Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

The Gates of Hell

The Gates of Hell, Caesarea Philippi

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)

Most of Jesus’ earthly ministry centered around the Sea of Galilee, aka the Sea of Tiberius, with His ministry headquarters at Capernaum. The furthest north He traveled, as recorded in the Gospels, was Caesarea Philippi, an ancient Roman city located at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon. Formerly, it carried the name of Paneas in association with the Greek god Pan. Herod the Great erected a white marble (pagan) temple there in honor of Caesar Augustus in 19 BC. Philip II (the Tetrarch) founded the city of Paneas and renamed it Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus in 14 AD.[1]

Ruins of Temple of Augustus, Caesarea Philippi, Israel

Mount Hermon bears the ignominy of being the frequent site of pagan worship.[2] “In the Book of Enoch, Mount Hermon is the place where the Watcher class of fallen angels descended to Earth. They swear upon the mountain that they would take wives among the daughters of men and take mutual imprecation for their sin (Enoch 6).”[3] From a grotto at the foot of Mount Hermon used to issue a spring that has since stopped due to seismic activity.

Nahal Senir Spring formerly “Panias” for the Greek god Pan. This spring, one of three headwaters of the Jordan River, used to flow directly from the cave.

“The pagans of Jesus’ day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves. To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld—the gates of hell. In order to entice the return of their god, Pan, each year, the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats.”[4]

The Gates of Hell, Caesarea Philippi, Israel

It was to this place that Jesus brought His disciples and asked, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man am?” (Matthew 16:13).  The disciples recited the popular rumors: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then, “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Without hesitation, “Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18, emphasis mine).

Jesus then disclosed details of His coming crucifixion.  “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter in the harshest of terms. “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23, emphasis mine). Then to all Jesus counted the cost of discipleship. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, emphasis mine). He closed the discussion with these words. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:27-28, emphasis mine).

“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, (Matthew 17:1, emphasis mine). The summit of Mount Hermon is 9,232 ft. (almost two miles) above sea level. From the “gates of hell” to the portal of the Watchers, Jesus ascended with His closest disciples; “And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him” (Matthew 17:2-3.) The disciples were flabbergasted. They did not know how to respond or react to what they were witnessing. “Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matthew 17:4, emphasis mine). Perhaps because the mountain was littered with all kinds of shrines to pagan gods,

Niches to pagan gods at the Gates of Hell

Peter thought it would be appropriate to build something similar for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. A voice from heaven quickly put the kibosh on that idea.

A niche for a pagan god

“While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).

Gates are defensive barriers designed to keep out the enemy. The gates of hell are no different. Satan is at war against the Kingdom of God, and he erects all kinds of barriers to keep the Kingdom of God from the hearts of those who are perishing. Peter confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Upon that confession – that “rock” – Jesus declared, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  All that they had witnessed would not be clear until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  Peter later recalled, “… [we] were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. (2 Peter 1:16-18, emphasis mine).

On the mountain, Jesus received His marching orders, and it was time to storm the gates of hell. Luke records “And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, emphasis mine). Jesus tore down the gates with His death, but more so with His resurrection. The gates of hell cannot stop His Church, and we have our orders: “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  “And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid” (Matthew 17:7, emphasis mine).

Notes:


[1]  Caesarea Philippi – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Philippi

[2]  Temples of Mount Hermon – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temples_of_Mount_Hermon

[3]  Mount Hermon – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Hermon

[4]  Ray Vander Laan, That the World May Know, “The Gates of Hell” – https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/gates-of-hell-article

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Evil Servant

Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; (Matthew 24:48)

Matthew 24 begins what is known as Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse.” Jesus spoke these words on the Mount of Olives just two days before He went to the cross (Matthew 26:2). Jesus had just issued a series of eight “woes” against the Jewish religious leaders—the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-33). Here as in other places in the Gospels, Jesus asserts His authority as God when He predicts, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:34-36, emphasis mine). Jesus then laments over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39).

As the disciples stood around hearing these words, their curiosity piqued. “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3, emphasis mine).

Before continuing, I must add a point of clarification here. Those asking the question, the disciples, were Jews. They based their question on their understanding of Old Testament prophecies concerning the reign of Messiah, whom they understood to be Jesus (Matthew 16:16). All prophecy—both in the Old and New Testaments—centers around Israel and Messiah’s reign in and from Jerusalem. The Old Testament alludes to the Church, but as Paul points out, it was a “mystery” to Old Testament writers (Ephesians 5:32). Furthermore, at the point of this dissertation, the Church did not exist. The Church was not established until after Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Jesus, therefore, focused His response on “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), a.k.a. “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 2:22; 7:14). This prophecy was for the Jews and Israel, not for the Church.

