Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Destruction of Jerusalem

Matthew chapter 24 has been described as the biggest problem in the gospel. Much confusion exists regarding this chapter because of the tendency on the part of many to refer to all the discussion within it to the Second Coming of Christ. Some have even attributed error to the statement of Jesus in verse 34, "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished." It is the consensus of many that Christ and the apostles were mistaken. Seemingly, no thought is give to the idea that the exegesis of scholars is at fault.

An examination of this chapter in its proper context will clarify many difficulties. The larger context is found in John the Baptist's statement regarding the eventual downfall of Israel (Matthew 3:7-10). Jesus further pointed to the conversion of the Gentiles and the cutting off of the Jewish nation because of their lack of faith (Matthew 8:10-12). In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well Jesus related to the time when worship would not be confined to a particular geographical location (John 4:21). The Jewish nation would become like a barren fig tree and would be cut down (Luke 13:6-9). He severely denounced the empty religion of the Jewish leaders (Matthew 23:1-36) and concluded with a tender and moving lamentation over their spiritual destitution (Matthew 23:37-39).

The immediate context of the Lord's prophecy was prompted by the disciples' questions regarding the destruction of the beautiful temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-3). They mistakenly associated the overthrow of the temple with the end of the world and they wanted to be informed in advance of the signs that would accompany the final coming ( Matthew 24:3). Jesus responded by discussing two comings and two ends of two worlds. The first judgment would fall upon Jerusalem and would mark the end of Judaism. The final judgment would mark the end of the world at which time Jesus would come again, not as a Savior but as a Judge.

Note the signs that would precede judgment upon Jerusalem (Matthew 24:4-28). There would be misleading signs (Matthew 24:4-14) such as false Messiahs (vs. 5). There would also be wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation (vs. 6-7), famines, earthquakes, natural calamities (vs. 7-8), and persecutions (vs. 9-13). The gospel would also be preached to the world before the temple would be destroyed (vs. 14).

Jesus said that when you see the "abomination of desolation," identified as the Roman army in Luke 21:20, you will know the time for Jerusalem ’s destruction is near (Matthew 24:15-28). Its destruction will be extremely horrible and devastating (Matthew 24:29-31). It would occur within the lifetime of those who heard Him speak on this occasion (Matthew 24:32-35). In 70 A.D. the Roman army under General Titus besieged Jerusalem just as Jesus prophesied.

However, by way of contrast the end of time would not have any specific signs that would accompany it. Life will be carried on as usual when suddenly, without advance warning, Jesus will come again ( Matthew 24:36-52; -cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). Man needs to stand in readiness for that great day to come at any moment.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Is the Church of Christ?

The definitions of words and phrases are critical to good communication. It is often the case that words translated from one language to another lose something in the translation. An example of this is the explanation an American provided a foreign news correspondent regarding the fact that he missed a plane that was hijacked after take-off. He told the reporter that he guessed the man upstairs was looking after him. The newsman recounted the story with these words in his report: "The lucky American had an accomplice stationed on top of a nearby building who was able to warn him of what was taking place so that he could avert getting on the plane."

Some have questioned our affiliation with the organization known as the
United Church of Christ. Others have inquired about our relationship with the National Council of Churches of Christ. The truth of the matter is that the Lord’s church has absolutely no affiliation with either of these organizations. Some brethren among us have used poor terminology with reference to their own identity. They have described themselves with such language as, "I'm a church of Christ-er," or have referred to a minister of the gospel as a "Church of Christ preacher." Even though one may do so innocently, such language places the Lord’s church in the position of being one denomination among many. The identity of the Lord’s church is discovered by properly employing biblical teaching to the research.

Consider the etymology of the term "church." The word refers to a "called out assembly."   As such it has been used to refer to a political body (Acts 19:39), a riotous mob (Acts 19:32, 41), or a religious body (1 Corinthians 11:18). The Lord’s church is composed of those who have responded to the call of the gospel by being obedient to it (2 Thessalonians 2:14).

 Reflect on the negative parameters. The Lord's church is not a material building composed of brick and mortar (Acts 17:24-25; 1 Peter 2:5). The church is not an extension of Old Testament practices. Jesus’ death on the cross took away the old law and established the new covenant (Galatians 3:22-25; Colossians 2:14). Neither is the Lord's church a denominational part of the whole of Christianity; that is, it is not a fragmented part of the whole. The church of our Lord IS Christianity (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Jesus promised to build only one church (Matthew 16:18) and only one was constructed (Ephesians 4:4; 1:22-23). The various denominations that have arisen over the years are the result of man’s efforts, not God's!

Examine the biblical comparisons that are made. The church is described as a body (Colossians 1:18). Christ is the head of the body and all members are subject to Him (Ephesians 5:23). Within the body there is diversity (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) as well as coordination (1 Corinthians 12:15-17). Likewise, members of the body have a mutual concern for each other (1 Corinthians 12:25). The church is called a family (1 Timothy 3:15). Since the church is God's house, is it possible for one to be a child of God and not be in His church? To ask the question is but to answer it. Furthermore, the church is described as the bride of Christ (Romans 7:1-4); 2 Corinthians 11:1-2). Do you suppose Christ would be married to more than one bride? If denominationalism were true, wouldn’t He be guilty of spiritual adultery? Perish the thought! The church is also described as a kingdom. The synonymous use of the terms church and kingdom prove this (Matthew 16:18-19). Jesus said His kingdom would be established in the lifetime of the generation contemporary with Him ( Mark 9:1). In the early 60's A.D. Paul wrote that he was in the kingdom (Colossians 1:13). All who presently obey the same gospel Paul obeyed can likewise be in the same kingdom of which he was a part. Hence, the kingdom is not something yet to be established as advocated by premillennialists, but is now in existence. The church is called the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). In his touching speech with the elders of the Ephesian congregation, Paul stated that the church (God’s flock) was purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). Here's a question for consideration: Can the blood of Jesus save one without being a part of the group His saving blood purchased?

