Death and Dying

Death and Dying

Today people are so afraid and terrified of death that they refuse to talk about it or even think about it.  To them, as it was for Job of the Old Testament, death is the king of terror’s.  We often play language games to try to soften it by changing the word from death, to expiring or passing.  The atheist expires, the Christian passes.

No matter how you look at it death is a gateway, either into a new state of being, or non-being.  These are the only two possibilities.  For the believer it is a gateway into a new state of being, which allows them to live in a state of hope.  To the atheist or the materialist it is a gateway into non-being.  It is simply nonexistence as a living conscious being.  It is a return to the dust of the earth.  However, we know from science that nothing just stops existing.  Matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change.  The big question is, does consciousness go on?  The materialist says no, for to him there can be no consciousness apart from the physical brain. But if we asked the question what is consciousness, we come up with the answer that consciousness, in the end, is information and information can exist without the brain.  What about radio and television waves?  You could say they are information and once formed they will continue forever.

Dying is not death, it is the process by which we enter our new state of being or existence.  There is usually some pain associated with this process of dying as with birth.  In fact, we begin to die the day we begin to live.  Life and death seem to travel together on our journey through this life. It sometimes appears on the surface that death is the goal of life, but then for the Christian there is Jesus.

When it comes to the pain that is often associated with dying, the good news is that Gods grace has given us medication to lessen the physical pain.  There should be no severe pain in the dying process for most.  Unbelievers may say that man created the medication.  No, God made it, man discovered it and developed it.  However, if for some reason we must experience a painful death, fear not.  The Holy Spirit will help you to endure it and as you endure it, look past it to the joy that is before you, even as our Lord did.

In our culture aging and death is looked upon as a disease that medical science is supposed to cure, or as an enemy that is trying to kill us and must be destroyed.  This struggle against aging and death comes from mans rebellion against nature and the God of nature.  Humanity seems to be in rebellion against all the limits of God including death. Man will not accept death for he views it as the ultimate limit placed on man by God.  Therefore, as in the story of the fall, he is still trying to storm the gates of heaven to seize eternal life.  Yet at the gate, he stills finds the angel with the flaming sword, saying you cannot enter.  All this comes from man’s rebellion and his refusal to except his own mortality and his fallen state.  Once a person excepts that this is a fallen world and that Christ is the way out, death simply becomes the way out.  A way out into a better existence, a way out that we need not fear.  It simply becomes the next step towards eternity.

For the Christian, death is like departing on a journey from one place to another with a stop in between.  Let me explain, the Christian faith teaches that we reside in the body, but we are more than a body.  There is the inner man of the heart.  Both the apostles, Paul and Peter, refer to our body as a tent that we dwell in.  The apostle John also speaks of Jesus, as dwelling among us in the tabernacle or tent.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

2 Peter 1:13-15

“I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”

John 1:14

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (literally in the Greek; tabernacle or tented among us), and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The problem with understanding death begins with a miss-understanding of the nature of man.  Man is body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and death is the separation of the spirit and soul of man from his body.  It is the Spirit that gives life and when the spirit departs, the body dies.  When the spirit departs it goes back to the God that gave it, or does it?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer said, “I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.  Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both:  As one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals.  Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust, all return.  Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclésiastes 3:18-22)

I don’t believe, that Solomon was saying that he did not  believe that the spirit of man continues after death.  He was simply saying there was no evidence.  He was not certain. The Hebrews believed in an afterlife but it was vague and fuzzy.  Of course, the human mind thinks in pictures and to grasp something of the afterlife, which is  based on our present experience, we must use a picture of a places, made up of other places or parts of places, that we have seen.  That afterlife place for the Hebrews was given the name of Sheol, or literally the place of the unseen.  It was in Hebrew thinking a dark and foreboding place.  This idea corresponds to Hades in the New Testament, which appears to be a waiting place for the final judgment and yet it does seem to  foreshadow the eternal state of a person, i.e. they have a knowledge of their final destiny.

However, in the New Testament it is still a fuzzy and vague place.  The most we know about it is seen in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  This vagueness is probably due to the fact that it is only viewed as a temporary stop on the way to eternity.  One thing about the place of the unseen does change in the New Testament.  In the New the righteous are in a state of bliss  while the evil  are in a place of torment.  This separation could have grown out of the belief that the righteous can never be separated from God and if God is with them somehow they cannot be in a place of evil or darkness  (Rom 8:28-39).

