By Roland W. Keith
It’s that time of year again. When one year ends and another begins, and in this case when one decade ends and another begins as well. It is that time when we look back at the past year with its accomplishments and failures, joys and tragedies, and look forward to the new year with anticipation, and make out our annual list of new year resolutions (which often looks a lot like last year’s). This year for the Christian I advise wadding up that list and doing something different. Consider the following list of practical things we can all focus on:
1. Love the Lord your God. And your neighbor, too (Matthew 22:37-39).
We know we are keeping the first commandment when we are diligently seeking to keep the Lord’s commandments (John 14:15). We know we are keeping the second commandment when we heed Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7). When we are patient and kind and learn to bear with others, we know we are making progress. And, let us not forget to show particular regard for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:10).
2. Evangelize the world.
That sounds like a big goal to consider practical, but it’s not. All we have to do is our part. Jesus told His apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). Paul looked at the missionary effort of his day and asked, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news" (Romans 10:14-15). The fact is we are not all called to be missionaries, but we are called to support their efforts (I Corinthians 9:11-14; II Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:14-18; Titus 3:13). Moreover, while we may not be called to go into a foreign land, we should be involved in local efforts to spread God’s word beyond the walls of our place of worship, as Peter wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” I Peter 3:15).
3. Show mercy to others, even as you are receiving mercy from God.
As Jude wrote: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:20-23).
4. Strive for peace and unity.
We are to live at peace with all men if at all possible (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). Knowing the nature of the world this means that we must take the lead in this endeavor. However, it does not mean that we should let the world run roughshod over us, just that we must make every effort to be at peace. Within the church it is a different matter. As Paul wrote, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). According to Paul we must pursue the peace that leads us to mutual strengthening and uplifting (Romans 14:19), which cannot occur if we simply agree to disagree and go our separate ways. There is no unity in a house divided, even if the division is agreed upon (Mark 3:24). Under such circumstances while a remnant of the faithful may survive, many will be lost because they chose separation over a willingness and dedication to finding the common ground of truth. There is no such thing as our truth and their truth when it come to the truth of God. We must be one, therefore I encourage all to heed the words of Paul: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
5. Discipline and restore the wayward.
No one wants to see a fellow church member disciplined or disfellowshipped. We want to restore such a person, as Paul told the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Yet it is sometimes necessary to discipline someone hoping it will bear fruit in a change of behavior (Hebrews 12:11). It is a sad fact that the gentle touch doesn’t work with everyone. In fact, some see such an approach as a sign of weakness or something to be taken advantage of. Paul’s direction in such a case? “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11; see also II Thessalonians 3:6; I Timothy 1:20).
6. Comfort one another.
No one goes through life without getting knocked about a bit. Some of us more than others. And, sometimes it is easier for those who have suffered much in their own lives to have empathy for another person who is going through a difficult time. However, we should all look out for one another. Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
7. Support one another.
Supporting others goes hand-in-hand with comforting them. We can give support not just during times of suffering, but really all the time. Whether it is the big stuff like helping someone who is carrying one of life’s heavy burdens (Galatians 6:2), or just helping a friend move; every little bit helps. Do you encourage the new convert or anyone struggling to understand a scripture? Take a minute to discuss it with them (I Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 14:1). Even a small gesture can help build another up (Romans 15:2). For those of us who are strong in the faith it is our responsibility to be there for others; not everything can be left to our elders or the preacher. As Paul counselled, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
8. We should respect each other, especially those who work among us.
We should give respect to whom it is due (Romans 13:7; I Peter 2:18). This may not always be an easy thing to do, but part of a Christian’s responsibility is to obey those in authority over us, not necessarily to please man, but to please God (Colossians 3:22-25). However, for those who labor among us in the church our respect should be flavored with true esteem as Paul explained, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:12-15).
9. Hold firm to what God has given us.
For the Christian to hold firm means not simply to cling to something in desperation, but to gain such confidence in it as to master it and wield it in a productive manner, as Paul told Titus: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
10. We must prepare ourselves to persevere.
In His life Jesus endured much from the world, yet without sinning, and it is He Who is our example (Hebrews 12:3; Luke 18:1). When we follow in His footsteps we will not only grow in faith but begin to add the other Christian virtues to it (II Peter 1:5-8), which will make us strong and effective members of His kingdom. Such perseverance sustains us as we strive toward our ultimate goal, and enables us to draw others with us, as Paul wrote, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10; Luke 21:19).
In the end there are many practical steps we can take to make the new year a success. With that in mind I will leave you with a couple of Paul’s to-do lists for the Christian: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21). And, finally: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:16-22).
