Copyright by Bob Rogers.
“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” repeats the beloved spiritual. “Every rung goes higher higher.” The last verses urge, “Keep on climbing, we will make it,” and finally asks, “Do you want your freedom?” I can just hear Southern slaves singing this as they pick cotton and dream of liberty from oppression. It must have seemed that God was not there, but they found hope in a vision of escaping one day.
Yet when we read the beloved story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28, we find a reassurance not just for the future, but for right now. Jacob had left his father Isaac and mother Rebekah in Canaan, and was on a journey to see his relatives in Mesopotamia, and to find a wife.
Ancient pagans thought that a god only dwelled in the land where he was worshiped. If you left that territory, you also left that god. So what a surprise, when Jacob got a vision in a foreign land, of a stairway from the earth to heaven, and angels going up and down it. Then the Lord himself spoke, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). The God of Jacob’s father’s was not limited to a territory! The Lord continued “Look, I am with you…” (Genesis 28:15.
In amazement, Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning house of God, and said, “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).
What a reassurance to us when we feel that we are in a god-forsaken place, that there is no god-forsaken place, for God is omnipresent, always present, always here. He is not limited by time, place, or circumstances. Look around and see what God is doing right here, right now. Surely, the Lord is in the place where you are, but do you know it?
The Gospel of Matthew opens with the family tree of Jesus, from Abraham through Joseph and Mary. In typical Hebrew fashion, it lists the men, not the women, who “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” each son. Yet of the 42 generations listed, Matthew inserts references to four women other than Mary, the mother of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (who is only called “Uriah’s wife”). Why are these women mentioned?
Matthew is writing to a very religious Jewish audience, and by inserting these names in the genealogy of the Messiah, he is showing us two encouraging truths.
All our welcome. All of the women were foreigners: Tamar was a Canaanite (Genesis 38:6), Rahab was from Jericho (Joshua 2:1-22), Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 1:4), and Bathsheba was a Hittite (2 Samuel 11:3). To a Jewish audience, he was reminding the Chosen People that God welcomes all people to follow Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world.
He came to save sinners. Three of the women were notorious for sexual sin. Tamar seduced her father-in-law Judah (Genesis 38), Rahab was a prostitute (Joshua 2:1), and Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12), which is why she is referred to by Matthew as “Uriah’s wife,” as a reminder of that adultery.
No wonder the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
I’m so glad Jesus’ genealogy included those four women, because it reminds me that He includes me, a non-Jewish sinner in need of a Messiah and Savior.
Charles Spurgeon said in commenting on Matthew 1:21, “The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness but my badness, not my merit but my misery, not my standing but my falling, not my riches but my need. He comes to visit his people– not to admire their beauties but to remove their deformities, not to reward their virtues but to forgive their sins.”
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I recently had my annual check-up with my eye doctor. She said that my left eye needed a stronger prescription. The goal is 20/20 vision, so I got new contact lenses and eyeglasses. With the onset of the year 2020, I expect we may hear many people talk about having a “2020 Vision.”
One of the most popular verses in the Bible about vision is the promise of Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” While we may only see a sea of sorrow around us, in this verse God says that He sees hope over the horizon– a seashore where we will safely land. Knowing this future is coming gives us hope to hang on.
However, there is a danger of taking this verse out of context. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus promising to hand out candy-coated lives without consequences. He is a holy God calling us to repentance. Notice that after the promise of “a future and hope” in verse 11, we read some requirements for its fulfillment in verses 12-14. The Lord says to call on Him in prayer, and He says to seek God “with all your heart,” and then you will find God and He will “end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” Thus, the vision is for those who seek out God and follow Him. In fact, Jeremiah 44:27 warns those who rebel against God that the Lord will be “watching over them for harm, not for good,” the exact opposite of Jeremiah 29:11.
In addition, the first part of this chapter gives a broader perspective to the vision of verse 11. God is not a quick-stop dispenser of immediate happiness; He seeks faithful followers who run the race of faith like a marathon, not a sprint. Notice that the earlier verses in Jeremiah 29 say that they would be going into exile in Babylon for 70 years—so long, in fact, that God told them to settle down in that new place, for they would be there a long time. Yet after telling them that the immediate future looked bleak, God said that He had plans for a hope-filled future! The same God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt after 400 years would rescue them from exile in Babylon after 70 years, and He will rescue you and me at the right time.