The next step into eternity will be the great wakeup call of the trumpet of God and the voice of the archangel announcing the end of time and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At that time all of the dead in Hades will be resurrected with new immortal bodies.  Those who are still alive at his coming will  be transformed and given new spiritual bodies.  Then all men will stand before the great white throne  and be judged by what they did in their former bodies.

The resurrection and the judgment of God, mark God’s final word on sin and death.  Both are destroyed in the eternal lake of fire, which is a symbol of finality.

“Listen, I tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ  (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

The Good News for America

The Good News for America

In a society that is all about comfort, ease, pleasure and feeling good, how can we call a person to suffer and die to themselves and live for others?  In other words, what is good about the good news of Christ?

What is the good news of Christ?  Is it good health and worldly blessing or is it something different? The gospel is that Christ died for our sins, and that God raised him from the dead,  nothing more and nothing less. Why are the death and resurrection of Christ the good news?  Well, it is only good news if you recognize that mans greatest enemies are sin and death.  If you recognize this, then the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news in all the world. Let’s take a look at the trouble that the apostle Paul called the law of sin and death.

The literal meaning of sin is, to miss the mark.  It was the term in which the spotter, who stood next to the target, would yell back to the archers when an arrow missed the bulls-eye.  You sinned; you missed the mark you were aiming at.  When the New Testament says you have sinned it is saying that you have missed the mark that God has set for you as a human being created in His likeness. You have missed what it means to be truly human.

What is his likeness?  Now the likeness of God is a deep subject, but we can easily grasp some things about it. The Bible tells us that God is love and from this, we can gather when we were created in his image that we were created for love.  That is we were created to have a love relationship with God and reflect that image to all around us.

But, how can this be if God is a spirit?  How can we love a spirit?  That is a tough question for a three dimensional being to comprehend.  Even so, one thing I do know is that we can reflect God by loving those that have been created in his image.  Human beings are living symbols of the living God. In fact, they are the only thing in all of creation that image’s God. So, to love or hug a person is to hug God. To smile at another human is to smile at God.  To do good to another human is to do it to and for God (Matt.25:30-40).  It is here we can also see what sin really is.  It is doing something to hurt a fellow human created in God’s image or neglecting to do something one ought to do to help a fellow human.  It is breaking or being unfaithful to the love relationship we have or should have with our fellow-man.  When you act in an unloving way toward your brother, you have sinned.  If you break faith with the image of God, you have sinned against God.

Now the next question is what is love? We have seen that God is love, and this is where Jesus comes in. Jesus came here to reveal the father (John 17).  He came to teach us what true love looks like.  In making known the father he made known what is true love.  He did it by living and dying a sacrificial life for others.  In this, he lived for God and fulfilled the great commandment “to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  This work of revealing the Father as sacrificial love reached its peak and fulfillment in his death on the cross. As he died, he said, “it is finished.”  In this act of dying for others Jesus fulfilled the law of love and opened a new living way of approaching God, not through religion but through love, not just any kind of love but through the kind of love demonstrated by Jesus.

The atonement is God demonstrating his sacrificial love in Christ for his creation.  How can the death of Christ be reduced to a payment of a debt, to a broken law?  The atonement must be grounded in God’s love, not the law.  Love freely given,  never demands its pound of flesh as the law does. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”  In the death of Christ, God deals with the sin problem by covering it with his love; while at the same time demonstrating his love to man by covering over with his love their anger and hatred. “Father forgive them, for they know not, what they do.”  In this act of love, he revealed his love,  by forgiving freely, mans hatred and anger. (Colossians 1: 21, 22)

In the death of Christ, we also see a revelation or a revealing of man’s nature. Man is angry and filled with hate and a false sense of justice and righteousness.  Man needs his pound of flesh. The law is broken, someone must pay; someone must be punished for the law is their God.  I find it peculiar that many in the Christian movement have embraced a theory of the atonement which image’s God in exactly the same way as sinful man, strange indeed.

This work of revealing the Father is to be continued by his body, the church.  This revealing of the father begins in the church by believers loving one another, just as Christ has loved them. In loving one another as Christ has loved them, they show the world the Father even as Christ showed them the Father.  When the church fails to do this, it is missing the mark and is living in sin.  When it is living in sin it is living under sin and is walking in the flesh and cannot be pleasing to God.  It is a terrible sin to hurt or hinder the work of the church from revealing the Father.  This happens whenever a member of the church acts in an unloving manner toward a brother or for that matter, another human being.

We are not alone in this work of revealing the Father to the world. God has put his Spirit in the body of Christ and in each of its members, to help them in this great work of revealing the true God.  In truth, this work is the work of God and when he calls us, He calls us to join him in that work, and if we accept that call, we become his fellow workers.

