What about Christ?” Paul answers that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v.4). The Christian message is centred on the death and ressurection of Christ. That’s the gospel: “…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…he was buried…he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3-4).

The gospel—Christ’s death and resurrection is the only hope by which sinners will be saved. Sinners can only be reconciled to God as they believe in the gospel and repent from their sins. Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:17 that Christ did not send him to preach the gospel “with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”. There is power in the preaching of the cross —death and resurrection — of Christ for the salvation of sinners (1Cor 1:18).

Any message not centred on Christ and his finished work on Calvary is no gospel. The gospel is not God has a purpose for you. The gospel is not God cares about you. The gospel is not God will heal you. The gospel is Christ died for sinners and rose again that through faith in him sinners will have eternal life.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

—Isaacs Watts

Evangelist Prays Over ‘Bloody’ River: Christianity or Superstition?

 

blood-water-620x330

Much of what we call Christianity in this country is superstition carried over from animistic beliefs garnished with biblical jargon. For instance, many will explain every sickness or death as having an evil spirit behind it. In Ghana, nobody gets sick or dies of natural causes. Every sickness, death or misfortune ought to be explained ‘spiritually’. Either somebody in your family is “doing you”(an expression that means one is being  manipulated spiritually in the dark world by another) or a work colleague, business partner, family or friend is behind a misfortune of another.

Professing Christians have become obsessed with the devil to the point of making God appear powerless and out of control. I am tempted to believe the God of these so called believers is not the God of the Bible. Christians are counselled against  visiting their hometowns because family members will harm them spiritually. Others are instructed not to remit their relatives—even parents.

When I hear these things, I ask what happened to the sovereignty of God over his creation that Christians believe or must believe?

And all these, sadly, comes from Christian pulpits and churches. Preachers have become purveyors of fear instead of preachers of the love and grace of God which forgives sin through faith in Christ Jesus. Social media seem to have heightened our superstition.

On Saturday 7th October, there was a reported case of a river in the New Juaben municipality turning red like blood. This incident, according to a chief in the community was a result of a chemical pollution in the river. The Ghana Police’s preliminary investigations also corroborated the chief’s assertion. Below is an excerpt from a news item carried on Citifm.

Our preliminary investigations show that, it was not blood, but rather some unscrupulous persons might have poured some chemicals into it upstream and that was what was flowing downstream.

However, as usual, superstition came into play. Residents of the town are said to have been superstitious about the incident. What is troubling however is a Christian minister of the gospel joining in the superstition chants. A news item on GhanaWeb, “Lawrence Tetteh exorcises ‘bloody river’ of demons” reads as below:

The Founder of World Miracle Outreach, Dr Lawrence Tetteh has visited the New Juaben municipality in the Eastern Region to exorcise the ‘blood red’ Nsukwa River of any evil spirits after the water body suddenly changed colour on Saturday, 7 October.

The evangelist prayed for blessings for the townsfolk and asked for God’s intervention for “Koforidua to live in peace”.

During the prayer session, he said: “…We cast every demon, we say Koforidua shall be peaceful. There will not be bloodshed; there will not be anything evil, the people of Koforidua will be blessed”.

He added: “As we see this thing in the river; the river is looking like blood, whatever it is and wherever it comes from we bless it in Jesus’ name, Amen!”

This is sad and nothing close to Christianity. Dear Christian friend, let’s put our thinking caps on and be a little more discerning—it is a biblical charge. A social media commentator’s words will aptly conclude this short post.

Instead of switching on our brains and acting like intelligent humans, we dance around like heathen and call on God to do for us what we must do for ourselves.

Kofi Bentil

The Christian And Fruitfulness.

grapes-188185_1920

John 15

The central motif of this chapter is as we read on is fruitfulness. Now when a child is born, we expect growth. When a seed or tree is planted, we expect growth and fruitfulness. Likewise, growth and fruitfulness is expected and actually required of the Christian. In John 15, Christ used an agricultural metaphor to describe his relationship with his disciples and by extension us and what’s required in that relationship–fruitfulness. John MacArthur, in his Bible Commentary notes that “The NT describes fruit[fulness] as godly attitudes (Gal. 5:22, 23), righteous behaviour (Phil. 1:11), praise (Heb. 13:15), and, especially, leading others to faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God (Rom. 1:13-16)”.¹ (Emphasis mine)

As a believer, you may want to pause and ask if  any of these describes you. Fruitfulness is not an option for the believer. It is an obligation we must work towards in cooperation with the sanctifing work of the Holy Spirit. And in this post, I hope to explore in the text how a believer can bear fruit.

The True Vine

Christ described himself as the true vine in John 15:1: “I am the true vine….” The vine was an important plant in the lives of the Jews and the disciples would be well acquainted with that metaphor hence Christ’s usage of it to depict fruit bearing:

Vine, the well-known valuable plant (virus vinifera) very frequently referred to in the Old and New Testaments and cultivated from the earliest time. The first mention of this plant occurs in Gen. 9:20,21….The vines of Palestine were celebrated both for luxuriant growth and for the immense clusters of grapes which they produced, which were sometimes carried on a staff between two men as in the case of the spies, Num. 13:23…From the abundance and excellence of the vines, it may readily be understood how frequently this plant is the subject of metaphor in the Holy Scriptures. To dwell under the vine and fig tree is an emblem of domestic happiness and peace.²

The above tells how important the vine was in the life of the Israelites. Israel was described as a vine planted by God (Ex.15:17; Jer. 2:21, 12:10; Ps. 80:8). Israel as a vine was a foreshadow of the real and true vine–Jesus Christ. So when Christ described himself as the true vine, he was juxtaposing himself with apostate Israel which didn’t bear fruit.

