Ezra Reflections

These are notes collected from studying with Matt Lantz, Matt Roefer, Chris Maybury, Brad Holda, and Jake Dong. Anything good comes from the Lord. Everything else is from us!

The Temple

Question

I’m looking at Ezra, are those temples still up today?

Answer

So here is a brief history of God’s tabernacle/temple:

  • 1,500 BC – a tabernacle (that is, a sort of tent-temple) was created for God, and moved as Israel moved
  • 900 BC – David-Solomon constructed Temple #1 for God.
  • 500 BC – Temple #1 was destroyed by Babylon
  • 400 BC – Temple #2 was built (which you read about in Ezra-Nehemiah). This is the same temple (though updated) that was around in the time of Jesus.
  • AD 70 – Temple #2 was destroyed by the Romans

That means there is has been no temple since AD 70. BUT WAIT…

God actually did something amazing in that he calls us the temple where He dwells. So the temple built today was made by God – it includes you as an individual (small “temple” if you will), but also the Church as a whole (big “Temple” if you will). God’s best temple design is Him living in you and me.

Ezra 2 & Other Books

I love the subtle connections between the list of names and other biblical books:

in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah)

(Ezra 2:2)

Here we see

  • Zerubbabel (a main figure in Haggai and Zechariah’s prophecies),
  • Nehemiah (book of the Bible about him),
  • Mordecai (Esther’s uncle).

I’m not sure these are always and exactly the same people (though they may be)…but at the very least it shows that these were common names of people for that time period. It’s another of the MANY subtle confirmations of the Bible’s reliability and authenticity!

Ezra 2: People Give Toward Temple

According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priestly garments.

Ezra 2:69

This is pretty radical generosity from a group of exiled people. My Bible mentions that 61,000 drachmas of gold is roughly 1100lbs. I looked up the value in today’s market and it comes out to roughly 23.7 million USD.

This reminds me of the radical generosity of the people in Exodus 38 when they are building the Tabernacle.

I’d add that Ezra 1:4 speaks of surrounding people assisting in the supplies, and 1:6 shows royal assistance in these things. So I’m not sure how much was drummed up completely on their own versus was corporately brought together for this. But either way, there was generosity in this.

It’s also interesting that this initial zeal is dampened later (read Haggai 1 where they were focusing on building their own houses, while God’s house was still in ruins). Reading Ezra this time through makes me think that this happened around the time that the Persian leader said to stop building. The people almost accepted that a little too readily, and so had a “good excuse” to build their own house instead of God’s. Then the prophets rose up and said, “stop this–get back to building!”

Ezra 5: God is King

I was really struck by the fact that the prophets were stirring the people to rebuild this temple AFTER the king’s decree said to stop! In fact, you’ll read all about this time in the prophetic books of Haggai and Zechariah. I think there were 2 reasons for them continuing even after the king said stop:

  1. God’s Kingship always wins over the kings of this world – God wanted it rebuilt at that time, and so they were to obey God over leaders of this world (see Acts 5:29)
  2. The original order from King Cyrus was for them to build the temple. But then they had a new order saying to stop building the temple (Ezra 4:17-24). The way the law of the Persians was setup is that if the king makes a decree it can’t be revoked by a later decree (see Daniel 6:12, and the dilemma this posed for Daniel). So they were on legal ground to rebuild, even though the Persian King himself didn’t realize that! They appealed to the “original documents” of Cyrus, and ended up winning the legal battle (see Ezra 6).

I think this has a lot of application for the U.S. today as there are A LOT of loud voices saying this country should be this or that. I think a lot of them are truly misinformed and ignorant of the founding fathers’ decrees and intent, etc. (a great example is the “separation of church and state” which originally meant the state had to stay out of the church’s business, but is now taken to mean that the church doesn’t get to be involved with the state–God forbid, the founders would be rolling in their grave!).

All to say, we need to choose to obey God (even above leaders in the land, where they are in conflict). And it’s extra helpful when we have original “decrees” that stand against current dictums and trends today in the political spheres.

Ezra 6 & Esther

This is in the same general time period of the book of Esther. Notice (again) how much the books of the Bible corroborate each other. In Esther you see how quickly the king swings from being for the Jews to being against the Jews. And in Ezra you see the same large swings by the Persian kings. Similarly, in Esther you read about the severe treatment for disobedience (hanging on a gallows made from your house, as I recall). But then I read Ezra 6:11 – “if anyone alters this edict a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it.”

Ezra 7: God Above Artaxerxes

Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons?

Ezra 7:23

I’m not sure whether this is an act of kindness or purely out of selfish motives, but it seems that either way King Artaxerxes recognizes the power of the LORD and does not want to incur any wrath.

I think there was a certain level of respect and fear of God as a true power that seems more prevalent in Bible times than it is today…at least in the West

Ezra 7: Simple, Yet Powerful Principle

For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

He set his heart to: Study, Practice, & Teach! What a simple principle…

Ezra 8: God-Reliance

I love Ezra fasting in Ch. 8. It was almost like he recognized he had to live by his words of confessing to the king that God would take care of him. And he realized that–gulp–here he is totally alone with God to take care of him. So they fasted in acknowledgement that they need God (and can’t take care of themselves). It’s really challenged my proud heart to read that…it almost starts with pride on Ezra (maybe?) to say, “we don’t need your help”, but then he ends up humble.

Ezra 10

You have been unfaithful…Now make a confession to the LORD… The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: ‘You are right!’

Ezra 10:10-12

I always find it compelling when God’s people come together to corporately confess their sin. This must have been very uncomfortable. Personally I always find the result of confession very healing, but I find the process extremely uncomfortable.

This is not something that happens in the church very often today. I wonder what that would look like and what would prompt it in our modern times.

It’s always uncomfortable but always healing and also what we are called to do yet also shy away from.

I think it starts with us responding to the Lord and repenting as individuals (I also don’t think that much about various “repentance” campaigns where people repent for other peoples’ sins…we need to take personal ownership and not look like we were innocent and the others were guilty)…the crux of the issue in Ezra is that they mixed too much with the world; holiness was not preserved. If ever there was a reason to repent, there it is.

Right Beliefs & Practices Can Still be All Wrong

Warning

Church of Ephesus

Jesus commends the Ephesians in the following ways:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary…you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Rev. 2:2-6

Consider how excited we all would be if we could see a church that Jesus Himself would evaluate as:

  1. working hard for Him
  2. perservering
  3. not tolerating evil
  4. discerning true from false leaders
  5. enduring hardships
  6. not getting weary
  7. hating practices hated by Jesus

Yet Jesus simultaneously gives the Ephesians this sober warning:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Rev. 2:4-5

Think about that.

They had 7 great commendations in both doctrine and practices. But they were in jeopardy of ceasing to be a church because of 1 (really important) thing they lacked: their first love.

Pharisees

Or consider also some of the great things the Pharisees had going for them according to Scripture:

  1. conservative views on God and Scripture (Luke 11:51; Acts 23:8; Phil. 3:5-6)
  2. zeal to convert people to God (Matt. 23:15)
  3. disciplined prayer and fasting (Luke 18:12)
  4. Bible studying (John 5:39)
  5. fellowshipping (though note it may have been largely/solely with “like-minded” others, Luke 15:29)
  6. thoughtful interpretations of the Bible (Mark 7:11-12)
  7. wanting to please God to the best of their abilities (Rom. 10:2; Phil. 3:5-6)
  8. wanting to follow Gods commands to a T (Matt. 23:23)
  9. schools of learning for other people to know about God (Acts 4:13)
  10. charitable giving (Luke 18:12)

Again, these are 10 things most every church is (rightly) striving for in some capacity.

Yet, Jesus:

leveraged his harshest criticism toward the Pharisees–conceivably to shock them out of their self-righteous complacency. He called them, “Sons of hell,” (Matt. 23:15), or a, “Brood of vipers” (Matt. 23:33).

Holda, “Confessions of a Pharisee”

What was their problem?

[They] trusted in themselves that they were righteous…

Luke 18:9 (see also Luke 16:14-15)

Thus they fundamentally didn’t put their trust and hope in God. They operated out of self, even doing externally good things and having externally good doctrine.