We can gather from all this that we are most human and most godly when we are loving our brothers and honoring the love relationship with God and man. When we fail to do this, we sin. We miss the mark of loving one another, the very reason for which God has created us.

The gospel of Christ is the message that God has forgiven our unloving acts and has taken them on Himself. Furthermore, it tells us if we put our faith in Christ, he will put his divine life in our hearts to help us to become like the Father. When a person believes, they begin to find themselves being transformed into the image of God as their love for God and man grows.

However, the gospel could not be the good news of God unless it addresses the problem of death. In actuality, most people think of death as a problem at the end of one’s life, but when we take a closer look, it is something that affects all of life.  It is as the Bible said, the king of terrors that cast a shadowing doom over all of life.  It is the shadow of the abyss that robs life of all meaning. In the classic book, the “Denial of Death,” Ernest Becker shows how the fear of death operating on a subconscious level influences and actually controls a lot of our thinking and actions.  In view of this, one would have to conclude that to bring one’s life under control you would have to have something to deal with death on a conscious and subconscious level. Well, God gave us this when He raised Jesus from the dead. The message of the resurrection is the best news that mankind has ever heard.  It frees us from the fear of death and empowers us to live a life of freedom and meaning.

Of course, we did not need Mr. Becker’s book to tell us about the power of death, for scriptures long go echoed the same thought.  The writer of the book of Hebrews says, ” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death, he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:14-16).  The apostle Paul actually says that death is the catalyst for mans sinning. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:56-57).  Note that Paul does not say death is the sting of sin but rather that sin is the sting of death. Though Paul does not tell us how death causes us to sin it is  plain that he is pointing to the fear of death as the source of much of our sinning. However, he also shares with us the good news that Christ has overcome death in his resurrection.  In the resurrection, God has placed us with Christ above sin and death giving us a victory over them in Christ (Eph.2:6). Now, that is good news. LD

 

 

 

 

A Parable for Atheists

A Parable for Atheists

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery? “The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.” The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.” The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.” The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?” The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.” Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.” To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

I saw this on the net and had to pass it on. It speaks of the final transformation in the birth of the sons of God into a new creation.”

Securing the Future

Securing the Future

We live in very uncertain times.  So how in the world can we secure our future? I don’t have all of the answers to getting a hold on the future, but I do know that there is one thing which you’ve got to get a handle on before you can get a hold on the future.  That is death. The reason for this is that death robs all men of a future. Consequently, some men get a handle on the future by accepting their fate.  In essence, they accept that they have no future in the face of death.

That may seem brave but only if it’s true and only if it’s the only alternative, otherwise it’s foolishness.  Others (the majority) simply deny their death by refusing to think or talk about it.  I personally believe that there is another alternative.  It’s called hope.  You see hope is faith reaching into the future and pulling it into the present.

For faith to work you’ve got to make sure that when you send your faith out into the future that it finds something big enough to overcome death or a place where death cannot go.  When you do this you must be sure that the thing it brings back is powerful enough to overcome the fear of death.  In order to do this your faith must find something or someone who in themselves has overcome death.  You see I have heard from a lot of men who have made promises about securing the future and yet they themselves had no future.  To secure the future we need to have hope and faith in one that has himself secured the future.

Let me share with you a vision of the future that you might explore.  It’s worked for me and millions of others.  This vision of the future is a vision of a man.  Like all visions it is filled with symbolism so put on your thinking hat. Here it is “I (the apostle John) turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-18).”

If you have not guessed yet, this is a vision of the resurrected Christ.  When a person has placed their hope in the resurrected one they need not be afraid of death or anything else for someone else has secured the future for them. If the Book of Revelation teaches anything, it teaches that the future belongs to Jesus. God bore witness to this by raising him from the dead.  He was dead and behold He is alive forever and ever.  The gates of death and Hades can never shut in those who believe in the one who holds the keys to those gates. LD

Personal Knowledge

Personal Knowledge

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”.

In mans search for the truth he has journeyed down many streets. All of which have turned out to be dead ends.  In antiquity, men  sought after truth through the study of theology; then came the age of philosophy followed by  modern science.  Though  some still believe that through the pursuit of science, they will find some certitude of truth, yet the light seems to be dimming. The foundation of scientific knowledge is beginning to be shaken by the very principle that has shaped it, that is philosophical doubting. When doubters begin to doubt their doubts they are nearing the end of a dead end street.

