Category Archives: Apologetics
Recently I taught a Bible study on the story of “Doubting Thomas” to my Bible class at church, and again at a local prison. We read in John 20:24-29 how Thomas said he would not believe Jesus was alive unless he saw the nail prints in His hands and put his hand into His side where He was pierced. Then Jesus appeared to Thomas and encouraged him to do just that! Thomas responded with his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”
I asked both classes, What lessons do we learn about responding to doubters from how Jesus responded to “Doubting” Thomas?
The Bible class at church gave six answers:
1. Don’t “blast” them; don’t attack them for their doubt
2. Show them what they need; give them evidence, books to read, etc.
3. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead
4. Be loving, compassionate, not judgmental
5. Pray for them
6. Plant the seeds and be patient
The Bible study group in prison added two more answers:
7. Share my own testimony
8. Live my life in a way that shows Jesus is real.
How about you? What have you found that is helpful to respond to those who doubt the faith? What has helped you in times of doubt?
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” – Romans 1:18, ESV
A subject preachers avoid
Many preachers like to talk about God’s love and kindness and say virtually nothing about God’s judgment. So when people see references to God’s wrath, they often get a picture of a primitive tribe in the jungle that thinks it has to sacrifice somebody to appease their angry God. Yet there it is in Romans 1:18. “The wrath of God is being revealed…” Has God lost his temper?
Apparently even the apostle Paul was aware of this kind of thinking, because in Romans 3:5 he asks, “What shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?”
Is wrath unworthy of God?
So is wrath unworthy of God? No, not at all. When the Bible talks about God’s wrath, it is referring to His just anger, much as we have justified outrage when we hear about the abuse of a child. Our problem is that we are comfortable with sin that God, in His holiness, finds offensive. But God’s wrath is never vindictive, nor is He an angry monster. God’s wrath is something people choose, and God uses. Let me explain what I mean.
God gave them up
After mentioning the wrath of God in Romans 1:18, we read this phrase three times in verses 25, 26 and 28: “God gave them up” or “God gave them over.” What does this mean to say “God gave them up”? Does it mean God gave up on sinners? No, C.S. Lewis explained it well, when he said that basically, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will say, “thy will be done.” Because when we refuse to obey God, God gives us over to the consequences of our sin.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5:5 the purpose of God giving us over to the consequences of our sin, “hand this man over to Satan, so the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”
The purpose of God’s wrath
God knows that if we suffer the consequences of our sin, in order that we, like the prodigal son, will hit rock bottom, realize we have nowhere else to turn, and cry out to God for salvation. And that is when we understand our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of God’s wrath is to show us our need for the Savior.
Once I met a man at the gym, who told me his testimony of how he was a mean man, who drank and gambled and mistreated his wife and children. I asked him what happened, and he said he lost it all. His wife left him and took the children, and he hit bottom. That’s when he trusted in Jesus Christ, when he had nothing left and he realized his need for God. You could say that God gave him up. But the result was for his good, and for his salvation. That’s good news!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17, NIV
I’m ashamed of many things in my own past and things I see in society– I’m ashamed that crack cocaine is sold in every town in America, I’m ashamed that there are 800,000 abortions a year in our nation, I’m ashamed that we preachers have been in the news more for our sins than our sermons, but I’m not ashamed of the gospel! Why? Let me give you four reasons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:16-17:
1. Because the gospel is powerful (v. 16)
The Roman empire fell, but the gospel endured and grew. Nothing could stop it. It’s not just a nice story about a good man, but a life-changing story about the God-man, Jesus Christ.
2. Because the gospel can save anybody (v. 16)
Every other religion is limited to certain geographical regions of the world, but Christianity has spread to every continent, because it is a message from all people. It’s not just for good, upstanding people, either. God had a plan to work through the “Jew first,” because He called Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets to prepare the way for Jesus to come at just the right time. If God went to that much trouble to get the gospel to all, don’t think it can’t save you!
3. Because the gospel reveals God’s righteousness (v. 17)
The gospel is not about me and my righteousness, but God, and His righteousness. It shows off God’s goodness. I owed a debt I could not pay, so Jesus paid the debt He did not owe, when He died on the cross for my sin.