By Roland W. Keith
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
All around the world people have already began coming together to celebrate Christmas. For most it is a time to celebrate family with homecoming and gift giving. Others still see it as a time to honor its namesake, Jesus Christ. This latter group often laments the need to “put Christ back in Christmas.” I would argue that we need to put Christ back in our lives on a day-to-day basis, more so than on an arbitrary day designated as a holiday in His name. Nonetheless, any day we choose to celebrate the birth of our Savior is a good day. Still the Bible focuses on the death of our Lord more so than His birth. We are not commanded to pay homage to His birth as we are to memorialize His death (Matthew 26:26-29). It is in His death and resurrection that we are reminded of the great sacrifice God has made for us. However, it would be remiss to ignore Jesus’ birth altogether, considering that it was the most heralded birthday in history.
When man fell from grace in the garden God had already determined not to wash His hands of us, but instead to provide us with an escape from eternal damnation, as Paul wrote to Titus, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7; see also I Timothy 1:15-17).
God sent His Son to earth to redeem mankind by paying the price for our sins in terms universally understood by man— He gave His life to save us; an innocent man paying for the sins of others. Jesus, Himself made this clear when He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In human terms Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to be executed for our crimes against God and man: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5; I John 5:11).
God prepared man for this momentous event by heralding the birth of His Son. Isaiah 7:14 records, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.” Isaiah also wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Centuries later, Luke recounted how the Lord prepared the young Mary for her role in God’s plan, writing, “And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:28-32). Her betrothed, Joseph, who was considering putting her away due to her pregnancy was visited by an angel as well, and told to have no fear in taking Mary as his bride, being told also, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
It is interesting that when the time for our Lord’s birth arrived God chose to proclaim His arrival to both the simple and wise of the earth. An angel appeared to shepherds in the field telling them “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (see full account in Luke 2:4-141). As for the wise, Matthew wrote, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him… After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12).
In his gospel account John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Paul described Jesus as an indescribable gift from God (II Corinthians 9:15). On Christmas Day we will give gifts to one another out of love for family and friends or just human kindness. And though it is not a biblical command it may be nice during your Christmas celebrations to seek a quiet moment in the day to meditate on the gift that inspired the day— the indescribable gift of God’s Son, given to man out of the infinite store of God’s love. You may even want to recount the story of Jesus’ birth with those gathered around you (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-25).
The day Jesus was born the world changed forever. No, sin has not gone away. The self-centered and destructive tendencies of man continue almost unabated. But there is a love in the world that wasn’t here before. Yes, love existed, as Jesus proclaimed, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). But the Law and the Prophets did not have that which is perfect. Many things were still a mystery to them. Today we can see more clearly (I Corinthians 13:9-13). The light of God’s perfect love has walked among us and left us that which exceeds the Law and Prophets— that to which they pointed. The grace of God as revealed in and through His Son.
On that day, over two thousand years ago a child like no other was born. He was both God and man. He is both our guide and path to salvation (John 14:6; John 8:12). He is the Lord of lords and King of kings (I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14), as the angel Gabriel told His mother, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
By Roland W. Keith
Much is written about temptation in the Bible. Jesus taught His followers to pray not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil (Matthew 6:13). And, shortly before His crucifixion He told Peter, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26: 41; see also Luke 22:46). Considering that it was succumbing to temptation that led to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, it is easy to understand why it is one of the focal points of New Testament teaching. In fact, it is so important that one of Jesus’ responsibilities as Messiah was to lead by example in the fight against temptation, as Paul wrote: “For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). And also, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Victory over temptation and sin was summed up by James when he wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It is a simple matter, but as we all know a difficult goal to achieve. According to various dictionaries temptation is: 1. the act of tempting or the state of being tempted. 2. something that tempts, entices, or allures. 3. a person or thing that tempts. 4. the fact or state of being tempted, esp. to evil. Humans are tempted by a person or thing that has some influence on them. Regarding this James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). We cannot blame God for our situation when we are caught in sin, or even when we find ourselves in the crossfire of someone else’s sin. God created the heavens and the earth, but man created the world we live in and we must take responsibility for it. James went on to say, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). God allows us to be tempted because He has given us free will, but He desires us to choose Him. He allowed Satan to test Job in the Old Testament account, and he desired to test Peter as well. According to Luke, Jesus informed Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
It is important to understand, however, that even as we are being tempted God is there for us. He gives us guidance and warnings in how to avoid the pitfalls of everything from sexual desire to the allure of money (I Corinthians 7:5; I Timothy 6:9), two of the greatest temptations that seem to plague man. The bottom line, as summed up by John? “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17). The dictionaries say that temptation comes from without us— “a person or thing that tempts.” The Bible teaches that temptation is conceived from within (again, James 1:14). In his first letter John stated, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (I John 2:16). Sin is in the world— it permeates every place and time. But only because we allowed it in through through our own pride and desires. Yes, the devil and his servants are tricky (II Corinthians 11:15), still they cannot lead us where we do not want to go.