So what are we to do?  Some have come to the conclusion that there is no truth. The majority of these individuals have embraced relativism and abandoned any search for the truth.  Others have turned to diverse cultures hoping to find certitude in eastern philosophy or religions.  I believe they will be sorely disappointed.

For over 2000 years people have been finding meaning, purpose and certitude in life through Jesus Christ.  I’m not talking about religion, but rather faith in the teachings and person of Jesus Christ.  The Bible refers to faith in Jesus not as a religion but rather as the way.  Believing in Jesus is a way[1] of living, a way of thinking and most important it’s a way of relating to God and your fellow man.  But for our study it’s more important to know that it’s a way to certitude.

The apostle John tells us that we can have an assurance or a certainty that we have the eternal life.2 This certitude does not come as a result of being good enough to earn eternal life but rather it comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  In essence, Jesus has become for us  our certitude and our assurance.  Christians believe that somehow Jesus Christ has satisfied all the demands of the moral law in our stead.  Because of this, Christian certitude and assurance is not based on their moral performance but rather on faith in the performance of Jesus.  Unless you are perfect this is the only way that you could ever possibly have assurance of a relationship with God.  If your standard for having a relationship with God is your own goodness, how good is good enough?

Christians also have the certitude of their relationship with God because of their faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God has given us an objective fact of history in raising Jesus from the dead. Therefore, we have the assurance that Jesus Christ is alive and has the power and authority to save to the upmost, those that believe in him.  How could you ever possibly have certitude and assurance through faith, if  your faith was based on the teachings and life of a dead man?  The resurrection is proof that Jesus and his teachings are superior to every other man’s, for only he has overcome death, through faith.  After his resurrection Jesus said “all power has been given to me in heaven and on earth”.  Belief in the resurrection of Christ is an absolute necessity for anyone to have certitude about eternity.  Those that claim certitude about the life to come, without faith in Jesus Christ, are just expressing wishful thinking.

Listen to the ring of certainty and assurance in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans chapter ten verses nine and ten “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Someone might object by saying; how do you know that the resurrection of Christ is true?  Well we know certain things to be facts that are beyond dispute.  Number one; we know that they were literally hundreds of thousands of people that believed in the resurrection shortly after it took place.  Some of these people claim to be witnesses to the resurrection.  In other words they claimed to have seen Christ after his death, raised from the dead3.  Were all these people suffering from delusions?  If so why did the faith so quickly spread throughout the area of Judea after the resurrection?

Number two: Then there is the witness of the empty tomb.  If Jesus was not resurrected the question must be answered what happened to the body?  In the story recorded in the four Gospels about the resurrection of Christ it is stated that the Romans placed a guard at the tomb to ensure that no one would steal the body.  Yet the body disappeared.  The only explanation for the missing body then and now, other than the resurrection, is that the disciples stole the body. But how could a group of rag-tag disciples overcome the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb?  If the body could have been produced why wasn’t it?  All of the commotion caused by the Christian movement could have had been put to rest by simply producing a body.

Number three: we know for certainty that the disciples, that is the twelve disciples, also bore witness to the resurrection and spread the Christian gospel throughout the known world at the time.  They all were persecuted and the majority of them died for their faith but not one of them ever recanted their faith in the resurrection of Christ.

Besides the objective fact of the resurrection, Christians also have an inner witness of the Holy Spirit which God has put in their hearts to give us a conviction and a certitude of our salvation.  The apostle John speaks of this inward witness in his first letter to the church.4 “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”  Now there are some who claim to be Christians that have never experienced this inner witness of the Spirit, so they have never had a certitude about their salvation and their relationship with God.  This lack of  an inner witness may be explained in various ways, one thing can be certain; they lack the crucial element of real faith. They may have had intellectual faith in God, thinking that to be true faith.  However, intellectual faith will never bring assurance or certitude to anyone.  Intellectual faith is only a part of the equation of real faith.  There also must be trust in God and an earnest seeking of his being and will.5

Without the certitude of a real faith a person can be easily be swept away into the vortex of relativism, which is like a black hole that is swallowing up every belief in its vicinity.

What must you do to have this certitude and assurance of salvation?  As the apostle Paul said in the above quote you must confess Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead6 and you must be baptized into his name.7

[1] Acts 19:23 “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”  John 14:6-7″ Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

2 1 John 5:13-14 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

3 1 Cor 15:3-8 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

4 1 John 5:10-12 “10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”

5 Heb 11:6 “You can never please God without faith, without depending on him. Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him.”