Jesus goes into great detail about what will take place during the Tribulation. Even though this prophecy is not directed at the Church, He does provide signs for the Church to discern. “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32-34, emphasis mine).

The “fig tree” symbolizes the nation of Israel. Jesus had already predicted the demise of Israel (Judah at this time). “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate [i.e., barren; laid waste; devestated]” (Matthew 23:38, emphasis mine). The fulfillment of this prophecy took place in 70 A.D. when the Roman general Titus razed Jerusalem to the ground. The budding of the fig tree indicates the rebirth of Israel. This took place almost 70 years ago on May 14, 1948. Jesus said this generation, which witnesses the rebirth of Israel, “shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). We are that generation! Then Jesus guaranteed His prophecy, not with “Thus saith the Lord” (Jesus is Lord), but with “Verily, I say.” Then He affirmed, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35, emphasis mine).

Jesus goes on to encourage watchfulness “for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42). For those of us who yearn for the Rapture of the Church and also for those who will live through the Tribulation, that means that we cannot predict that event with precision. However, Jesus provided enough information that we can determine the proximity, so we encouraged to “watch.”

Jesus then asks, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matthew 24:45, emphasis mine). These are the pastors and teachers whom God has placed over His churches. Jesus instructs these servants to “give them—the churches, i.e., the “flock”—meat in due season.” “Meat” means nourishment, and since Jesus speaks of His “household,” He means “spiritual” nourishment. He made this point clear to Peter at Peter’s restoration when three times Jesus asked him, “Lovest thou Me?” To Peter’s weak responses, Jesus commanded three times, “feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). In the context of this end-times discourse, the “meat” nourishes the “flock” in preparation for that which is sure to come.

Jesus then contrasts the “faithful and wise servant” with the “evil servant” who “shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants” (Matthew 24:48-49, emphasis mine).  This one does not take the Lord’s return seriously. The Greek word translated “smite” is tuptō and it means to beat with a whip or stick. The Thayer’s Greek Definitions adds that metaphorically the word implies “to wound, disquiet one’s conscience.” This indicates that the abuse is of a spiritual nature, where the pastor or teacher neglects the proper care and feeding of the flock. The flock is spiritually malnourished and completely unequipped for the Lord’s return.

Sadly, we have too many “evil servants” that neglect to prepare the flock for the Lord’s return. They offer many excuses. The worst of the lot simply do not believe in the imminent return of Christ. They do not regard end-times prophecy literally and attribute it to allegory to be spiritualized.  Others think the teaching is too controversial. They fear confusing or offending their congregation. Still, others have church growth as a top priority. “Doom’s Day” teaching might scare off seekers and stunt church growth. They believe church must be a fun and “safe” place. They would not risk making anyone uncomfortable. Some, while saying they believe that Jesus will return soon, feel they must give greater priority practical teaching to equip the flock for dealing with the daily issues of life. In some ways, this last group is the most dangerous. While it is true that pastors/teachers must equip their congregations to face the day-to-day challenges of life; they are still obligated to teach the “whole counsel” of God’s Word (Acts 20:27). That includes encouraging the flock “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25, emphasis mine). That does not mean that every sermon must be an end-times message, but every exhortation should be peppered with the expectation that the Lord may come at any moment.

Any pastor/teacher who fails to teach the imminency of Christ’s return is, according to these words of Jesus, an “evil servant.” For the evil servant who thus abuses his flock, Jesus says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, emphasis mine). Jesus concludes this portion of the discourse with this severe warning: “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:50-51).

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Walking On Water

And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. (Matthew 14:29)

One of my favorite accounts recorded in the Gospels is that of Peter walking on water. Everyone knows that Jesus walked on the water, but no one remembers that Peter walked on the water too. Most people focus on the fact that Peter sank. Peter succumbed to the natural laws of physics, but he did walk on water.

The record begins when Jesus fed “about five thousand men, beside women and children” (Matthew 14:21). This He did by multiplying the five barley loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:17). “And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full” (Matthew 14:20) – one basket full for each of the twelve disciples. The miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power as Creator. The beginning amount of food, if simply broken up into tiny morsels sufficient for each of the over 5000 people, would not have been enough for them all to be “filled” – the Greek word used there is chortazō, which means, “to gorge.”  Jesus created new food out of nothing, and the people were “stuffed.” After the “feast,” Jesus dismissed the crowd and instructed His disciples to get in the boat and go across the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, “he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).

