Secure in God the Father’s Work

People often wonder what is the most common question I’m asked on Open Line. The answer is a surprise, because the it hasn’t changed in all the years, going back to the time when Pastor Cole hosted this program. If nothing else, people are consistent in their questions.

So what is the most common question asked? Here it is: Once I know the Lord Jesus and have been forgiven by Him, can I then lose my salvation? This question takes a variety of forms; sometimes people ask if they’ve committed “the unpardonable sin” or they want to know the meaning of an admittedly confusing passage like Hebrews 6. But, over and over, the main question appears to revolve around the possibility of genuine believers losing their salvation. I am convinced that the Bible teaches that we are absolutely secure and we need never be worried or concerned about losing our redeemed relationship with God through Jesus the Messiah.

The simple reason is we’re safe because of the work of the entire God-head—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in securing our salvation. In the next few weeks, we’re going to examine the saving work of each Person of the one true God, so we can be assured of our security in the Lord. Today, we’re going to focus on the security we have because of the God the Father’s work. This is based on three simple truths.

First, we need to remember that God is completely holy. In 1 John 1:5 it says, “God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” This means God is completely righteous and there is no evil in Him whatsoever. It shows the high standard we have to meet in order to have a relationship with God. Imagine what it would be like to stand before a judge who never has and never will sin. In fact, One who only does what is good and righteous.

This leads to a second biblical truth: Humanity is utterly sinful. For example, Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “There is certainly no righteous man on the earth who does good and never sins.” The Hebrew prophet Isaiah says “All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6). He is saying that even the good that we do is not good enough for God.  It’s why Paul says that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that, as a result, we are spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). How could any of us fallen and broken people ever expect to enter into a relationship with a holy God?

The good news is that there is a the third simple truth: Salvation is entirely by God’s grace.  One of the clearest teachings of Scripture is that God’s forgiveness is a gift from Him. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” This means that God the Father forgives because of His undeserved kindness and that this gift of salvation does not come from us but entirely from Him.  But how can a holy God give this gift?

Since it’s not from our works, the Bible reminds us that forgiveness from God is based entirely on His work. An important passage that discusses this is Romans 3:24-28.  There we’re taught that we are declared righteous before God only by God’s grace through the redemption that is available through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God demonstrated that He is a just judge, a Holy God who wouldn’t overlook sin but required a satisfying punishment for sin, a punishment paid for by God the Son, the Lord Jesus. By forgiving us in this way, God would be both “righteous and also declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:28). Our forgiveness and deliverance from the penalty of sin is entirely God’s gracious gift and God’s gracious work. It’s not from our effort or goodness.

So how does all this teach our security in the Lord? It’s simple. We did nothing to achieve our salvation, no good work, no righteous deeds, no balancing act of more good than bad. It was all from God. So if we could do nothing good enough to obtain salvation then we can do nothing bad enough to lose it. If we can’t earn our salvation by doing good then we can’t lose it by sinning. Our salvation is entirely a work of God and therefore no human action can undo it. And that’s the great news for all of us who feel like spiritual failures and unworthy of our salvation. We’re right in our assessment of ourselves but mistaken in our view of God. We don’t become God’s children by being good; we enter into a forgiven relationship with the Father because of what the Father has done for us—He’s redeemed us by grace greater than all our sin.

What’s Our Praise Pattern?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a personal character tester, sort of like a battery tester? Attach it, and we would know something of a person’s internal make-up? Well there is one great test of character and it’s found in Proverbs 27:21: “A crucible is for silver, and a smelter for gold, and a man for the words of his praise.” Here’s what this verse means:

The function of the crucible and smelter for precious metals is two-fold. The first is to refine the metal. The smelter heats the gold or silver to a liquid state and then the dross, the impurities, can be removed. The second function is to test the metal. The more pure and precious the metal, the less dross will be found.

So now we see what crucibles and smelters do, but what refines and tests us? In the second part of the Proverb, the Hebrew literally says, “So a man is according to his praise.”  So just as the heat of the furnace tests precious metals, so PRAISE functions as the refiner and tester of a person’s character.

What’s distinctive of the Proverbs is that they have a riddle-like quality. They make us ask, how is praise a test of character? I can think of four ways that praise reveals our internal make-up.

The first is how I am praised. When people think or speak of me, what they praise reveals my reputation. If they praise my natural talents or my appearance, then my reputation is based on mere externals, characteristics that will pass away. But if people praise my character, it shows my real worth. So what do our friends and family praise in us? Do they value our loyalty to others, our kindness to the weak, our generosity to the needy, our devotion to the Lord? This kind of praise reveals our true character.

