Monthly Archives: September 2017

Signs, Miracles, and Wonders

In his excellent and helpful book Concise Theology, J.I. Packer writes:

“Belief in the miraculous is integral to Christianity. Theologians who discard all miracles, thus obliging themselves to deny Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection, the supreme miracles of Scripture, should not claim to be Christians: the claim is not valid. The rejection of miracles by yesterday’s scientists sprang not from science but from the dogma of a universe of absolute uniformity that scientists brought to their scientific work. There is nothing irrational about believing that God Who made the world can still intrude creatively into it.”

But that’s not the whole story on miracles. To say that God CAN do something is not to say that God WILL do something. God COULD cause a pound of solid gold to materialize out of thin air onto your kitchen table. But God has given us no reason to suppose that He WILL do that.

And that drives us back to His written word, from which the child of God learns what God has done and will do according to His eternal purpose. Through His apostle, the Holy Spirit expresses it this way:

“…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9,10)

The earthly work of Christ, His once for all sacrifice of Himself through His bloody death followed by His earthly burial and glorious resurrection, is finished. And it is the only grounds of His ongoing work from Heaven at the Father’s right hand, that “gathering together in one,” already begun through the power of the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven.

And that brings us back to miracles. Throughout both testaments, God did miraculous works as signs authenticating (proving, testifying to) the messages He gave through His prophets and apostles. The Bible is the infallible record of those messages and attending signs.

In other words, the Biblical miracles had a very specific purpose. The old covenant scriptures foreshadowed and pointed ahead to Christ’s work. The new covenant scriptures tell of its historical accomplishment and fully expound its salvific meaning. Signs were done by God’s spokesmen of both testaments, including the Lord Jesus (cf. John 10:38), as proof that they were indeed speaking for God. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

“…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Hebrews 2:3,4)

In our zeal to defend the inerrant infallibility of the inspired, holy scriptures using 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” let us not overlook what the very next verse says: “…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Nothing can be added to Christ’s once for all sacrifice. Likewise, God will not add any more inspired words about that once for all sacrifice; all we need to know is in the Bible already. Hence there is no further need for authenticating signs such as those worked by Moses, Elijah, Jesus, or His apostles. Having the holy Bible, the Church of Jesus is complete with all we need for life and godliness and every good work until He returns. There are no private sequels to the Bible.

At the coming day of Christ’s appearing, God’s self-revelation will indeed resume and continue eternally! There will be an everlasting, adoring feast of new discoveries about His incomprehensibly glorious being, the infinite wisdom of His eternal purpose, and the unfathomable depths of His redeeming love. A child must master his A-B-C’s before he moves on to the great classics of literature. Even so, we now have God’s written word; there will be no new divine literature, so to speak, until He comes Who said this:

“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book…” (Revelation 22:18)

So is that the whole story on miracles? Do any miracles happen today? If we mean signs authenticating alleged special (verbal) divine revelation equal to what we have in the sixty-six books of the Bible, NO. If we mean extraordinary works of God’s providence (commonly called divine intervention), healings in answer to prayer for which medical science can give no account, and other such wonders absolutely YES!

Let’s be concise in our theology indeed. In God’s intimate, loving care for His people, He will do miraculous wonders that surprise and amaze and generate profuse thankfulness. But since Jesus proclaimed “It is finished,” since the revelation of the plan of salvation is complete, there is no more need for the miraculous signs which authenticated its revelation. Our call is to faithfully proclaim what already has been revealed once for all.

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Heaven and Hell, Are They Real? (Part Two)

We began part one with the observation that we human beings can’t escape knowing that death lies somewhere ahead for each of us. But we try to remain upbeat, and not think about the time that “our number comes up”. But we also discussed the truth claims of the Bible, that it is possible not only to know about what comes after death in general, but to be prepared personally for facing departure from this earthly realm.

