What Brings Us Joy?

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Do you ever have times when a line from Scripture jumps out at you and cannot get past it in your thoughts? One morning this past week was such a time. As I was reading in Proverbs 10, the first line of verse 26 struck me in such a way. It says, “The hope of the righteous brings joy.”

Our hope brings us joy; the anticipation of Jesus’ appearing and all that He has promised us for all eternity.

It’s the specifics of our hope that inspire me when I get out of bed in the morning. They are the reason I am able to joyously look beyond the impact of aging on my body. They are the reason I still feel young at heart and enjoy silliness, laughter, and having fun. Christ has redeemed the inner me and given it eternal life. Time is irrelevant to my spirit; my inner being does not have to age along with my body.

This is why something deep inside me groans when preachers gloss over biblical references to Jesus’ appearing to take us home or when popular authors ignore the matter altogether. Are they not doing a disservice to the body of Christ by keeping the hopes and joys of their audience pinned to the things of this life? I believe so!

A glorious day of redemption is coming (see Rom.  8:23-25). It’s the time we receive our glorified bodies and experience total wholeness not only physically but also emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It’s when we will be forever free from the very presence of sin.

I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to preach again and excitedly proclaim the joy that comes from focusing on our hope of Jesus’ return to take us home, to the place He is specially preparing for us (see John 14:1-3). What wonder awaits us when we return with Him to earth and experience the incredible joys of the kingdom?

Can we even imagine the excitement of reigning alongside Christ with physical bodies like His?

Yes, our hope should bring us incredible joy. We should be jumping up and down with excitement.

Please Note: I am going to be updating my blog soon with a new title: Our Journey Home. The emphasis will still be on a two-world perspective and include our walk with God in anticipation of unending joy and glory.

 

3 Compelling Reasons for Hope

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Jesus’ tomb is empty; it’s an established historical fact. All the attacks on Jesus’ resurrection come in the form of trying to explain the vacant grave. They do this because they cannot deny the reality that His body was missing from His tomb.

However, no one has ever been able to come up with a credible explanation for Christ’s empty grave. Jesus is indeed alive!

The resurrection matters so much to our faith because if Jesus did not walk bodily out of His grave, if His body was buried somewhere else in ancient Israel, then humanity has absolutely no hope.

The reality of Jesus’ resurrection matters to our hope in so many ways!

Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . .  If in Christ we have hope in this life only we are of all people most to be pitied.” Do you understand what the apostle is saying here? If Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith in Him is totally worthless and we are more to be pitied than anyone else in the world. Wow!

The reality of Jesus’ resurrection matters to our hope in so many ways!

1. The Resurrection Verifies Jesus’ Claims

I hear so many people say Jesus was a good moral teacher, but they deny most, if not all, the claims Christ made about Himself.

What would happen if I were to go through the area where I live making these claims?

  • That I was equal with God the Father
  • That I was the only way to God the Father and eternal life
  • That those who reject me will perish; they will end up in hell
  • That as God I had the ability to forgive sins
  • That after three days I would rise from the dead
  • That someday I would return to the earth in great glory with all the world watching

Would I be hailed as a great teacher after making such claims? Something inside me says, “No!” I would more than likely end up in the psych ward at the local university hospital under lock and key.

You cannot make the assertions Christ did without backing them up in a convincing and overwhelming way. Jesus’ resurrection did exactly that!

No one can make the claims listed above (all of which Jesus made during His ministry) and later be regarded as a fantastic teacher. It’s impossible.

You cannot make the assertions Christ did without backing them up in a convincing and overwhelming way. Jesus’ resurrection did exactly that!

2. The Resurrection Establishes Jesus’ Credibility

So many people say they worship and trust Jesus, but then state they do not believe so many of the things He said.

Suppose you are selecting a guide to take you on a three-day hike deep into a dense and dangerous wilderness territory. You have read Surviving in the Backwoods written by candidate A and although he said many things in his book that you like, you believe he got almost everything wrong about what it takes to survive in the wild. And on top of that, he has never ever hiked in the area you want to explore.

Would you hire him? Unless you feel a tad suicidal at the moment, probably not.

Is this not what so many do with Jesus? They believe He was wrong about the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, the Genesis flood, and the credibility of the Old Testament but claim to worship Him. I do not understand such logic. Why would anyone revere someone who in their mind was flat out wrong about so many basic aspects of their faith?