Now, if there is a vine, then there must a Vinedresser. And Jesus identifies the Vinedresser as the Father: “my Father is the vinedresser“. The Father as the Vinedresser also indicates to us the union of the Father and Son in working towards the fruitfulness of believers—the branches.

Fruit Bearing

In John 15, Jesus speaks of how a believer bears fruit. I will categorise these into two: (i) God’s Initiative and (ii) The Believers’ Response. This means fruit bearing is a two way approach. God works in the believer and the believer responds to God’s work. Paul in his letter to the Philippians perfectly illustrated this. He wrote:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13).

God’s Initiative.

First and foremost, fruit bearing is possible only when one is in union with Christ through faith. Fruit bearing can’t happen outside of a union with Christ: “for apart from me you can do nothing” (v.5). Ultimately, it is God who works in us to bear fruit. Sinful as we are, separated from God by sin, we can do nothing pleasing to God without him first taking the initiative to love us and reconcile us to himself (Rom. 5:6-8, Eph 2:1-10; 1Jn. 4:19). God saves the sinner by grace and joins them to Christ through faith: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (v.16).

God doesn’t leave us on our own after we are saved. He provides the strength and energy to please him through his Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. As a loving Father, one of the many ways he ensures we are bearing more fruit is pruning:

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (vv.2-3).

The believer, as we see in the text, starts from a position of justification where they are already declared clean by the word: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (v.3).We can only proceed to bear fruit because of this position of justification. We can bear fruit because we are clean before God.

Pruning

Pruning is an agricultural term where branches impeding fruitfulness on a vine are trimmed off to allow for more room to bear fruit. Sometimes it involves lifting creeping branches on the floor, supporting them with stakes and washing them with the purpose of getting maximum fruit. This agricultural imagery is what God does to a believer who is bearing fruit. God prunes them so they bear more fruit. Pruning takes place in many ways.

When the word of God is preached for example, it searches our hearts and convicts us of our sins (Heb.4:12-13). It also involves discipline and chastisement (Heb. 12: 5-11) of the believer. God has the sole aim of conforming us to the image of Christ in character and holiness; therefore any sinful habit or even a ‘good thing’ which may stand between us and God in this journey of conformity would be cleared—pruned away.

We notice also in the text that there are those who don’t bear fruit and are cut off and cast into fire. This picture depicts eternal damnation and since a believer would not be brought into eternal damnation; these unfruitful branches are actually those who may appear to be believers but are actually not. If a person claims to be a Christian and is bearing no fruit in their walk with God, it may be a cause for concern. Are you truly saved? You must bear fruit.

The Believers’ Response

So far, we have looked at God’s initiative towards the believers’ fruitfulness. As already discussed, God works and the believer responds. And in John 15, Jesus tells the disciples how they will bear fruit or how they are to respond to the vinedresser—God’s initiative. They are to abide in him“Abide in me…” (v.4).

The Bible student, to understand this, will naturally ask what it means to abide in Christ and then proceed from there  to find answers. The Christian takes her source of nourishment and growth from the vine. This means the Christian, as a branch, will have to be glued to Christ to bear fruit. To ‘Abide in Christ’ is to continue daily to nurture our relationship with Christ in faith, obedience, fellowship in prayer, study of God’s word and other spiritual disciplines.

So firstly, abide involves taking root in our faith walk. We come to Christ in faith and our journey and pilgrimage on this earth is that of faith for without faith no one can please God (Heb.11:6). It is also communion with Christ through prayer anf the study of God’s word—the Bible. Indeed Christ calls the believer into fellowship through prayer and the study of his word: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v.7). Prayer and the study of God’s word is the means through which we encounter Christ. We cannot trust when we don’t have the word in us. Faith comes by hearing the word (Rom. 10:17).

Finally, to abide is to live in obedience—“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (v.10). In our days, any talk of obeying or keeping God’s commandments raises eyebrows and is very likely to receive the charge of legalism. However, Christ has called us to obedience. We can’t live anyhow and continue to call ourselves Christians. We must live in obedience to God’s commandments and indeed he has given us the grace to live in obedience to his word—“For this is the love of God , that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn.5:3).

Love for God is manifested in keeping his commandments. Loving God is not sentimental. It is obedience to his commandments and obedience in loving one another: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. (v.12). Remember the greatest of all commandments is love—loving God and your neighbour (Matt. 22:37-39). When we have done all these, then the joy of the Lord, which is our strength and which is a fruit of the Spirit will become ours: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (v.11).

Our response to God’s initiative is to bear fruit by abiding in Christ.

What’s The Essence Of Fruit Bearing?

Firstly, fruit bearing is a mandate given to the believer. It is a ‘charge to keep‘³ the believer has. Christ tells his disciples he chose and appointed them that they will bear fruit (v.16). God’s sovereign electing grace of the believer has fruit bearing as a goal. There are good works the believer is elected to walk in (Eph. 2:10).

Secondly, bearing fruit is evidence of discipleship. A truly converted soul will have fruits to show. Saving faith must be accompanied by fruits– good works. True discipleship is evidenced by fruit. Martin Luther aptly said “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Faith without works, James says is dead (James 2:22; 26).

God has provided all the believer needs to bear fruit. He has given us his Word, his Holy Spirit and the body of Christ—the church— to aid us in our journey of faith. If indeed we are saved, we must be desirous to bear fruit to glorify God.

Notes:

1.John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary ( Nashville, Tennesse: Thomas Nelson, 2005)

2. William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary ( Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendricksons Publishers, Inc, 2008), 731

3. From Charles Wesleys’ hymn “A Charge To Keep I Have”