Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jesus, the Miracle Worker

John 21:20-25

Jesus Is The Miracle Worker

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


John 21:20-21 (Holman) So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. That disciple was the one who leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, "Lord, who is the one that's going to betray you?" When Peter saw him he said to Jesus, "Lord – what about him?"

Jesus told Peter, "Follow Me", but the Apostle reverted to his error of taking his eyes off Jesus. He turned and saw our author, John the beloved, who had rested his head in the bosom of the One who came from the bosom of the Father (1:18).


One thing that makes it hard for us to follow Jesus is our desire to snoop into other people's lives. Peter had received harsh news (21:18-19); he will suffer and die for Jesus. Peter wondered, "Will I suffer alone, or will others share my fate?"

The Apostle was slipping into the bad habit of wanting to manage other people's lives.


John 21:22 "If I want him to remain until I come," Jesus answered, "what is that to you? As for you, follow Me."


Jesus reproved Peter. The Master was not interested in satisfying Peter's curiosity. What happened to another was not Simon's business. Impulsive Peter had to learn some things were outside his authority. Jesus rules in human affairs.


In any difficult relationship-situation, there are three major components: what only God can do, what only the other person can do, and what only we can do. Blessed are those who know the latter, and limit themselves to it.


We have the right to analyze others only when the motive is love. It is one thing to ask, "What should I do for this person?" and quite another to ask, "What should this person do?" The former question is necessary, the latter presumptuous.


John 21:23-24 So this report spread to the brothers that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not tell him that he would not die, but, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.


John dealt with an error that rose in the early church. Because he lived long, and due to Jesus' words, some thought John would never die, that he would live until Jesus returned.


John did not live till Jesus returned, but did live a long, gentle life. Peter's life was one of action, ending in martyrdom. He was a fighter. John was tender, a person Jesus could entrust His mother to. John became a man of contemplation.


He walked close to God. He came to know his Lord so well that he could say, "God is love." To John's close communion with Jesus we owe this blessed book, the Holy of Holies of the New Testament, and my favorite Bible verse, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."


John has become a true hero to me. I am proud I was named for John the Baptist. But through the years I have grown to appreciate John the Beloved greatly.


Loving the Bible and Bible history, I want to tell a story before we go to the next verse, this book's last sentence. Nearing the end of John's Gospel brings to mind a wonderful event. On May 26, 735 A.D., the monks of Jarrow, in northeast England, were whispering to each other. In their monastery, Bede the Venerable, the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholar and the father of English history, was dying.


The last project of his life was to translate the Gospel of John into his native tongue. It would be the first part of God's Word translated into the vernacular of Saxon England. The task was unfinished, chapter 21 still needed to be completed, yet Bede's gasping for air proved death was near. By his bed sat a scribe, who pled with Bede to rest, "Father, you speak with difficulty, the exertion is too great."


Bede disagreed, "Take your pen. Write as fast as you can." As hours passed, sentences trembled from Bede's lips. One sudden pause made the scribe fear the old monk had died, but when he realized Bede was alive, the scribe leaned close to his cherished master and whispered, "Only one sentence is lacking – only one."


It revived Bede's spirit. With faltering breath he spoke the last sentence. The scribe rejoiced, "It is finished." Bede replied, "It is finished," and praised the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He asked to be carried to the spot where he was accustomed to pray. In this holy place, his work done, Bede the Venerable died.


As we end this series on the Gospel of John, we honor Bede, who labored to give us this precious book in our language. Can we imagine English literature without John's Gospel? We are grateful for Bede, and many others, who labored to make this book available to us. And what was the last sentence Bede translated?


John 21:25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.


John the Beloved dropped his pen, saying many other things could have been written. This beautiful climax causes the book to end with an "et cetera."


Much about Jesus we can never know. He was the ultimate Miracle Worker, the One who performed more miracles than we could ever imagine.


John, unable to write all he knew about Jesus, had to make a few choices from the mountain of material available. If all had been written down, we would have to spend all our time reading about Jesus rather than serving Him.


Thus, the question. How did John decide what to write? What did the Holy Spirit use to give Him parameters within to work? John's answer is found in 20:30-31: "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name."


Jesus purchased our salvation. In His "It is finished" cry at the cross we heard the completion of redemption. Everything needed to buy our Heaven is found in Christ. Sinners have no need to seek forgiveness elsewhere. Nothing needs to be added to Jesus' sacrifice. No flaw exists in what He purchased for us.


People do not go to Heaven because they are good; people do not go to Hell because they are bad. Jesus took care of the sin debt; He paid it by His death on the cross. Thus, He is the ultimate issue regarding salvation, or the lack thereof. All who know Him will be forever with Him in eternity; all who do not know Him will be forever separated from Him. Everything hinges on our relationship with Jesus.


Dear unbeliever, God is totally satisfied with what Jesus did. Why aren't you? Jesus did all that is necessary for our acceptance, now we must accept Him.


When John's life was over, I'm sure he heard "Well done." If the Gospel of John has taught us anything, it has taught we serve One worthy of being faithfully served to the end. May we finish strong, ever remembering, holiness matters most.



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Jesus Restores

John 21:15

Jesus is the Restorer

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


If Peter's sin of denial had not been dealt with publicly, it might have been deemed trivial by others and him. Peter, acknowledged leader of the Apostles, had acted as a coward and traitor. The disciples knew it. His sincerity was under suspicion. Restoring Peter's honor required drastic action, special public treatment.


This must have been extremely trying for Peter. He had no way to escape the Lord's probing questions. Peter had three times openly said, "I do not know Jesus!" Now he would be asked three times to say openly, "Jesus, I love you."


John 21:15a (Holman) When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, . . ."