The resurrection verifies that Jesus is trustworthy not only in His claims about Himself, but in everything else He said. It also proves He is able to do the impossible.

3. Jesus Alone Is Able to Take Us Home

Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope because it demonstrates He is able to give us eternal life.

If I am alive when Jesus returns, He will change my earthly body into an immortal and imperishable one and take me to His Father’s house, to a place He has specially prepared for me. The same is true if I die before His appearing. It should be beyond obvious I cannot do any of this for myself once I am dead.

So, how can I trust Jesus to do the impossible in raising me from the dead and at the same time say his beliefs about the purpose of marriage, God’s creation of each of us as either male or female, and His views on morality and the sanctity of life are not only totally wrong but highly offensive? I absolutely cannot do that. Either Jesus is right about marriage and life or He is a fraud incapable of giving me eternal life or providing any hope in this life or in eternity. There is no middle ground.

If Jesus got these basic things totally wrong then He is still in a grave somewhere, is either a lunatic or a liar (if not both), and my faith is utterly in vain (at best). The tens of millions of people throughout history who died refusing to denounce Christ gave their lives totally in vain failing to denounce some liar who lived long ago.

Are you beginning to see why I cannot say Jesus was wrong about these controversial issues and still have an ounce of faith in Him?

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul again, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all those who have fall asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). This is where our hope rests!

Jesus is alive; He rose from the dead; His words are true regardless of what anyone says about them.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we know that all His words are true regardless of how unpopular they are at the moment. Popularity does not establish credibility or truth; Hitler was incredibly popular in Germany during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Now his name is an anathema everywhere on earth.

Jesus was the most unpopular person of His day. But today, two thousand years later, hundreds of millions of people trust Him to give them everlasting life because His tomb is empty. Jesus’ resurrection forever establishes his words as true and gives us an unfailing foundation for our hope. He is alive; He is coming again!!!

The resurrection is why we treasure the words of Jesus and trust Him. It’s why we possess an unfailing hope of spending eternity with Him.

It’s why we can have supreme confidence in His claims, words, and supernatural power.

He’s alive! He’s alive indeed!

Shipwrecked!

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The Bible bad guys in Shipwrecked! teach us about our walk with the Lord. We learn where their thinking went awry, which led to disastrous decisions. They looked to the things of this life to bring them satisfaction.

In keeping with an emphasis on knowing God, I conclude each chapter in the book with a “Walking with God” section. The purpose of these concluding paragraphs is to focus on what each character teaches us about walking with the Lord through all the ups and downs of life.

When life does not go as planned, relying on a memorized list of what to do (or not do) rarely helps us. Instead, it’s our walk with God that gets us through those times. Although what he sends our way remains unpredictable, his character never changes. Even in the darkest times, we can know he dearly loves us and will provide the strength we need for whatever we face.

Shipwrecked! stresses bringing the Gospel into everyday frustrations and setbacks!

This book is now available on Amazon.com

An Unshakable Kingdom

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Is there anything around us today that we could describe as “unshakable?” Politicians, movies stars, and leaders continually prove that they are frail human beings just like everyone else.

Instability defines our world. Wars and continual threats of war add to the instability of our world. I cannot remember a time when there has been so much talk about the devastation that natural disasters could cause. For years, economists have warned that our national debt in America could lead to dire consequences.

However, because of the promises of Scripture we can rejoice and give thanks even though everything around us is falling apart. Here is what the author of Hebrews said, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus offer up to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). Our hope is not in our broken down culture, but in an unshakeable kingdom that is not of this world but is coming to this world with the Second Coming of Christ.

So what is this kingdom and why does it make us so secure?

It’s the Kingdom of Jesus

Colossians 1:13-14 tells us that as saints, God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This is the first aspect of the good news: as believers we already belong to Jesus’ kingdom with all our sins, past, present, and future, completely forgiven.

This gives us security regardless of what we encounter in this violent world. The worst persecution cannot change our standing in Jesus domain.  And, as Paul proclaims in Romans 8:31-39, absolutely nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. We are forever secure in Him.  Even death cannot alter our standing in Jesus’ marvelous kingdom where we share in all His blessings (Eph. 1:3) and inheritance (Rom. 8:17).