While Jesus prayed, a storm came up on the lake and caught the disciples in middle of the water fighting for their lives. After a long night of bailing water and manning the oars, the disciples looked across the water and thought they saw a ghost walking in their direction.[1] It was past three o’clock in the morning – the fourth watch. Lack of sleep combined with aching backs and shoulders from fighting the elements contributed to the fear that gripped their hearts at the sight of this phantasm. “They were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26, emphasis mine).

Then came that all too familiar voice, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matthew 14:27). Literally, the Greek reads, “Have courage. I AM. Fear not.” The Great I AM who created the laws of physics now subjected them to His will by transforming the surface tension of water into a solid surface for His footsteps. Incredible! The disciples had their doubts.  “And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come.” (Matthew 14:28-29a, emphasis mine).

One must really admire the audacity of Peter! Although he could not believe his eyes, he recognized and trusted the voice of the Savior. “And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus” (Matthew 14:29b). Look closely at what the verse says. Peter got out of the boat, but he did not just stand there holding on to the side. “He walked on the water.” He let go of the boat and started walking “to go to Jesus.” Peter was walking on water! Peter did not perform a miracle. He did not manipulate the laws of physics like Jesus did. He simply trusted in the Word of Jesus. Jesus said, “come,” and that was enough. Way to go, Peter!

However, “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). The Greek word translated “boisterous” is ischuros, and it means “forcible, mighty, powerful, strong, or valiant.” We cannot really “see” the wind, but we see its effects. The wind was “forceful.” The waves broke over the bow of the small boat. The sea plunged to a depth of more than 200 feet. A man could easily drown under these circumstances. Peter took his eyes off the One who said, “come,” and he took notice of the elements around him instead. That is when he lost his footing, “and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (Matthew 14:30-31, emphasis mine).  Peter’s head did not go under before Jesus brought him to the surface, “and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). We should not be too critical of Peter’s “little faith.” Under similar circumstances, we might react the same way.

Like Peter, Jesus calls us to come to Him. The storms of life surround us. Danger lurks everywhere. Some see Jesus as a phantom, a figment of religious imaginations, and though the storms of life are very real, they prefer to take their chances in the boat where it is “safe.” However, the boat guarantees no safety. One big wave can swamp the boat, and life is over. The safest place is out on the water with Jesus. We can walk on water through the storms of life as long as our eyes are fixed on the One who says, “Come,” “and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27).

That is not the end of the story. Peter did walk on water again. After Jesus saved him, they walked to the boat together. “And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:32, emphasis mine). Walking on water with Jesus calms the storms of life.

Notes:


[1]  “Jesus’ Seven Signs in John (5)” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2016/11/20/jesus-seven-signs-in-john-5/

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Resurrection

colorful sunset

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up … When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:20, 22)

Christians today, especially in the Middle East, suffer martyrdom by the hundreds at the hands of brutal ISIS executioners. These undergo a gruesome and horrific death by beheadings or being burned alive. Yet, as ghastly as we may perceive such brutality, the pain and suffering of these victims is short-lived, unlike that experienced by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.[1]

On the Lord’s Feast of Passover,[2] Jesus, already physically drained from lack of sleep[3] and subjected to a sham of a trial by the Jewish religious leaders, was brutally beaten and scourged at hands of Roman soldiers, experts at inflicting pain without killing the victim. Then in that depleted condition, He was forced to carry His own cross to the place of execution, and whether it was a fully assembled cross or just the cross beam, for a man in Jesus’ condition at that time was next to impossible – but He did it. Under the weight of that burden, determined to complete His mission, He faced the horror of the cross. God, wrapped up in human flesh, with His host of angelic armies standing at the ready awaiting the command to rain down vengeance upon His tormentors. At the time of His arrest, Peter pulled his sword in His defense, but Jesus stopped him. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).  Nothing would deter Him from His mission. “[He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

Determined to give to the very last, He carried Himself up Calvary’s hill, laid Himself down upon the timbers and spread His arms out to receive the nails – our pain, our guilt, our sins. “For [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). At the last, He gave His life. He did not die. Jesus said, “… I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18, emphasis mine). He was not killed. “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost” (Matthew 27:50, emphasis mine). He was not the victim. He was in full control until the very last. John, the beloved disciple, and the only one of the twelve to witness the event said, “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30, emphasis mine). Finished! Paid in full!