Similarly, the Ephesians lost sight of their love for God in the midst of all their activities (even good activities). They, too, became self-focused over Jesus-focused.

A Better Way

In saying all this, we of course can and should still encourage good doctrine and good practices. This is fundamental to biblical Christianity. But let us be soberly warned that we can do all of this really well, and yet lack Christ as the hub and root of it all.

In contrast, we can see that biblical discipleship goes beyond just passing down good teachings and practices.

Paul – Timothy

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in his last letter:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me…

2 Tim. 3:10-11

Notice that Paul passed down his teaching (the first thing on the list). But he also passed down much more:

  • his conduct
  • his life aim
  • his faith
  • his patience
  • his love
  • his steadfastness
  • his enduring suffering

In other words, he passed down the life of Christ–the fruit of the Spirit. This is the fundamental difference. You can try to nail a bunch of fruit on a tree and hope it looks good, but God knows the difference. We want to root people deeply in Christ–in dependence on Him and in love of Him. And from there see God’s fruit emerge (as an extension of His life within, not as affixing something external onto something).

Elders

Likewise, I think often of the list of traits God desires in mature believers (i.e. elders in the faith).

See Elder Qualifications & Functions for an extensive list on this. But good lists of qualities are found in 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:3-25; Titus 1:5-9.

In these lists we do see things like, “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), “spoke the word of God to you” (Heb. 13:7), and “labor in preaching and teaching,” (1 Tim. 5:17) among elder qualities.

But the majority of traits listed are character/fruit qualities. Things like:

above reproach, blameless; not volatile, self-controlled, sober-minded; good reputation with church and world; hospitable; not given to drunkenness; gentle, not violent or quick-tempered; not quarrelsome; not a lover of money; not headstrong, but considering of other opinions; a lover of what is good; righteous; good conduct; meek; pure; peaceable; gentle; open to reason; full of mercy and good fruit; impartial; sincere

Holda, “Elder Qualifications & Functions”

And elders are not some super-Christians. They are simply ones who have relatively more maturity than others. Thus, all Christians should aspire to growing in these ways: in doctrine and practices (definitely!), but also in a revealing more of the fruit of Christ in them.

Without this fruit and striving toward such growth in the Holy Spirit, we really are no different than Pharisees–no matter the doctrine and practices we do and train others in.

1 Chronicles Reflections

These are notes collected from studying with Matt Lantz, Matt Roefer, Chris Maybury, and Brad Holda. Anything good comes from the Lord. Everything else is from us!

The Bible as God’s Word and Man’s Word

and Jokim, and the men of Cozeba, and Joash, and Saraph, who ruled in Moab and returned to Lehem (now the records are ancient).

1 Chron. 4:22

“Now the records are ancient”…shows the human side to Bible writing (at least in 1 Chron)…namely that they were using old records to get the information for the genealogies. And it seems like the writer is pointing out that it’s tough to make out all the info on the records they were using.

This seems similar to Luke 1:1-4 where he said he consulted many sources to ensure the accuracy. All the while God oversaw all the writing and preserved it and inspired it faithfully so that “every word” and “all Scripture” is simultaneously Gods very words; He is the author! Fully God and fully man.

Along with all their villages that were around these cities as far as Baal. These were their settlements, and they kept a genealogical record.

1 Chron. 4:33

“They kept a genealogical record”— goes with what I said above. They were using records kept by their forefathers.

Multiplication

Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brothers did not have many children, nor did all their clan multiply like the men of Judah.

1 Chron. 4:27

The power of multiplication! Think of all that came through Judah as they multiplied faithfully.

Firstborn & Inheritance

Wow – I totally missed this from my previous times of reading the Bible:

Reuben was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel”

1 Chron. 5:1

This is pulling from some different strands all at once.

First, notice Deut. 21:15-17 (this is KEY):

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

Deut. 21:15-17

Oh man, there’s so much I’d love to unpack here…but let me just say this. God allowed (because of the hardness of their hearts) for a man to have multiple wives. He must give a DOUBLE PORTION to his firstborn (whether he feels like it or not!!).

BUT…in the case of Jacob, it got switched (and 1 Chron. 5:1 explains):

  • Leah gave Jacob his firstborn son (Reuben).
  • Rachel’s firstborn son was Joseph.

According to Deut. 21:15-17, Reuben would normally get the double portion. But when we look at the 12 tribes of Israel we realize that Joseph got the double portion (both of his sons got a portion of the land…so, in effect, Joseph had 2 portions of land).

Why? Again, 1 Chron. 5:1 explains. It is referring to the incident in Genesis 35:22:

Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine

Gen. 35:22

Because of this sexual flagrant offense, Reuben lost his birthright as firstborn. So instead it was transferred over to Joseph.

OK…hope you followed all that. It was exciting for me to learn at least!!

Prodigal Son & Inheritance

One final note…

I think it also illuminates the parable of the Prodigal Son a bit. The firstborn son was to get a double portion of inheritance. But it seems like the father split the inheritance evenly between the 2 sons: “he divided his property between them” (Luke 15:12). That would only happen, it seems, if there was sin on the part of the firstborn (like in 1 Chron 5:1).

WELL…you can imagine how enraged that might have made the firstborn son (a.k.a. Pharisee) who thought he was so pious. It’s like Jesus is showing in that parable that both sons were sinful by dividing the inheritance. Certainly that’s the feel you get at the end of the parable (notice that the Father had to approach both sons to try to bring them back to the house). But the firstborn “pharisee” thought he was righteous where the other son wasn’t, and didn’t recognize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)

Spreading Seed

A theme in 1 Chron. is how the “seed” is passed down from generation to generation.

That is, who is your father, who is their father, etc.? I often think of this in terms of Luke 8:11 – “the seed is the word of God”, and Acts 12:24 – “the word of God grew and multiplied”.

In other words, ultimately, how are we doing at receiving, sharing, and multiplying the seed of God’s word from one generation to another. It seems that’s the most important thing in God’s economy (I think also of 1 Cor. 4 where Paul said he knows there’s only 1 thing he will be judged by: how faithful was he to steward Christ’s gospel?)

The Land

Another theme of 1 Chronicles is the land being allotted to the people. A lot is about area won or gained. You even see the names of ancestors match the names of territories (because those people gained that land, and it was later named after them). I think there is a lot here to consider (not saying I see all the connections or even close–I don’t!)

David

I was thinking about how every word of the Lord is so important and we don’t want to miss any of it… if He chose to write it/inspire it then it’s important and if this is what we get as the canon as the inspired and inherent word of God we better take it all in and take it all seriously.

It’s interesting to me along those lines in just going through 1 & 2 Samuel + Kings and now Chronicles how much the life and story of David is highlighted. Of course it’s the lineage of Christ and there is so much to learn from his life. When you think about how much time is actually devoted to just his life and kingship alone though it makes me think I should study his life even more and really aim to learn from him and his life/successes/failures.

1 Chronicles has A LOT written concerning the time that David was king. The priests, musicians, cabinet, doorkeepers, David’s family, etc. all seem meticulously recorded. This speaks 3 things to me:

  1. Every word in the Bible is written by God for a reason. And over and over that reason points to different layers of Christ and The Gospel. In the case of David, he is a CLEAR type of King Jesus who would come (born of his line). The NT, in fact, begins and ends with Jesus seen as David’s successor (“the son of David”). So I think a lot of this points to the King of Kings who would begin a kingdom that never ends–and we have been redeemed to participate in.
  2. I also have been thinking about the value in writing down the legacy of God’s works. Lots of the Bible was written around the time of Moses, David, and Jesus. This shows how important these times are for God. This also shows that they saw the importance of those events during the time of, and recorded faithfully while they lived at those times. It stirs me up in writing things down that may help me and others know and remember God’s faithfulness more and more.
  3. Very practical point: David was really good and taking care of what God gave him. Whether it was shepherding sheep, or shepherding a kingdom, at various points we see how David takes efforts to ensure things were well taken care of under his watch. I think his ensuring records were so meticulous while he was king speaks to that (kind of reminds me of Joseph in Gen. 41:49)

David’s Prayer

Something that really hit me was 1 Chronicles 29: 10 – 13. It’s the prayer David gave to the assembly as he was making an offering of his goods to have Solomon make the temple. I recommend reading it and meditating on it. It seems almost like a psalm.