It’s Physical, Too

If we look at the context in Hebrews 12 of our “kingdom that cannot be shaken,” we see that the author is describing a future shaking that will result in just God’s kingdom remaining intact (vv. 26-27). The Old Testament reference to this coming tribulation upon the world is Haggai 2:6-9 where the prophet tells of a future time of great shaking upon the earth after which the treasures of the earth will flow into Israel resulting in a temple even more glorious than the one Solomon built. Haggai further prophesies that this will also be a time when the Lord brings peace to Israel.

So not only are we as believers forever secure in Jesus’ domain, but we rejoice in the hope that someday His kingdom will be real and tangible. And not only that, Jesus’ kingdom will be secure with no sign of scandal or intrigue. The coming King will establish it in righteousness. Isaiah 32:1 says, “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in peace.” Does this not sound so much different than what we see in our world today? Jesus will rule over the earth and as God, it will be impossible for Him to lie!

Revelation 19:11-20:6 describes Jesus’ glorious return in great power to set up a kingdom on the earth that will last for one thousand years. This is more than an abstract doctrine or a hope that only applies to the people of Israel. This represents our future as well as coheirs with Jesus (Rom. 8:17).

There with our immortal and imperishable bodies, we will reign with Jesus enjoying more blessings than we can even imagine.

It’s in this secure kingdom that we will see the purposes for all we endured in this life, both good and bad. We will understand why we suffered and why the Lord led us down paths that brought joy and affliction. There with our immortal and imperishable bodies, we will reign with Jesus enjoying more blessings than we can even imagine.

This Thanksgiving season, we can give thanks that in a world becoming more unstable by the day our hope rests in an unshakable kingdom. We are secure now, regardless of anything that can happen to us before Jesus comes for us. Later, we will be secure forever in a kingdom where we will someday live free from all death, sorrow, suffering, pain, and tears.

Such a two-world perspective does not mean that we live solely for the world to come, but that we recognize that our ultimate hope does not rest in the things of this world or even our dreams of a better life.

It’s when our hope becomes earthbound that troubles magnify our fears and suffering becomes all-consuming. When we live with an eternal focus, however, we live in the reality that a glorious day is coming when Jesus will take us home to be with Him and later establish his righteous and holy rule upon the earth.

 

What About Jesus?

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Many people today do not believe in a millennial kingdom. They believe Jesus will return at a distant future time, judge humanity, and bring in the eternal state.

We refer to those to teach such a view as amillennialists because they do not believe in a future kingdom in which Jesus will rule over the world seated upon the throne of David. They believe God rejected Israel after His people spurned and crucified His Son. As a result, the church now fulfills the kingdom promises made to Israel, but in a spiritual and allegorical sense rather than in a literal way.

While I strongly disagree with these teachers regarding God’s rejection of Israel, there is something I believe they overlook. They fail to consider the Old Testament promises made to the Messiah that are separate from the ones God made to Israel.

In order to be an amillennialist, you must negate Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus as well as God’s promises of a future kingdom for Israel.

The Promise of The Father

In Psalm 2, The Father promises the Son all the nations of the world as His “heritage.” Beginning in verse 7 we read, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” The Father makes this pledge to the Son independent of His everlasting covenant with Israel.

The rest of Psalm 2 makes it clear that this is not a spiritual reign, but a physical reign over actual nations with kings. Verse 9 states, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” This does not sound like His headship of the church to me. The Psalmist is warning the kings of the earth to “serve the Lord with fear” (vv. 10-11). The Father promised His Son an actual government with authority over all the rulers of the earth.

If you deny the reality of the millennium, how do you deal with God the Father breaking His promise to His Son that He would receive such a kingdom?

If you deny the reality of the millennium, how do you deal with God the Father breaking His promise to His Son that He would receive such a kingdom? I do not think you can do that.

Does this not also explain Satan tempting Jesus with the “kingdoms of the world” in Matthew 4:8-11? He offered Jesus a shortcut to what the Father had already promised Him. Why tempt Jesus in this way if He had no aspirations for or promises about ruling over the nations of the world at a future time?

A Child Who Would Rule

Almost every believer is familiar with Isaiah 9:6-7. We hear these verses read every year around the time of Christmas and if we listen to Handel’s “Messiah,” we hear the words put to glorious music.

We celebrate the fulfillment of the first two lines of the prophecy, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We regard Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem as the exact fulfillment of these words.

Without the millennium, several of the promises regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 are now null and void.

