Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nicodemus and John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
John 3:16 is one of the most well-known verses of the New Testament. It is regularly used in evangelism and is one of the first verses new Christians are encouraged to memorize. And who can forget “Rainbow Man,” with his multi-colored hair, holding a “John 3:16” sign at televised sporting events. Or Tim Tebow with the Scripture reference painted in his eye blacking.

Usually people hear or read John 3:16 outside of its context, as though it was somehow plucked out of thin air or wafted down on a cloud one day. But it is actually part of an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus one night. And it comes toward the end of the discussion, as a climax to the conversation. It can certainly stand on its own, at a certain level, and many people have come to the Lord through it. It is wonderful news, even all by itself.

However, there is an even richer meaning that Nicodemus would have gotten from John 3;16. To understand it in the fuller sense in which it was originally intended, we need to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Because the whole thing, from beginning to end, is all of one piece. So let’s take a brief look.

Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (v. 2).

Jesus responded in a way that did not address Nicodemus’ words but instead one that answered his need: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3).

Nicodemus was confused by this, but Jesus said it again, in a bit broader fashion. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5).

Clearly, the theme of these statements is the kingdom of God. “Born again” is what people usually focus on in this part of the conversation. However, being “born again” is not the end toward which Jesus was directing Nicodemus. It is a necessary means to that end. The new birth is necessary in order to “see” and “enter” the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the main concern, and it is through the new birth that one becomes a part of it.

The concept of the kingdom of God was not something new Jesus originated. It was the long held Jewish expectation that arose from the promises and prophecies God gave in the Old Testament. It was about the age to come, the messianic age, when God’s Son, the “Messiah” (which means “Anointed”), would be king over Israel and all the nations.

Psalm 2 portrays this promised reality. In Psalm 2:2, we read about the LORD’s Anointed, who turns out to be God’s Son (v. 7), and the one whom God would set as King over Israel (v. 6). To Him are given all the nations (v. 8) and they are called to submit to Him and serve Him with reverence and rejoicing (vv.10-12).

Now that kingdom had come into the world. It is what the preaching of Jesus was all about. Mark tells us, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). His teaching was all about the kingdom and His miracles demonstrated the world-changing reality of the kingdom that was now at hand. As we can see from John 2:2, Nicodemus was not unfamiliar with the teaching and miracles of Jesus, and would no doubt have recognized that it was somehow concerned with the God’s promised kingdom.

Moving forward in John 3, we find that Jesus refers to Himself also as the “Son of Man.”
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:13-15)
“Son of Man” is another title that has messianic and kingdom significance in the Old Testament. We find it, or example, in the book of Daniel, in a messianic passage about one who would come from heaven and whose reign would fill the earth:
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
In view of the messianic kingdom theme that begins in verse John 3:3, when verse 16 speaks of God’s Son being given out of God’s love for the world, it has great messianic significance. God’s Son is the one God has uniquely anointed to be King over Israel and the nations — that is, over all the world.

“Eternal life,” in John 3:16, also carries this theme. We often think of “eternal life” as life that lasts a really, really long time (forever, in fact). And indeed it is. However, it does not tell us just about the length of that life. More importantly, it tells us about the nature of that life. The Greek words for “eternal life” are zoen (“life”) and aionion (“eon,” or “age”). Literally, it would be the “age life,” or the “life of the age.” But what age would that be? It is the age God had long promised His people: the age to come, the messianic age — the age of God’s kingdom.

In John3:3-5, Jesus said that one must be “born again,” born of the Spirit, in order to participate in God’s kingdom age. This new “birth” speaks of the life of that kingdom. It is the life of God’s kingdom age. In verse 16, Jesus explains how that new life comes: through faith in God’s Son (who is the Messiah, the one God has anointed to be king). Those who believe on Him receive the life of the age to come, which has now already broken into the world in this present age. It is new life that begins now and lasts forever, because the kingdom of God, which has now come into the world, will endure forever.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Raising the Dead

The Bible records a number of accounts in which someone who died was restored to life. In the Old Testament, Elijah brought the widow of Zaraphath’s son back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). When the son of a Shunnamite woman died, Elisha raised him from the dead (2 Kings 4:25-37). A dead man who was thrown into Elisha’s grave was restored to life when his body came into contact with the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20-21).
  • The New Testament records three people Jesus raised back to life.
  • The son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15)
  • The daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56)
  • Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, of Bethany (John 11:1-45)
Jesus also sent His disciples out with these instructions: “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons” (Matthew 10: 7-8). In the book of Acts, Peter raised Dorcas back to life (Acts 9:36-42) and Paul raised Eutychus back to life (Acts 20:7-12).