Jesus called the Apostle by his former, pre-commissioning name (John 1:42). Simon had not yet proven himself worthy of the name Peter, which meant rock. His life thus far had been quite a bit less than firm and dependable.


A name can be used very effectively. When I was a child, I knew all was well if my parents called me John. When they said, "John Edward," I knew they were displeased. If they said, "John Edward Marshall!" I knew I was in serious trouble. The Apostle eventually became Peter, but for now Simon had to do.

John 21:15b ". . . Do you love Me more than these?"


Simon could have been asked. "Why did you deny? How could you fail so miserably? Did you not know the impact your act would have on your reputation?"


Jesus avoided these. Without beating around the bush, He went straight to the point. Love was the only topic Jesus needed to ask Peter about. For God to own our hearts, He must have our unlimited faith, repentance, allegiance, and all else.

What went wrong with Peter? He had to examine his heart, and analyze his denial, in order to help make sure what caused his fall would not happen again.


 It is frightening to know our love can wane without our being aware of it. We can be busy doing God's work, yet at the same time our love be diminishing.


We can serve out of duty or habit, or to receive people's praise. This cannot go on forever. Without love, faithfulness inevitably fails. We should tremble to consider, at any moment we may be going through the motions of religion, and yet have little love for Jesus in our hearts. In these moments, temptation topples us.


What happened to Peter could happen to any of us. Beware smugness. Prior success in Christian living does not guarantee a lifetime of faithfulness to Jesus.


A victory yesterday cannot secure today. A win today cannot safeguard tomorrow. Yea, a success this morning cannot protect this afternoon or tonight.


Paul's words haunt me, "I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (I Cor. 9:27). Would it not be an unspeakable disaster if, after years of serving Jesus, our life resulted in a sin so hideous that it shocked not only others, but also us?


Watch for tell-tale signs of a declining love. Why are we serving Jesus less? Why do we not attend church as often, and no longer read the Bible daily? Why do we spend less time in prayer, and give less these days? We rationalize these things, and make clever excuses, but the real reason is, our love for Jesus has grown cold.


Peter was a doer. He left all to follow Jesus, was the first to confess Jesus as Messiah, walked on water, and drew a sword to protect Jesus, but would probably have traded all this for staying true to Jesus that fateful Holy Week Thursday night.


Somewhere Peter forgot to pause to look inward. He needed to ponder, "Do you love Jesus?" Often do inventory of our lives. We head toward a terrible fall if our walk with God becomes routine. Measure the depth of our love. Is an old flame still there? Peter reminds us; mighty works are wonderful; love for Jesus is greater.


Not even Bible knowledge can compensate for a lack of love for Jesus. For three years, Peter learned from Jesus, but it did him no good when his love failed.


In our text, Jesus did not speak to Peter about knowledge, but asked, "Do you love Me?" Knowledge is good; love is better. Orthodoxy is not the ultimate good. We need leaders who hold to the cardinal beliefs of our faith, and who at the same time love Jesus. Give us people firm in what they believe, yet soft at heart.


It is possible to believe in a burning Hell, but have a heart of ice. We can hold resolutely to water baptism, yet never undergo a baptism of love in our heart.


Love! Love! Love! Keep it strong, or all else is vain. Consider yourself. Daily, yea hourly, ask ourselves the question Jesus posed, "Do you love Me?"

John 21:15c "Yes, Lord," he said to Him, "You know that I love You." "Feed My lambs," He told him.


Jesus now felt He could safely commit His weak sheep to Peter because the Apostle had been weak. His failure made him a better Pastor. A heart broken over its sins finds it difficult to harden itself against a fallen brother or sister. Recalling his own fall would make it easier for Peter to be gracious with others who stumble.


Many people have had their lives improved by a failure early in life. Stumbling early can actually help us walk more carefully later. It can teach us to distrust ourselves, to lean more fully on Jesus, and to be more compassionate.


Peter knew he could not claim perfect love for Jesus, but would not lie. He wanted to be honest; he did love Jesus, and would not show false humility by saying he didn't. Peter's dilemma is often repeated in our hearts. Knowing our love for Jesus is not perfect, we often hesitate to say confidently, "Jesus, I love You."


We can usually boldly say, "I know Jesus. I trust Jesus. I believe on Jesus." But for some reason, the words "I love you, Jesus" sometimes stick in our throats.


Jesus said the first command is; love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Nothing is more important to God than that we love Him.


We know this, yet often have trouble verbalizing our love for Him. Why? We balk often because we know we fall far short of a life totally pleasing to God.


It is true that we best show the intensity of our love for Jesus by obeying Him, but we do us and Jesus a huge disservice if we think we can love Him only if we are perfect. If this were the case, none of us could ever say we love Jesus. 


Yes, Godliness is our purest proof of love for God. Sin does indicate love is waning, but it is impossible for a believer not to love Jesus. Our love may "grow cold" (MT 24:12) and lessen, but it is impossible for our love to God to die totally. 


Peter taught us well. He had shamefully denied Jesus, but nevertheless loved Jesus, and could not deny an emotion in his heart. We must have the same feeling. Do not give up on yourself. It is possible to love Jesus even if you fall into sin.


We sin. This does not mean we must spend the rest of life beating ourselves up over it. God determines consequences. We do not have to help Him punish us. 


We must minutely examine ourselves, but not overly condemn us. There is no virtue in castigating ourselves for a lifetime over the failure of one moment.


Our love is certainly not demonstrated in our sins, but can be shown in our reaction to them. If love for Jesus is present, sin will cause a deep sense of regret.


Nothing in the world is more painful than to hurt someone we love. Do be warned; if we can sin without remorse, the Bible offers us no comfort. But if our sin is quickly followed by repentance and Godly sorrow, we prove we love Jesus.