4. Because the gospel is all about faith (v. 17)
Literally, this verse says the gospel is “out of faith into faith.” In other words, it’s all about faith, from beginning to end. Some 500 years ago, Martin Luther was a frustrated Catholic monk, trying to obtain his righteousness before God. He tried all the good deeds, rituals and sacraments he could, to no avail. Then he discovered freedom in this verse, “The righteous shall live by faith!” Martin Luther began a revolution, called the Protestant Reformation, based on the truth of the gospel, which declares us right with God by faith in Jesus Christ.
No problem, no pressure, no persecution can turn me back from this gospel. I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the fifth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5, NKJV
I often meet people praying for the sick who claim Isaiah 53:5 as a promise that God will heal any sickness if they pray for it in faith. Their logic is straightforward: the prophet said that the Messiah would be crucified for our sins, “and by His stripes we are healed.” Thus, they conclude, the verse is saying that Jesus’ cross has two effects: first, Christ paid for our sins, and second, He also heals our diseases, if we pray in faith. After all, they reason, didn’t Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well?” (Mark 5:34).
Is this really what Isaiah 53:5 is teaching? Does it teach a two-part effect of the cross: a healing from both sin and sickness? This interpretation fails to take into consideration the kind of Hebrew poetic writing used here, often called Hebrew parallelism. That is, the Hebrew poet frequently says the same thing twice in slightly different ways, for emphasis. We see this in many psalms, such as, “While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have being” (Psalm 146:2). If this is Hebrew parallelism, then the second part means the same thing as the first part, and the first part says the Messiah was wounded for our transgressions, not our sickness. But what if this is not Hebrew parallelism?
Here is where we need to apply a very important but often neglected principle of Bible interpretation: scripture itself is the best interpreter of other scripture. So what does the rest of the Bible say on this subject?
The New Testament frequently discusses the effect of the cross of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-25 speaks of how Jesus’ blood justifies us from sin, redeems us from sin, and presents Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. Ephesians 1:7 says His blood gives us forgiveness from our sin. Colossians 1:20-22 says Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross, in order to present you “holy and blameless” before God. Many other scriptures talk about how the cross of Christ offers salvation from sin, but nowhere does the New Testament say that the cross of Christ brings healing from sickness.
Is Isaiah 53:5 directly quoted anywhere else in the Bible? Yes, it is, in 1 Peter 2:24. Here it is:
“Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
If Isaiah 53:5 was intended to be a prophecy that Jesus’ cross would heal from sickness as well as sin, then when Peter quoted that very same verse, surely Peter would have mentioned the effect of the cross on sickness. Yet it is not there. Read the verse again. It says Jesus “bore our sins in His own body…” It continues, “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” After making reference to sin twice, Peter then quoted Isaiah 53:5: “by whose stripes you were healed.” There is no question what kind of healing Peter understood Isaiah to mean. He already said it twice: healing from our sins.
Remember this important principle: the best interpreter of scripture is other scripture, not a human preacher or teacher. Should we pray for the sick? Yes, we are commanded to do so (Matthew 10:8; James 5:14). Is God able to heal the sick? Yes, and He often chooses to do so, although not always (Acts 5:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). However, does Isaiah 53:5 teach that the cross of Christ is a promise of physical healing for us to claim in faith? Based on the interpretation of scripture itself, we can only conclude that it is a promise for one type of healing– the greatest kind of all– from our sin.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” — Genesis 1:26, HCSB
Essay Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
The Bible says that human beings are made in the image of God. Scholars debate the theological significance of this– that humans resemble God as spiritual beings, rule with God as stewards of His creation, and have a relationship with God by faith. But let’s come down to earth and think about the practical significance of this:
If we are made in the image of God, then abortion is wrong, and murder is wrong, euthanasia is wrong and war is wrong unless it can be shown to be justified by saving more lives than it takes, because these things kill a soul that is made to be with Jesus.
If we are made in the image of God, then racism is wrong, sexism is wrong, pornography is wrong, kidnapping is wrong, and slavery is wrong, because it devalues somebody who is made in the likeness of the king of kings.