The second way praise functions as a test is how I praise. This reveals my gratitude. Am I the kind of person who frequently finds fault and is never satisfied? Do I function with a critical spirit? We need to be people who offer praise to others, not people who are professional fault finders. Also, am I the kind of person that looks at every good gift received as a right and not a privilege? Am I one to forget to praise God from whom all blessings flow. Our goal is to be people who give praise generously. To our colleagues for jobs well done, to our kids for their daily successes, to our spouses for who they are and what they do. Above all, we need to daily engage in praise to the Lord for all the kindness He has shown us. Praise of the Lord Jesus should flow from our hearts and lips the way a powerful river flows to the sea.

Yet a third way that praise functions as a character test is what I praise—because this reveals my priorities. If I praise external appearance and not internal character, this shows what I value most. If I praise obtaining wealth more than spiritual commitment, it reveals what is most important to me. When my friend Larry’s daughters were young, people would often praise them for how pretty they were (just as they do now that they are adults). Afterwards Larry would always take them aside and reaffirm how beautiful they were, but then he would say something like, “Besides being so pretty, what I really appreciate about you is how kind you are” or “what a good and loyal friend you are” or “how much you love the Word of God.” He always showed them that what was most praiseworthy was not their external appearances but their internal character. This is a good parenting lesson but also, it revealed Larry’s character–what he praises, shows his priorities.

Finally, how I react to praise is a great test of character because it shows my humility or lack of it. Too often when I receive praise I respond by adopting an artificial “humble proud” look. Some of us might act all super humble and dismiss the praise as untrue. Others might offer a sanctimonious “To God be the glory!!” It’s best to receive praise by saying a simple, “Thank you.” And I’m reminded of two of my spiritual heroes, George Sweeting and Erwin Lutzer, who always receive praise graciously, but then remember to themselves Psalm 115:1—“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory.”

So what are our praise patterns? If we identify them, they can serve as a test of our spiritual development and personal character. For what am I praised? How much do I give praise? What do I praise? And how do I respond when praised? All these will reveal where we need to grow and even where we already have shown growth. Praise is the crucible that God has established to test our character.

How to Say “No” to Temptation

Mark Antony was one of the greatest orators in the history of Rome. He was also a brilliant statesman and a courageous warrior. He could have been the ruler of the known world but for one fatal flaw, one moral weakness. It was so bad, that his childhood tutor once chided him: “Oh, Marcus, Oh colossal child! Able to conquer the world, but unable to resist a temptation.” For many of us, the inability to resist a temptation is the source of our undoing. How can we learn to resist temptation to sin?

In my last blog post, I reviewed James 1:13-15, a passage that describes what temptation is like. But in this blog post, I want to take a look at James 1:16-18, which reminds us that God has given us gifts to enable us to resist temptation. Here’s what James wrote: “16 Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. 17 Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. 18 By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.” The passage begins with a warning—we are not to deceive ourselves into thinking that temptation is God’s fault. That’s dangerous because it makes us even more vulnerable to temptation. Instead we are to focus on the reality that God has generously given us perfect gifts. These are the tools, the perfect gifts, He gives to resist temptation.

The first perfect gift from God is the new birth (v. 18).  Paul spoke of the new birth in 2 Cor 5:17 when he said “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” Before we came to know the Lord Jesus, we had no choice, we had to sin. Ultimately, we always chose to cave in to temptation. But with the new birth we become a new creation. We now have a new capacity for righteousness. It’s now possible for us to say no to temptation and yes to God. Too often when we succumb to temptation, our natural response is that we wanted to resist but we couldn’t help ourselves. The new birth is a reminder that God has now given us the capacity to say no to temptation.

The second gift God has given us is the Word of God. James said we were given the new birth “by the word of truth” (v. 18). That refers to the good news of Jesus as found in the Bible, that He died for us and rose again. But the entire Bible could be characterized as the Word of truth. In fact, here’s what Psalm 119:11 says about its relationship to temptation: “I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.” Just as the Lord Jesus memorized scripture and quoted it when facing the tempter, so we can quote it and say no to temptation ourselves.