After Peter denied, he wept bitterly. Do not try to avoid sorrow. In our heart, look Jesus in the face and say, "I am so sorry. Forgive me. I love you. Help me love you more." Do weep and mourn over our sin, but then leave its guilt behind.


If sorry for our sin, we love Jesus. If we repent, we love Jesus. If conscience gnaws, we love Jesus. Don't fear being sad. Fear callousness. Being disappointed in ourselves is a good sign, but do not let it destroy us. We disappoint family often, but know we still love them. We fail friends, but know we still love them. This reaction applies also to our relationship with Jesus. We fail Him, but love Him.


Don't brag about our love, but do tell Jesus we love Him. Saying it increases it, and keeps it in our mind. We may never need to brashly say, "Lord, I will die for You," but can always come to Jesus as a humble, sorrowful Simon, saying, "Jesus, I do love you. Increase my little portion. Help me to love you more."



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Jesus Is Our Savior

John 19:23-30

Jesus Is the Savior

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


John 19:23 (Holman) When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.


Soldiers who served as executioners received the clothes of crucified criminals as compensation for their effort. Jesus' clothes were the last material things He owned in the whole wide world. He literally gave up everything for us.


The mocking crowd gazed on God's Son, who was clothed only in total humiliation. Our Master allowed Himself to be undressed that we might someday be dressed in white robes (Revelation 3:18). We will not be naked in Heaven. We will wear robes to remind us righteousness was not inherent in us. We had to put it on as a gift. Our robes will be white because Jesus' robe is red (Rev. 19:13-14).


Jesus' tunic, instead of being made of separate cloths sewn together, was woven in one piece, without seam. The Old Testament specified the High Priest's robe had to be woven (EX 39:22). John wanted us to see Jesus is our High Priest.


John 19:24 So they said to one another, "Let's not tear it, but toss for it, to see who gets it." They did this to fulfill the Scripture that says: "They divided My clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing." And this is what the soldiers did.


The tunic's intricate weaving by hand made it valuable. Since tearing the robe would have made it worthless, the four soldiers gambled for it.


By keeping the garment in one piece, the soldiers unknowingly pointed to another "High Priest" symbol. In addition to being woven without seam, the High Priest's robe was not to be torn (Leviticus 21:10). Caiaphas the High Priest had earlier disregarded this command. In a fit of rage against Jesus, he ripped his garment (Matthew 26:65), thereby unwittingly symbolizing the end of the Aaronic priesthood. Clothes are torn only if there is no more use for them. Jesus, the one whose robe is in one piece, is now our High Priest.


These soldiers knew nothing of the Jewish Bible, but fulfilled an Old Testament prediction (Psalm 22:18). Since they were pagan, no one could accuse them of collusion or "stacking the deck" in order to fulfill a Bible prediction.


The soldiers did their duty callously, stoically, as if nothing special was happening. "While they played with dice, He made His sacrifice" (Studdert Kennedy). These soldiers are a classic example of the world's indifference to God's love demonstrated in Jesus. Unbelievers act as if Jesus' death is not important. Many people in our age would rather have nice clothes than have Jesus, and prefer gambling for goods over giving their lives to God.

John 19:25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.


On the cross, Jesus was surrounded with contempt and apathy. Soldiers gambled, Judas had betrayed, Peter had denied, nine other disciples had scattered like scared rabbits. Jesus at Calvary was also loved. A stark contrast to those who failed Him were John, the only disciple bold enough to stand beneath the cross, and these four women. Heroism knows no gender distinction.

John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, He said to His mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then He said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.


Sufferers are usually selfish, but not Jesus. Even in pain on a cross, He showed compassion for others. He prayed for His executioners, saved a dying thief, honored His Heavenly Father, and protected His earthly mother. By taking care of His mother, Jesus set an eternal example of the proper way for us to live out the fifth commandment.


Jesus, dying a substitute for the world, asked John to be His substitute as a son to Mary. Giving this awesome responsibility to John shows how much confidence Jesus had in His beloved disciple. Jesus, who was one of at least seven siblings (Mark 6:3), passed over His brothers and sisters, and chose John as His mother's guardian. His brothers did receive Jesus later, but at this moment, their hearts were not yet knit spiritually with their brother and mother.


John 19:28-29 After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now accomplished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He said, "I'm thirsty!" A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it up to His mouth.


Thirst often occurs in people suffering from open wounds. As body fluids are lost, cells dehydrate, and the body craves water. On battlefields, other agonies are soon forgotten in this one. This cry drowns out every other cry.


Jesus, the Maker of rivers and rain, let Himself reach this depth of being parched. Had He spoken the word, rain would have fallen, and rivers would have deluged, to refresh Him. Instead, He chose to thirst in order to give us the water of life that we might never spiritually thirst again.


John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!"


Once His dry mouth moistened, Jesus clearly spoke a cry of conquest. John, near the cross, heard the word Jesus spoke, "Tetelestai!", meaning "It is finished," in the sense of mission accomplished.


Jesus' final word from the cross has reverberated through the whole universe for 2000 years, and shall continue to do so forever. While He was dying, Jesus posted a victory bulletin from the battlefield. He died not with a groan of defeat, but with a cry of triumph. 


To us, Jesus is Prince of Peace. To Satan, Jesus was a man of war who came to fight the evil one in his own territory. Jesus let the cruelties and guilt of sin be sheathed in His own body. This inner spiritual struggle was Jesus' worst suffering at Calvary. The pains of Hell, evil, and death penetrated His innermost essence.