That was not the end. On the first day of the week, on that spring Sunday morning, He broke the chains of death and brought sheol’s captives with Him. Matthew records, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52-53).[4]

His resurrection is key! Had Jesus died and remained in the tomb, we would venerate a martyr, nothing more. His bones would be marked by an ornate shrine. Perhaps followers would make faithful pilgrimages to the site to stand in awe and wonder. If that was the case, our faith’s reward would be death and eternal separation from our Creator with no hope of redemption. “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).  Because of His resurrection, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). So now we can say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Before going to the cross, Jesus left us with this promise: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). His resurrection guarantees the promise. On that day, “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world are brutally killed daily by the enemy of God. We can thank God that for many, death is swift; it is nothing like what their Lord and our Lord endured for our sakes. But the guaranteed promise of the resurrection assures us that one day soon, we will be together with Him in His house.

Notes:


 

[1]  It is said that victims could linger on the cross up to three days until succumbing to dehydration and asphyxia.

[2]  Despite conventional tradition, this even could not have taken place on Friday. Jesus said He would rise in “three days,” not three partial days. Jesus specified “three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:39-40). No matter how one may try to convolute the time to fit a “Good Friday” scenario, one cannot get “three days and three nights” from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Jesus said, “three days and three nights” – 72 hours, nothing less will do!

[3]  Jesus had spent the night in prayer while His disciples slept (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46) before being betrayed by Judas, arrested and tried.

[4]  Matthew’s recording of this event that seems to coincide with Jesus’ death and the renting of the veil to the Holy of Holies, but a close inspection of the text reveals that this event occurred after the resurrection. See again Matthew 27:52-53.

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Jesus Said It

Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount - Gustave Dore

                 Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount – Gustave Dore

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.   (Matthew 24:35)

The general conception of Jesus, if He is thought of at all, is that He was a nice guy, a good teacher, and perhaps a miracle worker. A lot of what He said are words to live by, like, “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 – taken out of context, a great verse for Christian bashing). There is no doubt that Jesus taught many things that benefit when applied to every-day life. Those kinds of teachings find general acceptance by all, but Jesus also said many things that many in this politically correct culture would find offensive.

Jesus said, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent? Many today who, like Donald Trump, believe they have done nothing from which to repent. The Bible says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Jesus said, “Repent”!

Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). What man alive can claim innocence of that sin? These days, the same could be said of woman. Along with that He said, “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32). With today’s high rate of easy divorce, to how many does this apply? Speaking of adultery, Jesus said marriage is between one man and one woman: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:6-9, emphasis mine) – so much for same-sex unions.

Many think of Jesus as peaceful and gentle, but Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Why is that? To His followers Jesus said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22, emphasis mine). “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).  Jesus said, “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matthew 10:36).  “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death” (Matthew 10:21).  Jesus said, “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” (Matthew 10:35); so “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38). However, He offers this promise: “he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Jesus wants total allegiance; He wants first place in our lives. The reward is eternal life, but it is not without cost. Some will protest, and rightfully so, “Salvation is a free gift. It cannot be earned, Ephesians 2:8-9!” True. The “wages of sin” (Romans 3:23) were paid by Christ on the cross, but along with accepting the free gift comes the responsibility that goes with it. The Christian life is not one of ease, a life of “do as you please,” but the Christian has the promise of the Savior who says “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30) because He becomes your “yoke partner.”

Jesus said that the Global Flood was real: “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matthew 24:37-39). Jesus said that the Jonah “fish story” was true: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). He said this in foretelling of His own death, burial, and resurrection which He fulfilled at His crucifixion.

Jesus said hell is real. He spoke of those within the church – “tares” – that by all appearances look like genuine Christians, but are not. Of these He said, “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40-42, emphasis mine). He spoke of the kingdom of heaven being like a net cast into the sea (the “sea” is often used as a metaphor for “the people” of the world) and gathered in by the angels who separate the good from the bad. “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50, emphasis mine).  Jesus said that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, you should get rid of them, for it is better to enter into heaven maimed than to be whole and “to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus stressed the eternality of hell; “never” means NEVER.  Jesus spoke of hell as a real place. He told the true account of a rich man and a poor beggar who both died and stepped into eternity (Luke 16:19-31).  The rich man ended up in hell, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23, emphasis mine). Hell is real. Jesus said it.

Just as hell is real, Jesus said heaven is real. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3, emphasis mine). That place has dimensions: “And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal” (Revelation 21:16).  A furlong is 660 feet. Twelve-thousand furlongs would be 7.92 million feet, and divided by 5280 feet (i.e. one mile), that is equal to 1500 miles. That is about the distance from Dallas, TX to New York, NY. Now imagine that in the size of a cube. It is not a small place! And that is just the “New Jerusalem.” There is no telling just how large the rest of heaven is, but with all that space, it is a very exclusive place. Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait [narrow/tight] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, emphasis mine).