Most people, however, give little thought to how Jesus might fulfill the promise that someday this “child” would be the head of an actual “government” sitting upon ‘the throne of David.” The rest of the passage speaks to Jesus being King over a real, physical kingdom. If Jesus literally fulfilled the first two lines of this prophecy, why do some believe He will not literally fulfill the rest of the passage? Where do we draw the line between taking the words of the prophet literally and figuratively in in this passage?

Without the millennium, several of the promises regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 are now null and void. Remember, this is a prophecy regarding the Messiah, not Israel. If we deny a future kingdom to Israel, what do we do Isaiah’s prophecy that the Christ would someday sit on the throne of David as the head of an actual government?

Jesus as Judge

In ancient Israel, the king acted as both ruler and the ultimate judge of the land presiding over the most difficult cases. Do you remember King Solomon deciding the case between the two women who both claimed the living baby? This is an example of how the ancient kings took on the role of a magistrate.

Keeping this in mind, here is what Isaiah also prophesied regarding Jesus, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth, and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isa. 11:3-4). The prophet gives us a clear picture of Jesus acting as a judge over all the earth.

This is not a picture of a future judgment; this is the Christ fulfilling His role as ruler over all the earth doing what such a king would do. Like the kings of old, He is administering justice on behalf of his subjects.

This passage does not fit with Jesus’ headship over the church. It also does not match with anything He has done since His resurrection. These verses from Isaiah 11 look forward to a time when Jesus will be the Supreme Ruler over all the earth administering justice and righteousness for all people.

King Over All the Earth

Zechariah 14:9 says this, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” If we look at the context of Zechariah 14, it’s clear that this reference is to a physical kingdom with Jesus reigning over the nations of the world from Jerusalem.

While the context assumes a restored and repentant Israel, Zechariah directs these words to the Messiah; He alone is the subject of the prophecy. He will someday be king over all the earth and hold all the nations accountable to Him, just as we see later in the chapter (vv. 16-19).

Why do I believe in a literal millennium? Why am I a premillennialist who believes that Jesus will return after the tribulation to set up His rule for a thousand years?

To deny a literal millennium, one has to say that the Father will break His promise to the Son and that the prophecies of Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth are no longer valid.

First of all, I believe that all the Old Testament promises made to Israel remain intact. God has not rejected His people (Rom. 11:1) with whom He made an everlasting covenant (Psalm 105:8-11). But, that is the subject for another article.

Secondly, God the Father, through the prophets, promised that His Son would reign over the kingdoms of this world. Psalm 2 goes even further by stating that the Father would someday give the nations of the world to His Son as His “heritage.”

To deny a literal millennium, one has to say that the Father will break His promise to the Son and that the prophecies of Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth are no longer valid.

God has to break both His promises to Israel and to Jesus if there is no future kingdom over which Jesus will rule.

God will keep His promises to His Son as well as to Israel; there will be a millennium!

 

Our Wonderful Creator

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Last night I saw an extraordinarily good documentary called Genesis: Paradise Lost that was both informative and rich in proof of the Genesis account. I highly recommend this movie, which may be playing in a theater near you this coming Thursday night, November 16.

Throughout the movie, scientists with PhD’s in their field explained how science confirms the words of Genesis 1-11. For me, this movie bolstered my faith. It was not that I had doubts beforehand, but hearing and seeing all the evidence strengthened my confidence for asserting what I believe. We have a rational faith that correlates well with science for which we can be bold and not back away when others disagree.

I left the theater with a new appreciation for our wonderful Creator and His amazing handiwork displayed everywhere we look.

The computer graphics brought Genesis one to life in a way that made we wish I could have been there to witness God’s creative work. I could sense how the Lord must have greatly enjoyed creating all the animals of the sea, air, and land and then watch as was they swam, flew, and ran.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie. It will help relieve nagging doubts about creation resulting from a public education that emphasizes naturalism, evolution, and our supposed descent from apes.

As the movie emphasized, it all comes down to Jesus and what we believe about Him. Our belief in Jesus and His words tie directly into our view of creation.

Back in July I posted an article titled “Jesus and the Book of Genesis” where I showed how Jesus validated many of the events in Genesis, including creation and the flood, as well as the people in Genesis, including Adam and Eve. The link to that post is: https://jonathanbrentner.com/2017/07/18/jesus-and-the-book-of-genesis/. This movie further demonstrates how one cannot hold on to atheistic naturalism and believe Jesus at the same time. Genesis explains why we need a Savior.