It is imperative that we reject the husks of human opinion and embrace the truth of heaven's instructions. Why not obey the gospel of Christ and become a member of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Are the Ingredients of Spiritual Growth?

          A physician once stated that the secret to a long life was to drink eight glasses of water each day. There is no doubt that following this advice would greatly aid the longevity as well as the quality of one's life. One could wish that the secret to a strong spiritual life would be so easy, but it isn't. However, in Phillipians chapter three Paul does provide some food for thought. In this chapter, Paul reveals his spiritual biography. He points to his past in verses 1-11. There we see "Paul, the accountant." He refers to his present in verses 12-16 where we see "Paul, the athlete." Finally, he describes the future in verses 17-21 and pictures himself as an "alien" in the world.

          We focus our attention on verses twelve through fourteen where Paul unfolds some ingredients essential for spiritual development.

Dissatisfaction (3:12-13a). Though he was a religious giant, Paul was dissatisfied with his spiritual progress. He realized his personal shortcomings and wanted to advance for the sake of the kingdom. When a person becomes satisfied with his spiritual stature he signals the end of spiritual growth. The church at Sardis was satisfied with their spiritual reputation, but Jesus described them as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Laodicea felt satisfied with their status, but, in reality, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). Paul's spiritual maturity was shown in the recognition of his own immaturity. So is ours.

Devotion (3:13b). "One thing" is an important phrase. The self-righteous rich young ruler lacked "one thing" in obtaining the true riches (Mk. 10:21). The man blind from his birth did not know many things, but he said, "One thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (Jn. 9:25). The Psalmist requested "one thing" of the Lord: that he dwell in the house of the Lord all his life (Psa. 27:4). An ingredient essential for spiritual growth is having singleness of purpose. Just as an athlete succeeds by oncentrating on his goal so the Christian develops by focusing upon his eternal quest. A river that is allowed to overflow its banks becomes a swamp, whereas, one that is properly channeled becomes a power. The spiritually developing life is a focused life.

Direction (3:13c). Paul did not allow his checkered past of opposition to the church hinder his current service to the Lord. In order to grow Christians must break the power of the past by living for the future. Like Paul, we need to accept God's offer of forgiveness and forget the past (Acts 22:16).

Determination (3:14). This verse captures the idea of intense endeavor. The picture is that of a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. A person does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures in his field of competition, or by watching movies, reading books, or cheering at games. He must get on the field and perform. It may be that one of the reasons why some do not grow spiritually is because the price of success is too great for them. However, the incorruptible crown awaiting the faithful is worthy of relentless pursuit.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Bible: God's Miracle Book

The Bible is unique in that it does not include a haphazard collection of writings. It is an organic whole. Anyone who reads the Bible carefully will quickly realize that there is a unified plan behind the arrangement. There is a unity about the Bible that is nothing less than marvelous. It is inspired, authoritative and entirely trustworthy. What are the grounds for believing this? Consider the following:

 The Wonder of its Formation. The 66 books of the Bible were written by about forty different writers who lived in different countries, spoke different languages and came from different backgrounds. Among the writers were a king, a doctor, a herdsman, a tax gatherer, a scribe, a fisherman, etc. Their material was written over a period of 1600 years, so there was no collusion among them. Yet, when these 66 books are placed together there is perfect unity and harmony between them. What is the explanation? Only one – the Bible is God’s miracle book.

 The Claim of its Writers. God is the author of the Bible, but He employed many human writers. These writers claimed to be writing down the words of the Lord when they used such phrases as, “Thus saith the Lord.” This expression occurs hundreds of times in the Bible. Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16; cf. 2 Peter 1:21). How can the fact that the biblical writers claimed to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit be explained? In this way: the Bible is God’s miracle book.

 The Accuracy of its Statements. A view held by some is that the Bible is full of errors; however, what appear at first glance to be discrepancies are cleared away after careful investigation. There is not one single proven inaccuracy in the whole Bible. It is flawless historically, geographically, genealogically, scientifically, psychologically, typologically, and verbally. What is the reason for this amazing accuracy? The Bible is God’s miracle book.

 The Fulfillment of its Prophecies. Biblical prophecy is not just a guess or a mere prediction based upon present knowledge, but it is history written in advance. For instance, there are over thirty Old Testament prophecies relating to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Every one of them was fulfilled when he died on the cross. What is the explanation of this prophetical accuracy? It is this: the Bible is God ’s miracle book.

 The Insistence of its Message. There is one message that is found throughout the Bible. It is the message of God’ s great love for sinful humanity as evidenced by the gift of his Son who provides salvation to all who will obey him (cf. Romans 5:8; Hebrews 5:9). How do you account for the fact that there is one basic message running through the whole book? The explanation is this: the Bible is God’s miracle book.

Thank God, the Bible is inspired and serves as an authoritative guide for man. It is absolutely trustworthy because it is God’s miracle book. Let us love it, believe it, learn it, practice it, defend it, and pass it on to others.