If we are made in the image of God, then it is wrong to abuse a child, or abuse a wife or husband, or abuse an elderly person; and it is wrong to neglect and mistreat people because they are poor or mentally unstable or mentally handicapped, physically disabled, or unable to care for themselves due to illness. For each human life is a spiritual life, capable of spending eternity with Christ, so how we treat them down here on earth will be remembered forever up there in heaven.
I. First reason: The First Cause. (Psalm 90:2)
Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” So God has always existed, but the universe has not always existed. The universe had a beginning, when God created it out of nothing.
But why should we believe this? We have clear evidence that the universe has not always existed. Instead, it began to exist. If it began to exist, what started it? What was the first cause? The answer is God!
Someone might ask, “How do we know the universe has not always existed? How do we know that it started sometime in the past?” We know this from logic, and science also confirms it.
Think about it. It is logically impossible for the past to go into infinity. It is impossible to count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive. In the same way, if the past went on into infinity, we could never arrive at the present. But here we are! So there must have been a beginning. (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 219-223)
Science has also given us reason to believe in a first cause. In 1929, astronomer Edward Hubble discovered that a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. Scientists today agree that the universe is expanding, because it had a beginning, which they often call the “Big Bang.” Scientists don’t know what caused the big bang, they just know it happened. But as Christians, we know that caused the Big Bang. God spoke, and bang! It happened.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only scientific reason to believe in a first cause. There is also the second law of thermodynamics. This scientific law states that the energy in the universe is slowly but surely being used up. Like a fire that eventually burns out, all the energy in the universe is eventually going to disappear. Now here’s where it gets interesting. If the universe existed for eternity in the past, then it would have already used up all the energy by now. But here we are, with energy still available to use. So the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning in the past. What other way is there to explain this beginning, except that an all-powerful, supernatural person was the first cause? (Groothuis, p. 224-226)
The only answer atheists can have to this, is to argue that the universe was caused by nothing but a pure accidental explosion. Not only does it take more faith to believe the beautiful complexity of the universe had no cause, but such belief would also mean that everything in life is meaningless, and has no cause or reason. So would you prefer to believe that an all-powerful Creator spoke the word and brought the universe into being with a purpose, or would you prefer to believe that everything began from no cause, and life has no meaning? The choice is yours, but thank God we have a better choice than to live a meaningless life that began by nothing and has no purpose. Instead, it makes far more sense to believe that there was a First Cause, a supernatural Being, who brought the universe into existence, and that our lives do have purpose and meaning.
II. Second reason: Self-Consciousness. (Genesis 2:9; Romans 7:22)
Those who believe in Darwinian evolution, think that the human being is a mere biological collection of atoms that assembled by chance over a long period of time.
The Bible, on the other hand, says that God formed mankind from the earth, and we became a “living being.” (Genesis 2:9). Romans 7:22 talks about understanding something “in my inner self.” Whether or not you believe the Bible, we all know that we have an inner self, a self-consciousness. As the philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I have an awareness of my own self; I have something within myself that makes me to be me.
But where in the human body is my consciousness located? Where is my self-awareness? No scientist has located it. Nobody can tell you that in this part of the brain, or any other place on the human body, is the location of self-consciousness. Nobody can tell you where it is, yet we know we have it.
And if I am only a biological collection of chemicals, then how do we explain the human appreciation for beauty, music, poetry and art, and how do you explain love?
If you are an atheist, there is no explanation for it. But if you believe in God, the answer is simple: God put it there.
III. Third reason: Religious Experience (John 9:25)
The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, “He [the blind man] replied, ‘Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'”
In Isaiah 6:1-5, Isaiah had a face-to-face encounter with the Lord in the temple; in Acts 9:1-9, Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a life-changing conversion experience.
This series of blog posts was originally presented as a series of sermons at the church I was serving in near Savannah, Georgia. When I presented the message, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University, came forward at the end of the early worship service to publicly profess her faith, and at the second morning service, she gave her testimony to the congregation. She told how she did not believe in the existence of God, but she began to seek God. She heard all of the same arguments for the existence of God that we have talked about last week and this week, but she was still undecided about whether she believed. Then she decided to go with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Armstrong Atlantic State University on a mission trip to Haiti. That week, she prayed, and said, “God, if you are there, will you reveal Yourself to me.” Later in the week, she was walking through a voodoo area of Haiti, where all of the statues had been destroyed by the earthquake, and she looked up and saw a statue of Jesus on the cross. Her friend had been encouraging her to have faith in God, and right then she looked up and saw the statue. She decided that if she turned away then, she would never believe. That experience finally brought her to belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ.