A third perfect gift for resisting temptation is limitations and escapes. Although James doesn’t mention it specifically, it certainly is a great gift for dealing with temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” This is a great reminder that God is sovereign even over the temptations we face and He will limit them. He knows how much we can take and draws a line in how much He will allow. Not only that, but with the temptation, God always provides a way of escape. There is never a circumstance in which we have to sin. The Lord always gives an escape path—we just need to be alert to find it.

The final perfect gift is a picture of the end. It is a reminder of what will be the outcome of temptation. In v. 15, we’re told that giving in to temptation leads to death. It’s a great reminder when we are tempted that while giving in may give us temporary pleasure, it always ultimately yields a deadly lifestyle. But v. 18 also reminds us that using God’s gifts to say no to temptation results in us being “firstfruits.” In the Torah, the firstfruits referred to the first produce given as sacrifices to God. They were God’s special possession and dedicated to Him. And that’s what we become when we say yes to God and no to temptation. Every temptation is a reminder that we can choose a deadly lifestyle for ourselves or we can become firstfruits, completely dedicated to the Lord’s use.

Every day we can read the news about how some famous person has come to ruin by giving in to temptation. Some choose drugs, some sex outside of God’s healthy boundaries, some give in to the temptation of ill gotten money. What never makes the news on earth is those who use God’s perfect gifts to say no to temptation and yes to obedience to God. The good news is that’s what makes the headlines in heaven.

What is Temptation?

“I can resist anything except temptation.” So said Oscar Wilde. What a struggle. What is temptation all about and how do we resist it?

In this blog post, I wanted to look at a biblical description of temptation to sin and in the next one, we’ll see how to resist temptation. For now, what is temptation? I like Chuck Swindoll’s definition: Temptation is the motivation to be bad by being promised something good.” We all struggle with it. It might be to get wealthy through dishonesty, or to climb the corporate ladder by stepping on others along the way, or to find sexual pleasure by being disloyal to a spouse?

James 1:13-15 describes temptation to sin this way: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” This paragraph has four unchangeable truths about temptation.

The first is that temptation is inevitable. We can’t escape it. James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted” not “if he is tempted.” We can’t just run from the battlefield to avoid temptation. The battlefield will find us, regardless. We can do our best to avoid tempting situations, but sooner or later, temptation will find us. All of us will be tempted to sin.

Secondly, temptation is never God directed. This is because God is holy. He “cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Nevertheless, it is part of human nature to blame God for our temptations and sins. Remember when God talks to Adam after the first man succumbed to temptation and sinned. His response to God was, “it was the woman . . . whom you gave me” that caused Him to sin. Not only does Adam throw his wife under the bus, but He blames God: You gave her to me. That’s exactly what we do. Remember, God allows us to be tempted but He is never the One who directs the temptation.

Third, temptation is an individual matter. Every person is “carried away and enticed by his own lust.” Each of us has a different area of weakness that temptation is trying to exploit. One person has a longing for wealth, another has a pattern of dishonesty. Someone else is driven by ego and a desire for recognition while another person has an innate desire to pass on inappropriate information. The tempter does not waste his time tempting us in areas of strength. He realizes what each of us longs for—individual desires and unique lusts—and he zooms in on those.

Finally, temptation always follows the same life cycle. It begins with conception, when our sinful desire and temptation meet. That’s what James means by “When lust has conceived.” But after conception, James says the next step is that temptation “gives birth to sin.” Temptation in and of itself is not sinful. It’s only when we act on the temptation that it gives birth to sin. And “when sin is accomplished” it produces the final aspect of the life cycle of temptation, it yields “death.” James is talking to believers, so I don’t think he is referring to eternal separation from God, when he says that sin “brings forth death.” It might very well be that sin will lead, ultimately to physical death. But more likely, I believe James is using “death” in a figurative sense, referring to a quality of life. When we fall into the enticing embrace of evil, it results in a deadly lifestyle.

Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? Well, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul reminds followers of Jesus that we’re not compelled to fall into temptation and sin, but that God always provides a way of escape. Next week, we’ll talk about the multiple paths of escape that God has graciously given us. Until then, let’s remember, God is not the one who’s tempting us; But He is the one who has forgiven us and who graciously gives us gifts that we might live life and live it to its fullness.

The Hebrew Bible, the House of David, and Historical Reliability

Are the stories of David, Solomon, and the kings of Judah, mere legends? Did they really exist? That’s what some archaeologists are starting to allege. Since most of us are not trained archaeologists, what are we to believe?