However, raising the dead did not end with Jesus and the apostles. It has continued down through the history of the Church. Here are some examples, abstracted from my book, Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church.
  • Ireneaus records a church community that, through prayer and fasting, saw a dead brother restored to life. (ANF Vol. 1, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 31, Section 2)
  • Sozomen, in his Ecclesiastical History, tells of a pregnant women who fell from a height in the church and died on the spot but was restored to life at the prayer of the congregation. (NPNF Second Series, Vol. 2, Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 7, Chapter 5)
  • St. Augustine, in his City of God, tells of a Christian woman of Caspalium who became ill and died but was restored to life. Also a young Syrian girl at Hippo, the son of a man named Ireneaus, and an infant that died — all brought back to life in the name of Jesus. (NPNF, First Series, Vol. 2, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 8).
  • Sozomen tells of a man who man who was brought back to life under the ministry of Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem. (NPNF Second Series, Vol 2. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 1)
  • Martin of Tours restored to life a man who had hanged himself. (NPNF Second Series, Vol. 11, Suplicius Severus, On the Life of St. Martin of Tours, Chapters 7-8)
  • Martin also brought a young boy back to life (NPNF Second Series, Vol. 11, Suplicius Severus, Second Dialogue, Chapter 4)
  • John Cassian tells of a dead man raised again to life by Abbot Macarius of Egypt. (NPNF, Second Series, Vol. 11, Conferences of John Cassian, The Second Conference of Abbot Nesteros)
  • Benedict of Nursia (the father of western monasticism) raised to life again a young monk who had died. He also restored the son of a country man back to life (from the Second Book of Dialogues, Chapter 11 and Chapter 32, by Gregory the Great)
  • St. Dominic restored a man to life (Brewer, Dictionary of Miracles, pp. 80-81. Citing Edward Kinesman, Lives of the Saints, 1623)
  • St. Vincent Ferrier is also recorded as raising the dead on a couple of different occasions. (Ibid, p. 86, citing Peter Ranzano, Life of St. Vincent Ferrier)
  • John Welch, one of the Scottish Covenanters, raised a young nobleman back to life. (Howie, Biographica Scotiana)
Even today, many people have been brought back to like in the name of Jesus. (These examples are also cited in my book.)
  • Archbishop Benson Idahosa, of Nigeria, restored to life an infant girl who had been dead for two hours. He also raised his wife who had been dead for over a half hour.
  • British evangelist Smith Wigglesworth is said to have raised 13 or 14 people from the dead. Roberts Lairdon records one of these in his book, God’s Generals. Stanley H. Frodsham describes a few other in Smith Wigglesworth: Apostle of Faith.
  • Roland and Heidi Baker, founders of Iris Ministries, tell of many who have been raised form the dead in Mozambique. They record some of these in their book Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision Among the Poorest Children on Earth
  • Ben Peters, of Kingdom Sending Center, reports numerous modern-day resurrections in his book Resurrection: A Manual for Raising the Dead.
  • David Hogan, founder of Freedom Ministries, an outreach to the peoples of Latin America, records numerous resurrections. Reports of this ministry estimate that out of 2,300 attempts, about three hundred have been raised from the dead.
  • Early in 2002, Christ for All Nations, founded by evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, released a video called Raised From The Dead: A 21st Century Miracle Resurrection Story. It documents how Daniel Ekekchukwu, a Nigerian pastor who was fatally injured in an automobile accident, was certified dead and even embalmed, was miraculously restored to life after three days through prayer and faith in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • James Rutz recounts that same incident in his book Megashift: Igniting Spiritual Power. He also gives several other examples of the dead being restored to life in Guatemala, Mexico, South Africa and India by the power of the Holy Spirit. One woman he interviewed, a sixty-year-old Dalit from New Delhi who converted to Christ, was involved in sixteen resurrections in the six years she had been in ministry.
Here are a couple of recent videos about Jesus believers bringing the dead back to life.

Miracle on Rama Cay Island from Global Celebration, 
the ministry of Georgian and Winnie Banov.

DEAD RAISER (Official Trailer) HD from Mountain Light Cinema.