David’s Sacrificial Leadership

I have been really touched by David FIRST making great personal sacrifice toward building the temple, then asking the people to give as they are compelled (see 29:1-5). The result? “the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work.” (1 Chron. 29:6).

This is an amazing and God-honoring leadership model:

  • Make personal sacrifice yourself
  • Ask other leaders to contribute as they want
  • Lastly, look to non-leaders to contribute
  • Don’t ask others you lead to do things you have not done (or are not truly willing to do) yourself.

Prophesying Musicians

Question

I’ve been rolling 1 chron 25 1-8 in my head for a few days and am curious what you guys think. Specifically, the musicians are the only ones who are said to have prophesied out of the levites. Also it mentions them prophesying with their instruments. What does that mean compared to prophesying with words? And in verse 2 and 4 it says, “….., who prophesied under the direction of ……” What does it mean to do it under direction, isn’t it just something that comes from the Lord? Or is this more affirming a name it claim it perspective?

Response

I think of it like Elisha saying, “bring me the musician” when he was asked to prophesy (2 Kings 3, maybe?)…somehow, God uses music to assist in helping the prophetic gift “flow” more freely. Like 1 Cor 14 where Paul connects praying with singing, and both done in the Spirit (and understanding). Does that answer?

Question Clarified

But why only the musicians? The gift of prophecy is only for them? And how can you direct someone to prophecy?

Another Response

I think the bit about “prophesying with their instruments” is what I was answering. That is, they prophesied as normal, but did it with the background of music. If that makes sense.

Clearly these weren’t the only prophets (and David knew that when assigning their roles). Nathan, for instance, is a famous prophet in the time of David. But these were people set apart within the priests to use music and prophesy as the Spirit leads.

I’m making a total guess here, but I could imagine the role going something like this “you all are assigned to worship and praise the Lord with music…also, to listen to what the Lord is saying and speak it forth in your songs as prophecy”.

It reminds me of the picture of Saul rolling around and prophesying naked. He was joining the group of prophets who were participating in worshiping the Lord and would prophesy as the Lord inspired them (though many of those prophecies were never recorded).

I also wonder if they are using “prophecy” in a looser way than we use it. Maybe something more equivalent to what we’d say as “Spirit-led ministry”.

Malachi Reflections

These are notes collected from studying with Matt Lantz and Jake Dong. Anything good comes from the Lord. Everything else is from us!

Mal. 1: What Do You Give God?

But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor!

Malachi 1:7-8

Giving our tithes and offerings is the way that we are able to trust God with what is very personal and close to us. God does not need our wealth, but he does deeply desire our devotion and our heart. He wants us to be all in so we can experience the way that is best, HIS way.

I also was impacted by Mal. 1:7-8, but I’d like to challenge us to think about this principle on some other levels…

Namely: what sort of time, money, energy, resources are we offering to the Lord and building up his kingdom? (kind of like the call in Haggai to stop making your own house so beautiful while God’s house lies in ruins)

Maybe we can think of this another way:

There have been seasons (maybe you all can relate) where my wife and I find ourselves spread thin doing all these things that seem “so important” that by the time her-and-I connect, we sort of give each others the leftovers. We’re both exhausted, it’s late at night, and our times where we had the most energy were spent elsewhere. That should not be, and we repent for that when it does happen.

Now consider what it’s like with the Lord. Is He only getting brief prayers before meals that are more mechanical than from the heart? Does He only get us quickly reading the Bible here and there without praying, considering, studying, and devoting ourselves to the principles laid out? Or maybe is His body (the church) hurting in ways we clearly can serve, and our time, energy, money is mostly spent elsewhere except for throwing a few scraps to honor God’s church here and there?

I think all of these things are examples of not heeding the charge in Mal. 1:7-8.

Lastly, and interestingly, I find that when I do prioritize giving the Lord my best, it helps me prioritize my time and puts me in a position to give my wife my best, and everything else falls into place from there. Sort of like what’s said later in Malachi – “watch what will happen when you give me your first/best…and how I will bless you with surplus!” (my paraphrase). Also similar to, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”

Mal. 2: Our Marriage Unions

Malachi 2:13-15 is really hitting me:

You cover the Lords altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

Mal. 2:13-15

Wow! God is seeking Godly offspring. He brought my wife & I together with a portion of His spirit. Yet, I have so often trampled on that with lust in my thoughts…I see that this unrepentant sin is going to lead to potentially unanswered prayer… powerful.

My wife and I have also been going through some things Mal. 2 speaks to:

  • marriages and potential marriages that we are involved with and are struggling
  • my own thought life can be unfaithful to my wife; I’ve been confessing this to her, which has brought us closer together
  • some dreams that seem to attack our marriage union – since praying about them, they haven’t returned

All to say, I definitely sense this as a theme for us lately. Something Satan is trying to sow division in, but God is challenging us to uphold the unity of the marriage covenant.

Malachi 4: Devotion to God

I sometimes struggle with the practical application of how to put my devotion into action, as sometimes my natural tendency is to feel like I need to make huge life changes or large gestures that seem overwhelming. However, I am slowly learning that our devotion to the LORD is made up of many, many small decisions made everyday.

The bulk of our daily lives is what would be classified as “mundane,” and I think seeking God in the mundane is so important. I am often reminded of marriage in this context as well. A wedding day is a great event (kind of like a large gesture of devotion), but choosing to serve our wives everyday of our marriage (the mundane) is where devotion is really tested.

The end of Malachi sums this up somewhat subtly:

  • 4:2 “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”
  • 4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.”

The law was given to his people to give them a framework of devotion in the mundane, daily routine of life.

Mal 1 & 4: Sons Who Serve

I noticed the beginning and end of Malachi ties sonship with service to the Lord. Mal 4 – “son who serves”

This is different than slaves who serve for payment. Sons serve because it is right, it pleases their fathers, it brings honor to the family, there is fatherly discipline where they don’t, it is tied up with how they will steward the inheritance.

All to say, people who teach that being sons of God somehow absolves us from serving God don’t know the Scriptures. We still serve him, but our inheritance and salvation isn’t dependent on how good we served. We can’t stop being sons—that is a work of God. John 1:12

Things Which Ought To Be Better Known About The Resurrection Of Jesus (Peter Williams)

As we continue thinking about Jesus resurrecting, I wanted to send an excellent teaching on the subject that was recorded years ago, but it still is powerful, in my humble opinion:

Video: Lecture – Dr Peter Williams – Things Which Ought To Be Better Known About the Resurrection of Jesus

Video: Lecture – Dr Peter Williams – Things Which Ought To Be Better Known About the Resurrection of Jesus (1h 40m)

Arise My Love

^^ these are 2 songs that have become special to our family (and house church) when celebrating and considering Jesus’ resurrection!

Also, a small observation from our time considering the gospels and Jesus’ resurrection:

None of the disciples believed the women’s report about Jesus being alive. Nor did they really believe Peter’s message immediately, nor the 2 to Emmaus. The disciples didn’t believe any of the messages until Jesus Himself came. Even Thomas didn’t believe when literally every other apostle told Him He was alive. They were all filled with doubts. Jesus remedied this by coming directly to them. But consider that for a moment. Not only does that communicate how authentic the resurrection story is/was (no one would make up a story filled with so much doubt LOL).

BUT IT ALSO communicates something really important:

God wanted THESE disciples to share the gospel with the whole world. They were supposed to tell people to give their lives for this Jesus even though their hearers wouldn’t see Him with their eyes. THESE doubting disciples were the chosen vessels to spread the gospel to the world. They were not filled with faith (a bit hypocritical honestly since they were telling others to believe without seeing). They were not that smart (evidenced by all the times they misunderstand Jesus). THESE were God’s chosen vessels. Just think about that. I think it tells us how much trust God has in His Spirit within us. If His Spirit can empower THESE doubting, simple fishermen to spread the gospel to the nations…then He is looking to use us too–you and me. Not waiting for you to be filled with faith or super smart. Just yielded to His Holy Spirit and willing to be fools He could use.

Resurrection Harmonization

Happy Good Friday 2022! Praise God that Jesus died on the cross for sinners like us. And, even more, raised from the dead to establish new life for all.