That was the problem a pastor friend of mine was having as he was going to lead his first trip to Israel. He asked me to come along because, as he said it, “I don’t which rocks are important and which rocks are just . . . rocks.” That’s the challenge of archaeology—it takes a well trained eye to see the significance of rocks exposed from thousands of years ago. And then, if the rocks don’t match some archaeologists’ presuppositions, they will dispute the evidence found in the rocks. That is just what is happening today—there are some clear archaeological supports for the biblical record of David, Solomon, and the kings of the Davidic line. Now some archaeological critics of the Bible, called minimalists, have come along and disputed this evidence. No matter, the evidence is strong and here are three examples of archaeological evidence for the Davidic dynasty as revealed in the Bible.

The first example is archaeologist Eilat Mazar’s work in the original city of David, the Jebusite stronghold captured by David and made his capital. It is the original Jerusalem and today it lies just south of the 16th century southern walls of the ancient city. Mazar theorized that since David built a palace with materials from King Hiram of Tyre (2Sm 5:11) and that the text says that he went down from there into the stronghold (2Sm 5:17), the palace of David would have stood just above the original fortress of the Jebusites. After excavating there, Mazar found a large, multi-room stone structure, appearing much like a public building or, better, a large palace. She also discovered 11th century B.C. pottery at the same level of the stone structure, dating the building at the very time of King David. She concluded, that using 2Sm 5 as her guide, she had found David’s palace. Of course minimalists object that since Mazar had not found a nameplate saying “King David’s Palace” that it couldn’t be so. Yet all the evidence supports the idea that an 11th century B.C. figure had built a royal palace just above the Jebusite stronghold—just as the Bible clearly indicates.

Another example is derived from 1Kg 9:15 which states that Solomon fortified the walls of three important cities of Israel: namely Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. And what did archaeologists find at these three sites? In each they discovered a distinctive four entry way gate, all dated by pottery shards as being from the 10th century B.C., just at the time of Solomon. Since the Bible says Solomon fortified these cities, it is not surprising that they all have the same characteristic gate structure. Of course minimalists dispute this because no inscription was found saying “Solomon built this.” They even contend that the excavating archaeologists fabricated the evidence for a 10th century B.C. gate, an allegation that has no support and is deeply offensive to the excavators of these sites. Nevertheless, archaeologist William Dever, no Bible believer himself, concludes that if Solomon did not construct these city walls and gates, “then we would have to invent a similar king by another name.”

The third significant archaeological discovery is an inscription found in the north of Israel at Tel Dan. It is a victory stela of Hazael, king of Aram, dated at about 847-42 B.C. It describes his victories, including his defeat of the “House of David” and also “the king of Israel.” This discovery confirms, with extra-biblical evidence, the existence of David, merely 120 years after his reign ended. Moreover, it affirms the continued existence of his royal line, the house of David, and the splitting of the ancient kingdom of Israel, since the stela speaks of both kings, one from Judah and one from Israel. What do minimalists do with this evidence? They simply reject it on the grounds that it does not fit their presuppositions, one going so far as to categorize the “house of David” inscription as a forgery, despite having no basis to make that allegation! But the evidence is clear, there was an Israelite king named David and his dynasty continued after him.

One of the great benefits of going to Israel is not just seeing a bunch of old rocks. It’s seeing rocks that confirm the stories written in the Bible, as not mere legends and myths, but God’s inspired history from which we derive great spiritual truth.

Hitched to the Old Testament

Should followers of Jesus “unhitch from the Old Testament” or do we still need that part of God’s Word? Recently, Andy Stanley preached on the need to “unhitch from the Old Testament” and it’s amazing how quickly information can fly through social media. Everyone seems to think that Andy was somehow ready to cut the Old Testament out of our Bibles. But, let’s be clear. Andy Stanley believes in the full inspiration of the Old Testament. Moreover, his motive for his message was good. He was trying to help certain people, who having grown up with faith in Jesus and then having learned about the Old Testament, find it troubling to their faith. He was saying that their faith was in Jesus and they were to be guided by the New Testament, not the Old Testament laws. Nevertheless, despite Andy’s good intentions, I think there is a better way to look at this issue. So here are some reasons we still need the Old Testament (or as I like to call it, the Hebrew Bible).