Don’t let this bigger picture of Jeremiah 29:11 leave you feeling in the dark. Instead, throw open the windows of your heart and mind to the light of a greater vision of what it means. It means much more than a surface-level promise for fleeting fun—it is a deep, abiding promise for an eternal faith in the Eternal God who has promised eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). That is “a future and a hope” worth waiting for and living for, in 2020 and beyond
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
It was the second game of the 2019 football season, and the New Orleans Saints were looking to get revenge on the Los Angeles Rams, the team that had eliminated them from going to the Super Bowl the previous year in a controversial game featuring a no-call by the refs.
Instead of getting revenge, the unthinkable happened. The Saints’ future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, injured his thumb on his throwing hand, causing him to be sidelined for that game and for weeks on end. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finished the game, but the Saints lost to the Rams. Sports analyst Stephen A. Smith said, “The Saints are done without Drew Brees. Period.”
Fast-forward six weeks later, and the Saints have not lost a single game since losing Drew Brees! Teddy Bridgewater has stepped up to the task and led the team to victory after victory, allowing Brees to rest and rehab.
This sports story should be a valuable reminder to our own stories. Nobody is indispensable! In the Bible, when Moses died, the Lord told Joshua to put Moses in the past, and go conquer the Promised Land (Joshua 1:2)! When King Uzziah died after a long reign, the prophet Isaiah may have feared for the future, but God gave him a vision: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” (Isaiah 6:1, ESV). The king was dead, but the King of kings was still on His throne.
Richard and Henry Blackaby, commenting on how the prophet Elisha continued the work of Elijah, said it well: “God has limitless ways to accomplish His will… We deceive ourselves if we think we are indispensable to God. Service to the Lord is an honor He bestows on us, not a favor we do for Him. If you are mourning the loss of one of your leaders, do not despair. God has another leader, for He will see that His will is carried out. It may even be that He has been preparing you to be that leader” (Blackaby, Experiencing God Day by Day, devotional for July 29).
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m happy for Teddy Bridgewater and the New Orleans Saints, and I hope that Drew Brees gets to play again. But God is more interested in His saints than those Saints. So let’s keep these truths in balance: God may use you or me at any time He wants, but when He does, let us serve with humility and gratitude, and remember that none of us are indispensable or irreplaceable. I’m sure that Drew and Teddy would agree.
Article copyright by Larry Robertson.
(Below is a guest column written by my friend Larry Robertson, senior pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, Tennessee.)
Perhaps you’ve heard by now that the New Orleans Saints got robbed of a chance to go to the Super Bowl, during the closing moments of the NFC Championship Game on January 20, 2019. Even the NFL admits that pass interference should’ve been called on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and that the call would’ve most likely led to the win for the Saints…and a trip to the Super Bowl. But after the Rams player virtually assaulted Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis at a critical point in the game, no yellow flag was thrown.
This is not opinion; it’s a verifiable fact. Robey-Coleman even admits that the refs missed the call. But, per league rules, judgment calls like pass interference are not subject to video review.
Life’s not fair.
That’s one of the most basic life lessons that parents should teach their children, because they’re going to experience it soon enough on their own. At least if you’re expecting it (as much as you can expect the unexpected), the reality of it all won’t knock the breath out of you when you get kicked in the gut.
Life’s not fair.
In Genesis 39, Joseph was falsely accused of sexual assault by his employer’s wife but only because he refused her relentless sexual advances. Joseph did the right thing. Yet he was thrown into prison by his employer, Potiphar, who understandably believed his wife’s false narrative.
Life’s not fair.
“…But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him…” (Genesis 39:20-21). Life’s not fair; that’s true. But the LORD is faithful: He’s faithful in His presence…He’s faithful in His providence…He’s faithful in His promises.
