Freedom from the fear of death

The first consequence of evil, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, was a sense of guilt and separation from God. In the Old Testament God instituted an animal sacrifice ritual to atone for the guilt of the people. This was a temporary remedy pointing to the coming of Christ.

The Bible teaches us that sin results in death.”The wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23). The ordinance of sacrifice was instituted as a reminder that there was a great price to pay for sin, but the blood of goats and lambs could not take away sin indefinitely.

With the coming of Christ, animal sacrifices for sin were done away with. Jesus, God’s Son, born of a virgin and without sin, died and rose from the dead. He was the, “spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Because Christ was without sin, death could not overpower him and keep him in the grave. Similarly, everyone who believes in him and accepts his gift of “salvation” from sin will experience the resurrection power of Christ. They will live with him for eternity.

This gift of salvation and eternal life is offered to everyone. However, people do not automatically receive forgiveness of sins. We must acknowledge Christ as our “Saviour.”

It is really very simple, but surprisingly difficult at the same time. The reason is that it is not just a matter of praying a prayer asking for forgiveness. If you believe that Christ is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, it follows that accepting his forgiveness also means you are committed to his kingship in your life. The Son of God deserves no less than our surrender and worship.

The prayer of acceptance of salvation and commitment to Christ may go something like this,

“Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. His life was sacrificed for the sins of the world. I ask you to forgive my sins, in Jesus’ name. I give my life to you. I invite your presence to indwell me and empower me to live for you. Amen.”

When you have prayed this prayer you will want to tell someone about it and you will also want to find a group of people who have come to a similar faith. You may encounter resistance from those who do not believe. This is not uncommon. There are many groups of believers, some meeting in churches, some in homes, some in schools or other facilities.

If you do not find a group of believers immediately, you can still have a growing relationship with God by praying, talking to him daily about all aspects of your life, and by reading his word, the Bible. I encourage you to start reading the New Testament, that is the second section of the Bible. It is easier to understand and more relevant for daily living. It also begins with accounts of the life of Christ.

If you desire you may email me at: friesentina@gmail.com.

What is faith?

What is faith?

I think the best way for me to answer this question is to share my understanding, not simply to quote the Bible, or check a dictionary definition. This of course will not be the official or authorized meaning. In other words, I am not claiming to be an authority on faith, or expecting others to accept my view as complete, because I’m sure it isn’t.

I am speaking of faith in the context of the gospel. The gospel, in a nutshell, is the good news that Jesus Christ, God’s son, came to earth to save us by forgiving our sins. Briefly, faith involves believing and accepting this as life-changing fact.

The subject of faith can be very complex. For example, are there increments of faith? Jesus rebuked his disciples for their “little” faith. He also told his followers that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, then they could command a mountain to be removed and cast into the sea and it would be done.

When you have faith there is evidence. Although faith is invisible, it has an assuring quality. The Bible in the book of Hebrews says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith enables us to do things we would not do without it. Scriptural faith is not faith in our own ability, but faith in God.

Faith is very similar to trust. When our son was only two years old he asked us for something and we told him he could have it after two sleeps. He did not ask for the thing again but waited patiently as if it were already his. This was not because he had some concept of possessing enough faith. It was simply because he believed us. He trusted our word. I would not expect another child who does not know us to place the same confidence in us.

The apostle Paul wrote that he counted everything as “dung,” compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. To truly know Christ is to have complete, child-like confidence in him. I believe that faith grows out of an intimate understanding of Christ.

People place their confidence in many things, some trustworthy, some not. Seafarers have for centuries used Polaris, the North Star, as a navigation guide. A person who is unaware of its existence will never use it as a compass. Someone who doubts its value for navigation will be unlikely to consult it. The person who believes in its value for navigation will confidently make decisions based on its position.

The apostle Paul comprehended that once he would truly know Christ, his Creator and Saviour, everything in his life would come into alignment. All of his navigation would be accurate.

What do I truly believe about Christ? Am I convinced that I can rely on him? Do I trust him so completely that I align my life with his word?

Love letters

I think the central message of the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world….”

On my walk this morning I noticed the new leaves of Spring beginning to open on the trees. My thought was, every leaf, every flower, every blade of grass is God’s love letter to me.

I often meditate on his intricate design and what that means to me. I think about the fact that man has not been able to reproduce even one blade of grass, or one seed that will grow. But God has given us an infinite variety that will fascinate us for a lifetime. What can this be but love?