The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.
Atheists sometimes claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believed in God, great musicians like Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach believed in God, great artists like Leonardo da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God. My late uncle, Dr. R.A. Clinton, Jr., was a rocket scientist who worked alongside Van Braun in building a satellite at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. My uncle later became the leading American expert on Russian missile technology. Yet brilliant as he was, Uncle R.A. was also a believer, who taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Huntsville for over 25 years.
Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. However, atheists must also face the fact that millions of people were massacred by atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao-tse Tung. Atheists are correct that people with distorted views of God have done great harm, whether they were misguided people who claimed to follow Christ, as in the Crusades, or the brutal terrorists of ISIS. This points to the fact that it is not enough to believe in the existence of God; one needs to know the personal God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him. True followers of Christ have fed millions of hungry and in the name of God millions of sick have been nursed to health. After Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of churches and Christian organizations came to help. The life-changing experience of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is the greatest reason I know to believe in God. How about you? Do you believe?
A lot of Christian films have poor acting and predictable scripts, so I was quite surprised at how good this movie was. Of course, it was predictable in defending the belief in God, but it presented that message in a way that was creative and hip. The film introduced a variety of characters but did not show how they all connect until later in the film, giving the subplots an unpredictability, even as the main plot was fairly much what the viewer expected. It targeted a young audience, as the protagonist and most of the primary actors were young adults who constantly used smart phones, computers, and visual media to communicate, and it all came to a conclusion during a Christian rock concert.
The acting was outstanding, both by the lead characters and the supporting roles. It was some of the best acting that I’ve seen in a Christian film. The dramatic tension made a very intellectual argument interesting, bringing it to a climax that was so strong that the theater audience where I was broke out into loud applause. Atheists will hate this film, but they cannot dismiss it as simple-minded or shallow. But what might infuriate atheists the most was that the movie showed that it is not only reasonable to be a believer, but it can even be cool to be a believer.
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When it comes to studying the Bible, not only are there many choices of translations, but also many choices of study Bibles. Here is an overview of some that I have found helpful.
There are several general study Bibles that are connected directly to a certain translation of the Bible. If a person cannot afford an entire set of commentaries, or wishes to have commentary on the whole Bible in one volume, these study Bibles are the best option. The NASB Study Bible (also available with the same notes as the NIV Study Bible), the HCSB Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible and the Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) are examples of this. Each of these study Bibles have extensive introductions to the books of the Bible, maps, and notes at the bottom of the page to explain the text in the particular translation used. The ESV Study Bible is the most scholarly and exhaustive of these study Bibles. The HCSB Study Bible is in a more popular style, and makes the best use of color, making it the easiest to read. The Jeremiah Study Bible has notes by popular Bible teacher, Dr. David Jeremiah.
Some study Bibles focus on a special purpose. The Archaeological Study Bible (NIV) includes notes and articles that explain the cultural and historical background of the Bible. The Life Essentials Study Bible (HCSB) and Life Application Bible (available in NLT, NIV, NKJV, NASB) focus on applying the truths of scripture to our lifestyle. The Life Essentials Study Bible makes use of QR code. Readers can scan the code with their mobile phone and watch a video of a Bible teacher explaining the passage in greater depth. The Discover God Study Bible (NLT) focuses on devotional and doctrinal truth. This is an excellent study Bible for a new believer. The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB) includes notes and articles that defend the Christian faith against non-Christian religions and skeptics.
All of these study Bibles are excellent resources in shedding light on God’s word. I refer to many of them on a regular basis, depending on how I am studying a particular passage. But none of these aids can substitute for simply reading the text first yourself. I would recommend you read and read again the text and make your own notes on what you observe before you turn to these or any other study aids. After your own study, check your observations with those of the experts. That way, you will allow the Holy Spirit to speak directly to you through scripture, and to speak to you through those who have studied it before you.
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There are many religions; how can you tell which one is true and which is false? Some people say it doesn’t matter, because all religions have truth, but don’t tell that to the former followers of Jim Jones or David Koresh.