Along those lines, I wanted us to consider the full picture of Jesus’ resurrection. Here is my humble attempt at picturing the sequence of all the events of Jesus’ MIGHTY RESURRECTION (with my reasoning below).

The list of resurrection events (in sequence)

  1. Weekly Sabbath (Fri Evening – Saturday) | Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1
  2. Women buy and prepare anointing spices (Saturday Evening, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1
  3. Women go to Jesus’ tomb (Sunday AM, before sunrise, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1, 10; John 20:1
  4. Angel moves stone and frightens guard away (Sunday AM, around sunrise, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:2-4; Mark 16:3-4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1
  5. Women arrive to tomb, see stone removed (Sunday AM, sunrise, Jerusalem) | John 20:2
  6. Mary Magdalene notifies John and Peter (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:12; John 20:3-4
  7. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John return to tomb (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:12; John 20:5-10
  8. Peter and John leave after finding tomb empty (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:12; John 20:5-10
  9. The women entered the tomb, but saw nothing (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:3
  10. Mary Magdalene discovers angels in tomb; departs to consult “gardener” (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | John 20:11-12
  11. Other women talk with angels (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7, 23; John 20:11-13
  12. Mary Magdalene realizes the “gardener” is Jesus (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:9; John 20:14-17
  13. Other women leave the angels to tell the disciples (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:8; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:8-9
  14. Other women join Mary Magdalene and Jesus (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:9-10
  15. Women leave to tell disciples (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:11; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:8-9; John 20:18
  16. Guard conspires with Jewish leaders (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:11-15
  17. Disciples doubt women’s report (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:9-11; Luke 24:10-11; John 20:18
  18. 2 to Emmaus encounter Jesus (Sunday Afternoon-Evening, Jerusalem-Emmaus) | Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-33
  19. Peter encounters Jesus (Sunday Afternoon-Evening, Jerusalem area) | Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5
  20. 2 to Emmaus report what they saw (Sunday Evening, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:13; Luke 24:33-38
  21. Group of disciples (minus Thomas) encounter Jesus (Sunday Evening, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25
  22. Disciples tell Thomas (Sunday Evening, Jerusalem) | John 20:25
  23. Group of disciples (including Thomas) encounter Jesus (8 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | John 20:26-29; 1 Cor. 15:5
  24. Disciples journey back to Galilee (between 8-35 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem-Galilee)
  25. 7 apostles encounter Jesus while fishing in Galilee (between 8-35 days after Resurrection Sunday, Galilee) | John 21:1-23
  26. Jesus appears to 500+ people at Galilean mountain (between 8-35 days after Resurrection Sunday, Galilee) | Matt. 28:16-20; 1 Cor. 15:6
  27. Jesus appears to James, His brother (timing unknown, location unknown) | 1 Cor. 15:7
  28. Disciples return to Jerusalem (for Pentecost) (35-40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Galilee-Jerusalem)
  29. Jesus meets with disciples (40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-8; 1 Cor. 15:7
  30. Jesus ascends to heaven (40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-51; John 20:17; Acts 1:2, 9-11; 2:32-34; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:21-22
  31. Apostles and disciples return to Jerusalem, worshipping Jesus (40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:52-53; Acts 1:12-14
  32. Apostles receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (50 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Acts 2

Here is a PDF of a fuller treatment of this: “Harmonizing the Resurrection”.

This is part of a broader gospel harmony I’ve created, and gives a plausible order and harmonization of resurrection events based on the 4 gospels (plus 1 Corinthians 15).

The Gospel Explained (Romans 1-8)

Understanding the Bad News (Romans 1:1-3:20)

God exists, but is invisible to the human eye.  Two ways everyone in the world knows about Him are through:

  1. The world He created,
  2. The inner sense of right and wrong that all people have.

However, though all people know deep down that God is real, we have all disobeyed Him, and live for ourselves instead of for God.  This is called sin.  We worship other things, and turn our backs on God.  We do things like: have sex outside of marriage, murder, gossip about others, envy others, hate God, disobey our parents, don’t have faith in God, aren’t thankful toward God, and a million other sinful things.  In fact, every time we reject God in our thoughts, words, and actions, we commit sin against God.

Even further, the more we choose sin, the more our eyes struggle to see God.  And the less we see of God, the more we feel OK about sinning.  It is a terrible cycle, yet every single human being is born into it.  The worst news of all is that God—who is good and perfect and holy—must destroy every sin and every sinner.  This happens because God cannot have sin come into His presence.  This means that you, I, and everyone else deserve death for how we have turned from God in our heart and actions.  You may challenge this and say, “But how can God be mad at my actions?  He has blessed me with so many things in my life.  Surely this is a sign that God approves of my behavior?”  But you don’t realize that God is being kind to you so that you will see His goodness, see that you don’t deserve it, and see that you need to turn and serve Him, instead of serving yourself (The word for this is “repentance”. It literally means that you turn your mind and actions from serving you to serving God).  Your sinful actions have NOT earned His kindness.

God’s standards of good and bad are found in the Bible.  If someone read these standards, and lived perfectly by them, they would earn life in God’s presence forever (though no human being is capable of this, as will be discussed later).  But even those who don’t read the Bible can also know right from wrong, because God puts the understanding of right and wrong within every human heart.  This is called your conscience.  Therefore, no one has the excuse of saying, “God never showed me right from wrong,” because He has shown everyone right and wrong through the Bible and through their own conscience.

However, even though every human knows right from wrong, no one is able to live a perfect life.  And God—who is good and perfect and holy—must destroy every sin and sinner.  Even if all your sins are in your heart and are secret from those around you, God still knows.  It grieves God to sentence death on human beings that He lovingly created (see Genesis 1:27), but His character demands it.  If you have sinned, you deserve death.  There is no way around it.

Also note that some people will come to God and say, “But I read your Bible and know what it says.  Doesn’t that mean I deserve eternal life in your presence?”  No.  Of course, it is helpful to know the Bible, but it is not enough to merely know what the Bible says about right and wrong.  If you can’t perfectly follow God’s commands (and no one fully can), then you are still a person who deserves death and destruction from God’s hand.  It doesn’t matter how many Bible verses you can quote.

Others will say, “I never outwardly sinned against God.  I behaved much better than others around me.”  However, it is also not enough to outwardly follow what God says, if in your heart you disobey Him.  For instance, God says that if a person looks on another person with lust (i.e. self-interested sexual craving) in their heart, they have committed adultery with that person (see Matthew 5:28).  And God says that if someone is angry with someone else in their heart, they are guilty of the sin of murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).  See, God looks at how good you’ve been in your heart and mind, not just what you do outwardly.

Others might say, “But even when I made mistakes and sins, good things came out of it.  Doesn’t that show that God is OK with my sin?”  Though it is true that God has a way of making good things come out of the evil we have done, it doesn’t change the fact that we still made sinful decisions, and still deserve death.  For instance, consider that Judas Iscariot (one of the 12 men who Jesus Christ chose to be His disciples; he secretly betrayed Jesus and helped in killing Him) did a great evil in betraying Jesus Christ (Jesus Christ is God who came to live in a human body more than 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel).  And even though Jesus’ death and resurrection turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to humanity (we will discuss that soon), Judas is still guilty for sin, right?  This is the same for any sin we do.  We are guilty, no matter what good God brings out of it.

In saying all this, it should be clear that there is no human being who has ever perfectly obeyed God.  No one has an excuse for this.  No one deserves to live in His presence forever.  In fact, even the Bible itself declares, “No one does good, not even one.” (see Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 53:1-3; Romans 3:12).  Did you catch that?  The Bible says that no one has been perfect and without sin.  If you say that you follow the Bible, then you must believe that Bible verse to be true.  You must agree with the Bible that “No one does good,”—not even you!  No one is capable of the good that God demands; all deserve death—even you!    

Though this is not fun news to share, it is truthful and is shared in love.  And only in understanding this bad news will you be able to grasp the good news that will be shared next.

Understanding the Good News (Romans 3:21-4:12)

    Even after all the bad news shared thus far, there is a way that sinners—like you and I—can be righteous in God’s pure sight.  We can escape death and enter God’s presence (no matter how bad our sins are).  In fact, the very Bible that says, “No one is good,” gives the answer.  