Those who are unprepared can only expect eternal torment, darkness, and shame: Hell. Knowing how to be prepared for death and instead enjoy eternal joy, light, and glory in Heaven begins with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Son of God Who came not as a moralist, not as a martyr, but as a substitutionary sacrifice. Jesus often referred to Himself as “the Son of Man”. And He said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The Son of Man gave His body and blood, His life, to pay the penalty of sin for those who could never pay that penalty themselves. When He rose from the dead, it demonstrated that full satisfaction to Divine justice had been made. A glorious transaction, conceived in the infinitely loving heart of God and by the infinite wisdom of God, could now take place in the lives of the hopelessly doomed. God’s FREE GIFT of salvation works this way:

When a sinner, aware of his guilt, corruption, and lost condition, calls out from his heart for mercy in the name of Jesus the Savior, the full penalty owed by that sinner to Divine justice is payed by Jesus. At the same time, that sinner becomes clothed with the perfect righteousness of Jesus, and indeed CAN stand before a thrice holy, sin avenging God! This glorious reality of the Gospel is called JUSTIFICATION. A justified sinner’s sin WAS avenged upon the Substitute, when He gave His life once for all. And the Substitute’s record of perfect righteousness gets reckoned to the account of the redeemed one. Could a more wonderful, glorious, precious announcement be made to hopeless wretches like this writer, and others who are burdened with a sense of their guilt and shame?

Again, Jesus said, “”Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The sinner who embraces this Gospel enters the narrow gate (the Divine person and saving work of Jesus Himself). By vital faith united to Jesus and empowered by Jesus (Who Himself is also the Way), that one begins the disciple’s life, which Jesus defined briefly thus: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”

Having entered that narrow but glorious gate, and being found in that difficult but royal way, the former rebel against God and alien to God’s kingdom is on His way to the reward, namely being with Jesus (Who Himself is the destination) forever in HEAVEN.

Are you a sinner redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, clothed with His perfect righteousness, living faithfully in Him? The following Biblical contemplations on HEAVEN offer at best a dim foreshadowing of what is in store for you. The bright reality is beyond anything you could possibly ask or even think…

In Heaven’s bliss, you will spend eternity loving God Triune in return for His incomprehensible, electing, wonderful love for you. Nothing will ever corrupt your love to Him, since your entire resurrected and glorified being then will have been made perfect by His almighty power. As the endless billions of eons roll on, God will continue to love you immeasurably more than your heart will be able to love Him, even though your heart’s capacity to love will be magnificently greater than it is now!

This “wheel of love” will turn ceaselessly. It will perpetually reel and spin with delirious, musical joy – yet according to Infinite Wisdom’s precise orchestration. You will be utterly perfect – yet you will always grow (unhindered and without limit) in knowledge of the immeasurable, unsearchable God. The “new heavens and earth” will be filled with inconceivable peace – yet they will be vibrant with industry: the high and sacred business of worshiping and glorifying the Uncreated One forever.

This will all take place in the fellowship and society of the redeemed of all ages, in a real place the beauty and absolute splendor of which is past the ability of any writer to describe. There you will be able to ask Enoch about the antediluvian (pre-Flood) world, and how it was to be taken up from earth, having never known physical death.

With Noah you will sip a Divine wine finer even than the miraculous vintage of Cana in Galilee, as you contemplate the profound depths of God’s judgments in complete sobriety.

Speaking the one, pure language of Heaven, Babel’s dividing curse forever banished, Abraham and you will rejoice that faith has become lustrous, dazzling sight.

You will laugh uproariously with Isaac, dining on dishes far more sumptuous than any savory stew such as that patriarch loved on earth.

With Jacob you will scale that ladder which soars to the loftiest altitudes of God. The Summit will never be conquered, yet all will tirelessly climb toward it in raptured delight, with no possibility of slipping or falling, ever ascending to more and more rarefied, exhilarating heights.

There you will converse with that noble man who was so cruelly treated by his brethren, in order that those brethren might be well treated by Providence. You will ever dwell in the same household of God with him who was once Pharaoh’s prime minister – Joseph your brother – who is a type of the Great Elder Brother of the redeemed.

Moses, the deliverer from an earthly bondage who prefigured Christ’s redemption of His people from sin, death, and hell even more acutely, will be your fellow servant – where the pure, holy Law of love and liberty is obeyed by all with sheer delight, and never a threat need be uttered.

With Joshua, you will divide everlasting spoils and hold irrevocable title to the true Canaan, for God’s people are more than conquerors through Him Who loves us.

With Samuel, you will be a judge: for do you not know that we shall judge angels?

With Elijah and all the prophets you will proclaim the Divine excellencies without ceasing, to ears that can’t get enough of the pure and fervent truth all will speak.

Like Melchizedek and Aaron you will ever dispense untold blessings to the Father’s great family – that kindred in which all are priests, each mediating God’s countless blessings to the innumerable all, and diversely to each other!