The reliability of the Bible

Giving credit where credit is due, I have copied the following from The Reliability of the Bible by Kenneth Boa. I think it is important that we understand that the Bible is a reliable document. Some may still argue that it is not authoritative, in terms of dictating how I am to live, but that will be each person’s personal decision. As for myself, I decided some years ago that the claims of the Bible cannot be ignored and I prefer to live my life as though the God of the Bible exists and is interested in my welfare.

The Reliability of the Biblical Documents

This can be demonstrated by combining three lines of evidence: the bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. The first test examines the biblical manuscripts, the second test deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, and the third test looks to outside confirmation of biblical content.

The Bibliographic Test

This test examines the transmission of the text of the Old and New Testaments from the original autographs to the present day. The three aspects of this test are the quantity, quality, and time span of the manuscripts.

1. The quantity of manuscripts

In the case of the Old Testament, there is a small number of Hebrew manuscripts, because the Jewish scribes ceremonially buried imperfect and worn manuscripts. Many ancient manuscripts were also lost or destroyed during Israel’s turbulent history. Also, the Old Testament text was standardized by the Masoretic Jews by the sixth century A.D., and all manuscripts that deviated from the Masoretic Text were evidently eliminated. But the existing Hebrew manuscripts are supplemented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (a third-century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Targums (ancient paraphrases of the Old Testament), as well as the Talmud (teachings and commentaries related to the Hebrew Scriptures).

The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and another 1,000 manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). In addition to this extraordinary number, there are tens of thousands of citations of New Testament passages by the early church fathers. In contrast, the typical number of existing manuscript copies for any of the works of the Greek and Latin authors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, or Tacitus, ranges from one to 20.

2. The quality of manuscripts

Because of the great reverence the Jewish scribes held toward the Scriptures, they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail to minimize the possibility of even the slightest error. The number of letters, words, and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript would be destroyed. As a result of this extreme care, the quality of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided a significant check on this, because these Hebrew scrolls antedate the earliest Masoretic Old Testament manuscripts by about 1,000 years. But in spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text is quite small, and most of these are variations in spelling and style. While the quality of the Old Testament manuscripts is excellent, that of the New Testament is very good–considerably better than the manuscript quality of other ancient documents. Because of the thousands of New Testament manuscripts, there are many variant readings, but these variants are actually used by scholars to reconstruct the original readings by determining which variant best explains the others in any given passage. Some of these variant readings crept into the manuscripts because of visual errors in copying or because of auditory errors when a group of scribes copied manuscripts that were read aloud. Other errors resulted from faulty writing, memory, and judgment, and still others from well-meaning scribes who thought they were correcting the text. Nevertheless, only a small number of these differences affect the sense of the passages, and only a fraction of these have any real consequences. Furthermore, no variant readings are significant enough to call into question any of the doctrines of the New Testament. The New Testament can be regarded as 99.5 percent pure, and the correct readings for the remaining 0.5 percent can often be ascertained with a fair degree of probability by the practice of textual criticism.

3. The time span of manuscripts

Apart from some fragments, the earliest Masoretic manuscript of the Old Testament is dated at A.D. 895. This is due to the systematic destruction of worn manuscripts by the Masoretic scribes. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 250 B.C. to A.D. 70 drastically reduced the time span from the writing of the Old Testament books to our earliest copies of them. The time span of the New Testament manuscripts is exceptional. The manuscripts written on papyrus came from the second and third centuries A.D. The John Rylands Fragment (P52) of the Gospel of John is dated at A.D. 117-38, only a few decades after the Gospel was written. The Bodmer Papyri are dated from A.D. 175- 225, and the Chester Beatty Papyri date from about A.D. 250. The time span for most of the New Testament is less than 200 years (and some books are within 100 years) from the date of authorship to the date of our earliest manuscripts. This can be sharply contrasted with the average gap of over 1,000 years between the composition and the earliest copy of the writings of other ancient authors.