There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life. 

In 2 Peter 3:1-6, the apostle Peter predicts that in the later days scoffers would arise who would deny both the return of Jesus and the worldwide flood of Genesis. It’s interesting that the text says they will “deliberately overlook this fact” (v. 5). After last evening, I can see why Peter chose those words. There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life.

“How does believing in creation and the flood relate to Jesus’ return? you might ask. They both signify that we are accountable to God.

The bad news is that no one possesses the needed goodness to stand before a holy God. Jesus summed up the demands of God’s law with these words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That excludes all of humanity, no exceptions apart from Jesus who lived the perfect life that we could not.

In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus died on cross to take upon Himself our sins. As the apostle Paul later described it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that in Him we might receive the needed holiness to stand before our Father in heaven.

That is the good news. If we put our faith in the work of Christ on our behalf we receive eternal life. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The book of Genesis presents us with a choice. If one rejects the Genesis account of creation, this leads to the conclusion that one does not need a Savior. Such thinking reflects a tragic and eternally fatal mistake of accepting atheistic naturalism (and the evolution of man) over believing the words of Jesus.

Those who recognize their need of a Savior and turn to Jesus in faith receive His righteousness and inherit eternal life.

The evidence for the Genesis account points to Jesus. Do not delay if you have not yet put your trust in Him.

For additional information:

There is also a documentary on Netflix called Is Genesis History? Together with the movie I saw last night, these two movies display the best in scientific proof for not only creation and the flood, but also of a young age for the earth.

 

 

An Ordinary Life

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Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He became a believer at the age of 27 and a Methodist preacher at the age of 36 despite a lack of formal training for the ministry. Unfortunately, after only a year poor health made it impossible for him to continue as a pastor.

He later opened up an insurance office in New Jersey where continued ill health limited his income for the remainder of his life. He once said this regarding his humble circumstances, “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

Inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23, he wrote the words to the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in 1923. He sent his poem to his friend William Runyan who added music to the words. The hymn became popular in churches throughout America after Billy Graham started using it in his crusades.

Unlike the story behind the song “It Is Well with My Soul,” Thomas Chisholm wrote this song toward the end of what he regarded as an “ordinary” life. As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

After receiving direction to do so, I have spent the last few weeks adding more of my story to a book I am writing. This has stirred up many memories of the dark times in my life. I remembered walks late at night crying out to God in the midst of great personal pain. My time of affliction was long and filled with much despair.

I remember reading Lamentations 3:22-39 during this time and wondering if I would ever see the Lord’s compassion again or the end to my grief.

Now, however, as I look back at how the Lord rescued me from my trying circumstances and healed the deep wounds of my heart, I celebrate His faithfulness.

After I finished the task of adding my story to the opening chapters of my book, I listened to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on YouTube. As I reflected on the words, I felt like every phrase of this hymn applied specifically to me. I especially liked the words, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The Lord gave me strength even at times when I did not even realize it and faithfully renewed my hope of eternity when my outlook for this life seemed so dim.

God has been exceedingly faithful to me in bringing me through all my ups and downs. He has brought me to a place of rest that I could not have imagined twenty years ago. Where would I be without His unfailing goodness to me?

Although Chisholm may have regarded his life as ordinary, God has used the words he wrote to bless millions. His testimony of God’s faithfulness through the everyday messes of life has resounded through the church for many decades.

We never know how the Lord can use our lives. Even through what might seem mundane to us, He can use our experiences and testimony in ways we cannot imagine. When he wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Chisholm may have thought his words would drift into obscurity as have the many other poems he wrote. He likely could never have imagined the lasting impact of what he penned so long ago.

God’s plan for our lives even extends beyond the here and now.  In eternity, we will see the full end of God’s faithfulness as we see His purposes for all we endure on earth. In His hands, each unique (and even ordinary) story will fit perfectly into a beautiful and amazing kaleidoscope that will bring Him glory forever.

There we will continue to celebrate and sing of God’s great faithfulness for thousands of years to come.

We will fully understand just how much the Lord can use ordinary lives. It’s what lies at the end of our paths that matters the most.