You will be crowned a king forever with David, and you will sit on a throne with David’s Greater Son, Ruler of the universe, and you will enter into the loftiest and most sublime realms of contemplation: studying the eternal word and eternally enduring creation of Him Whose wisdom is greater than Solomon’s.

At Daniel’s side you will worship the Lion of the tribe of Judah, not three times per day toward old, earthly Jerusalem, but at all hours, on a day which has no nightfall.

You will do this in the New Jerusalem, with Ezra and Nehemiah – you will do it in that unshakeable Celestial City, which has no need of temple, sun, or lamp.

You will rejoice with John the friend of the Bridegroom, and be a member of Christ’s Body, His Bride, with the apostles and all the believers who first heard the Gospel. With all these, you will be around the throne with the twenty four elders, all the holy angelic beings, and the glorious martyrs of our dear Lord Jesus.

You will take your place with the majestic saints of God of all ages of the Church, the greatest of whom are perhaps recognized at present only by their heavenly Father – until that Great Day discloses their holy lives, labors, and mighty triumphs. They and you will be eternal monuments of grace and glory, though now uncelebrated by a sleepy, crafty, and antagonistic world.

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Press on toward such a glorious HEAVEN, fellow Christian! Others, repent and believe, lest you taste of that second death, which likewise has no end!

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Dreamers and Other Babes

Consistency check! Consistency check!

Those who desire the continuation of D.A.C.A. (former president Obama’s executive order – it is not a law) appeal to the innocence of the persons involved. Yours truly agrees that people brought to America as infants or minors are innocent. It is their parents or guardians who bear whatever responsibility for lawbreaking might be involved in any particular case.

Yet many who chant the “nobody is illegal” mantra also claim that an unborn child (i.e. someone far less capable of any kind of wrongdoing than an older minor) deserves no recognition of innocence. Even though that child’s father might be the rapist or incestuous profligate, it is the child who must be punished. And that child must suffer capital punishment, not merely deportation!

Or what if an unborn child’s mother simply wants to dispose of him or her? According to some that woman is making a perfectly acceptable ethical “choice,” while her innocent son or daughter suffers death – far worse than geographical relocation in anyone’s book.

So in the first case, innocent children deserve the full protection of the state. Society should be morally outraged by even the spectre of their deportation. In the second case, innocent children are denied their inalienable rights to LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Tens of millions of them have suffered violent execution because of the wicked Roe v. Wade opinion rendered in A.D. 1973 by a few black-robed facilitators of the lethal persecution of America’s most helpless and forgotten minority, the unborn.

Challenges to this argument welcome. Show us the consistency of being both pro DACA and pro abortion, if you can.

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Heaven and Hell, Are They Real? (Part One)

“Now troubles are many
they’re as deep as a well
I can swear there ain’t no Heaven
but I pray there ain’t no hell
Swear there ain’t no Heaven
and I’ll pray there ain’t no hell
but I’ll never know by livin’
only my dyin’ will tell, yes only my
dyin’ will tell, oh yeah,
Only my dyin’ will tell”

So goes the song And When I Die by “Blood, Sweat, and Tears.” The lyrics of this favorite oldie deal with a very serious matter, but the music is very upbeat. Isn’t that the way many of us go through life? We know, deep down inside, that death lies somewhere ahead. But we try to remain upbeat, and not think about the time that “our number comes up”.

Moreover, like many of us, the song proclaims ignorance about what happens after death. The singer says that only by dying will he ever find out. Hope for an easy, painless death…just let me go naturally…but as far as what comes next? Hey, I just don’t know!

The good news is, that is not true! There is not only abundant information about the other side of the grave, but a way to be completely prepared for death, to be able to face it with a solid peace and a sure hope. That’s because GOD, Who knows all things, even the things that are utter mysteries to us, has spoken clearly about the other side of the grave in His holy Word. Let’s see what the Bible says about Heaven and hell.

HELL is not a popular topic. Televangelists and other religious phonies do not rake in their money talking about it. There is no TV show called “Seventh Hell”. Have you ever heard a speaker at a funeral say something like, “this deceased person has probably gone to hell”? Probably not. In fact, in the context of funerals, all sorts of people sanctimoniously default to a religious belief we might call “justification by death”. That is, simply on the basis that someone has died, it is assumed that he or she has gone to “a better place”.