To summarize the bibliographic test, the Old and New Testaments enjoy far greater manuscript attestation in terms of quantity, quality, and time span than any other ancient documents. It is especially interesting to make specific comparisons between the New Testament and other writings:

AUTHOR DATE EARLIEST TIME SPAN NUMBER ACCURACY
Homer ca. 850 B.C. 643 95%
Herodotus ca. 450 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 1,350 8 not enough copies
Euripedes ca. 440 B.C. ca. A.D. 1100 About 1,500 9 not enough copies
Thucydides ca. 420 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 1,300 years 8 not enough copies
Plato ca. 380 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 1,300 years 7 reconstruct
Aristotle ca. 350 B.C. ca. A.D. 1100 About 1,400 years 5 reconstruct
Caesar ca. 60 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 950 years 10 reconstruct
Catullus ca. 50 B.C. ca. A.D. 1500 About 1,600 years 3
the Livy ca. 10 B.C. 20 original
Tacitus ca. A.D. 100 ca. A.D. 1100 About 1,000 years 20 original
New Testament ca. A.D. 60 ca. A.D. 130 About 100 years 14,000 99.5%

The Internal Test

The second test of the reliability of the biblical documents asks, “What claims does the Bible make about itself?” This may appear to be circular reasoning. It sounds like we are using the testimony of the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. But we are really examining the truth claims of the various authors of the Bible and allowing them to speak for themselves. (Remember that the Bible is not one book but many books woven together.) This provides significant evidence that must not be ignored.

A number of biblical authors claim that their accounts are primary, not secondary. That is, much of the Bible was written by men who were eyewitnesses of the events they recorded. John wrote in his Gospel, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe” (John 19:35; see 21:24). In his first epistle, John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:1,3). Peter makes the same point abundantly clear: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16; also see Acts 2:22; 1 Pet. 5:1). The independent eyewitness accounts in the New Testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were written by men who were intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ. Their gospels and epistles reveal their integrity and complete commitment to the truth, and they maintained their testimony even through persecution and martyrdom. All the evidence inside and outside the New Testament runs contrary to the claim made by form criticism that the early church distorted the life and teachings of Christ. Most of the New Testament was written between A.D. 47 and 70, and all of it was complete before the end of the first century. There simply was not enough time for myths about Christ to be created and propagated. And the multitudes of eyewitnesses who were alive when the New Testament books began to be circulated would have challenged blatant historical fabrications about the life of Christ. The Bible places great stress on accurate historical details, and this is especially obvious in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke’s two-part masterpiece (see his prologue in Luke 1:1-4).

The External Test

Because the Scriptures continually refer to historical events, they are verifiable; their accuracy can be checked by external evidence. Notice, for example, the chronological details in the prologue to Jeremiah (1:1-3) and in Luke 3:1-2. Ezekiel 1:2 allows us to date Ezekiel’s first vision of God to the day (July 31, 592 B.C.). The historicity of Jesus Christ is well-established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources, and these extrabiblical writings affirm the major details of the New Testament portrait of the Lord. The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus made specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and James in his Antiquities of the Jews. In this work, Josephus gave us many background details about the Herods, the Sadducees and Pharisees, the high priests like Annas and Caiaphas, and the Roman emperors mentioned in the gospels and Acts. We find another early secular reference to Jesus in a letter written a little after A.D. 73 by an imprisoned Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion. This letter to his son compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ. Other first- and secondcentury writers who mention Christ include the Roman historians Cornelius Tacitus (Annals) and Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars), the Roman governor Pliny the Younger (Epistles), and the Greek satirist Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine). Jesus is also mentioned a number of times in the Jewish Talmud. The Old and New Testaments make abundant references to nations, kings, battles, cities, mountains, rivers, buildings, treaties, customs, economics, politics, dates, etc. Because the historical narratives of the Bible are so specific, many of its details are open to archaeological investigation. The section above on archaeology and the Bible shows that while archaeology does not prove the authority of the Bible, it has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements. Higher criticism in the nineteenth century made many damaging claims that would completely overthrow the integrity of the Bible, but the explosion of archaeological knowledge in the twentieth century reversed almost all of these claims. Noted archaeologists such as William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, and G. Ernest Wright developed a great respect for the historical accuracy of the Scriptures as a result of their work.

Conclusion Concerning Reliability

The Old and New Testaments pass the bibliographic, internal, and external tests like no other ancient books. Most professional archaeologists and historians acknowledge the historicity of the Bible and yet many theologians still embrace prearchaeological critical theories about the Bible. The evidence strongly supports the accuracy of the Bible in relation to history and culture, but in many cases it has been overlooked or rejected because of philosophical presuppositions that run contrary to the Scriptures. This leads to a double standard: critics approach secular literature with one standard but wrongly use a different standard when they examine the Bible. Those who discard the Bible as historically untrustworthy must realize that the same standard would force them to eliminate almost all ancient literature.