According to the Bible, all who put their trust in Jesus Christ and what He did (more on that in a bit) are considered 100% righteous in God’s sight.  That is, they are in a “right-standing” with a Holy God; they are considered morally perfect in His sight.  So even though every person has sinned, they can all be considered perfect in God’s eyes after they trust in Jesus Christ.  Here’s how this works:

    Humans can’t be perfect.  But God can.  So God came to the earth as a human, by sending his only Son, “Jesus.”  Jesus was the first and only person in the history of mankind to live a perfect life, totally obeying God in heart, mind, and body.  He was the first and only person to truly deserve to live in God’s presence as a sinless person, and not receive death from such a holy God.  And even though He didn’t deserve it, God put Him to death through the hands of humans.  It was a gruesome death.  He was nailed to a jagged, wooden cross, while God turned His back on His only Son.  This perfect Son received a death that He didn’t deserve—a death that should have been ours—, and His blood poured out until there was no more life in His corpse.  Why?

    Jesus lived a perfect life deserving God’s blessing, yet He received God’s wrath (i.e. extremely strong anger), so that sinners like you and I (and the rest of humanity) who deserve God’s wrath, can receive God’s blessing of eternal life instead.  It was and is a perfect substitution.  And as a perfect Judge, God could still ensure the penalty of death was paid for your sins (through Jesus), and yet forgive you from having to pay death because you trust that Jesus’ blood stands in your place.  That is, Jesus’ shed blood is a sign that He was tortured and died, even though you deserved this death for your sins, and Jesus did not deserve it. Jesus’ death allows God to remain as the perfect Judge and to pass over your sins and give you life.

    All of what’s been said so far should make you realize that anyone who is not punished for sin, and given eternal life instead, has absolutely nothing to boast about because we didn’t deserve it.  Jesus paid the full price, and we simply have to trust in the power of His blood to cover all of our sins.  All of this is the central point of the Bible.  In fact, this was God’s plan all along.  God even wrote about these things hundreds of years before Jesus entered earth. 

For instance, a man named Abraham (who was the father of God’s people, the Jews, and lived 2,000 years before Jesus was born) was given the gift of righteousness the moment he believed God’s word.  He did not become “righteous” by doing any great things, but simply by believing what God said to him.  Similarly, when you simply believe God’s word about Jesus dying in your place, you are considered perfect and righteous in God’s sight—not because you’ve done great things, but because you believe in Jesus as your substitute and your faith covers you with Jesus’ righteousness.  In fact, it was only after Abraham believed and was made “righteous” that he followed God’s rules–not before.  So it shows that being righteous does not come by following rules, but believing in God’s word about Jesus.

There was also an honored king over God’s people (the Jews) named David.  David lived 1,000 years before Jesus was born and wrote, “Blessed are those who God forgives of their sins.”  Did you catch that?  David did not say the blessing comes to those who have done all these great things.  Instead, the blessing comes when you are forgiven of terrible things (sins).  In the same way, God’s blessing is really only for those who have been forgiven of their sins (in Jesus), since no one can live good enough to earn this blessing.

    See, before Jesus came to earth, God gave a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for how people could be totally holy.  This is called “God’s law”.  But these rules were impossible for sinful human beings (which we all are) to perfectly obey.  Instead, the law only showed people how sinful they are.  In fact, that was the point of God’s law: to show us all that we aren’t as great as we think, and we deserve to be punished.  We deserve death as that punishment.  And if we want to live, we need someone else to take that punishment for us.

The Example of Abraham (Romans 4:13-25)

Think about it this way: Abraham (the father of God’s people, the Jews, who lived 2,000 years before Jesus) tried for decades to have a child with his wife.  In other words, they tried to produce a “life” that would come from their bodies.  They tried it all on their own efforts, but could not get pregnant and produce “life”.  No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t do it.  But then God said to them (when they were very old), “Even though your bodies are not able to produce life, I will supernaturally bring life to you.  I will give you a son.” (This is a very loose paraphrase of Genesis 15:4-6 and Romans 4:18-19). And when Abraham believed God, and believed that God would give him life–even though he was old and physically unable to produce life in himself (And in this sense it is as if he is “dead,” Romans 4:19 and Hebrews 11:12)–, THEN God said, “By believing in what I said, you are righteous,” (see Genesis 15:6). Do you see that?  Abraham believed what God said—he believed God’s words—, and did not trust in his own abilities to produce, “life”.  That was why he was called, “righteous”.  

This picture is the same for us today.  We must realize that we can’t produce God’s eternal life on our own.  Instead, we must trust what God said, that He has given us life through Jesus.  When we trust this—at that very moment of faith—, we are considered righteous (that is, morally perfect) in God’s eyes.  The only thing needed is faith in what God says about this.  Faith in God’s word about Jesus brings us from death to life, as it did with Abraham.

How Can You Be Sure That You Are Now Righteous by Faith? It Seems Too Good To Be True (Romans 5:1-11)

Jesus’ death paid the penalty we deserved for our sins, but then, God resurrected Jesus 3 days later.  The same person who was clearly killed, came back to life and walked and talked and did all sorts of things that dead people can’t do.  When God resurrected Jesus, it showed that God totally accepted Jesus’ death as fully paying for all sin.  It showed that sin and death have no more power, because Jesus’ suffering is finished.  He now lives, and will never suffer again.  The penalty of death has been fully paid, and Jesus’ resurrection proves that God said, “This is good enough.  You can now live because the penalty for sin is finished.”  

Because Jesus resurrected, we can know without a shadow of doubt that our sins have been paid in full.  Those who believe Jesus died and resurrected for our sins can rest secure and know they have peace with God.  We can fully experience God’s grace, even though He has every right to be angry with our sinfulness.

Furthermore, hardships we go through can also help us know that God has truly declared us to be righteous.  Hardships can show that God has fully forgiven all of our sins.  Let me explain.

When we believe in Jesus, God starts living in our hearts through His Holy Spirit.

Aside: There is only one God, but He exists as 3 personalities simultaneously: (1) God the Father, (2) God the Son (Jesus Christ), and (3) God the Holy Spirit.  You can think of there being 1 egg, but 3 parts: (1) the shell, (2) the yoke, (3) the egg white.  The difference with God, though, is that each of His personalities (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are fully God, whereas each part of the egg is not fully the egg, but only a part of the egg.

And when bad things happen to us, we can watch as God’s Spirit in us makes us love and have hope, even while trials come.  We know that this is not possible for human beings to do without God’s Holy Spirit living in them, so when we watch how we have unexplainable love and hope in the midst of such bad things, this is evidence that God lives in us.  God living in us (through the Holy Spirit) is the “stamp of approval” that God considers us fully righteous.  This is because God would never live inside someone who wasn’t righteous in His sight.  His Spirit in us tells us that He declared us forgiven of sins.

Also, we can trust that God will spare believers from wrath when we die, simply by looking at the love God already showed for us in what Jesus already did on the cross.  Think about it: If you look at the world, you rarely find someone who’s willing to die for someone else.  And if they do, it’s almost definitely because they thought that person to be a good person who deserved to live.  But Jesus died for us while we were sinning and when we deserved to die for our turning away from God.  And if Jesus died for us while we were terrible sinners, then we can count on His sacrifice to spare us from God’s wrath when we die and face God’s judgment (even if we make mistakes and sin after believing Jesus).  Or do you think God stopped loving people after He died on the cross for sinners?  No!  His love on the cross will continue onto the day you are judged by God, and His love will be shown in saving you from judgment.  He will never take back what Jesus did on the cross for sinners like you and me.

The Big Picture (Romans 5:12-21)

    To understand this further, consider that at the beginning of creation there were only two people: Adam and Eve (see Genesis 1-3).  And through only these two people come all the human beings alive today.  Adam and Eve are parents to us all.  They are the source of all human beings in all history.  So when Adam sinned against God by 1 act of disobedience (he ate fruit God told him not to eat), it brought death into a world that was not meant to die.  Adam died because of 1 sin.  Not only that, but the sin in Adam’s genetics passed to his children and their children, and so on, until it reached all of us alive today.  We are all born with sin in our heart and we all die, because we are all offspring of a man who had sin and death living in him.  It would be like filling cups of water from a contaminated water well.  Every single cup will carry the contamination, because the source of all the water is contaminated itself.