I really believe that one reason some folk “lose faith” is that they mistakenly think that God’s will is always to manipulate circumstances for people of faith so that they get to eat cotton candy while riding unicorns through rainbows. And certainly no one will ever be able to push you down without a penalty! But that’s as false a narrative as Potiphar’s wife’s.
Read Romans 8:31-39. Read the list of hardships that Paul detailed. Take note, though, of verse 37. “…in all these things we are more than conquerors…” Not “in THE ABSENCE OF all these things,” but “IN all these things.”
Listen, life’s not fair. But the LORD is faithful. So, count on that…
God the Father, who gave us Your Son,
What shall I render You for the gift of gifts?
Here is wonder of wonders:
He came down below to raise me above,
was born, like me that I might become like Him.
Here is love:
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.
Here is power:
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated with the created.
Here is wisdom:
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him, and no intellect to devise recovery,
He came, God in flesh, to save me completely,
as man to die my death.
O God, as the watchful shepherds enlarge my mind,
to hear good news of great joy, and hearing to praise You,
Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith.
In Him You have given me so much that heaven can give no more.
Adapted from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.
How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
Copyright 2018 by Bob Rogers
For three decades as a preacher and teacher, I have studied and taught the Book of Revelation. I have sought to balance symbolism with the literal return of Jesus Christ. One of the thorniest questions has been, How do we understand the chronological sequence of prophecy in Revelation? The most helpful way to see it is what I call the “Rising Tide” theory. Let me explain why I think this, and then explain the theory.
The problem: As one studies the Revelation, we notice that in numerous places, the prophecies seem to describe the end times long before the end of the book. Revelation 6:17 speaks of how the great day of wrath has come, and that’s in the very first chapter of prophecy after the Lamb breaks open the seals! Revelation 11:19 says that God’s temple in heaven opened, preparing for the end, yet in the next chapter, Revelation 12, the gospel story is repeated from heaven’s viewpoint with the images of the birth and resurrection of Christ. Revelation 14:14-20 speaks of the harvest of God’s judgment (again sounding like the end), but then the following chapters revert back, coming to a climax in Revelation 19 with the rider coming on white horse (Jesus), the beast (antichrist) and false prophet cast into lake of fire. From that point forward, the chronology in chapters 20-22 appears to follow a direct line to the end, with Satan bound a thousand years, then thrown into lake of fire, and a new heaven and new earth, and invitation to respond.
The “Rising Tide” explanation: How are we to find a chronological order of prophecy in all of this? Instead of seeing the prophecies in chapters 6 and following as a straight line chronological order, I think we should interpret them like the waves during the rising tide of the seashore. That is, the prophecies appear to move near the end, then go back and repeat, each time coming close to the end times, just as the rising tide comes in waves to the seashore, receding, then coming farther in, receding again but eventually coming in farther and farther. I believe this interpretation honors the reality of the text, taking seriously the symbolism but also trusting in its truthfulness. Revelation is a powerful book, inspired by God to steadily wash over us with our need to have our names written in His book of life. By repeatedly warning us of the end, instead of just one description of the end, the constant waves of its truth have a greater affect on our hearts to fall down in worship before the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
Just because a person is in the pew doesn’t mean he or she will listen. How do you keep them from tuning out? Here are five ways:
1. Be creative. “It’s a sin to make the word of God boring.” So said one of my seminary professors. I agree. If the congregation knows that every sermon will have the traditional “three points and a poem,” they may tune you out simply because you are predictable. Why not try a different approach from time to time? If the passage is primarily a story, consider telling the story dramatically. If the text seems to have two main points or five main points, why not preach a sermon with that many points? If the passage is poetry, consider using music or other art to illustrate the text. Jim Burnett gives more advice on how to be creative in your preaching here.
2. Speak their language. Sometimes people tune us out because we aren’t speaking to their mindset. Failing to do so is like speaking in English to a French audience. Many women tire of constant illustrations from sports, and the well-educated and young people especially tune out statements that come across as judgmental or condescending. The best way to speak the mindset of your congregation is to know your people. Spending time with them, listening to their stories and opinions, and learning about their hobbies and interests, can make all the difference in the pastor’s preaching. The preacher does not have to agree with them; in fact, sometimes he will need to challenge their thinking, but if he knows them and has earned their trust, he can speak in a way that they will listen. Along these lines, the staff of Facts and Trends have compiled a useful article on how to engage nine different kinds of people with the Bible in this article.