In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to the South America to investigate a controversial cult based in San Francisco, named the People’s Temple, that had established a commune in Guyana. There were charges that Jim Jones, the founder of the People’s Temple, had defrauded members and was exerting total control over members by threats of violence. At the airport, Congressman Ryan and four others were shot to death, and then 913 members of the People=s Temple, including Jim Jones, committed mass suicide. (“Jones, Jim.” Encyclopedia Britannica 2005.)
In 1993, David Koresh, leader of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians, stockpiled weapons with his 130 followers at a compound near Waco, Texas. Four federal agents were killed in a shootout with his followers, and for 51 days the government laid siege to the compound. Finally, they attacked the compound and 80 Branch Davidians, including David Koresh, died in a fire. (“Branch Davidians.” Encyclopedia Britannica 2005.)
Many other false religions are not as violent, but equally false. So how can a person tell which one is true and which is false? In the ancient Book of Deuteronomy, we find answers to this question.
I. Beware of False Words (Deuteronomy 18:14-22)
Deuteronomy gives us one of those tests in Deuteronomy 18:21-22.
Verses 21-22 specifically answer the question, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” The answer is, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.” So the first test of false religion is false words. If the religion makes false predictions, the religion is false.
I know of a false religious cult that has predicted the end of the world many times, evening naming the date. They failed this test.
Contrast them with Jesus, who is the true prophet. Deuteronomy 18:17-18 says the Lord will raise up a prophet.
In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and in A.D. 70, it was destroyed exactly as He said. No wonder Acts 3:20-22 says the prophet Moses spoke of is Jesus!
Jesus Himself claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. He speaks the truth; he IS the truth.
II. Beware of False Ways (Deuteronomy 18:9-13)
With the popularity of the Harry Potter novels, witchcraft has almost been sanitized today. And while I realize that the Harry Potter stories are just fantasy, we need to understand that real witchcraft is not taken lightly in the Bible. Beware against thinking that it is okay to delve into magic.
Back up a few verses in Deuteronomy and we find the second test of false religion. Deuteronomy 18:9 warns against the “detestable ways” of the nations in the land the Israelites are entering. Then it proceeds to describe every kind of witchcraft and occult practice you can imagine in verses 10-11.
It gives a specific list here of seven kinds of witchcraft:
1. Human sacrifice. Even today human sacrifice is sometime associated with the occult.
2. Divination and sorcery – using objects to foretell the future, such as psychics, tarot cards, and horoscopes.
3. Interprets omens – interpreting things like cloud or bird movements to reveal the future.
4. Witchcraft – rituals such as charms, spells, and potions
5. Cast spells
6. Medium and spiritist. (Leviticus 20:27 says a medium or spiritist must be put to death)
7. Consults spirits of the dead. Saul did this with the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28) and he was condemned.
Why is this so wrong? Isaiah 8:19 says that when people say let’s consult a spiritist or consult the death, shouldn’t a people consult their God? It is wrong because it is an attempt to get answers to life and foretell the future by consulting dead spirits and earth spirits, rather than depending upon the Holy Spirit of God who indwells the believer in Jesus Christ.
III. Beware of False Worship (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
Remember that we saw in Deuteronomy 18 that false predictions were a warning sign of false religion? But in Deuteronomy 13, scripture informs us that some people might make true predictions and still be false prophets because of false worship. Listen to Deuteronomy 13:1-3: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spokken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.” So add to false words and false ways, a third test: false worship. Even if people in a religion do good deeds and say some good things, it is still false if their worship is false.
Many cult leaders started out well as members of Christian churches, but then they began to exert total control over their members, making themselves the “Messiah.” Many world religions teach good deeds, but they do not believe in the one true God of the Bible. They often worship other gods and have their own books that they claim are inspired by God.
Galatians 1:6-9 says that even if an angel should bring a different message, let him be accursed! 1 Corinthians 12:3 says that no one who is speaking by the spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. The ultimate test is, does this religion exalt Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? If not, the religion practices false worship.
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He IS truth. This is the true religion. Have you trusted in Christ, and Christ alone to save you?