    Notice also that this sin and death entered the world before the Bible was written, and before God gave His list of “do’s and don’ts” (called, “The Law”).  When the Law came, it just showed how sinful we all are.  It showed that Adam indeed had sin in him and passed it on to all of his descendants.  But sin and death were already present before the Law came.  So, in summary, one man’s act of disobedience brought sin and death to all people.    But, in a similar manner, one man’s (Jesus’) act of obedience (death on the cross) can now give righteousness and life to all who believe Him.  Just as Adam sinned, and we automatically were sinners from birth, so when Jesus died and resurrected, all who believe Him are automatically righteous at the point of faith.  They are righteous because Jesus is righteous, and they get His life (in the Bible, this is called being “born again,” see John 3:3. Your natural birth is your “first birth,” and coming to believe Jesus is your “second birth”. The first is a physical birth and the second is a spiritual birth that happens when you get God’s Holy Spirit inside of you). Just as we were unrighteous because Adam was unrighteous, and we were born into his life. So, the Law showed people how sinful they were for hundreds of years before Jesus came, but it never made someone righteous.  It just showed them that they CAN’T live up to God’s standards.  It was meant to make people ready for a savior, since they should have realized that there was no way they could earn eternal life on their own efforts.  It was also meant to show how marvelous and amazing God’s grace is through giving undeserved righteousness and eternal life to sinners like us, simply for trusting Jesus and trusting that He died and resurrected for our sins.

How Does Our Life Change After We Believe Jesus? (Romans 6:1-14)

So, when we see that our righteousness comes from Jesus’ obedience, and not our own, does this mean that God doesn’t care whether we sin or not (since Jesus died for all of our sins already)?  Absolutely not!  Why not?  Because when we believe in our heart that Jesus paid the price for our sin, it always will lead to changing who we are.  

    For starters, the moment you believe Jesus died and resurrected for your sins, your life dies to sinful desires.  Sin loses its power over you, all because you believed Jesus.  This is why one of the first things new believers need to do is get baptized (buried) in water.  That baptism is symbolic of burying the “dead” you (the “old” you).  In the physical world, you bury those who die, right?  The same is true in the spiritual world.  You have died to sin, so you need to be spiritually “buried” by being baptized in water.  And when you come out of the water, it symbolizes you coming out as a brand new person.  As Jesus physically died, buried, and resurrected, so you spiritually “die” (when you believe), are “buried” (when you are baptized), and “resurrect” (through the new life in you by God’s Holy Spirit, as will be explained soon).  The fact that you’ve been baptized proves you’ve died to sin.

    Your new life begins with the knowledge and realization that when Jesus died, so did you.  It wasn’t just our bad deeds that were forgiven (though they are!), nor does it just mean we have passed out of God’s judgment (though we have!).  It also means that we, as sinners, were spiritually done away with at Jesus’ death.  Our old life died with Jesus.  And if we died with Jesus from our old way of living, then our new life must be just like Jesus’ resurrection life.  In His resurrection life, Jesus lives purely for God.  In the same way, the new life God gives us belongs to God (He gave us this new life, after all!).

    But what if you are reading this and are a believer and don’t feel like your old, sinful self died with Christ?  And you don’t feel like you have a new resurrected life?  What do you do then?  

Well, God says over and over in His word, “When you believe it, then you will see it,” (see John 11:40, for instance). He tells us to walk according to our faith, instead of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Do you remember Abraham?  He believed God’s word even though it directly opposed his own experience (see Genesis 15:4-6 and Romans 4:18-19).  So, will you believe God’s words that your old self died with Christ (see Romans 6:6, for instance)?  Will you believe these words even if you don’t “feel” like you actually died with Christ?  After you believe this, you will start to see it actually happen.  But not before you believe.

So after you know and believe that you died and resurrected with Christ, your job is to give all of your new life over to God.  He is your new “master”.  Your old master was “sin”.  Sin could tell you what to do, where to go, how to think, etc.  And whether you wanted to follow sin or not, you always ended up following.  You always ended up sinning whether you wanted to or not.  This proves that sin was truly your master.  

And even after you may have learned right from wrong (whether by reading it in the Bible or knowing it in your conscience), it just would make you realize that you were still a prisoner to sin.  Even when you wanted to do right, ultimately, you ended up sinning instead.  Sin was your master and God’s law was the mirror that showed you just how much sin rules you.

But when you believe Christ, you become dead to sin.  This means that sin can come to you, and yell at you, and point his finger, and make all sorts of demands…but he’s talking to a corpse now.  You are dead to sin, and sin’s demands lose the power they once had over you.  However, even though you have been freed from sin, you do have a new master.  God is now your master.  And His demands are to be obeyed.  He is a good and gracious master (unlike sin, who just wanted to destroy you), but He is still a master.  So give up control and rights you think you have on your life.  Submit to God as your master.  As a believer, make the decision to allow God to control you (a decision that you were incapable of making before you believed).

How Do You Give God Full Control Of You? (Romans 6:14-7:6)

    Knowing that God has demands over you (and is your master) doesn’t mean God gives you a list of rules and says, “Only if you do this will you be righteous in my eyes.”  That kind of thinking ended when Jesus died.  You are fully righteous in God’s eyes the moment you believe.  We no longer have to worry about not being righteous enough, even though we know we have sinned.  Instead, God gives us undeserved life through the death of His perfect Son (Jesus).  We are under His grace (i.e. undeserved and unearned favor from God) if we believe Jesus.  

    But being under this grace does not mean that God doesn’t care if we sin or not.  God does care.  He made you to serve and obey Him, not sin.  And every time you choose sin over God, you are glorifying (i.e. putting a positive spotlight, attention, and focus on someone or something) something despicable instead of giving full glory and attention to God by obeying Him.  

See, when you believe in Jesus with your heart, God starts changing you by changing your heart.  He does this by putting His Holy Spirit in your heart.  And the more your heart knows and receives what the Bible says concerning Jesus, the more it will be changed.  

So, when you used to be a slave of sin, what did sin (your old “master”) pay you for all the ways you “served” him?  You got shame and eventually would earn death.  Face it, sin is a terrible and cruel master.  But now, God says, “Serve Me.  Give your heart fully to Me.  Obey Me.”  And what will God give you for surrendering your heart to him?  He’ll give you the gift of eternal life.  This gift begins and never ends the moment you believe Jesus.  At that time, God’s Holy Spirit (who has eternal life in Him) enters you.  Even more, the Holy Spirit in you will change your life and bring you to live in ways that please God and are righteous.  All of this is possible because of the death and resurrection of the Son of God.  This was a complete gift—that’s how good God is as your master.

Think of it another way.  Before Jesus came, God gave a law to follow.  But no one could follow it.  It was like people were “married” to this law.  God’s law was like the “husband” and the people were like the “wife”.  This means that they were stuck together, because God’s law says that a wife cannot separate from her husband as long as both are alive.  People were “stuck” to follow God’s law as a way of righteousness as long as they and the law were alive.  In fact, if the people tried to stop following the law as a way of righteousness, and became “married” to some other way of being righteous, they would be committing spiritual adultery on their husband.  And God hates adultery (see Leviticus 20:10, for instance).  So the people were truly stuck with the law—they couldn’t leave unless they died or God’s law died.

However, when Christ died, we who believe Christ died with Him.  Did you catch that?  We died.  This means we died to our old marriage with God’s law.  And since we also resurrected with Christ (see Romans 6:4, for instance), we have a new life that is free to marry someone/something different than God’s law.  That is, we no longer need to try to perfectly obey the law to become righteous.  The law is no longer our master.  Just as sin is no longer our master, neither is the law our master.  We are free to have a new “husband,” so to speak.  In fact, our new “husband” was already chosen for us.  It is none other than Jesus Himself.  We are now married to Christ, the One who rose from the dead.  This is why all Christians are called the bride of Christ (see Ephesians 5:23-25, for instance; they are also called “the church” which is just a fancy way of saying they are an organized group of Christians).

Even further, just as husband and wife are united in sex after marriage, and the husband’s sperm/life goes inside the wife, so Jesus’ life (which is the Holy Spirit) enters into us the moment we believe.  Our spirit and God’s Spirit become one in the same way in which the husband’s body and wife’s body become one when they have sex in marriage (see 1 Corinthians 6:16-17).  