6 Rom 10:9-10 “9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

7  Rom 6:3-4 “3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life”.

 

The Centrality of The Resurrection Part III

The Centrality of The Resurrection

Part III

 In part two of our series on the centrality of the Resurrection we saw how the apostle Peter used the Resurrection as the centrality of his argument for the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1-38).  As we move on in the book of Acts to the third chapter, we find the apostle Peter and John speaking the message of Christ to a multitude of people.

However, before looking at that sermon we need to talk a little bit about the miraculous.  It seems that modern man has a hard time believing in the miraculous.  The question is, why?  I think one of the reasons is because that modern men compare modern-day miracles with those in the Bible, thinking that they are the same.  The reason for this is their lack of scriptural knowledge and the assumption that the word miracle is used today as it was in biblical times.  When you begin to study the subject of miracles in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, you begin to see a clear distinction between modern-day miracles and the miracles of the Bible. The clearest distinctions are is that in the New Testament the miracles which were attributed to Jesus were never questioned as to their authenticity, as miracles are today.  The closest thing to challenging the miracles of Jesus was when the religious leaders made the charge that he performed miracles through the power of the devil and not God. However their accusations, in this there was no denial that he was not performing miracles.  Another difference was that the miracles done by Jesus and the apostles were complete. There were no partial healings and the majority of the miracles were done in public. I mean that they were wonders that were accomplished right before your eyes.  They were not vague demonstrations of the miraculous like curing an unseen cancer or tumor, nor could they be explained by the natural healing processes.

Let me summarize the difference by pointing out that in the first century Jesus and the apostles proved their words by their miracles.  Today, men try to prove their miracles by their words.  Because of this, their words seemed to be somewhat hollow and lacking a ring of truth. Why the difference?  The difference is seen in their purpose.  Modern day miracles, if that is the right word to refer to them by, seem to be for the purpose of comforting the afflicted.  Now there’s nothing wrong with comforting the sick and afflicted.  However, I do not believe that comforting the afflicted was the main purpose of the miracles of Jesus and the apostles.  Their miracles were performed to confirm their authority and the authority of their message.  The writer of the book of Hebrews infers this when he says, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:3-4).  Here the writer says that the apostles confirmed their witness of the Lordship of Jesus to the early church and the world by their miracles.

In the gospel of Mark chapter, two we find the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man who could not walk.  However, when the man was brought to Jesus for healing, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven.  The story tells us that some of the lawyers of the law who were sitting there heard statement and challenged his authority to forgive sins.  In response to their challenge Jesus said to them “but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… he said to the paralytic.  I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” When the onlookers saw the man get up and walk the Bible says that they were all amazed, and they praised God, saying, we have never seen anything like this!  Here again, we see the same pattern.  The miracles were done to establish the authority of the speaker; in this case it was Christ.

Why do we not have miracle workers today like Jesus and the apostles?  Well, it’s quite obvious; Jesus went back to heaven and the apostles and those that were given  the gift of working affirmation miracles died out.  The early fathers of the Church in the second century seem to indicate that in their lifetime, there were fewer and fewer authoritative and verification miracles.  This seems to indicate that these kinds of miracles were limited to the first century and the early part of the second century.  This is in keeping with the fact that God, throughout history, has been a God that hides himself and only reveals himself miraculously in certain periods of time, and to special people (Isa 45:15).  When the kingdom draws close, and is present in certain people, then the miraculous becomes more frequent.  Jesus said the kingdom of God is near, and he also said that the kingdom was present in him. The word ‘kingdom’ is a symbol that stands for the authority and rule of God. So Jesus was saying that the rule and authority of God were present in Him, and his authority and power were being confirmed by the miracles that he performed.

Some may be asking why are verification miracles not happening today?  Let me give you a number of answers which may explain why we don’t see these kinds of miracles today. Any one of the explanations is sufficient to answer the question. It could be that a lack of true faith mighty be a hindrance to God working miracles today, just as it was sometimes in the first century.  Jesus said a “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But, none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”.  Many have misunderstood the words of Jesus in this passage believing that Jesus was talking about the actual resurrection.  However, if that was the case he would be contradicting himself, because the resurrection was the miracle of miracles.  What he was talking about was that the only thing which the people of that faithless generation would see is the presence of the son of God.  In other words, you cannot kill the truth, for God will resurrect it.  Even as he rescued Jonah from the ocean, He rescued his son from the grave.  Today we have a similar situation; we live in an adulterous unbelieving generation.  The only sign unbelievers will receive is the presence of the Son of Man, in his Body, called the Church.