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Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Some people get so caught up debating how to fit different scientific views to the creation account in Genesis chapter one, that they miss the great theological truths in this chapter:
1) God created! Only God can create, and He does simply by speaking the Word, “Let there be…” and creation comes out of nothing (compare Hebrews 11:3).
2) God’s creation is good! Repeatedly, God saw what he created and “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). When He created mankind, He said it was “very good.”
3) God’s creation is under His Lordship. God is the one in control. He speaks, and it comes to be. God alone is to be worshiped, not “Mother Earth” or the sun or moon, which is why God deliberately did not name the sun and moon (Genesis 1:16). Compare Romans 1:25.
4) God’s creation is under mankind’s trusteeship. Man was told to subdue and rule creation (Genesis 1:28), but also to “watch over it” (2:15). We have a responsibility to be good managers, for we don’t own it; God owns it all (compare Psalm 24:1).
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Recently, TV talk-show host Bill Maher said, “God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer.”
Is this true? Many people think so, because of passages in the Old Testament where God allows people to be destroyed, such as Noah and the flood, the plagues on Egypt, and the many wars that Israel fought with their enemies.
There are three things we need to understand, in order to understand the God in the Old Testament.
I. We need to understand what actually happened
Many people are disturbed by the command of God for the destruction of people and cities in the Old Testament, but they are unaware of the culture and history of the time and the Hebrew words used to describe what actually happened. When one takes a closer look at all this, a completely different picture comes to light.
In some cases, the Old Testament is merely reporting what people did, not saying that God commanded that it be done. For example, King Jehu destroyed all of the worshipers of Baal (2 Kings 10:18-27), but the prophet Hosea said that God would punish King Jehu for this act of brutality (Hosea 1:4). So don’t assume that just because the Bible reports acts of cruelty that it means God endorsed those actions.
But the conquest of Canaan was clearly commanded by God. So how do we justify that?
The Canaanites were not innocent. They defiled the land with detestable practices that included incest, pedophilia, bestiality and homosexuality. (Leviticus 18:24-25)
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 gives the invasion policy for when Joshua was to conquer the land of Canaan. God commanded their destruction (herem, devotion to the ban), because of their wickedness. However, when we study the events of conquest of Canaan more closely, we see that it was not the kind of genocide some have made it out to be.
The word translated “city” in Deuteronomy 20:16 and in Joshua is ‘ir, which can mean a walled fortress, like Jerusalem was when David attacked it in 2 Samuel 5:7, 9. We know from history that in ancient times, the ‘ir was like a walled fort. It was an agricultural society, in which the people lived on farms around the ‘ir, but the military stayed in the ‘ir, which was primarily a military citadel, not an urban city as we think of it today. So when the Book of Joshua says that they conquered city after city, they were actually destroying the walled cities, or forts, of the Canaanites. They were taking military targets.
So when Deuteronomy 20:16 says not to let any living thing survive among each “city,” or ‘ir, of the land, God was ordering a military conquest of an evil empire, not a genocide of an innocent people.
II. We need to understand God’s mercy
Notice how the Old Testament describes God’s mercy.
God waited 100 years in Noah’s day for the people to repent. (Genesis 5:32; 7:6)
God waited 400 years to judge Canaan because “the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:16)
God waited for generations for Israel to repent, sending them prophets to warn them. “But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.” (2 Chronicles 36:15) It was only after they failed to repent that God allowed the Jews to be taken into exile in Babylon.
God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11) God is patient, not wanting any to perish. (2 Peter 3:9)
Romans 2:4 turns the question on our own generation: “Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
III. We need to understand God’s justice
We just read 2 Chronicles 36:15, which said that God had compassion on His people “time and time again.” But the next verse, 2 Chronicles 36:16, says, “But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the LORD’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy.”
The other thing we need to understand about God in the Old Testament is that while He is a God of mercy and grace, He is also a God of justice.
Leviticus 18:24-25 explains that God drove the Canaanites out of the land because they had defiled the land with their sinful lifestyles, and God said, “the land will vomit out its inhabitants.” God is a God of mercy, but eventually if we do not repent, His patience will run out, and His moral stomach will be turned against sin until He can hold it back no longer.