Despite the strain, our Champion did not fail. Heaven's Lamb withstood Hell's Serpent. Fiends of perdition hurled themselves against Him. They could hurt, but not destroy, Him. They could at worst only bruise His heel. He, on the other hand, crushed their heads (Genesis 3:15). He dealt them a fatal blow.


The cross appeared to be evil's greatest victory, but proved to be its ultimate defeat. On Calvary was conducted the funeral of Satan's hope to vanquish God.


Christmas Evans preached, "Death struck its fiery dart deep into the heart of Jesus, but when Death tried to pull the dart out again, its sting was left behind." While sin was nailing Jesus to the cross, Christ was nailing sin to the same tree. Sin and sin's destroyer were both nailed there. Sin was defanged, but sin's destroyer arose victoriously.


Having drained the cup of our condemnation dry, Jesus held it upside down when He said, "It is finished!" Not one drop trickled down the edge. The Hell we deserve was in the cup. Jesus drank it dry at the cross.


Jesus bore Hell's condemnation, and can bear the condemnation of every sinner on Earth if they will throw themselves on Him. To be saved, we must acknowledge our need for Jesus, and lean totally on Him for salvation. Do not try to win God's favor by adding to the finished work of Jesus. He did all that God requires. The only thing left to do is for us to appropriate what Jesus accomplished.


Jesus' cry from the cross is our consolation as sinners. The fact Jesus carefully enunciated the word, and the fact the Holy Spirit recorded it in His Holy Word, prove it is the message God wants all to hear. For us, Jesus conquered sin and Satan at the cross that He might also conquer both in us. He is our Savior.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Credible Bible #5

Our Credible Bible (Lesson 5)

What Scripture Says, God Says

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


            One way to undermine the significance of any teaching is to say it is unimportant. This is how some skeptics try to undercut the doctrine of inerrancy. They say, since we do not have the original manuscripts, the doctrine itself is superfluous. This is the equivalent of saying God Himself evidently did not think the written Scriptures were very important.


This doctrine matters. It is essential to the life and success of Christianity. In all of redemption history, Holy Writ has been deemed vital. For 40 years, Levites carried in the Wilderness the tablets God wrote. What Old Testament prophets wrote was often a product of "Thus saith the Lord".


In the early church, "Scripture says" and "God says" were one and the same thing. Luther, on trial at Worms, declared, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God." John Wesley said, "At any price give me the book of God!" My Grandpa Marshall called it "The Book", as if no other books were worth comparing to it.


No questioning of the authority of Scripture has ever had a positive impact on God's people. Whenever Israel strayed from God, they always strayed first from His word. Whenever they returned to God, they first returned to His Word.


I rejoice at calls to prayer for revival I hear in our day, but am appalled at the dearth of preaching I hear about the six great Old Testament revivals. This troubles me because by ignoring them we miss a deep truth; all six were begun, not primarily in prayer, but in response to rediscovering God's written Word.


Revivals under Joshua (JS 8:32), Asa (2 CH 14:4), Jehoshaphat (2 CH 17:9), Hezekiah (2 K 18:6), Josiah (2 K 22:8), and Ezra (EZ 7:10) were "Bible revivals". God convicted people by a re-discovery of Scripture.


If revival comes in our nation and churches, it will descend on the wings of prayer and ascend from the pages of the written Word. Revival hinges on both/and not either/or. Keep praying hard about revival. At the same time, let's ratchet up a notch our talking about the Bible.


Anyone who wavers on Bible-authority eventually fades off into trivial oblivion. Spiritual disaster looms at the end of this skepticism, as is being proved in Western Europe, and in High Protestantism in the USA.


The Trinity believed the holy writings were important. God the Father wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger. God the Son said Scripture cannot be broken, that is, annulled; its authority cannot be denied (John 10:35). The Son began His post-baptism ministry with thrice saying "It is written" (MT 4:1-11). Near its end, close to Emmaus, He said, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!" (LK 24:25). "Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" (Luke 24:27).


God the Holy Spirit guided the authors themselves. "No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20b-21). They wrote for God because they were borne along by the Holy Spirit. They did not do this writing on their own initiative.


As a result, we have something better than if an eyewitness were giving testimony of something he or she saw firsthand. We have a Holy-Spirit-moved prophetic word. Scripture is more reliable than any eyewitness' testimony, for the latter is a matter of private interpretation. Scripture, though, is not a result of human investigation, or the production of the writer's thinking.


This role of the writers of Holy Writ in the moment they were writing Scripture is a study worth investigating. Paul dealt with this issue in his last epistle. After mentioning "the sacred writings" (2 TM 3:15b) Timothy grew up on, Paul gave us an analysis of their "sacred" nature, saying, "All Scripture is inspired by God" (2 TM 3:16a).


The word "inspiration" implies an influence from outside producing results inside. Inspiration means a supernatural impelling and directing of the words that were written. To say the Bible is inspired is to say its words are a divinely determined product given through the men Peter said were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 P 1:20b-21).


Literally interpreted, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed". God breathed out the very words. Thus the words themselves have divine authority. The Bible not only contains the words of God, as if some of its words may not be God's words. It is the words of God. In Scripture the breath of God was often mentioned to picture the irresistible outflow of His power. The breath of His mouth made all the stars (PS 33:6b). God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul (GN 2:7). The "breath of the Almighty hath given (us) life" (Job 33:4b). If God withdrew His breath from us, we would perish (Job 34:14-15); therefore you and I are divine creations. So is the Bible, for it was birthed and lives on the breath of God.


The Trinity invested in the Bible. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all focused attention on Holy Writ. This is why no one has ever been able to silence the Bible, and no one ever will. It is the God-book.