Many today appeal to the “love” of Jesus suggesting that a “loving God” would not send anyone to hell. Even the Pope has boarded that band wagon claiming that all roads lead to God. Those who appeal to a loving God are partially correct; God sends no one to hell. They end up there by their own choice. Those who claim John 3:16 fail to read any further. Two verses down, John 3:18 says, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (emphasis mine). In my Bible, those words are written in red; Jesus said it.  God is not swayed by popular consensus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine). There is no other way. Jesus said it.

Jesus taught many good lessons that when taken to heart prove beneficial to our day-to-day lives. But He also taught some very hard lessons that, when ignored, lead to eternal damnation. It’s tough to hear, but Jesus said it.

If you are unsure of your eternal destination, you alone can do something about it. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Jesus said it.

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Remember?

Loaves and Fishes

Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? (Matthew 16:9-10)

Jesus and His disciples left the village of Magdala and crossed the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us that they landed at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22), but before they arrived, Jesus thought aloud about an encounter they had in Magdala with a group Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:1-4). This bunch demanded “a sign from heaven” to validate His teachings. Obviously, the miracles Jesus performed were insufficient for these religious experts. So as Jesus thought on this, He offered His disciples an object lesson. “Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). However, the disciples were preoccupied with the fact that they forgot to pack a lunch (v. 5), “And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread” (Matthew 16:7).

In their preoccupation with their stomachs, they missed the spiritual meal their Master had prepared for them. So, to refocus their minds to receive the real meal, Jesus reminded them of the miracle where He fed the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21), and more recently, the feeding of the 4000 (Matthew 15:32-38). They need not concern themselves about what they were going to eat. Indeed, Jesus spoke on this very thing in His Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:31). They were not about to go hungry with Jesus in their company.

We often behave just like the disciples. We get caught up with the worries and troubles of this world, and we forget all the times that God carried us through those troubled times. Remember when you were abandoned, and God brought that special person into your life to mend your brokenness? Remember when you lost your job and somehow God provided for you until He had a better job for you? Remember when you sacrificially gave to a cause God placed on your heart, and somehow you never missed that sacrificial gift? Remember?

When you are in the company of Jesus, all your needs (not wants) will be met, “for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:32). Remember how God provided for you in the past, and “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Remember.

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Who Were the Magi?

There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem

There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

No Nativity scene is complete without three wise men and their entourage. Of course, any student of Scripture understands that their number is unknown but rather inferred from the three gifts that were presented to the Christ child – gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Nor did they arrive at the moment of His birth, but rather some two years later. We know this because the family was living in a “house” (v. 11) rather than a stable (Luke 2:7). The wise men also found a “young child” (Greek: paidion – a toddler) rather than a “babe” (Greek: brephos – an infant). Regardless, the shepherds, wise men, singing angels and the whole menagerie make for a sweet tableau at Christmastime.

But who were these “wise men” and from where did they come? First of all, the Greek word translated as “wise men” is magoi meaning an “oriental scientist,” or by implication, a “magician” or “sorcerer.” The Latin translation of the Greek is magi, which is also commonly used in English. Secular sources say that the magi were the Zoroastrian priests of the ancient Medes and Persians. John Wesley suggests that “Probably they were Gentile philosophers, who, through the Divine assistance, had improved their knowledge of nature, as a means of leading to the knowledge of the one true God.” Other commentators suggest that they had Balaam’s prophecy (Numbers 24:17), and perhaps Daniel’s (Daniel 9:24, etc.), handed down to them by tradition. Adam Clarke offers this: “It is very probable that the persons mentioned by the evangelist were a sort of astrologers, probably of Jewish extraction, that they lived in Arabia-Felix, and … came to worship their new-born sovereign.”

The Bible has little to say about these men. They came from the “east,” which most agree is from the area of Persia. Since no one really seems to know for certain, I feel free to offer my suggestion. I reject the secular view that these men were Zoroastrian priests. While a pagan priest might be familiar with Hebrew Scriptures (because as educated men, they would probably study a wide variety of sources), they would not necessarily be compelled to take them seriously. After all, they adhered to their own religion. I agree with Clarke who suggests that they were “probably of Jewish extraction.” My guess is that they were of the remnant that remained in Babylon after Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. Daniel remained in Babylon and maintained a high position as advisor to the king. Daniel was a “wise man.” Undoubtedly he established a school for wise men where he taught from the Hebrew Scriptures. There were many Jews that served in high positions in the Persian court: Mordecai (Esther 2:19), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:11); so it is reasonable to conclude that others followed suit. As Jewish “wise men,” they would have a greater reason to study the Scriptures as they yearned for their Messiah, the King of the Jews. I conclude that these magi were Jews coming from Babylon in search of their Messiah, and “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). And when they found the child, they “fell down, and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11).

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