Vol.XXVI January 19, 2011 No.2
Will He Find Faith?
While doing some background study for an upcoming class, I have been re-reading the account of Josephus concerning the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The conflict which ultimately resulted in the complete destruction of the city and the temple was the culmination of roughly four years of intermittent war between the Jews of Judea and the occupying forces of the Roman empire. The period was marked by civil war within Israel that eventually would divide the city of Jerusalem and expose the populace to incredible violence and oppression from their own countrymen. And, though the Romans initially were satisfied to let the Jews weaken themselves through their own in-fighting, Vespasian began an assault upon Judea in 67-68 AD, which he suspended due to civil disturbances in Rome. Leaving Judea to go and claim the role of emperor, he placed his son Titus in charge of the attack upon Jerusalem. After months of preparation and an impressive show of force, Titus besieged the city during the Passover feast of 70 AD. There were perhaps as many as three million people within the city at the time. Some five months later, Jerusalem was razed to the ground. Josephus observes that some 1.1 million died in the siege, whether by famine or violence; that another 11,000 died soon after the fall of the city as a result of the effects of starvation; and that finally another 97,000 were taken captive by the Romans and sold as slaves or else abused in the gladiatorial games which marked the Roman culture.
The details of the siege and fall are disturbing. People who tried to escape the city were crucified in sight of the city walls, sometimes by the hundreds per day. Houses were stacked full of the corpses of those who died in the famine. Opposing forces within the city fought and killed each other and abused the Jews who were trapped by the Roman forces outside the city. Women ate their children. The dead bodies of others who had starved were cast out of the city, filling the valleys which surrounded Jerusalem. In the final conflict, the Romans slaughtered the inhabitants without mercy, the blood flowing so freely as to extinguish fires which were burning the structures within the city.
Many of those who suffered and died in the siege were not citizens of Jerusalem itself, but pilgrims who had traveled there to observe the Passover. They must have maintained some devotion to God, or they would not have been there. What must have they thought about the circumstances? Do you suspect that their faith was tested? Did they ever wonder where God was, and why He was not delivering His people, His city, His temple?
It seems quite clear from the comments of Jesus that the reason for the terrible end to Jerusalem was to be found in their rejection of God and His prophets, and of Jesus in particular (Mt.23:34f; Lk.19:41f). But the point of these thoughts is not so much to entertain why God would allow such misery, as to consider how these events impacted the thinking of those people who suffered the misery. How did their circumstance affect their view of God? Did they still trust Him when they were starving, when those they loved were dying, when they were living amidst violence and disease and oppression?
The popular portrayal of God in modern “Christian” teaching is that of a Being who has every intention of making this life an enjoyable experience. The message of the prevalent pulpit is that of health, wealth, and toleration. “God wants to bless you. God wants you to be happy. God wants you to enjoy life. God wants you to prosper. God loves you as you are.” There is little demand for temperance, patience, sacrifice, or cross-bearing. But the admonitions of scripture are full of such. Jesus Himself noted that the desire to pursue Him as Lord will demand that we deny self, take up our cross, and follow Him (Mt.16:24). Those requirements do not give the impression that life on this earth for the Christian will be one of great prosperity. And while I am not complaining about the status quo of most Christians in this country (for we are indeed prosperous to a measure that we ourselves do not fully appreciate), I wonder what will happen to the general perception of God in this culture when and if circumstances do become trying. What thoughts captivate the mind of one who has bought in to the “health and wealth” drivel when his world falls down around him? When God doesn’t make him rich. When God doesn’t prevent disease or death. When God doesn’t send blue skies and rainbows. Will he trust God then?
In Luke 18, when Jesus offers a parable intended to prompt persistence in prayer, He is considering such circumstances. He has, in the end of the preceding chapter, offered some description of the revelation of the Son of Man. Comparing this passage with the other gospels, it seems apparent that He is noting the circumstances of the aforementioned destruction of Jerusalem (though some would debate that conclusion). Luke 17:22f is a harrowing description of fearful events. And the parable that He offers addresses the question of God’s oversight. Where is God when life is miserable? Why is He allowing such things to take place? Why should I trust Him when I am the victim of pain, of sorrow, of disappointment, of evil men, of disaster, of disease and death? Jesus advises us to “always...pray, and not lose heart” (18:1), noting that God does watch over His people, and that He “will avenge them speedily” (18:7-8). Such is the consolation of the passage - God knows and God will make everything right (though the general instruction of scripture assures such recompense in the hereafter, rather than in the here). But please note the over-riding concern of Jesus in this parable. His observation that God will avenge is followed by a question. “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (18:8). There’s the real issue. God will be faithful to His people. But will His people be faithful to God? Will I trust Him, no matter what? Will my confidence in God be unaffected by the circumstances of my life? If my world is enveloped in evil, violence, pain, and suffering, will it change my view of my Father?