Just as we believe God directly intervened in human history to bring us redemption through the blood of Jesus, we also believe He intervened in human history to give us a guide whereby we could confidently know of His redemptive works among us. God did things in the incarnation no one can undo. God wrote things in the Bible no one can erase. God did not leave us ignorant of Himself. We are not adrift, totally clueless as to God's dealings among us.


Before ending these lessons on the credibility of the Bible, I want to allude to a matter Warfield called attention to in his classic book. He gave instances of where "God says" and "Scripture says" were used interchangeably in New Testament passages referring to Old Testament passages. In Matthew 19:4 Jesus stated that God was the One who said in Genesis 2:24, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife." But the Genesis passage does not mention God as the speaker. It is merely a statement of Scripture. Jesus was saying the verse can be assumed to have been a declaration of God solely because it was a saying of Scripture. Paul followed the Lord's lead in this, and handled the Gensis 2:24 passage in the same way in 1 Corinthians 6:16.


In Romans 9:17 Paul wrote, "The Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you." But in the original text (Exodus 9:16) God, not Scripture, is speaking. Paul referenced this again in Galatians 3:8, where he wrote the Scripture says Abraham will be blessed. However, Genesis 12:1-3 records God said this.


When referencing Holy Writ, "God" and "Scripture" were, for Jesus and Paul, interchangeable. "Scripture" and "God" lay so close together in the minds of the writers of the New Testament that they could naturally speak of "Scripture" doing what Scripture records God as doing" (Warfield), and vice versa. In other words, what Scripture says, God says.


Other examples help reinforce this. Luke recorded the sermon of Peter, which stated the words of David were the words of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16). Peter's thoughts on this matter were echoed by the congregation at large (Acts 4:25). Matthew (2:15) claimed the Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea (11:1). Paul believed God had promised good news through His prophets in the Old Testament (Romans 1:2).


A final addendum: we long felt the bulk of Jesus' teachings were passed down orally. Recent research indicates the early followers of rabbis in first century Palestine used wax tablets to write down the comments of their leaders. If the disciples did make private notes, it would help explain the recording of long speeches made by Jesus. Either way, the oral had to be made into the written fairly soon because of the demand for Scriptures to be read in church services.



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Credible Bible #4

Our Credible Bible (Lesson 4)

Perceived Bible Problems

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


The Bible is by far the most reliable book ever produced in the ancient world. Manuscript evidence supporting its trustworthiness is overwhelming. The abundance of manuscripts available to us has let us determine with reasonable certainty what the original autographs said. Very few passages are left in doubt as to what the writer wrote. Thus the question: why is this fact not enough to convince most unbelievers to become Christ-followers?


One, some refuse to take time to investigate the evidence. Rather than do research, they often make a prejudgment based on hearing arguments against us that are one-sided and distorted. In some public settings, nothing bars attacks against Christianity. Other religions are off-limits, negativism toward them is deemed politically incorrect, but brutalizing Christianity is fair game. People often hear this onslaught against us, but ignore thousands of articles, books, blogs, etc., that present cogent arguments defending us.


Two, some say they cannot understand the Bible. This is not true. The Bible is noted for what theologians call perspicuity; it is understandable. It is the world's #1 best selling book in all of history because people can read and understand it. Parts of it are difficult to read, but any person can take a Bible, read it from cover to cover, and walk away understanding what the Bible is all about. "The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (PS 119:130 NAS). The Bible's main truths can be grasped.


Often the problem is not misunderstanding, but understanding, the Bible, and not liking what it says. Mark Twain said, "It ain't those parts of the Bible I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand."


Three, some reject the Bible not based on whether or not we have a reliable transmission of original writings, but due to what they consider to be culturally offensive messages in it. For instance, does the Bible promote slavery, or relegate women to a secondary role; did the Old Testament prescribe genocide? These attacks are specifically refutable with Apologetic rebuttals, but for our purposes we'll take an overarching look at the issues.


We err in interpreting any writings if we fail to enter into the worldview of the writers when we try to judge their beliefs. We have to understand their setting in life. For instance, it would be easy for me to condemn my great-great-grandfather for supporting slavery and fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. To do so, though, would make me an elitist--as if to say I would have been above such behavior. Humility is a winsome virtue, even when exhibited across the ages. Was my ancestor wrong? Yes. Do I thus write him off as a terrible man? No. In fact, he became the spiritual patriarch of our family. He lived till 1924, and had a profound spiritual impact on my Grandpa Marshall, who in turn heavily influenced my spiritual formation. Perfection is not required for us to be effective, and it should not be required for us to think kindly of others.


Four, some reject the Bible because they feel the original writers were not trustworthy men. The manuscript evidence doesn't matter because we can't be sure the writers wrote the truth. The answer to this objection lies in whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. If Christ rose from death, all of Christianity is true. If Jesus did not rise, none of our faith is valid. Paul bluntly said, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15:17-18 NAS). I believe we can confidently say the original followers of Jesus, including the writers of the New Testament, were credible, believable, trustworthy eyewitnesses of His resurrection.


When in college, I met an older student who was an ex-priest. He had renounced his vows, Roman Catholicism, and Christianity as a whole. We were one day discussing our lives. He had left behind the ministry and faith. I was in the beginning stages of ministry. I asked why he had renounced the faith. He answered, and asked why I believed. No one had ever confronted me with the question. My spontaneous answer to him then remains my more developed answer today. I believe primarily because the original followers of Jesus were willing to die for what they claimed about His resurrection.


Five, some reject the Bible because they believe it contradicts what they deem obvious teachings of science. Did creation take only six 24-hour days? What about evolution, geological dating, dinosaurs, the fossil record; was Noah's flood worldwide? What about those miracles (BL 11)? This kind of questioning especially matters because many of our young adults who grew up in church are forsaking the faith, often due to these very issues. The arguments against our beliefs are often expressed in settings hostile to our faith. Our kids can find themselves bombarded with pressures of unbelief, and are in danger of ridicule or worse if they opt to believe and vocalize it.