We need the the Hebrew Bible to understand the New Testament. Everything we read in the New Testament is based on the Old. The New Testament quotes the Old Testament over 900 times. It bases so many of our life principles on the Old Testament. For example, Paul points out in Romans 4 that we get the principle of justification by faith from Genesis 15:6, where it says that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Should we pay our pastors for teaching and shepherding us? Yes, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, about not muzzling an ox, to make the case for paying your pastor. Try studying Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount without grasping the meaning of the Law of Moses. The Lord intensifies each of the commands to relate to our motives and intentions; not merely our actions. One last example: The New Testament prohibits immorality (1 Thess 4:13) but doesn’t specify what constitutes immorality. So for example, there is no specific New Testament prohibition of incest. Does that mean that the New Testament approves of incest? Of course not. Anyone who has read Leviticus 20 would know that incest is considered highly immoral and so the New Testament prohibition of immorality includes incest. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would become meaningless.

We also need the Hebrew Bible to understand the holiness of God. Too often we dismiss Leviticus, which details how Israel was to approach their holy God, with a “that was then, but this is now” attitude. But by revealing how separate the God of Israel was from sin, we can begin to appreciate what Lord Jesus has done for us as our Great High Priest. The holy God has not changed; rather the Lord Jesus has pioneered a new way for us to approach God with His holiness representing us. That’s why, with Jesus as our High Priest, we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:14-16).

Furthermore, we need the Hebrew Bible to understand that Jesus is the promised Messiah. It was through someone sharing the many predictions of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible, that I, and countless others, came to faith in Him. Some examples are Micah 5:2 about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and Isaiah 9:6 about Messiah being the unique God-Man, and Isaiah 53, about Messiah being our sacrificial substitute for sin. Take a look at the book of Acts. There are two great truths that are used to proclaim Jesus. One of them is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Andy Stanley is correct when he argues that is the essential basis of our faith. But the second great argument used in the book of Acts, is that Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfilled the predictions of the Hebrew Bible. That’s why Peter bases his first sermon in Acts on Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (see Acts 2:22-36), and in the middle of Acts, he says of Jesus the Messiah, “of Him all the prophets bear witness” (Acts 10:43). And the book of Acts ends with Paul persuading people “concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets” (Acts 28:23). The apostles proclaimed faith in Jesus on the basis of the Old Testament.

Another reason we need the Hebrew Bible is so that we can live according to the wisdom of God. In Deuteronomy 4:6, Moses tells Israel, “Carefully follow them (i.e. the commandments), for this will show your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples. When they hear about all these statutes, they will say, ‘This great nation is indeed a wise and understanding people.” I agree with Andy Stanley, that there are laws that have been adjusted by the New Covenant law of Messiah. When we sin, we don’t bring a sheep or a goat to the altar for forgiveness. But God gave to be divine wisdom. And there is an underlying wisdom principle in each commandment. If we discern what it is and live by it, we’ll be wise in our walk with God. Here’s an example: the command to keep the Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament. But, if we’re wise, we’ll take a day (and according to Romans 14 we can choose whichever day we wish) and use it for physical rest and spiritual renewal. That’s not a New Testament command but an Old Testament wisdom principle.

Not too long ago I was at a conference and encountered Walter Kaiser, the great Old Testament scholar. I told him I was looking forward to his session but I was surprised that he was speaking on the New Testament. He replied, “I love the New Testament—it reminds me so much of the Old.” His words capture the reason that New Testament followers of Jesus need to remain hitched to both testaments, Old and New,  because “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and we need all of it to “be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

The Bible: Underrated by GQ

GQ Magazine recently ran an article entitled “21 Overrated Books You Don’t Have to Read Before You Die” (April 19, 2018). The shocking part was the inclusion of the Bible as number 12 on that list. Despite the fact that many more billions of people have read the Bible than have even heard of GQ, Novelist Jesse Ball wrote: “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

I’ve never heard of Jesse Ball before reading his assessment of the Bible nor have I ever read any of his novels. He may be a great writer–I wouldn’t know. But he certainly fails as a literary critic. My simple response to him would be that people often criticize what they don’t understand and he clearly fails to comprehend the Scriptures. Here’s why I believe we need to read the Bible.

To begin, the Bible is a great literary masterpiece. Too often we think of the Bible as a mixture of commandments, genealogies, obscure poems, and strange stories of talking donkeys and snakes, along with other incomprehensible material. But the Bible is actually a library of 66 consistent books that each have a clearly designed literary structure. When we read these books and see the author’s strategies, we’ll be awed by the grandeur and beauty of the Bible. But that would require people to sit down and actually read the Bible on its own terms without imposing our own world view on it. Instead, we have to let Scriptures guide us when we read them rather than squeezing the Bible into our literary perspectives.

