Copyright by Bob Rogers.
The Christmas tree tradition originated in Germany, apparently from several traditions, some pagan, some Christian. Some German towns brought an evergreen tree to the town square on Christmas Eve, set it on fire, and danced around it. Later these towns put lighted candles on Christmas trees. Other Germans remembered Adam and Eve’s fall into sin by hanging apples on an evergreen, and then hanging wafers for the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and candles on the tree for Jesus as the light of the world. As the feast of Adam and Eve was on December 24, this also became associated with Christmas. These traditions merged into the Christmas tree as we know it today.
A tree is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah when foretelling the coming of the Christ. Jesus, our Messiah, is prophesied in Isaiah 11:1 as the descendant of Jesse, father of King David: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” This “tree” also died on a tree for us: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds.” (1 Peter 2:24). That tree was the cross, where Jesus took our sins. So today, we can let the Christmas tree represent the gospel by putting Christian symbols on the tree, such as an angel or star on top, a manger scene underneath. Some Christians put a nail with a purple ribbon on the tree, reminding us that Jesus, the king of kings, was nailed to the tree of Calvary for us.
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
When I served as a Baptist pastor in Rincon, Georgia, I had the unique experience of putting on a white wig and an old robe borrowed from a Methodist, to give a dramatic presentation of the founding pastor of the oldest Lutheran Church in North America. The historic pastor’s name was Johann Boltzius, and his church was Jerusalem Lutheran Church, founded in 1734 in the Ebenezer Community in Effingham County, Georgia, some 30 miles north of Savannah.
School children came from all over Georgia to the retreat center at Ebenezer to learn Georgia history. They visited Savannah, and they also came to the old Jerusalem Lutheran Church, whose sanctuary was built in 1769, to hear me tell the story, in costume, of Boltzius who served a congregation that fled to the New World from Salzburg, Austria, in search of religious freedom.
After the presentation, students were given an opportunity to ask “Pastor Boltzius” questions. One day in March, a student asked me why it was so dark in the church. With a gleam in my eye, I explained that it was Lent, a season in which members of that church remembered Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. Members of the church fasted, prayed, and thought of other ways to make sacrifices in memory of Jesus, and during this time, they kept the window shutters closed. In fact, on Good Friday, they came into the church and sang songs about Jesus’ death, and then blew out all of the candles and went home in total darkness. The students reflected on that quietly, and I paused. Then I waved my hand at the shutters and shouted, “But on Easter Sunday morning, they threw open the shutters, let the light in, and celebrated, because Jesus is alive!”
Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter, by first reflecting on the suffering of Christ. I encourage you to read the story of the crucifixion from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Spend time alone, silent, reflecting on it. Fast and pray. Think about your own sin, your own struggles, your own sorrows, and how the suffering of Christ forgives, redeems and renews you. Meditate on the dark, and the light will brighten you more when it comes. Like that church in Georgia that threw open their shutters, if we will remember how dark it was when Christ died, we will appreciate all the more how glorious it was that He arose!
The Gospel of Mark spends six chapters, one–third of the entire book, describing what happened in just one week. The fact that the gospel gives so much attention to the final week of Christ should tell us how very important that Holy Week was. There must be important lessons for us to learn from these days.
So let’s review the entire week, and learn from God the holy ways from the holy days of Holy Week. Each day, starting with tomorrow morning’s blog post on Palm Sunday, I will share some thoughts on lessons we can learn from the events of Holy Week, from the Gospel of Mark. Look for it each day at bobrogers.me, and also a short video on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BobRogersThD.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
The Gospels contradict the “prosperity gospel.” The Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John directly contradict the Gospel According to Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen.
What do I mean by the “prosperity gospel”? Costi Hinn is the nephew of Benny Hinn, who made millions of dollars preaching this heresy (although he recently renounced it). Costi Hinn defines “prosperity gospel” teaching this way: God wants you to be healthy, God wants you to be wealthy, God wants your life to be comfortable and easy. If you don’t get these things, it is because of your “negativity” and lack of faith. (Costi Hinn, God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel, Zondervan, 2019, p. 141). But is this what the Bible teaches? No! From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible teaches otherwise, but let me simply give five important verses from the Gospel writers themselves:
Matthew 5:10, NIV: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by reminding His followers that they might be poor, or mourn, or even be persecuted, but that will ultimately be a blessing in the kingdom of heaven. (The apostle Paul adds in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “everyone” who follows Jesus “will” –not might– be persecuted.)
Matthew 16:24, CSB: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (See also Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23). Just to clarify, Jesus is not talking about a 24 karat gold cross necklace.
Mark 10:21, CSB: “Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” That doesn’t exactly sound like Jesus always wants us to be wealthy, does it?
Luke 16:25, NIV: “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.’” Uh, oh! According to Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, the “good things” in this life belonged to the bad guy, and the “bad things” belonged to the good guy. This inequality wasn’t corrected until the afterlife. Abraham reminded the rich man of it– perhaps Abe needs to also remind Kenneth Hagin.
John 16:33, NIV: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Could Jesus be any clearer than that? Of course, prosperity preachers will twist these words, implying that Jesus was promising you could “overcome the world” by getting healthy and wealthy here and now if you just send enough “seed” money to their ministries so they can buy a jet and go sell this to some more people. But the best interpreter of scripture is scripture, not Reverend Ike. Thus, Paul says, “It has been granted to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29, CSB).