Our churches and families need to do a better job of providing credible evidence to our youth to help them refute our critics. We are not doing well in preparing our own for the cultural wars they are entering. Sometimes the problem is not so much knowing a precise answer, but rather finding somewhere in our churches a safe place to ask and debate the tough questions. We would hope those who grow up in church could find there places of gentle Christian understanding, but many times they are inculcated with a sense of a harsh all-or-nothing choice from their childhood.


            We in the church too often come across as being impatient with any who disagree with us, including our own children. We must be careful. Our Master said, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6 NAS).


An atheist, Loftus, wrote in "Why I became an Atheist" that for many who leave the faith, there are three factors often involved (p. 24). One of the three relates to this very point. He says many leave the faith due to an initial serious investigation of a different worldview they had never examined in any detail previously. One problem is; young adults who ask questions are cut off quickly by their family and friends because they don't know the answers; the questioner is thus treated like their having questions is wrong in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with questioning and debating issues. Many of us are too embarrassed to admit we do not know the answer, and rather than admit our weakness, and offer to take time to do some research, we cut off the questioner, which in essence usually drives them farther away.


Six, some reject the Bible due to a failure to understand how a good God can allow suffering. Surveys say the problem of suffering is the main reason people who seriously consider the faith refuse to accept Christianity. The atheist Loftus says one reason people leave the faith is a personal crisis of some kind that forces one to struggle with why God allows suffering.


Would a kind loving omnipotent God allow suffering among the innocent, or send people to an everlasting lake of fire? These question marks turn like fishhooks in many people's hearts.


The 9/11 attacks, done in the name of religion, are seen by some as the event that spawned our modern day attacks from attacking atheists. These attacks are more and more aimed at Christianity. "How could a good God let this happen? Religion seems more bad than good."


Seven, a sensed lack of love and support from believers at a critical crossroad in life. This is the third reason the atheist Loftus gives for why people forsake the faith. Many who adopt a sinful lifestyle sense the absence of love and care from the Christian community they were depending on; there is no place in the Christian community where they can be enfolded, accepted for what they are; not told their sin is okay, but where they know they are loved; only in a loving community like this can people who made wrong choices find a runway greased to make their return to the faith easier.


Eight, some reject the Bible because they think if it is the powerful Word of God we say it is, there shouldn't be as many hypocrites as there are. Our detractors say many who say they believe the Bible don't live the Bible.

Christianity groans under the burden of heavy baggage, sinful lives lived by people claiming to be Christians. We bear the burden of bad history, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, racism, anti-Semitism, ethnocentricism, being perceived as cultural hit-men who disrespect the views of unbelievers we disagree with. If reminded of these past failures, rather than becoming defensive, we must reply with humility.


This is a complex issue requiring long answers, but one thing I would like to interject here is; it is wrong to always equate failure with hypocrisy. A hypocrite is a fake, a person who knowingly pretends. Many sincere believers fail often. Their shortcoming is not hypocrisy, but rather frailty. We believers are not perfect.


We also need to distinguish between cultural Christians and committed Christians. Not all who claim to be Christians actually are.


Jesus spoke bluntly to this truth. "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven: but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Many were baptized as infants, or as adults merely went through the formality of becoming members of a church, and yet never entered into a personal relationship with Jesus.



The Way, The Truth, The Life

John 14:1-6

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


Sir Walter Scott, when dying, said to his son-in-law, "Lockhart, read to me." Lockhart asked, "What book?" "Why do you ask? There is but one book, the Bible." Scott then asked his son-in-law to read from John 14, the comfort chapter, the Psalm 23 of the New Testament. From its first words, John 14 speaks peace.


John 14:1-2 (Holman) "Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you."


Jesus wanted the disciples to enjoy peace, to not dwell on things that would disturb them emotionally, especially regarding their everlasting destiny.

By calling Heaven "My Father's House," Jesus added to it a lovely, gentle touch. We often think of Heaven primarily as golden streets, beautiful buildings, pearly gates, etc. To Jesus it was home, the place lit by the light of Dad's smile.


"My Father's House" softened for us the blow of death. This phrase let our race for the first time in recorded history dare to think of death as a homecoming.


Death is no more an ending than a beginning; no more a leaving than a coming home. We will feel at home in Heaven, and be able to relax. Bad tempers, crabby dispositions, tensions, fears of disappointing Jesus--all gone.


"My Father's House" blesses us by also teaching us Heaven is a real place. It is not a make-believe realm of disembodied spirits, but a bustling city where God's children love, celebrate, and live actively in strong indestructible forms. Heaven is a real place, an actual location. When Jesus left here, He went somewhere.


Jesus presented Himself unapologetically as the reliable Revealer of what Heaven is like. He spoke of it with authority, not speculation. He spoke as One who had lived in Heaven, not as one having second-hand information. He was like one who had stood on a mountain, and later told His valley friends what he saw.


What Jesus said of Heaven was not poetic language or philosophical conjecture. He was speaking to be understood literally. Jesus was too knowledgeable to be mistaken, too honest to misrepresent, and too kind to mislead.


John 14:3 "If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also."


Jesus was leaving Earth to make it possible for believers to enter Heaven. His Father's house will someday be our house because Jesus prepared it for us.


The love that sent Jesus away to prepare us a place will also bring Him back someday for everyone. Till then, He comes to each of us at our death to guide us home.


Why does He do this? He wants us to be with Him—a precious thought. He wants us near Him. It feels good to feel wanted. It means we are special. 