Additionally, we need to read the Bible because it tells the truth. Jesus said to God the Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).. A Muslim critic of the Bible once asked me how I could believe the Bible since it presents godly people in such a negative light. For example, Abraham lied about his wife and called her his sister (a half-truth); Moses is seen to have an explosive temper by killing the Egyptian taskmaster and breaking the tablets of the Ten Commandments; David’s adultery with Bath Sheba and his murder of Uriah is in the Bible for all to see. I replied that was why I believe the Bible is absolutely truthful. There is no coverup or religious propaganda. Instead it shows the heroes of the faith for who they really were; with all their good and their bad.

Another reason to read the Bible is that it reveals who we really are. That’s why James compares the Scriptures to a mirror (James 1:23) because it shows what we are really like. According to him, the problem isn’t with the mirror but rather with a person’s memory. If we don’t act on what we see in Scripture, we become like a person who looks at himself in the mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he saw (James 1:24-25). The best way to understand ourselves–our selfishness, our pride, our bad habits, our greed–is by looking at the mirror of Scripture. It will show us our great need for God to transform our lives.

Of course one of the most important reasons to read the Bible is that it is the greatest love story of all time. It reveals the Creator’s love for us and His desire to have a relationship with us. The most foundational verse of the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” The apostle Paul put it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Messiah died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the story of the Bible from start to finish. The Hebrew Scriptures point forward to the Messiah and the forgiveness He would provide. The New Covenant Scriptures reveal that Messiah Jesus has come and that we must believe in Him. The whole Bible put together is the story of the Messiah Jesus who died for us and rose again. It is all about God’s sacrificial love for us.

Are there things in Scripture that are uncomfortable or hard to understand or challenging to my life? Absolutely. But as the Psalmist said of the Bible, it’s “more desirable than gold—
than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey, which comes from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). That’s not only why we should read it, but re-read it, and then read it again.

The Location of the Ancient Jewish Temples

Where were the Jewish Temples located in the city of Jerusalem? A new book and video contend it was in the more ancient part of the city, the one David captured from the Jebusites, sitting over the Gihon Spring. Is the traditional site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem just a long misunderstood mistake?

In the past generation, the Palestinian Authority has famously and wrongly denied the existence of any Temples in Jerusalem. But more recently, a pastor has revived the long discredited theory of pseudo-archaeologist Ernest Martin, that the Temple actually stood in the original city of Jerusalem, called the City of David, located on the Southern slope of Mount Moriah. The major contention of this theory is that there wasn’t sufficient water to wash away the blood of sacrifices at the location of what has always been understood to be the Temple Mount. So, in this theory, it’s argued that the traditional Temple Mount was actually the Antonia Fortress and the real location of the Temple was in the City of David, over the Gihon Spring.

This theory is so wrong that it defies logic. But the problem is that in this internet age, all one needs is a free video and some publicity, and suddenly, people begin wondering if the historic Temple Mount is the legitimate site of the ancient Jewish Temples or has there been some sort of historical error or hoax.

There are many strong academic works (for example, one by Leen Rittmeyer and another by Randall Price) that show just how wrong this theory is. However, here are just a few reasons explaining why the Temple stood exactly where it was always thought to stand, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Let’s start with the issue of water. To begin, no one would build a Temple over a major source of water for a city. Therefore, the Temple could not have been built over the Gihon Spring. But then, how did the ancient Jewish people bring water to the Temple Mount? Recently, archaeologist Eli Shukrun discovered an ancient reservoir just West of the Temple Mount in the Tyropean Valley which brought water to the Temple Mount via aqueduct. According to him, this reservoir “supplied water for daily use in the Temple.”

Another reason for accepting the traditional site of the Temple is that according to 2 Chronicles 3:1, the Temple location was on the Threshing Floor of Arunah. Ancient threshing floors were never put in actual cities but outside of them, so the wind could winnow wheat from chaff. Arunah’s threshing floor would not have been in the city of the Jebusites, that David conquered and made his capital. It makes perfect sense for the threshing floor to be in the elevated place just North of David’s city and for David to choose that site for the Temple and for Solomon to use it to build it.