We have already seen that Christ cannot be dismissed as a mythical creation of the early church. The evidence supports the historical reliability of the gospel accounts about Jesus. Because of this, a solid case can be built for the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection, in turn, authenticates Jesus’ divine claims about Himself. Because Jesus is God, His testimony concerning the Scriptures is true, and He bore witness to the complete authority of the Word of God. Thus, the historical reliability of the New Testament affirms the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrected Christ affirms the divine authority of the Scriptures.

How does God’s love mix with his judgment?

As you read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you will find accounts of God’s judgement. The first one is the flood of the earth destroying everyone and saving only Noah and his family in an ark.

Why would God do this? The Bible is pretty clear that it is because of the wickedness of the people. If you read through to the end of the Bible you will find many more places where God destroyed people who were bent on doing evil. He even brought enemy forces against his own chosen nation, the descendants of Abraham, when they turned from him and served idols.

Is this consistent with our concept of a loving God who is for us? Maybe not. But notice, I said, “consistent with our concept.” We say love shouldn’t do that. It makes us fearful. What if I mess up in some way? What will happen to me? Will God be angry with me and destroy me?

This is a heavy topic, but an important one. Why would I want to serve a God who becomes angry and destroys people? Some people try and solve this problem by ignoring the Old Testament, saying either that it is not true, or that it is irrelevant after Jesus came. I don’t think it’s that simple.

I’ll share with you my take on this, and you can think about it and agree or disagree. Try and picture God creating a perfect universe. Imagine you were God. You sculpted these creatures to rule your universe. You breathed life into them. You gave them everything they needed but they turned against you. Do you feel a little put out? A little angry?

I think the part that is difficult to understand is not that God destroys those who turn against him, but that he continues to endure this insolent behaviour through the millennia. There is something within his creation that is so precious and dear to him, that he keeps on searching for those few who will love him. Apparently it is worth enduring all the evil just for this.

Jesus, like Adam and Eve when they were first created, was perfect and did not sin. God was pleased with him and ultimately death could not keep him in the grave. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would not have died. Think of it. Their children would not have died. Generations to follow would not have died. It would have been heaven on earth, literally, with no sin and death.

This was God’s will for his creation in the beginning and it is still his will. Something has changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it is not the character of God, as some people would like us to believe. What has changed is that God showed us that love is stronger than war. Laying down our lives is more effective than killing. And God set the example.

Reading the books of the Bible

This morning I read the book of 1 Peter. The Bible is not like a story that has to be read from cover to cover. However, it has individual books that you may want to read in their entirety. They are divided into chapters which in turn are divided into verses. Some people read a chapter a day. Many memorize their favorite verses. If you want to read through the entire Bible in a year, you can do so by reading three chapters a day. This is a good habit to form.

As I said previously, the first four books of the New Testament are documentations of the life of Jesus written by four different eye witnesses. It is remarkable that we have such reliable sources available to us. Historically there have been times when certain rulers tried to abolish and destroy the Bible. This always remains a mystery to me because Christians are taught in the Bible to obey those who have authority over them. Of course this is with the exception of worshipping other deities or committing a sin against others.

Christians have sometimes been persecuted for their faith, but, as a whole, Christians who live in love and humility as the Bible indicates are appreciated and respected around the world. Why would you not want to live next to someone who is kind, peace loving, gentle, faithful to his or her spouse, does not steal or lie, does not give a false witness in court, does not extort money from others but rather is generous?

Christians do not always live this way, but this is the standard that is held up for us in the Bible. If we choose to go our own way and please ourselves, we are turning away from following Christ. In 2 Peter this is compared to a dog returning to its vomit, pretty graphic. Once we have truly understood the extent of the forgiveness that Christ mercifully offers to us we do not want to return to a lifestyle that is self-centred and insensitive to others and grieves Christ.

The most important thing

There are many laws in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the Jewish people were practically in bondage to their own laws. Jesus tried to simplify things for them. He told them that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. Even a little child could enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus taught that all the laws of the Old Testament could be summed up in two laws, love God with all your heart, and love people as you love yourself. In reading the Bible it is necessary to keep these two principles of life in mind. The Bible teaches us how important it is to love God and others. We keep seeing throughout the stories that are told, that this does not come naturally to people.

One of the first verses I ever learned as a child was, “We love him because he first loved us.” The most important message of the Bible is that God loves us. He created us. He designed us. He loved his creation then and he still loves his creation now. The Bible is saturated with the love of God. His love permeates every story and every teaching.