We may feel we know little about Heaven, but we know what we need to know to set our minds at ease. Jesus is there, and wants us to come live with Him.


John 14:4-5 "You know the way to where I am going." "Lord," Thomas said, "we don't know where You're going. How can we know the way?"


Thomas didn't know he knew. He knew Jesus; without realizing it, this was all he needed to know. Thomas did not yet appreciate all he had in Jesus. We often underestimate the value of what is ours in Christ. He's the beauty our hearts desire.


Everything we need, and deep-down want, we find in Jesus, yet we meander far afield, seeking our heart's desires elsewhere. We are like people searching everywhere for keys we previously put in our pocket, and for a diamond we already locked in our own safety deposit box.


John 14:6 "Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."


Jesus is the way to God. Christ presented Himself as the link between God and people. The two farthest apart objects in the Universe are pure God, who dwells in resplendent light, and sinners, who roam aimlessly in darkness. Jesus closes the gap, retrieving us from godless wanderings, from being spiritually lost.


 Jesus not only made the way; He walks it with us. Sinners need more than to have the way to God pointed out. A person who tells us to go one block north, three blocks west, and turn right after the third house makes us feel more lost.


We need someone to say, "Follow me; I will show you the way." By doing this, a person not only points out the way, but also becomes the way for us.

Jesus does this for us. He not only told us how to find God. He died in the past to prepare the way for us, comes in the present to take us by the hand to walk the way with us, and in the future will personally lead us home. Jesus is the way.


"Truth" refers to reality, to what is reliable. In our text, it highlights the complete dependability of Jesus in revealing to us the Father as He really is.

Jesus' whole life, character, and personality depicted the one and only true living God. Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). In Christ we no longer see God with blurred vision at a distance, but as Immanuel, God with us. An incarnation, an enfleshment, of Himself was the only possible form in which God, who is spirit, could adequately show Himself to a world of sinners. Intellectual concepts, words, and deeds could not by themselves teach us of God. For us to grasp what He is really like, Jesus had to come live among us as one of us.


Jesus brings to us truth, reliable information, about God. We were created to receive from Jesus dependable assessments of God. Aristotle said the eye was made for light, the ear was made for sound, and the mind was made to receive truth. We agree. The only qualifier is to know what truth really is. Human restlessness results when a mind does not receive the specific truth for which it was made. Augustine said we were made for God, and are restless till we rest in Him.


C.S. Lewis felt this inner restlessness evidenced God's existence. "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."


These longings for something beyond this world can be fulfilled in only one place, in what Jesus taught about Himself. His words spoke truth.

It is no coincidence Eden's first temptation was a lie about God. Ever since, people have been deceived about God, erring often in their thoughts of Him.

Jesus is the ultimate test, the final appeals court to which all considerations about God must be referred. People who understand Christ's teaching about God grasp divine reality. Jesus is the final, ultimate word, the reliable word, the truth.


Jesus is "the life." Not only does He have to lead us to the Father as the way, and reveal the Father to us as the truth; Jesus also has to make us alive to the Father, because we are by nature spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).


People spiritually dead cannot walk a way or understand a revealed truth, nor can they have a relationship. We have to be born again. Jesus has to give us spiritual life. By means of a new birth, He gives us the kind of life that can enter into a personal relationship with God, one that can grow, blossom, and flourish.


Mere physical existence is not the best life. The only life worthy of being called life is the one Jesus brings. All other kinds of life disintegrate and decay.

This ever improving type of life happens when Jesus Himself is planted in a person's heart by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the life, the best life, the God life.

Don't miss the somber truth in our text. If words have meaning, and are meant to be understood, Jesus' statement here can mean only one thing.


There is no salvation apart from Jesus. Without Jesus the way, there is no going to God; without Jesus the truth, no knowing God; without Jesus the life, no growing in God. With Jesus the way, we go to God; with Jesus the truth, we know God; with Jesus the life, we grow in God. Through Jesus our Savior, we can have salvation.




Sunday, October 8, 2017

Credible Bible Lesson 3

Our Credible Bible (Lesson 3)

Inerrancy and Textual Variants

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall


Throughout church history, believers have considered the Scriptures to be accurate and reliable, both historically and theologically. Many words have been used to try to express this belief in concise, precise form. The two most common terms of late have been "infallible" and "inerrant".


Infallible refers to the unfailing nature of Scripture. It will not let us down. If we are sad, it comforts us. When tempted, it strengthens us. When lost, it saves us. If doubting, it assures us. When we stray, it rebukes us. When discouraged, it encourages us. When worried, it brings us peace.


The Bible is a reliable, sufficient, trustworthy guide for us in our daily lives. It will never misdirect us. It will accomplish the purposes God meant for it to achieve; it won't return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).


"Inerrant" means without error, wholly true. The Bible verses being considered are deemed to be true, not false. We will never be led into error by anything it teaches. Baptist confessions have often conveyed this concept by saying the Bible has "truth for its matter, with no mixture of error."


The word inerrant refers only to the original documents, never to copies. Since we do not, as best we know, have originals, some people do not like the term inerrant, but belief in inerrancy of the autographs is what fuels our drive to find ever-older manuscripts. As more manuscripts are found, we feel confident we are getting ever closer to what the originals said.


We want to know what the originals said, for we believe they contain the very words of God. Our embracing inerrancy means we believe the authors gave a true and accurate statement regarding what God wanted said.


Some people are very uncomfortable with inerrancy. When they see in their versions of the Bible footnotes that point out variants, discrepancies, and seeming contradictions, they cannot understand how there can be any inerrant originals if there are so many differing interpretation-alternatives. I personally think much of this discomfort today stems from the fact the KJV had no footnotes. I think this may have left the impression with most readers that there were no issues regarding the actual wording of any texts.