I wonder what those folks in Jerusalem were thinking?
Vol.XXVI January 5, 2011 No.1
the epitome of hypocrisy
A couple of days ago, I read with some interest - a not a little disgust - an exchange between a couple of people about the nature of the Bible. One person was pointed in his declaration that the Bible is not an infallible revelation of God, that we cannot be certain of it’s accuracy, and that it has been elevated to a place of idolatry as a substitute for God Himself. The other person was attempting to offer some opposition to those propositions. The discussion was brief and neither party was very comprehensive in their responses. I have no idea if the parties involved pursued the discourse any farther, and it is really not my intention to address the nature of those comments. What I do find absolutely incredulous is the fact that the same individual who offered such scathing criticism of the Bible and those who hold it as the infallible and inspired Word of God, then proceeded to make several comments about his own devotion to God, his life of service to Jesus and “His bride” and his declarations of faith in God’s will and God’s influence upon his life.
How, pray tell, do we know the first thing about God’s will, God’s work, God’s influence, God’s Son, or most anything else about God (apart from His existence), separate from God’s Word? It is the epitome of hypocrisy - the epitome of hypocrisy - to even recognize Jesus as the Christ and then to dismiss anything that the Bible says as irrelevant, uninspired, or inapplicable to mankind. It is imperative to learn and acknowledge that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot accept Jesus and dismiss the Bible as God’s Word - inspired, infallible, eternal. And we cannot accept the Bible as God’s Word and dismiss Jesus - Lord, Savior, Son of God. I am amazed at the frequency with which this inconsistency is applied in the religious world of our day. We see it constantly in the lives of individuals. People claim to recognize Jesus as their Savior, call themselves Christians, talk about God’s will and His influence. And yet they practice dishonesty, engage in sexual immorality, divorce and remarry at their own whim, worship at their convenience and in whatever way they deem pleasing, embrace covetousness, serve themselves. In essence, they reject what God’s Word says about discipleship after using God’s Word to learn about the sacrifice of Jesus. And I suppose that such is to be expected when we have witnessed the same approach to Biblical authority among religious organizations over the years. “Churches” that claim to be built upon the work and words of Jesus are regularly engaged in the promotion of activities that are nowhere authorized in the Bible. The New Testament pattern of worship has been exchanged for spiritually-themed entertainment; the moral demands of the Bible have been compromised due to the popularity of divorce/remarriage, homosexuality, promiscuity, and immodesty; God’s design regarding gender roles have been sacrificed for political correctness; and almost anything of a doctrinal nature that might actually indict someone of sin is often ignored for the sake of “unity”. Very few major denominations want to stand on the Bible anymore.
Oh, but everyone believes in Jesus. And everyone recognizes the love of God. And everyone is certain that God knows our heart and accepts us as we are.
Those academicians who study such movements, assign reasons to them and then attempt to label such would probably include these observations within the designation of “post-modernism”. Call it what you like, such a perspective is essentially a symptom of selfishness, pride, and hypocrisy.
The Bible claims that Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh (Jn.1:1-18; Col.1:15f), and that the miracles He performed prove those claims of divinity (Jn.20:30f; Acts 2:22). The proposition of the Bible is that Jesus lived a sinless life and died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for sin, so that those who put their faith in Him might stand justified (“pronounced innocent”) before God and enjoy eternal life after physical death (Jn.20:30f; Rom.3:21-26; 5:1-11). Almost every “Christian” religious organization accepts and espouses these Biblical claims. But the same Bible that reveals these truths, also reveals that this same Jesus - God in the flesh - assigned and authorized men to record the will of God which would be revealed to them by Jesus through God the Spirit after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The thrust of Jn.14-16 revolves around this plan. “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever...But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (Jn.14:16,26). “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (Jn.15:26). “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you...However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” (Jn.16:7-15). And those apostles claim that the words they were writing were the words of Jesus given to them by God the Spirit (Acts 4:18-20; I Cor.2:4-16; Gal.1:11-12; Eph.3:1-5f; Heb.2:1-4). They are the men who have told us about Jesus, just as He had commanded them. They are also the men who told us, in the very same documents, about the will of God and the words of God. The two are irrevocably tied together. Consistency demands that if we accept Jesus as Lord based upon the claims of the Bible, then we must accept the Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God based upon the words of Jesus.
Ours is an age of doubt, inconsistency, selfishness, and indulgence. Increasingly, people who claim allegiance to God are treating the Bible like a salad bar - we’ll pick and choose those things we want (salvation, mercy, love, hope, joy) and we’ll just ignore the stuff that is hard, demanding, and displeasing (diligence, holiness, morality, selflessness, temperance, sacrifice). How can we be so hypocritical as to acknowledge Jesus while decrying the very revelation that proclaims Him? God help us.