Further still, it is this union with Christ and the Holy Spirit that produces good fruit in us.  It is through his Spirit in us that we are able to truly please God in this lifetime, instead of just sinning all the time.  Jesus’ life in us changes our whole character and brings us to live and look like Jesus did: obedient to God.  

When we lived without Jesus’ life in us (before belief), we could only produce death.  We had no power to do good things.  And God’s law only showed how bad we were and how much death we produced.  It was like a mirror that showed us we weren’t as good as we thought we were.  But we serve God now by the Holy Spirit inside us.  He does the work in us.  And God no longer tells us to follow His external law in the power of our flesh alone.  No, He now comes to live inside of you and bring you to walk in His ways from the inside-out.  He does the work, not you.

God’s Law And Our Sin-Nature (Romans 7:7-25)

    Does all this mean God’s law is a bad thing?  Absolutely not.  God’s law is a great thing.  It shows us what God’s standard of righteousness looks like, and is the best way to realize that human beings can never live up to God’s standard.  Humans can never be perfect like God, which is a huge problem, because God’s perfect character cannot allow any imperfection to dwell with Him.  Humans, if left on their own, would be banished from God’s presence forever.  And without God’s law and standards of right and wrong, we would never realize how sinful we truly are.  God’s law is holy, right, and good.  In fact, the law was written by God Himself, through His Holy Spirit.

    The problem was never with God’s law.  The problem was always with us—you, me, and everybody.  We are not holy, right, or good.  Before someone knows/believes Jesus, they don’t have God’s Holy Spirit.  They only have their own sinful flesh to work with.  That was true for all of us.  So even when we wanted to obey God and do what is right, we still ended up choosing sin.  We didn’t have the Holy Spirit in us to overcome sin.  So in our mind, and in our inner being, we could desire to follow God, but the sin-nature that lives in us (the sinful genetics that we inherited from Adam) is simply unable to stop sinning.  Before knowing Jesus, we always sinned, whether we wanted to or not.  

In fact, the sin-nature in us works similar to the law of gravity in the world: no matter how hard you try to beat it, it ends up beating you!  And just as you can’t stop the law of gravity, it is impossible to change your sin-nature.  So how does this struggle stop?  How does our sinful flesh die once-and-for-all?  

Well, this problem was already answered 2,000 years ago, when Jesus died—thank God!  The moment you believe this, you step into Jesus’ death.  Because Jesus died, you died to sin.  And because you died to sin, you died to your need to obey the law to be righteous.  

Walking By the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-30)

In Christ and His sacrifice, there is NOW no more wrath or condemnation over us.  We who believe no longer need to struggle with sin, and we no longer need to try to be righteous on our own efforts.  We are no longer under God’s wrath.  All because Christ took our sin, was holy, and took God’s wrath for us! 

And the evidence that we have passed from death into life is that we have God’s Spirit in us, and thus have a life in us that is able to overcome the sin-nature in us.  The life of the Holy Spirit is stronger than the sin-nature.  It is impossible to overcome the sin-nature without the Spirit.  And even when we have the Spirit, we can still be guilty of following our fleshly desires and sins.  However, we have a life living in us (the Spirit) that has more power than sin.  And the more we walk according to this life, the less we sin.

And this life (God’s Holy Spirit) living in us is the sign that God no longer sentences death on us.  The Holy Spirit is like having a “stamp” of approval that God has given to all who trust Jesus.  Even more, this Holy Spirit is the very Person who raised Jesus up after He died.  Do you know what that means?  If God’s Holy Spirit already proved He has the power to bring Jesus from death to life; that means He has the power to defeat sin and death in us.  And thus, as we yield to God’s Spirit in us, we will start seeing ourselves sin less and less and less.  And as we watch this process happen, it should excite us to know that we truly have believed and have been received by God!  If His Spirit is in us, we can have total confidence that we no longer have the sentence of God’s wrath and death on us.  The sin-nature we had since birth was crucified when Jesus died, and can be undone in our own experiences as Jesus’ Spirit in us has His way.

God’s Spirit can prove to us and others that we are NOW children of God.  As children, we know we will receive an inheritance from our Heavenly Father (“Heavenly Father” is a title for God, see Matthew 6:9, for instance), just as all good fathers on earth leave some sort of inheritance for their children.  Of course, all good fathers also lovingly discipline the children before they give their inheritance (in fact, this discipline makes the child more ready to properly use their inheritance, because their character is developed through the discipline).  In the same way, all who are children of God, and will receive His full inheritance, MUST also suffer in this life (just as Jesus, God’s Son, suffered before He received the full reward of sitting at God the Father’s right hand as King forever—where He is today).  In fact, the suffering we go through is part of the evidence that God loves us and has an inheritance saved up for us to receive in eternity (see Romans 8:17 and Hebrews 12:6, for instance).  

And, actually, we aren’t the only ones suffering, because all of creation is also suffering right now.  It has been suffering ever since the first sin that Adam committed thousands of years ago (when Adam sinned, God pronounced the whole world cursed, see Gen. 3:14-18).  But its suffering will end once all of God’s people are glorified at the end of all time.  Then, everything will be new.  This is why creation itself is waiting for God’s children (those who believe Jesus) to be glorified at the end of this present age.  After that happens, everything will be good again.

But until that time, while we are still weak and suffering now, the Spirit comes to our help.  For instance, when we can’t pray (or don’t know how), the Spirit starts praying for us.  And God always hears the prayers of His Spirit.  

Also, no matter how bad this life gets, God will work all these bad things together for good toward those who truly know Him.  Specifically, God is using all your trials to make you become more and more like Jesus (God’s son) from the inside-out.  So, when everything is said and done, those who truly believe and know God will come out shining in the end.  And only these people will be glorified, to draw attention to God Himself, and draw attention to God’s work in us.  

Closing Thoughts (Romans 8:31-39)

    So…

If God is on our side, who can stand against us?  

    If God gave up His own Son for us, do you think He will hold back other things you need (things for this life and the next)?

    If God’s own righteousness covers us through His Son, then we can be assured that we will always be righteous in God’s sight, regardless of what we do or did—as long as we believe Jesus.  

    If God’s Son beat death, and is on our side, how can we not also beat death and live forever?

    Can any of the suffering we go through—any of it—separated us from the love of God the Father and God the Son (as shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us)?  No!  No!  A million times, no!  

Do we have the right Old Testament?

Old Testament Contents

If you open up your Bible (at least ones in the Protestant tradition), you will find 39 books listed as the Old Testament:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. 1 Samuel
  10. 2 Samuel
  11. 1 Kings
  12. 2 Kings
  13. 1 Chronicles
  14. 2 Chronicles
  15. Ezra
  16. Nehemiah
  17. Esther
  18. Job
  19. Psalms
  20. Proverbs
  21. Ecclesiastes
  22. Song of Songs
  23. Isaiah
  24. Jeremiah
  25. Lamentations
  26. Ezekiel
  27. Daniel
  28. Hosea
  29. Joel
  30. Amos
  31. Obadiah
  32. Jonah
  33. Micah
  34. Nahum
  35. Habakkuk
  36. Zephaniah
  37. Haggai
  38. Zechariah
  39. Malachi

Hebrew/Jewish Bibles have the same books, but they reckon the numbering and ordering a little different. For instance, where the Christian Bible lists Malachi last, the Jewish Bible will list 2 Chronicles last.

Hebrew/Jewish Bibles also divide these books into 3 categories:

  1. Law (Hebrew, Torah) = Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  2. Prophets (Hebrew, Nevi’im) = Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1-2 Samuel included), Kings (1-2 Kings included), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Twelve “Minor Prophets” (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
  3. Writings (Hebrew, Ketuvim) = Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles (1-2 Chronicles included)

In fact, you will sometimes hear people refer to the Jewish Bible as the Tanakh. This word is literally an acronym of these 3 divisions: Ta [short for Torah/Law] — Na [short for Nevi’im/Prophets] — Kh [short for Ketuvim/Writings] (see Wikipedia’s “Hebrew Bible”).

Only These Books?

This set of writings we call “Old Testament” (or “Hebrew Bible” or “Tanakh”) is a fixed canon. Meaning, no more writings could be added to this set.