Another issue that is frequently raised is that the Lord Jesus said of the Temple, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2; cf. Matt 24:1-2; Lk 21:5-6). So it is asked, how can the Western Wall, the site where Jewish people have gathered to pray for two millennia, still be standing? This misunderstands what the Western Wall actually is. It was not the Western Wall of the Temple, but the Western Wall of the platform that Herod the Great built to support the massive Temple complex he designed. The words of the Lord Jesus literally came true when the Romans razed the Temple complex and destroyed every building in it. The Western Wall was not part of that.

Beyond these arguments, the size of the Temple provides another bit of evidence. The original Temple of Solomon measured 861’ by 861’ or about three football fields in size. That would have been far too large to be in the city of David—it just would not fit. If that’s the case, how could the much larger Temple Herod built (about ten football fields) fit in the City of David?

Still another reason to accept the traditional site of the Temple Mount is that archaeology supports it. There are the Southern Steps to the Temple Mount, found just where the ancient Jewish historian Josephus said they would be. There is the famous trumpeting stone, found on the street just below the SW corner of the Temple Platform. It was the stone that marked the site where the trumpet was blown to announce the Sabbath. The Romans threw it over the side when they destroyed the buildings on the Temple complex. Another inscription separating the court of the Gentiles was found outside the northeast corner of the Temple complex, far from the City of David . These and other discoveries from the Temple Mount sifting project have yielded clear evidence that the Temple Mount was indeed the Temple Mount.

Finally, one more reason to trust the traditional site of the Temple Mount has to do with Jewish memory. Since the destruction of the Temple, we Jewish people have gathered at the Western Wall of the Temple platform to pray. The location was chosen because it was just beneath the site where the Holy of Holies had been. So Jewish people for two millennia have identified the Temple Mount as the Temple Mount. It’s unreasonable to think that the Jewish people could have gotten the site wrong so near to the time of the Temple’s destruction.

Beware of internet conspiracy theories and sensational books designed to distract believers from the truth. Just remember, sometimes the facts of history are just that, facts

Rejoice! The King Has Come!

When the crowds gathered on Palm Sunday, shouting “Hosanna,” (Save Now), to the King, was it a spontaneous gathering? Maybe it was a flash mob? Or was it a fulfillment of Bible prophecy?

In Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday (Matt 21:1-11), it says that the Lord Jesus directed two of his disciple to get the donkey He would sit on, so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled. Then Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, which says: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is a prediction given 500 years before Palm Sunday, that was fulfilled that day. The people were told to “rejoice,” a word that means “twirling, or dancing” like at a wedding. Then they are told to “shout” a word used elsewhere of “loud shouting” (Mic 4:9) or “war cries” (Josh 4:9). In other words, this is not a simple command not to worry but be happy. Rather, the event is described as so vital, that Israel was told to “whoop it up” when the Messianic King arrived. Zechariah gave several reasons Israel was to rejoice at the presentation of the Messianic king, and we can still rejoice today, because the Messiah Jesus, our King, has come.

The first reason we can rejoice is because our King Jesus comes to us with fairness. It says He is “just, using” a word that means “righteous” or “fair.” It is crucial for rulers to be fair and only one King will be perfectly so. Too often, we think our lives are not fair, things aren’t going the way they ought. But ultimately, the Lord knows exactly what we need and what is best for us.

The second reason to rejoice is because the Lord Jesus comes to us with deliverance. That’s what the word “salvation” means. He delivers us from distress and also, more importantly, from our sin. In fact, we can rejoice that in addition to His fairness, the Lord Jesus shows grace and mercy. If we relied solely on His justice, who could stand? But we must celebrate that He comes to us as our Savior, our Deliverer, and our Forgiver.

Thirdly, we can rejoice that our King comes to us in humility. How different that is from the typical perspective of royalty—with their attitude of self importance and privilege? The humility of the Lord Jesus is evident in that though He was the eternally fully God, He didn’t consider that He needed to take advantage of it. Rather, He humbled Himself, emptying Himself, not of His deity, but of His privilege, becoming incarnate as a fully human being (Phil 2:6-9). The next time we think that God doesn’t understand our struggles or our sorrows, our problems or our pains, just remember that the Lord Jesus, the eternal God the Son, humbled Himself, taking on all the challenges of humanity.

Here’s a fourth reason we can rejoice—our King comes to us in peace. In the ancient world, when a king would go to war, he would ride a great horse, a powerful stallion. But when he would visit in peace, a king would arrive on a lowly donkey. When the Lord Jesus presented Himself as Israel’s king on that Palm Sunday, it was not as a conquering Lord, but as a kind and loving king. When He comes to us, He comes in peace. He wants to reconcile us to Himself.