3. Make messages on stewardship positive. One of the most challenging topics for ministers to discuss is stewardship. I have found it useful to do a stewardship emphasis by giving short talks on principles of giving early in the service, and then preach the main sermon on a different subject. This touches on stewardship, yet takes away the excuse that “all the church does is talk about money.” It is also important to keep the subject positive, praising and thanking those who give, and talking about the great ministry of the church that people want to support with their offerings. Todd McMichen has some helpful hints on stewardship messages here.
4. Learn how to defend the faith. Many preachers and teachers recognize the need for apologetics (defending the faith), but often feel inadequate doing it. When you prepare a sermon, stop and think what objections people may have. How might a non-believer or person from a different faith background disagree? Write down the questions of your imaginary skeptic. Then seek to give a reasonable answer to the objections of that imaginary person. A great resource is The Apologetics Study Bible, which has notes right in the text to answer objections of skeptics and explain responses to non-Christian interpretations of scripture. This article by Andy McLean should help, as well.
5. Preach with passion. Passionate preaching is not about using a loud voice; in fact, it may be a low voice. Passionate preaching is from heart-felt conviction. When the congregation can feel that you are deeply convinced of what you are saying, they will be impacted by the Spirit of God. This comes from being personally moved by God by the scripture, and bathing the matter in prayer. That is why there is no substitute for much study and soul-searching prayer in preparation for the sermon.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Motivational author Jim Collins coined the term “BHAG” (BEE-hag), or “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” to inspire businesses to have a great vision. For example, the BHAG of Microsoft was, “A computer on every desk in every home.” The BHAG of Ford was “democratize the automobile.”
In Romans 15:20, the apostle Paul stated his ambition: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” In fact, Paul had a BHAG to accomplish it:
Bold. In verse 15, Paul comments that he had written them boldly. In Ephesians 6:19, he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be a bold preacher. He was bold. He boldly stood before Greek philosophers, Roman officials, and hostile Jewish synagogues all over his world to proclaim Jesus. Do you have a bold goal for Jesus?
Holy. In verse 16, Paul desires to be “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Sanctified means to be holy (set apart) to God. A bold goal does no good if it’s not a godly goal. Repeatedly in Leviticus, God said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 20:8, etc.)
Acceptable. Also in verse 16, Paul says his ministry is “an offering acceptable to God.” Likewise in Romans 12:1, Paul urges Christians to offer themselves as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God.” It matters not if our goals are acceptable to people, but it makes all the difference if they are pleasing to God. Are your ambitions acceptable and pleasing to God?
God-driven. In verses 17-19 Paul talks about God, not about himself. He speaks of his pride in Christ, not in himself; he says he doesn’t have anything to speak about except what Christ has done. Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who endured concentration camps in World War II. Two newspaper reporters went to hear him speak when he came to America, but they were disappointed. One said to the other, “Six years in a Nazi camp, and all he has to talk about is Jesus Christ.” May they say the same about you and me!
William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” What is your BHAG for God?
Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson
(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)
I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.
Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?” I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”
Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”
I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.
“YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”
The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”
She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.
Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.
Dead and yet I see
By: Chaplain Brian Williamson
I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,
‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.
Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,
Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.
Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see
That painful things in life make sense in eternity.
Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,
But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.
God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,
I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.
Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.
The film Paul, Apostle of Christ, is unlike some recent Bible films that retell the story from scripture. This film creates a fictional story of the Gospel writer Luke (played by Jim Caviezel), who seeks out the apostle Paul (played by James Faulkner) in prison in Rome, to collect stories for the Acts of the Apostle.
All of the story of the film is set in Rome, with Luke going back and forth from visits to Paul in prison, to visits with the Christian community hiding in Rome, led by the Biblical personalities Aquila and Priscilla. Thus, it is a slow-moving plot. However, it uses these scenes to show the violent persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero, and for Paul to flash back to memories of his own persecution of Christians before coming to the faith. The Roman commander of the prison who has a sick daughter becomes involved in the fictional storyline, which serves to further illustrate the Christian faith and martyrdom of Paul.