 

The Reformation and the Gospel

Luther 95 Theses

This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

Earlier in 1517, a friar by the name of Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences in Germany as a mean to raise funds for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. By purchasing an indulgence, one could gain the release of a sinner from purgatory or help ensure one’s own salvation. For example, if someone suspected that Uncle Joe was not quite ready for heaven when he died, dropping several coins into the box carried around by Tetzel would remedy that situation by instantly delivering Uncle Joe from purgatory into heaven.

Luther condemned this practice of indulgences, the subject of several of his 95 Theses. It’s easy to see why he objected to such manipulation of the people.

Justification by Grace Along with Works

In the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day, justification had become a lifelong process through which one received grace through the church and its sacraments that enabled him or her to do the good works necessary for salvation.

Can you see how such teaching would create much uncertainty regarding one’s final status before God? How could anyone know if they had been faithful enough in avoiding sins so that God would pronounce them righteous or justified at the end of their life?

The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

This is why young Luther spent hours at a time confessing his sins to a priest. He believed that getting into heaven that he confess all his sins and live as good a life as possible. As a result, he meticulously and fervently confessed everything he thought might even possibly be a sin. The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

Justification by Faith Alone

As Luther studied Scripture, he realized that God did not base our salvation on a combination of grace and personal merit. He saw that our justification, or our righteous standing before God, did not result from a lifelong process of resisting sin and doing good works, but rather took place the moment we place our faith in Jesus.

The word the Apostle Paul used for justification denoted a judge in his day pronouncing a not guilty verdict upon the accused person standing before him. Sinners, like the person standing trial, are declared righteous once and for all time. It’s not something that happens over time.

Justification takes place the instant we call out to the Lord in saving faith, not at the end of our lives. In Romans 5:1, Paul says “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Our right relationship with God comes instantly; He declares us righteous the moment we believe.

The Apostle Paul often emphasized that God saves us totally by grace through faith apart from any merit of our own (see Titus 3:4-7 and Eph. 2:8-9). Good works come after our adoption into God’s family, not before.

Luther based his revolutionary teaching at the time solely on Scripture. An allegorical interpretation of God’s Word had begun centuries earlier as a way for some to view Old Testament prophecy symbolically. As a result, those who interpreted the Bible in such a way viewed the Old Testament promises of a kingdom for Israel as something the church fulfilled spiritually.

Unfortunately, this allegorical way of understanding Scripture later eroded the purity of the Gospel as it opened the door for church tradition to contaminate biblical beliefs, especially those pertaining to salvation.

A Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Both Luther and John Calvin condemned such allegorical interpretations and the adding of human tradition to the teaching of Scripture. They brought their followers back to a literal way of interpreting God’s Word through two key principles.

The elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

The first such principle was that of “sola Scriptura.” This signifies that Scripture alone is our sole source and supreme authority when it comes to all matters pertaining to faith and practice. For the reformers, this meant that the Bible was sufficient for all spiritual matters and thus took precedence over all the traditions of the church and the teachings of all previous popes.

This elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

Secondly, Luther emphasized “Scripture interprets Scripture” as essential for interpreting the Bible. This precept stresses that all of Scripture is God’s Word and as such does not and cannot contradict itself. Scripture thus acts as its own commentary.

A section of the Bible where the meaning is clear can and must be used to interpret a related section of Scripture where the interpretation is less evident or open to several differences of opinion.

These principles of interpretation advocated by Martin Luther and the other Reformers forever changed the course of church history and remain the standard for biblical interpretation for most Protestant churches today.

These two principles of interpreting Scripture in a literal way had another significant long-term impact on the teaching of the church, one that did not appear until well after the time of the Reformers. This later result of interpreting Scripture literally will be the topic of my next article celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Can anyone guess what this future impact might be?

 

What Did Jesus Tell Us About Our Future?

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It always helps when planning a vacation to talk to someone who has already been to the desired destination. They can tell you about what to see as well as what to avoid. The same is true with restaurants, is it not? How many of you have decided not to go to a certain eating establishment after listening to a less than favorable report by someone who had eaten there? Or, on the other hand, how many of you couldn’t wait to go to a restaurant because someone raved about its food?

When it comes to heaven, we have someone who has been there. I am referring to Jesus, of course. When talking to Nicodemus, Jesus highlighted the fact He had descended from heaven to establish His authority for speaking about heavenly things (John 3:12-13).

When Jesus talked about our future, about eternity, He did so with unique authority as not only One who came from heaven, but also as One who rose from the dead.