Fortunately, God enables us to overcome and be victorious over sin, as Paul explained it, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). God provides us with a plan to defeat sin. Peter wrote, “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (II Peter 2:9). So sure is God’s Plan and guiding hand that James said we should “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Today we might say, “Bring it on! What doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger!” And even if it does kill this body, I have eternal life in Christ (Matthew 10:28; John 3:16, 36). Not matter what our earthly fate our eternal one is vouchsafed by our Creator, as noted by Peter: “who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (I Peter 1:5-6).
Each of us, as Christians, have God’s promise that if we faithfully obey Him we shall overcome the world and receive His eternal blessings, as James wrote, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
By Roland W. Keith
Repost from October 2017
In today’s world Christianity is under attack around the globe. Even here in the U.S., where religious beliefs are supposed to be protected by separation of church and state, opposing forces are applying ever-increasing pressure to drive the church out of existence, by questioning its relevance and validity, or by simply rejecting it as incompatible with the growth of liberalism and the secularization of western culture. For Christians here in America we must come to terms with the possibility that what is social and political pressure today may become full-blown persecution tomorrow. In light of that probability today’s focus will be on this question: “Are Biblical claims of the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ fact or fiction?
If our faith is based on a myth or fable what is the world to think of us? As Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:14-19).
If Christ is not the Son of God then those of us who make such claims are out-and-out liars, or delusional fools. In turn, the writings in the New Testament, in which we base our hopes, are the words of false teachers cunningly devised to mislead man. Were the writers of these 27 works themselves self-deluded or deceived into believing a lie? Just a little over a month after Jesus’ crucifixion Peter proclaimed:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses… And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 2:22-24, 32; 3:17-19).
According to Luke’s account of this sermon Peter was stating a truth that was obvious, not just to the apostles, but to all in the audience. Those in Jerusalem had been witness to Jesus’ life, His works, and His death. Most importantly, over 500 of them had witnessed Jesus walking among them after His resurrection. This blunt reminder of what they themselves had seen and done compelled more than 3,000 of them to become Christians that day. On another occasion Peter would tell those in the house of Cornelius:
And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:39-43).
Many years later Peter would write to those who had never seen Jesus, but had believed the testimony about Him:
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (I Peter 1:8-12).
To their generation things prophesied in the past, things previous generations had longed to see, had been revealed. Things such as what was written hundreds of years before by Isaiah:
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? (Isaiah 53:1-8).
King David would also prophesy of his descendant: “For dogs encompass Me; a company of evildoers encircles Me; they have pierced My hands and feet— I can count all My bones— they stare and gloat over Me; they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:16-18). Jesus, Himself, would speak of His own death, saying, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48), and again, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
In his gospel account Matthew would remember Jesus’ ministry, writing, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21). For today’s scoffers who see many tel-evangelists making millions of dollars proclaiming their version of Christianity, they should understand this of the apostles, and other first century Christians— They had nothing to gain from their claims. There was no fame and fortune waiting for them. In fact, they were putting their lives on the line in teaching the messiah-ship of Jesus (Acts 4:1-22; 17:1-9), and eventually many of them would be put to death for their beliefs.
The early Christians were true believers, and based their hope not on a lie they were persuaded to believe, but on what they themselves had seen with their own eyes, or had been told by trusted eyewitnesses. According to Peter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:16-21, see also John 12:27-32).
The first century Christians trusted their own senses and the word of men and women who were putting their lives in jeopardy for their faith, with the hope of an eternal reward for themselves and all who would accept the word they were teaching (II Peter 1:3-4), based again on what they knew to be fact, as John wrote:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:1-3).
Their testimonies of the life of Christ and all that they had seen reflected Christ’s own claims: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20; see also John 12:46-48; 5:26-29).
According to these witnesses the followers of Christ are to proclaim Him as the world’s savior. A savior who is willing to forgive the sins of all who will come to Him and submit to His commands until the end of the age, when the universe as we know it will be destroyed and a day of judgment will come, after which new heavens, and a new earth will be established for His followers, and a place of punishment reserved for those who deny Him (II Peter 3:10-13; II Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-34, 46).
Even with death staring them in the face many of these saints refused to relent and deny the Lord. As Paul noted, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered" (Romans 8:36). They were martyred by the sword, by the cross, and by lions in the coliseum. But they are not to be pitied. The writings passed down by many of them demonstrate men of sound mind and clear vision. They were not deluded or deceived. Rather they observed and weighed the evidence and came to a reasoned conclusion, and passed their knowledge on to us. And what they have given us is the truth. Moreover, that truth is worth all that we have to possess it, up to, and including, our lives.