While the plot moves slowly, this film is not so much about the plot as it is about the characters and what they experienced, and the characters are developed well, helping you feel the emotion and real struggles of trying to have faith in God in a dark and evil world. Faulkner is very convincing as Paul. Aquila and Priscilla also portray a Christian married couple who show respect and love for each other. The acting, costumes, scenery, music and cinematography are outstanding.
Although most of the film is fictional, it seeks to carefully follow what is known from the Bible. For example, the film shows Luke making sure a letter is delivered from Paul to Timothy, and quotes extensively from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. A study of the last part of that letter mentioned “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11) and sends greetings to Priscilla and Aquila (2 Timothy 4:19), whom the film depicts as escaping Rome to be with Timothy.
Especially powerful is how the film deals with Paul’s inner struggle with guilt over killing Christians, yet accepting Christ’s grace and forgiveness. This is beautifully resolved at the end of the movie in a particularly moving scene. The film should spark great discussions about what it is like to live out the faith in a non-Christian world.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
There are more Jews in the United States than live in Israel, and more Jews in New York City than Jerusalem. Thus many American Christians have Jewish friends, and wonder about their eternal destiny. Many people believe that Jews will be saved just because they are God’s chosen people, but a study of Romans almost seems to say the opposite.
In Romans 9:6, the apostle Paul said, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” He said in 9:30-31 that the Gentiles had obtained a righteousness by faith, but Israel pursued a righteousness by the law and failed to obtain it.
In Romans 10, Paul said that the Jews had heard and understood, but failed to believe.
So he comes to Romans 11:1, and asks, “Did God reject his people?” His answer in verse 2: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” So what does God say will happen to the Jews? Will the Jews be saved?
In Romans 11, Paul answers this question in the present, and in the future.
1. At the present time, only a few Jews are saved (Rom. 11:1-24)
In the first part of the chapter, Paul discusses the situation of the Jews during his time, a situation that we still observe today. The key statement is in verse 5: “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” They are saved by grace, not race.
Paul himself was a Jew. He stresses this in verse 1, saying, “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul reminds his readers that there are still Jews like himself who follow Jesus, and that is true to this day, although they are a small percentage of the Jewish population (by some estimates, about 100,000 Jewish people are “Messianic Jews” who follow Jesus as their Messiah.)
Paul senses a danger here, and he issues two warnings to his Gentile readers. He says in verse 13, “I am talking to you Gentiles.” Then he proceeds to use an analogy of an olive tree to explain the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the story of salvation. This is an appropriate illustration, because an olive tree was often used in scripture as a symbol for Israel. Paul says that the olive tree has some branches broken off, which represents the fact that many Jews have rejected the gospel, and then he says in verse 17, “and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others…”
Thus we who are Gentiles have no right to be proud. It is only by God’s grace that He has grafted us in to be part of His people. This should remind us that there is no place in the church for anti-Semitism. Throughout the years, people have persecuted Jews, forcing them to move out of their homes, calling them “Christ-killers.” While few of us would do such a hateful thing, how many Americans make jokes about Jewish people being stingy with their money? How dare we say such things about God’s chosen people?
2. In the future, the Jewish people will be saved (Rom. 11:25-32)
So will the Jews be saved? Paul finally brings this question to a climactic answer in verses 25-26. Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved…”
Matthew 24:14 says the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations, and then the end will come. Apparently this verse is referring to the same matter, that God knows how many Gentiles are going to receive Him as Savior, and when that critical mass is reached, a revival will break out among the Jews, as they turn to faith in Christ. In this way, God will fulfill His promises and covenant with Israel. This is confirmed in Revelation 7:4-8, which names the tribes of Israel before the throne of God in heaven.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, God promised that he would not reject the Jewish people. The prophet Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the sake of His great name, the Lord will not reject His people…”
So the answer to our question is yes! In the end times, the Jews will turn to faith in Jesus, and be saved!