What exactly did Jesus say about eternity, about our future?

Jesus promised to take us to His Father’s House: Jesus said this in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” In John 14:2-3, Jesus promised to take His followers, represented by His disciples, to the place in His Father’s house He was going to prepare for them. This very much seems to be a private return of Jesus for His own that differs substantially from His quite public return to earth, which He described in Matthew 24:29-31.

Jesus gave us signs of the end times: During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of His coming and the end of the age. Matthew 24:3-14 records Jesus’ answer with the list of signs He provided to them. Since these things came from the One who could see ahead to His coming, we should not so easily brush them aside as many do today.

So many believers today pay so little attention to what Jesus said in Matthew 24 despite the fact that His words are unfolding in an amazing way throughout the world today with uncanny preciseness. We are living in the time Jesus spoke about in these verses.

Jesus foretold the future desecration of the temple by the antichrist: Jesus also verified Daniel’s prophecy regarding a future world leader, the antichrist, who would put an end to sacrifice at the temple halfway through the tribulation. Jesus referred to this as the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (see Dan. 9:27, Matt. 24:15).

In this verse, Jesus confirmed that that there will be antichrist that will rise to power in the last days and he will defile the temple halfway through the tribulation, just as Daniel predicted. This has not happened since the time of Jesus; it awaits a future fulfillment when Israel will rebuild the temple, the antichrist will establish a covenant that will include Israel, and this leader will break his pledge of peace by defiling the temple halfway through the tribulation period.

Jesus predicted a time of great tribulation: In this same passage, Jesus also predicted a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21). In the next verse, He states that if this time was not cut short, presumably by His return to earth, all humanity would perish. Jesus said that no one would survive this time apart from His coming,  which will stop the progression of events that would wipe out human life.

This is the time John spoke about in the book of Revelation. In chapters 6-19, the apostle adds details to this terrible time in human history.

Jesus described His glorious return to earth: I love Jesus’ own description of is glorious return to earth in Mathew 24:30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Jesus entered the world as a helpless baby during His first coming. For His second coming, He will return in spectacular fashion with great power and glory as the entire world watches.

Jesus spoke of His future millennial reign: At this point you might be wondering where Jesus talked about His future millennial reign. While He did not specify it as clearly as John did in Revelation 20:1-6, he certainly implied it in key passages such as Matthew 26.

During Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest demanded that Jesus tell him whether or not He was the long awaited Messiah. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was quoting from Daniel 7:13-14, a passage that prophesies the Father giving the “son of man” a physical kingdom where “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

By quoting from this passage in Daniel, Jesus affirms that one day He will be the King over the long awaited physical kingdom that will include the nations of the world.

Jesus warned people about the existence of hell: John Lennon tried to imagine life without an eternity, one without the existence of heaven and hell. In other words, our existence would end after our brief time on earth.

Jesus, however, acknowledged both the existence of heaven and hell. In fact, no one in the Bible talked more about God’s final judgment than Jesus. Seven times Jesus warned people about the existence of hell referring to it as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus repeatedly warned people of the dire consequences of rejecting Him and His gracious and loving promise of eternal life.

Jesus assured His followers of eternal life in paradise: Jesus did not come for the purpose of condemning the world, however, but for the purpose of giving His life as a “ransom for many” so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Mark 10:45; John 3:16-17). So yes, while there are frightful consequences of rejecting Jesus’ gracious offer of life, there is the promise of paradise for all those who turn to Him for salvation from the penalty of their sins. Even for the thief crucified next to Him received this assurance after acknowledging Jesus’ ability to save him from his sins (Luke 23:40-43).

Jesus commanded us to watch for His return: In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said this, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A little later in the same discourse He added these words, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). The Lord urges His followers, us, to watch for His return. This is not just something for the few on the fringe, but for all who call upon His name.

Jesus’ last recorded words to His church are these, “Surely I am coming soon.” The Greek word for “soon” is better translated “quickly.” It’s clear from His last words to us that Jesus desired for us to watch for His John 14:3 return. If this was true then, how much more today as we see the signs of the approaching tribulation multiply around us?

Why does all this matter? Do Jesus’ words carry more authority than the rest of the New Testament? No, I believe it’s all Jesus’ revelation to the church of His deity, the saving Gospel message, and the joyous eternity He is preparing for all of us who belong to Him. What we believe about the Gospel and our future after this life starts with the words and saving work of Jesus to which He added further revelation through His apostles in the first century.