Now consider, Reader: is every person leaving this world automatically qualified to stand up straight and tall and smiling before a thrice holy, sin avenging God? To assume so is about as wise as the proverbial ostrich, hiding her head in the sand. Even worse, it will be eternally, hopelessly tragic to those who, believing this, take no thought for their souls.

The Lord Jesus Christ often spoke of HELL in His teaching. He described it as a place where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”. In the following passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, the Savior tells us more about this real and awful place:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ “

The Lord Jesus said that Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom”. This is a way of referring to Heaven, based on Abraham’s role in God’s plan of salvation as the father of both Jewish and Gentile believers. (See Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 4, or his letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, for fuller expositions of this truth.)

At the moment, we are concerned with what the Lord said about where the rich man went, not Lazarus. Let’s notice just a few facts about his case:

He was fully conscious, and able to speak
He was able to see saints (Abraham and Lazarus) in a place of happiness
He himself was in fiery torments
He was told to remember the good things he had received during life on Earth.
He would have considered one finger-tip’s worth of water as a great mercy
He wanted to warn his five brothers that they were on their way to a similar doom.
He was told of a “great gulf” that prevented his escape to Heaven

This rich man exemplifies the sort of person Paul wrote about in Romans chapter 2:

“…Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…”

It was not his worldly riches, in and of themselves, that damned this man. Although Christ did say that it will be difficult for those who have the fleeting wealth of this world to enter the kingdom of Heaven, He did not say it will be impossible.

This man’s damnation was brought about by his refusal to repent and turn to God for forgiveness of his habitual selfishness and unrighteous, wicked behavior: his SIN. Perhaps during his earthly life he was a hypocritical religionist, a liar, an adulterer, a man full of bitterness, a man who never had a moment for God – let alone one entire day in every week, namely the sabbath. All and any of these things (practiced outwardly in the body or secretly in the heart) send rich and poor, male and female, small and great to HELL.

If you’ve been reading carefully, you noticed that Jesus said the rich man went to Hades. As we saw from the rich man’s state there, this is an awful place of torment. However, it is not the “final version” of hell. In other words, it’s going to get even worse for that rich man when Jesus Christ returns to bring all of human history to a consummation, and to judge every single human being who has ever lived!

Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

When that hour arrives (and it will arrive without warning, and suddenly), the soul of the rich man and the departed souls of every human being who ever lived will be reunited to their bodies for eternity. The Bible knows nothing of a vague, ghostly “afterlife”. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, not a disembodied spirit, but with His same, real, physical human body. His body even retained scars inflicted on Him by His horrific execution on the Roman cross. (see Luke 24:39, John 20:25-29)

So it will be for all of us. Body and soul reunited forever in unimaginable bliss in Heaven, or body and soul reunited forever in unimaginable agony in hell.

Who will go to Heaven and who will go to hell? Once again we quote the words of Jesus: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Yes, MANY will enter the wide gate, travel the broad way, and go to hell. FEW will enter the narrow gate, travel the difficult way, and enter into life. Let your soul be stirred up, Reader! Which way are you traveling? Is it the broad one? Hear the voice of Jesus NOW, as He calls you to forsake that way and follow Him to salvation!

What is the “final version” of hell like? This is what Jesus will say when He sentences multitudes of sinners to go there:

“Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!”

Hades itself, the temporary place for the torment of guilty, indicted, final-judgment-awaiting sinners, will itself by thrown into this everlasting fire, which is also called the lake of fire, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, and “the second death”:

The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)

Is YOUR name written in the Book of Life, or are YOU headed toward the eternal, fiery lake?

to be continued…

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Best Kept Short

“…Let US make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…So God created man in HIS own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26,27 condensed)

While standing firm upon and faithfully proclaiming the oneness of the triune God and the full deity of each Member of the Trinity – co-eternity, co-equality, and so forth – let those who teach God’s people (that is the Father’s children, the Son’s bride, and the Spirit’s temple) avoid the trap of setting up a mental idol of logical or mathematical symmetry.

Handle this sublime truth with extreme care and profound reverence. If staring at an eclipse can destroy our eyes, what might an attempt to gaze upon the almighty Majesty Who created the earth, the sun, and the moon do to us? The Lord our God is infinite and we are finite. Nothing in creation, much less the imagination of corrupt man, can illustrate His being. What theologians call “the Creator/creature distinction” can never be blurred. God triune is beyond our comprehension. And this theological truth revealed in His word draws forth from our lips the praises of doxological joy!

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

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