It is also self-evident to those that know the overall context of the Scriptures and the history of God’s people that God never intended for his people to live on a mike and toast diet of miracles.  The Scriptures are clear that we live by faith not by sight.  Those who are constantly looking for miracles are immature and carnal, they need to grow up and learn how to live by faith.  The history of God’s people demonstrates that there had always been long periods of time where there were no miracles (Judges 6:13).  In fact, if miracles were commonplace and frequent they would no longer be miracles.  The word miracle itself means something that is out of the ordinary and supernatural. When you make miracles normal or daily you destroy the meaning of the word.

We also need to remember that miracles were signs to the unbelieving people of God, not to unbelievers in general. Signs and miracles were to confirm the word not to people in general, but mainly to the Jewish nation (I Cor. 14:18-25).  The apostles and the prophets of the first-century church confirmed the word to the nation of Israel by signs and wonders and miracles.  If this is true, then their purpose has been fulfilled, and in being fulfilled they are no longer needed for that purpose.

¶When the apostle Paul spoke to the Greek philosophers in Athens he did not work any miracles to confirm his word, but rather, he reasoned with them from their own authors and personally bore witness to his experience with Jesus (Acts 19:23-41).  I believe this is evidence that the confirmation miracles were mainly for believers (mainly Jews) and not for Gentiles.  However, there are exceptions for example; the story of Cornelius in the book of Acts in the 10th and 11th chapters.  But even there Cornelius was a Gentile convert to Judaism and was a believer before he heard the gospel. Then there is a man who was crippled from birth listening to Paul preach at Lystra in the Book of Acts.  Even there it says that the crippled man  had faith; he was not an unbeliever (Acts 14:9).  In that chapter of Acts, we may see the reason for God limiting signs to believers.  It is clear from this particular chapter that pagans were prone to worship those who were performing the miracles.  So working miracles for unbelievers would’ve been confusing for them and counterproductive in the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 14:11-18).  In contrast, the Jewish people understood the purpose of miracles, that purpose was to confirm God’s word (Deut. 18:21, 22). In fact, the Jews expected anyone claiming to be speaking for God to prove their words by miracles. Paul said that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:” (1 Cor. 1:22). Paul understood that the power of God is not in the miraculous or human reason but rather in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A  lesson that sign seeking Christians need to learn.

This raises the question; does God need to confirm his word to every person in every generation to create faith?  No.  The main purpose of the signs, wonders and miracles were to confirm and establish a body of knowledge that God’s people would look to as authoritative. That body of knowledge was formed by God through his providence by creating the New Testament Scriptures through the work of Christ, his apostles and the Holy Spirit.  The Scriptures have forever been confirmed to the believer and are sufficient to create faith in those that are truly seeking God (John 20:30, 31).  The reason for this is because Jesus put his Spirit in his word and when one believes the word, the Spirit is imparted to them by the word of God.  The spirit that is born by the word creates the life of God. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 also note 1Tim 3:16).

In the Gospel of Luke we have a further confirmation of what I have been articulating. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, you have the rich man asking father Abraham to send Lazarus back to his five brother’s  that they might become believers. He seemed to think that a miracle of someone coming back from the dead would persuade them to believe.  Abraham responded by saying to him that “they have Moses and the prophets” in other words, the Scriptures.  However, the rich man continued to insist that they would believe if a dead man appeared to them.  In response, Abraham tells the rich man, “if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31).  This appears to confirm what I’ve been saying; that miracles in themselves do not create faith and  their purpose never has been to create faith.  Their purpose was to confirm the word of God’s and create a body of knowledge for future generations to believe through all time.

It is interesting to note that all miracles spoken about happening after the death of the apostles and prophets of the first-century church are worked by the antichrist and the false prophet spoken about in the books of First Thessalonians and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:9-11, Rev 16:13-14).  This alone should cause people to be skeptical about modern-day miracles and the men who claim to perform them.

All this has been said about miracles, to demonstrate the fact that an intelligent person can question and not believe in the so-called signs and miracles of modern-day religion, and still believe in the miracle of the Resurrection and other New Testament miracles. It is also important to know that the author believes that God is still actively working in his creation, healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. However, His work today is hidden and can only be seen with the eyes of faith. In this way, God confirms his existence and faithfulness to the faithful and hides himself from the unbelievers. Our ancestors called this the providence of God and believed that God was absolutely in control, but worked behind the veil to accomplish his will. 

To be continued

Heb 2:1-4

 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.