These things matter so much today because so many professing believers want a Jesus who did not really say or mean several of the things listed above. They want Jesus, but deny the urgency of His saving message, the existence of hell, and His warnings of judgment. They want a Jesus of their own making, not the One revealed on the pages of Scripture.

We can trust Jesus’ words about all these things because He came from eternity and He rose from the dead, just as He said He would. This establishes His credibility beyond anyone else who has ever lived.

Oh, there is one more thing that is absolutely essential to add that many also deny . . . .

Jesus said He is the only way to the Father, the only way to eternal life: In John 14:6 Jesus said these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If you are trusting another Jesus, one who would never deny anyone entrance to heaven, please turn to the true Jesus, the One who is truly the only way to eternal life, who will be true to all His words that I have listed above. He will surely save those who belong to Him and bring them into the joy of eternity.

If you are trusting your good works or being a good person to get you to heaven, please know that Jesus died for your sins precisely because your good works could never merit you any favor with the Father. He is the only way to the Father; He is the only way to eternal life.

The cross proves how much Jesus loves us; He was willing to die in our place.

It’s Jesus’ righteousness that counts, not our own. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The cross proves how much Jesus loves us; He was willing to die in our place. If you have not yet put your faith in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins, please do not reject His gracious and loving offer of life any longer.

The time of the end is rapidly approaching, please turn to the Savior before it is too late. Jesus said He would return when we do not expect.

I Know Him

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During the past several weeks, I have been writing about the resurrection and what it means regarding our beliefs about Jesus, His authority, His teaching, and His views of Scripture. I believe this represents a missing link both in the church and in our nation today. So many want to claim Jesus as a good teacher, but yet fail to believe what He says about so many things. Many Christians worship Him while at the same time expressing disbelief in many of His teachings.

A couple weeks ago, an old hymn came to my mind called I know Whom I Have Believed by Daniel W. White. The song reminded me of another reason why I trust the words of Jesus; it’s because I know Him. I have absolute confidence in my risen Savior, the One I have walked with for so many years.

Jesus said this in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” For years, I thought this referred exclusively to some sort of inner calling; I sometimes wondered if I was missing out on things He was saying to me.

We hear His voice as we read Scripture and know it is him speaking to us.

Then I realized that this verse refers to His voice regardless of how it comes to us. It includes the conviction inside our hearts that His words are true. We hear His voice as we read Scripture and know it is him speaking to us. Yes, the resurrection confirms His divinity and authority, but there’s still that inner witness of the Holy Spirit testifying to the truthfulness of His words as we read them in the Bible.

He Keeps His Promises

The words to the chorus of I know Whom I Have Believed come from the King James translation of 2 Timothy 1:12 where Paul says, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” Other versions see this as the Lord keeping the Gospel message He had entrusted to Paul.

Regardless of the translation, the words point to the fact that the Lord keeps His promises. It’s curious that all the verses to the song start out with “I know not” signifying things we may not fully understand or know. We do know, however, the object of our faith and we are “persuaded” He is able to keep all the promises He has made to us. That’s the essence of our hope, is it not?

He’s Coming Again

I like the words to the last verse: “I know not when my Lord may come / At night or noonday fair / Nor if I walk the vale with Him / Or meet Him in the air.”

We may not know when He is coming, but we know for sure that Jesus is returning for us someday.  So much has occurred since this song was written in 1883 to make us believe the Lord may come for His church quite soon. But as the song says, whether we die beforehand or meet Him in the air, our hope is unshakable and unfailing. He’s coming again.

The Lord keeps His promises; He is returning to take us home just as He promised us in John 14:1-3.

Recent events have highlighted the uncertainties of this life. The devastation and flooding wrought by Hurricane Harvey shows how quickly the things around us can perish. The violence on the streets of many cities makes us wonder how much longer our nation can endure with such deep divisions. When I look at the scourge of abortion and the imposing of transgenderism upon our young children, I wonder how much longer the Lord will hold back His judgment upon our country.

Come what will around me, “I know whom I have believed.” That’s more than enough for me.

There are many things I do not know. Life is uncertain. But I do know the object of my faith and I know He will keep all the loving promises He has made to me and will not fail to take me home someday.  Come what will around me, “I know whom I have believed.” That’s more than enough for me.