The fifth reason to rejoice is that one day our King will return and establish His righteous rule over all the earth. That’s found in the next verse, Zechariah 9:10, which says He will put an end to war “And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.” In typical prophetic fashion, Zechariah telescopes this messianic prophecy. Verse 9 was fulfilled two thousand years ago with the first appearance of the Lord Jesus. Verse 10 will be fulfilled after a long gap. Then the Lord Jesus will return, not on a donkey but on “a white horse.” The “rider is called Faithful and True and He judges and makes war in righteousness” (Rev 19:11). Then the Lord Jesus will defeat all those who oppose His rule and establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness over all the earth.

Ancient Rabbis saw Zechariah 9:9-10 as depicting one of two possible scenarios at the coming the Messiah. If Israel was unworthy, then He would come on a donkey. If worthy, then on a white horse (Sanhedrin 98b). They didn’t understand that the same Messiah would make two appearances—first as our Redeemer King, on a donkey and second, as our Warrior King, on a white horse.

Here’s the good news friends—We can still rejoice because He has come to us with fairness, redemption, humility and peacefulness. But that isn’t all. One day, the Lord Jesus will return in power and establish a kingdom of peace. When we look back at Palm Sunday we can celebrate His first coming but also look forward to His return. And that is reason to rejoice.

The Bible: Can You Trust It?

Is the Bible God’s Word? Is it inspired? Is it inerrant? In recent weeks, I have been asked these questions repeatedly. People want to know what I believe about the Bible. But more important than what I believe, is what the Bible says about itself. So, today I thought I’d begin by explaining what the Scriptures say about their own inspiration.

The central verse about inspiration is 2 Timothy 3:16. It reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting for training in righteousness . . .” I want to focus on the first part of this sentence: “All Scripture is inspired by God” and highlight three crucial principles.

First, it’s the Scriptures themselves that are inspired, not the authors of the Bible. Although the authors of the Scriptures were said to be moved by God’s Spirit (2 Pet 1:21), Paul writes to Timothy that it is the Bible itself that is inspired, or literally, God-breathed. This single word indicates that the Bible comes from God, that God exhaled the Scriptures. Sometimes when we read the word “inspired” we get the idea of breathing into something. Rather, this verse is saying that God breathed out the Scriptures. It is saying that the very words that we read in the text of the Bible are  “breathed out” by God. They don’t become inspired when we read them and find something of value for our lives. The text of Scripture stands as God’s Word even if we don’t read it (but of course we should).

Second, it is the whole Bible that is inspired. The Scriptures are God’s Word in their entirety. Some people say that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16, he only was referring to the Old Testament and not the New. But in the previous letter to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul said, “For the Scripture says: “You must not muzzle an ox that is threshing grain and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Paul is quoting two verses of Scripture here, one from Deuteronomy 25:4 in the Old Testament and the other from Luke 10:7 in the New, and he calls them both “Scripture.” It’s likely that the Gospel of Luke was only written about five years earlier than Paul’s quotation of it as Scripture. At about the same time, Peter, the acknowledged leader of the apostles, wrote in 2 Peter 3:16 that Paul wrote about salvation “in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.” Notice that Peter includes Paul’s letters in the Scriptures. Here’s the point: By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16 and said, “All Scripture is inspired” he meant that the whole Bible is inspired, including both Testaments.

Third, since the whole Bible is inspired, it is completely true. Way back in the Torah, Moses wrote, “God is not a man who lies or a son of man who changes his mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill” (Num 23:19)? Paul wrote similarly in Romans 3:4, “God must be true, even if everyone else is a liar.” And the Lord Jesus, God incarnate, said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He calls Himself the truth and He is the divine author of Scripture. Since God is true and He breathed out the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus said in His High Priestly prayer for His followers, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). This line of reasoning is where we get the teaching that the Scriptures are inerrant. The point is that the Bible is as true as God Himself and completely trustworthy.

When my kids were little I enjoyed playing “Jinga” with them. We’d build a tower, adding piece upon piece, until it fell down. My younger boy was a little mischievous and would sometimes pull out the bottom piece in order to make the whole tower of blocks collapse. That reminds me of the inspiration of Scripture. It is foundational to every other teaching. If we pull that one teaching out, then all the others will fall apart. It’s why our affirmation of the inspiration and truth of God’s Word is so vital. If we take it away, our life and faith are in jeopardy.