In Genesis 6:3, the LORD said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt.” God is merciful, but when mankind continues to reject God’s mercy, God will judge.
As we have seen already, the punishment of the Canaanites was anticipated by God long before it happened, as God told Abraham in Genesis 15:16 that the sin of the Amorites had not reached its full measure. The implication was that when it did reach its full measure, it would then be too late. Throughout the Old and New Testament, we see this pattern: God is a God of grace and mercy who does not wish to punish. But if we continue in rebellion and refuse to repent, eventually God’s patience will run out, and He will execute His justice. We see this with Noah and the flood: God waited 100 years for them to repent, but when they refused, God sent the flood. God waited 400 years for the people in Canaan to repent, but when they refused, He sent Israel to conquer the land. God waited hundreds of years for Israel to repent, but when they refused to listen to the prophets, He allowed them to go into exile. The conquest of Canaan by Joshua and all of the other stories of punishment are not only history, they are also prophecy. It points to the final judgment that we all must face. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” But God has also provided a way to escape Judgment Day, by sending Jesus as a personal sacrifice for our sins.
God is not a bloodthirsty bully at all. God is a blood-giving Savior, who gave the blood of His own Son Jesus on the cross that we might be saved from judgment and spend eternity with Him in Heaven. This is the God of the Bible, both Old and New Testament.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, allowing federal benefits for same-sex marriage partners in States that already have legalized same-sex marriage.
How should we respond to this? Here are a some brief thoughts of my own, and links to what other Christian bloggers are saying:
1) We must respond with Christ-like love. Ranting and raving on Facebook and Twitter and angry words to our friends and family will only confirm the unbeliever’s preconceived notion that Christians are judgmental and narrow-minded.
LifeWay researcher and Southern Baptist author Ed Stetzer calls for gracious, Christ-like responses in his blog: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/june/prop-8-doma-and-christian-response.html.
2) We must prepare to live in a non-Christian culture. Our parents lived in a generation where Judeo-Christian values were the norm. That is no longer the case. We will need to stand by Christian values that are at odds with our culture, and be prepared to graciously endure persecution, if needed, when submission to anti-Biblical standards are demanded of us. Do not conform to this world, but be transformed (Romans 12:1-2).
Sylvania, Georgia youth pastor Steve Dresen reminds us of how the early church responded in a culture that did not share our values: http://stevendresen.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/scotus-same-sex-marriage-and-the-churchs-identity
3) We must not give up. Don’t forget that the majority of States still do not allow same-sex “marriage.” In many nations around the world, such as Africa and Eastern Europe, homosexuality is still considered sinful by the overwhelming majority of people. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament boldy spoke truth to their culture, we too must proclaim the truth, rather than concede defeat. Last year I preached a sermon entitled, “What the Bible teaches about homosexuality may surprise you.” You can read it here: https://bobrogers.me/2012/07/09/what-the-bible-says-about-homosexuality-may-surprise-you/
Roman Catholic scholars make some good points about how the Supreme Court decision does not end the debate and that “gay marriage” is not inevitable. Here is the report from the Catholic News Agency: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/gay-marriage-is-not-inevitable-analysts-say/.
4) We must remember that God is on His throne. God was still on His throne when Noah built the ark, when Moses fled from Pharaoh, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and when Jesus died on the cross. The demise of God and godliness has been overstated many times before, and God always turns it around for good. Rather than despair, Christian, let us get on our needs and pray for a new movement of God that is totally dependent upon the power of God, not the power of politics.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Crime Scene Jerusalem: A Novel by Alton Gansky (published by David C. Cook, 2007) does a masterful job of pulling off a peculiar premise: Max Odom, a forensics expert, is taken back in time to investigate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gansky makes the story much more than believable– he makes it gut-wrenching. The forensics expert doesn’t want to be there, and expresses all of the sarcastic humor of a jaded American man. But when he comes face-to-face with the cross, and sees how Jesus’ death speaks to the pain in his own life, he… well, read the book yourself. You will not be able to put it down, and you’ll be changed by the experience. Gansky describes life and culture in first-century Jerusalem vividly, and Gansky keeps the reader guessing what hurt Max Odom experienced that must come to the surface as he witnesses the Passion of Christ. A fascinating read for the Easter season or any season.