You can find additional examples here. God is still doing what He has always done in His Church.

Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church
Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit
in the History of the Church

by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Faith Claims in Public

Someone has argued, publicly, that public arguments should not be based on faith claims. Sounds like he was making a public faith claim about public faith claims, in which case his argument is self-defeating.

Faith is an understanding. Faith is a decision one continually makes. Faith is a commitment. Christian faith is enabled by God: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, and no one can confess, apart from the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is Lord. Because of the divine element involved, faith is more than merely a preference. Faith is also more than private, because it affects every area of one’s life, both private and public.

Everything comes down to faith claims because everything comes down to one’s philosophy, worldview, presuppositions or assumptions. Eliminate all faith claims and you eliminate all discussion about anything. It is important, then, to be able to identify what our philosophies, worldviews, presuppositions or assumptions are, to recognize what lens we are looking at the world through and how it might affect how we see.

Our presuppositions are not irrelevant. They are the foundations upon which we build the rest of our thoughts. They are the lens through which we view the world and identify this as “evidence” or that as “fact.” Not all presuppositions, assumptions or philosophies are equal, and they must each be evaluated. And, of course, not everyone will agree on what value is to be given to each. But everyone should be aware of their own presuppositions (actually, the complex of presuppositions they hold), and the nature of those presuppositions as being, ultimately, matters of faith.

I acknowledge my presuppositions as including a faith in the existence of God, that He has revealed Himself in the world and that He has given us revelation of Himself in a holy book. Others do not share those presuppositions but presuppose the opposite. However, if they claim to have knowledge that is not based on revelation, even that begins with presupposition. For example, it is a presupposition that there even is such a knowledge base apart from revelation, or of what that knowledge base consists. These are presuppositions of epistemology (principles of how we know anything).

Every truth claim is essentially a faith claim, a statement of what one believes, for whatever reason, revelatory or non-revelatory, to be true. Every claim to knowledge is likewise a faith claim, a statement of what one believes he knows. The man who is aware of his faith claims (philosophies, presuppositions, etc.) has an advantage over the man who is not.

Let every faith claim, then, come to the table and be analyzed. However, to analyze a faith claim one must first be aware of the faith claim they are bringing. The person I referred to above made a faith claim about faith claims and apparently did not even realize he was doing so. The result, in this case, was the incoherence of making public the faith claim that faith claims have no business being made public.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How the Book of Acts Begins and Ends

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The other week I came to realization about the book of Acts, particularly about how it begins and how it ends. Now, I already knew how it begins and I also knew how it ends. But what occurred to me is that it begins and ends with the same theme. See if you can spot it:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:30-31)
Do you see it? Can you identify the common theme? Acts begins with Jesus during the forty days between His resurrection from the dead and His ascension to His throne in heaven at the right hand of the Father. And what does He do during those forty days? He speaks to the disciples about things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

The book of Acts closes decades later with Paul under house arrest in Rome for preaching the gospel. He was there for two whole years. And what does he do during all that time? What is the theme of His preaching and teaching? The kingdom of God, and everything that concerns King Jesus the Messiah.

What do you think is the significance of that? And what do you suppose that says about all that is recorded in the middle, between the beginning and the ending?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

There is Always Joy!

ISBN 978-0-9823536-4-6  (Paperback)
5.5 x 8.5 in., 138 pages ~ $9.99 USD
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PAUL was in prison. The Jesus believers at Philippi were facing increasing persecution. Add to that an undercurrent of personal disagreements and division in the fellowship, and things were not looking very bright. Yet Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” There is always joy, and in his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul shows us how to find it.

Joy saturates this letter. It shows up in unexpected turnarounds in the midst of difficult circumstances. It is found in knowing Jesus in His humble, self-giving servanthood, in the power of His resurrection — and even in the fellowship of His suffering. It is discovered as together we pursue the Jesus-shaped life. In this book you will also learn about:
  • God’s blessing of favor and total well-being
  • How divine humility is divine greatness
  • The power of God at work in you to both desire and do His good pleasure
  • The attitude that can fill you with joy
  • The attitude that can rob you of joy
  • The joy of heaven on earth
  • How to replace worry with divine peace
  • Paul’s secret to contentment in all things
These are “bite-size” studies to help guide you through Paul’s letter, a little at a time. At the end of each study are focus questions to help you think further about the truths Paul brings. They are open-ended questions to allow for maximum personal reflection and group discussion.