The miracle of the Jews
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, asked for proof that the Bible is true, in a discussion with his court chaplain. Frederick had been influenced by the atheistic French philosopher Voltaire. The king said, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be easy to prove. So often, when I ask for proof of the Bible, people give me a large book that I have neither the time nor desire to read. If your Bible is really from God, you should be able to demonstrate it simply. Give me proof for the inspiration of the bible in a word.”
“Your Majesty, I can give you the proof you ask for in one word,” replied the chaplain.
Amazed, the king asked, “What is this magic word?”
“Israel,” replied the chaplain. Frederick the Great responded only with silence.
When you think about the history of the people of Israel, it is a miracle of God that they still exist. The descendants of Jacob, or Israel, went down to live in Egypt, and were made into slaves there. But God brought them out of slavery and settled them in the Promised Land. They were conquered again and again, but each time God delivered them from their invaders. Finally, the empire of Assyria destroyed the northern part of Israel, and deported the lost tribes of Israel to other lands, and the empire of Babylon destroyed the southern part of Israel, burned down Jerusalem and the temple, and deported the Jews to Babylon. But after the exile, once again God brought the Jews back to the land. The Greeks tried to exterminate Jewish faith and culture, sacrificing a pig on the altar in the temple, and trying to force the Jews to only speak Greek and adopt Greek culture, but the Jews fought a war for independence under the Maccabees, and restored their land and cleansed the temple. A few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Jews fought a war with Rome in A.D. 70. Again the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed, millions of Jews died, and millions of Jews scattered all over the world. Despite all this, for centuries they maintained their language, faith and culture. They continued to be hounded out of nations, called “Christ-killers,” and persecuted wherever they lived. Then the communists tried to expel them from Russia, and Nazi Germany murdered six million of them in the holocaust. Did that eliminate the Jews? No! Instead, in 1948, the United Nations established Israel as a nation again. Surrounded by millions of Arabs who hate the Jews, Israel has had to fight war after war with their Arab neighbors, but Israel has won each war. In 1967, Israel fought a war simultaneously against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and defeated them all in just six days, taking the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the west bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Today over 5 million Jews live in Israel, along with about 2 million Arabs, and every year more and more Jews are returning to their homeland.
The only explanation for all these events is the grace of God. Or, as Romans 11:29 says, “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
This same God who has an amazing plan for his Chosen People has a plan for you. We who are Gentiles are only wild shoots, but God in His grace calls us, as well, to be grafted in to His spiritual tree. You can only come in by faith. One day the full number of Gentiles will come in, and it will be too late for us. As more and more Jews are beginning to turn to Christ, and more unreached people groups are reached, we do not know how long that will be, but one day it will be too late for us. How about you? Will you come to Him by faith while the door remains open?
My wife and I were deeply moved by the new film, I Can Only Imagine. I was so emotional that I had to compose myself before I could drive home– it was that powerful.
You may know the song, but do you know the story behind the song? “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me is the best-selling, most-played Christian single of all time. The new film by the same title tells the moving true story of the songwriter and how he wrote the song.
The film tells how Bart Millard’s father abused him and his mother, and constantly told Bart he was not good enough. [Spoiler alert—skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the basic plot.] Thanks to a football injury and a music teacher’s insistence, Bart discovered he had a gift to sing. When his father told him to forget his dreams, he left home, turned his back on the girlfriend who loved him, and tried to escape his troubles by singing with a traveling band.
I won’t give away the ending, because the circumstances of how he recorded the song have surprising twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say that Bart had to face his fears to reach his dreams. And yes, the film dramatically presents the full song near the end of the film.
Dennis Quaid is amazing as the actor playing Bart’s abusive father. People who have endured abuse will feel the pain Bart feels from his father, but many people with sins in their own past, like myself, will identify with the pain of the father himself.
This is a Christian film, but it is not “preachy.” The story is raw, real and unapologetically soaked with the hope of the gospel. Go see this film if you like music, if you like romance, if your dreams have been crushed, if you have been abused, if you have abused someone, if you have a broken home, if you are grieving the death of a loved one, if you need forgiveness, if you need to forgive, and if you need hope.