The best way to confirm this is to look at Jesus’ own affirmations of the Old Testament. Remember, He lived and spoke hundreds of years after this collection of writings had been established and seen as God’s Scripture.

Jesus is not shy about quoting from these books. By one count, He affirms 24 of the 39 books of the Old Testament directly as Scripture (and does this with no other writings outside of the Old Testament). He also names various authors by name, specifically: Moses (John 5:46), Daniel (Matt. 24:15), David (Mark 12:36), and Isaiah (Matthew 15:7). As an aside, it is astounding to me that the 4 Old Testament authors most frequently doubted as being authentic in modern seminaries are these same 4 authors. Surely, Jesus knew and still knows today! Why won’t we just trust Him?

Beyond this, Jesus in 2 places affirms the entire Old Testament Canon (all 3 sections, which included all 39 Old Testament books):

The Law, Prophets, and Psalms

First, let’s look at Luke 24:44:

He [Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Luke 24:44

Notice, Jesus mentions the 3-fold division of the Old Testament referenced earlier:

  1. The Law (of Moses)
  2. The Prophets
  3. The Writings (though Jesus calls it the Psalms, it seems this is because it is the first and largest book of that section)

Pause to consider the importance. Jesus is, in essence, affirming the whole of the Old Testament by referring to its 3 divisions, and showing that they are God’s word because they prophetically speak of Him (thus carry God’s authority). If the Old Testament books were in flux at this time, it seems inconceivable that He could refer to the fixed sections of the Old Testament in this way.

Bookends: Genesis & 2 Chronicles

Elsewhere:

In Luke 11:51 (and Matt. 23:35), Jesus references “bookends” of martyrs. Namely, He speaks of Abel as the first martyr and Zechariah as the last matyr. Why did He choose these 2 martyrs as starting and ending points? The death of Abel is recorded in Genesis 4, whereas the Zechariah Jesus refers to is found in 2 Chron. 24. Though there were other martyrs that died after Zechariah in 2 Chron. 24, he is the very last martyr listed in 2 Chronicles. This is significant because the fixed Jewish Bible of Jesus’ time began with Genesis and ended with 2 Chronicles (as it does today). Thus, this seemingly small reference to martyrs found in Luke 11 and Matthew 23 speak loudly that Jesus (and his audience) respected a fixed set (and order) of Old Testament books.

Brian Holda, “Why our Bible doesn’t have 1 Enoch” (2020)

Thus, from different angles Jesus affirms the Old Testament we hold today as a fixed set:

  • by referring to those books and authors solely as authoritative
  • by referencing the 3-fold divisions of that Old Testament
  • by referencing the “bookends” of that Old Testament

If Jesus thought the writings were in flux in His ministry, He would not have referenced them as if they were one established block of writings (which we call the Old Testament Canon).

Jewish Doubts?

Saying all this, it is true that some individuals and groups of Jews at the time of Jesus wondered or questioned if it was really “these 39 books and no more” (well, they would have numbered it differently, but were speaking of the same contents, so you get the idea). But even a casual reading of the gospels show that Jews of Jesus’ day believed all sorts of wrong things about God and the Bible. The question is, what does Jesus think? He should settle any doubts about peripheral views here or there on the matter by approving of what seems to be a mainline stance of many Jews of his day: that the 39 books of the Old Testament were truly God’s fixed Canon.

Council of Jamnia

Some have claimed that the Old Testament Canon wasn’t settled in Jesus’ day, and that the Jews had a “Council of Jamnia” that finally settled the Old Testament. But, from the research I’ve done, it seems more likely that such a council discussed books currently in the Old Testament Canon to see if they should stay there (as opposed to establishing if they should be there in the first place). And they kept those questioned books in there after all.

The 20th-century evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce thought that it was “probably unwise to talk as if there were a Council or Synod of Jamnia which laid down the limits of the Old Testament canon.” Other scholars have since joined in and today the theory is largely discredited. Some hold that the Hebrew canon was established during the Hasmonean dynasty (140–40 BCE).

Wikipedia’s “Council of Jamnia”

Apocryphal Books

Others have wondered about the “apocryphal books” that the Catholics include in their Bibles but Protestants don’t in theirs.

This is a big question that I can’t do justice here, but a well-respected Old Testament Scholar, Dr. Peter J. Williams, has made the point repeatedly that the closer the early Christians were to Jewish communities, the more they rejected the apocryphal writings (and only affirmed the Old Testament Canon we’ve been discussing in this article) (see various YouTube recordings by Peter J Williams discussing the Old Testament contents–sorry I don’t have a specific reference right now). But as those Christian communities were less connected with Jewish communities, they began entertaining some possibility of accepting apocryphal content (though never across-the-board).

Thus, the church would grow up to esteem the Old Testament Canon as Scripture, with mixed views on the apocryphal writings. This came to a head, a bit, in the time of the Reformation, at the Council of Trent when the Catholic Church officially acknowledged the apocryphal writings as “deuterocanonical”, which means “belonging to the second canon” (see Wikipedia’s, “Deuterocanonical Books”). Meaning, as I understand it, that they aren’t officially considered part of the 39 books of the Old Testament Books we’ve discussed here, but Catholics still see them as Scriptural. In contrast, Protestants (rightly) deny them as God’s Scripture.

Again, going into these books is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, the Jewish communities of Jesus’ day, as well as Jesus Himself (who is infinitely more important), did not recognize the apocrypha as part of the Old Testament Canon, but only the fixed set mentioned in this article.

References

For a much deeper dive into this subject, I recommend:

Leading Jehovah Witnesses to Christ

By Bill Fisher

Introduction

Below are resource links that can be useful in equipping Christians to witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses. One reason the cults thrive is because most Christians do not know how to effectively witness to counterfeit-christian groups.

There have traditionally been two approaches to dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses: The first is to engage the Witness on a major doctrinal issue (e.g., deity of Christ). The second is to challenge the authority of the Watchtower Society (e.g., showing them to be a false prophet).

The weakness of the doctrinal approach is that truth may not be received until the authority of the Society is severed in the life of the Witness. The weakness of the authority approach is that the Witness may not consider leaving the Society until he sees a viable alternative. This is a real challenge, since the Society has convinced him that all churches are wrong.

While God’s grace has been demonstrated using both approaches, there is a third approach to which I have found Witnesses more sensitive and responsive. I call this the personal relationship approach, since it cuts right to the heart of the Witness’ need for reconciliation with God.

First, get the Witness to agree that all men need a mediator to be reconciled to God, and that there is only one who qualifies: Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Next, reveal that the Society teaches that the “great crowd” of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have Christ as their mediator (an issue the Watchtower seldom talks about, and therefore unknown to most Witnesses). Finally, impress upon the Witness his need for Christ as mediator.

You can follow up with the Society’s teaching that the “great crowd” also do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. The implications of this are huge, for without the indwelling Spirit of Christ, no one can please God, no matter how hard they try (Rom. 8:1-9).

I have dealt with Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years, from the Saturday morning door-to-door ones to full-time pioneers to hardened overseers. I have trained Christians how to defend the faith in Sunday school classes, evening services, and all day seminars. It is a privilege and responsibility to contend earnestly for the faith and make a defense when asked to give an account for the hope that is in me, in a way that others can see Christ in me–the hope of glory.

Let me know if I can be of further service,

Bill Fisher

Links and Resources

  • WHO IS YOUR MEDIATOR?   Presenting Jesus Christ as mediator to the “Great Crowd” of Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • EYES OF UNDERSTANDING:  Reviewing the Watchtower Society’s prophetic record
  • STRANGE DOCTRINES: Questioning the Watchtower Society’s claim to being God’s “channel of communication” via a study of its past teachings
  • NEW vs. OLD LIGHT:  Examining the Watchtower Society’s “new views of truth”
  • JESUS CHRIST:  Son of Man and Son of God
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT:  Intelligent Being and Deity
  • THE BIBLE:   Final authority for all Jehovah’s Witnesses?
  • AUTHORITY:    Examining the Watchtower Society’s control over the lives of JW’s
  • POINT/COUNTERPOINT:    Dialogue with Jehovah Witnesses concerning the Watchtower’s “eyes of understanding”