The variants should not crush our faith. The Bible is a God-book; it is also a man-book. God condescended to use human beings to write, preserve, and transmit Scripture. Thus we should expect to see human touches in it.


Also, is there any other Christian doctrine that we require all difficulties to be resolved before we believe it? What about the Trinity, the Incarnation, Predestination, Creation, etc.? Do we feel we must have 100% understanding of these doctrines in order to believe them? Questions about Bible doctrines often perplex us, but we usually let this drive us to adoration, not skepticism. To resolve all difficulties, we would have to be living by sight, rather than by faith. Do not be surprised if belief in inerrancy leaves us with unresolved questions. We are not going to understand it totally.


All Bible doctrines have to end in some measure of mystery because they are dealing with God, whose innermost being and unfathomable ways are beyond our full comprehension. In this life, we see in a mirror dimly, and know in part (1 C 13:12). Therefore, we will never have all the answers regarding any Bible doctrine, including the inerrancy of Scripture.


When we come to textual variations, what we cannot fully explain, we leave unresolved, believing the problem is our limited knowledge, not the Bible. If there are seeming discrepancies we cannot solve, we leave it with the Lord. He knows all. Fortunately, we do not have to know everything.


Having said this, we still have to face the pesky question, what about all those textual variants? Skeptics smugly use this to ridicule our claim the Bible is the Word of God, and believers are sometimes aghast at their own inability to answer these cynicisms. Fortunately, the issue becomes less disheartening when we are willing to ask the pertinent questions, and to take time to delve into what the variants actually entail.


We have 25,000 partial and/or complete New Testament manuscripts from Greek and other languages, containing about 400,000 or so textual variants. This means we have an average of only 16 variants per manuscript. The United Bible Society fourth edition of the Greek New Testament contains 1,438 of the most significant variations in its footnotes and presents manuscript info for them. Less than one percent of variants are significant enough to make it into the footnotes of our English translations.


The evidence for a trustworthy transmission of what the Bible originally said is overwhelming. Our manuscript evidence holds up well against other writings of antiquity (See Blomberg, p. 35). In addition to the manuscripts, we have over 30,000 scriptural quotations in sermons and commentaries of early church fathers. Even with no manuscripts, the latter would reconstruct the vast majority of the New Testament.


Our earliest manuscripts offer convincing help for us. We have 12 manuscripts from the 100s, 64 from the 200s, 48 from the 300s. By the way, each of these early manuscripts is written with the careful handwriting of an experienced scribe. None of them is "scrawled".


Most of these early manuscripts are fragmentary, but taken together, the entire New Testament is found in them multiple times. Later manuscripts add less than 2% more material to the text--that's 2% over 1600 years. This indicates a very stable transmission history. We have so many manuscripts that few new variants will ever be found. We can safely assume the first writing of any given text is in one of the variations.


Studies of ancient libraries of antiquity have shown that manuscripts were used anywhere from 150 to 500 years before being discarded. For instance, the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus was read and used for at least 600 years after it was produced. Facts like this show there may not have been various time-gapped generations of texts between the originals and the earliest manuscripts we now have.


Greek is not the only language we draw confidence from. In the 100s the New Testament was translated into several languages, including Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopic, and Armenian.


Having many manuscripts with variations actually helps textual analysts. Varying streams of thought from different languages can provide confirming evidence of what the original said. For instance, 20 manuscripts would be more helpful than one in trying to find precise original wording. Thus, thousands of manuscripts is better than having few. A preponderance of similar texts helps confirm what the original said, and in the New Testament manuscripts there is almost always overwhelming agreement.


For one thing, a proliferation of manuscripts proves no one tried to manipulate the text. No hierarchy was trying to promote their own agenda.


The variant problem diminishes substantially if we look at it closely. For starters, 70% of all variations are spelling variants. Ancient scribes had no standardized spelling guidelines. Thus, in the 25,000 manuscripts with 400,000 variants, 280,000 of the latter are spelling variations. This means we have 120,000 other types of variations spread across 25,000 manuscripts, which reduces the number of variants per manuscript from 16 down to 5.


Other variants involved confusing similar letters, substituting similar sounding letters or words, omitting a letter or word, writing a letter or word twice, reversing order of two letters or words, incorrect word division, changes in spelling due to archaic language or grammar, and replacing rare words. Today's textual critic has to work as a private detective in trying to find original words (For types of errors, see Cowan and Wilder, pp.127ff).


Of these variants, only two disputed passages in the United Bible Society Greek text are longer than two verses: the end of Mark (16:9-20), and the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). In over 25,000 manuscripts, no other passages are anywhere nearly as long as these two.


When considering the variations, our chief concern should be, do they affect any major Bible doctrines? The answer is no. Let's consider a few samples (For more cases, see Blomberg, pp. 21ff, or footnotes in a Bible).


Should Matthew 5:22 contain "without a cause"? Does the Doxology belong at the end of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:13? Does Mark 1:41 say compassionate or indignant? Many manuscripts omit Luke 22:43-44 and Acts 8:37. Does Romans 5:1 say we have peace, or let us have peace? Is 1 Corinthians 13:3 saying burn or boast? In Philippians 1:14 is the message "of God"? The three testifying in 1 John 5:7-8 is hard to unravel.


An interesting footnote: The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts ( seeks to preserve Scripture by taking digital photos of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts. 5800 documents are known to exist (about 5000 after AD 1000; about 800 before). Some are fragments, especially older ones, but the average Greek NT manuscript is over 450 pages long. There are a total of 2.6 million pages of text.