By Roland W. Keith
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). Christians have read or listened to the recitation of these verses so many times most of us probably don’t even stop to think about how unique this conversation is. I can’t claim to be God (well, I could, but I’d be lying). Neither can you. Moses didn’t make such a claim, nor did Buddha or Mohammad. It is one thing to claim spiritual enlightenment or to be a man of God, quite another thing to be bold enough to claim to be God. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did. Moreover, by making that assertion He was saying that the nature of His existence was different from any other man.
All men are created beings, so made as to live eternally in the Spirit from that point on. By claiming deity Jesus asserted His eternal nature as an existence without beginning or end. We are created, He is the Creator. The man Jesus was born to a woman as we are, but the Spirit of God within Him was the second member of the Godhead. We are made in the image of God, but He is God. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). Of Jesus the apostle Paul would write: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18; see also John 1:3).
In the first chapter of Genesis when God said “let there be light,” or “let there be a firmament…,” etc. He did not call these things into existence, but rather gave the command for these things to be brought forth by His Son. Creation was a collaborative effort of the Trinity, as we can see from Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image,’ followed in verse 27 by, “So God created man in His Own image.” Paul also noted: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (I Corinthians 8:6). Like an architect and builder working hand-in-hand the members of the Godhead created the universe and us. Given our Savior’s role in the creation it is an amazing thing to consider that when we went astray Christ would come to earth to fulfill His part in the Father’s plan to redeem us by taking on the fleshly limits of His creation, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Man’s sin was manifested in the flesh and required a legal remedy in the same realm. God created the law to expose man’s sin and convict him for his violations of God’s commands. The just punishment for sin is a death sentence for the guilty— both physical and spiritual. However, God developed a plan that requires only the physical death of the sinner but frees him from eternal spiritual punishment. To set man free God required a perfect sacrifice, that is a spiritually innocent man who would give his life for others in a selfless sacrifice of love. Once again Father and Son would collaborate. They created man together, and together they would extend the offer of salvation to him, when Jesus died on the cross. As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “But we see Him Who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).
Jesus’ sacrifice was a propitiation for man’s crimes against God (Hebrews 2:17). He lived in every way as a man yet overcame sin and death for us (Hebrews 14:15-16). Through His selfless act He enacted the “law of the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:1-3), freeing all men who come to Him from sin and death, setting us at liberty in His kingdom. Other than knowing that He lived as a man and was tempted in every way as we are we cannot know what it was like for Him to walk the earth as fully God and fully man in one being. We cannot in entirely understand the nature of what it meant to be Messiah. What we are able to comprehend is that which God chose to reveal to us, which is enough for us to come to the truth and to walk in it.
Jesus Christ is the Exalted One. “The” as in the only one. There is no one else that we should follow (Mark 9:7). He accomplished all the Father gave Him to do on our behalf, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). In the early history of mankind God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but two thousand years ago He sent His Son to earth to deliver His final testament. Jesus was the word made manifest and perfected by His obedience (John 1:1-3, 14; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8). Today God still speaks to us through Jesus’ words and all that was passed on through the Holy Spirit and recorded by the inspired writers.
When Jesus came to earth, He was not just another prophet, another man made in God image, delivering His message. He was the exact imprint of His Father fully knowing and understanding God’s will and able to deliver it as no one else could. Only through Christ could the LORD achieve His determined end for man. The being entrusted to uphold the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3), was the one chosen to save man. As Paul wrote: “and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” Ephesians 1:19-23).
Among all the humans who have or will ever live Jesus Christ is the preeminent one (Colossians 1:18). By obeying Him alone can we approach the Father (I John 2:1-6). It is through His nature that our own can be seen by the Father as perfected (Hebrews 5:9; 12:23). He is our savior, our example, our high priest, and our intercessor (II Timothy 1:10; I Peter 2:21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25). All true wisdom comes through our seeking God, and Jesus is the one who can lead us to Him. Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Why should we believe such claims? Because we have eyewitness testimony. Witnesses that no one has been able to impeach for two thousand years. Their very words have been inspired by God to make their claims sure. At the end of his epistle John wrote, “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… This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 20:30-31, 21:24). We have God’s own handy work proclaiming His existence (Romans 1:19-20), and the testimony of those who knew Jesus personally and bore witness to His life (I John 1:1-4).
So profoundly different was the nature of Jesus that His actions during the last hours of His life moved one man to ask to be remembered by Him after death (Luke 23:42), and another one observing His behavior and the events surrounding His death to exclaim, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.