Following Jesus doesn’t mean you have no problems– it means you have new problems from those who oppose Jesus. But Jesus encouraged us to take heart that we would overcome, not because we would get something now, but that later. Al Mohler said it best: “In the end the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little.” We have overcome the world, because Jesus Christ is not focusing on this world: He has in store for His followers a new heaven and new earth, where there is no more grief, crying, or pain (Revelation 2:4). And that’s the gospel truth!
On May 19, 2018, “Everybody who is somebody” was there for the royal wedding of Prince Harry to an American actress, Meghan Markle. British royalty, Hollywood stars, etc. were all there, and the world was watching. Perhaps even more people than usual were watching this royal wedding, because of all the discussion about the fact that the bride is biracial. Many people were pleased to see this, and sadly, some were not.
They were all in for a surprise, however, when the officiating minister, Bishop Michael Curry (who is African-American) began his wedding sermon. Instead of a staid, formal address that people would expect at a royal wedding, the American preacher gave a warm-hearted, passionate plea for the power of love, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Taking his text from Song of Solomon 8:6, which speaks of love as strong as death and powerful as fire, he talked about the power of love. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about the power of the love of Jesus, pointing out that “Jesus didn’t get an honorary doctorate in dying,” and the power of the gospel is from love, not education. He spoke of the redemptive love that gave American slaves hope in the midst of their oppression. He quoted French priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin about the power of fire, reminding everyone that combustion engines empowered them all to get there, but the Bible says that love is more powerful than fire.
Bravo to Bishop Curry for being faithful to his calling to preach the gospel, and all the more so when given a world stage.
Here is the full text of the wedding sermon: https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/19/europe/michael-curry-royal-wedding-sermon-full-text-intl/index.html
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Many Christians can share the Gospel of Christ with verses from the New Testament, but you can also share it using only the Old Testament. Christians commonly think they can only share the Good News of salvation by verses like the “Roman Road” (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9) or other collections of scriptures from the New Testament. However, the Gospel message is to the Bible like the spokes on a wheel, all revolving around that central truth. So below is a collection of the truths of the Gospel, just from the Old Testament:
All have sinned:
1 Kings 8:46a: “There is no one who does not sin…”
Sin separates us from God:
Isaiah 59:2: “Your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…”
We cannot earn our own salvation:
Psalm 49:7: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice.”
Christ died for our sins:
Isaiah 53:5, speaking of the Messiah: “But He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.”
“In a single day” (on the cross) God took away guilt of sin:
Zechariah 3:3-4, 8-9 speaks of Joshua the high priest, who represents the people: “Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. So the angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes!’ Then he said to him, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you…
Listen, High Priest Joshua… I am about to bring my servant, the Branch… and I will take away the iniquity of this land in a single day.”
What “single day” could possibly fulfill this verse than Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross to take away sin?
Repent, confess sin, and be forgiven:
Psalm 32:5: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You took away the guilt of my sin.”
Hosea 14:2: “Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sin…”
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.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the final post in a series on predestination.)
The previous four posts have examined the Bible’s teaching on predestination, like shining a bright light to look closely under a microscope. But this final post is more like turning on all of the lights in the room, as we view the big picture of the overall teaching of scripture. The fifth truth is that it is not God’s will for people to perish.
Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) says, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
John 3:17 (ESV) says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Second Peter 3:9 (ESV) says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Thus we read repeatedly in scripture that it is not God’s will that anybody perish; rather, God’s will is for all people to repent of sin and be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. God in his foreknowledge is aware that many people will reject the offer of salvation, and they will perish, but that is not God’s will for any individual. As Luke 7:30 (ESV) says, “the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves…”
Yes, the Bible speaks of those who believe in Jesus Christ as “the elect,” and “predestined.” Jesus could even speak of those who would believe as “my sheep” and those who do not believe as “not my sheep.” Since God already knows they will choose to believe, God can say that he chose them. However, we are not God– you and I do not know who will believe, and we do not know who will be among Jesus’ sheep. All we know is that God wants all people to be saved, and that Jesus invited, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved… (John 10:9, ESV). Hence, we must accept predestination as a mystery of God’s knowledge and will, and we must share the gospel with urgency. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11, ESV).
Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the great evangelist Billy Graham, who died on February 21, 2018, at age 99:
“Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless.”
“The Bible teaches that we are to be patient in suffering. Tears become telescopes to heaven, bringing eternity a little closer.”
“The devil doesn’t need to invent any new temptations; the old ones work as well as they ever have.”
“In some churches today and on some religious television programs, we see the attempt to make Christianity popular and pleasant. We have taken the cross away and substituted cushions.”
“Thousands of pastors, Sunday school teachers, and Christian workers are powerless because they do not make the Word the source of their preaching and teaching.”
“The Bible is the one book which reveals the Creator to the creature He created! No other book that man has conceived can make that statement and support it with fact.”
“Evangelism is not a calling reserved exclusively for the clergy. I believe one of the greatest priorities of the church today is to mobilize the laity to do the work of evangelism.”
“Philip is the only person in the Bible who was called an evangelist, and he was a deacon!”
“If God were to eradicate all evil from this planet, He would have to eradicate all evil men. Who would be exempt? God would rather transform the evil man than eradicate him.”
“I have never been to the North Pole, and yet I believe there is a North Pole. How do I know? I know because somebody told me. I read about it in a history book, I saw a map in a geography book, and I believe the men who wrote those books. I accept it by faith. The Bible says, ‘Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17, KJV).”
“People do not come to hear what I have to say– they want to know what God has to say.”
“When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.”
“We have changed our moral code to fit our behavior instead of changing our behavior to harmonize with God’s moral code.”
“If you are ignorant of God’s Word, you will always be ignorant of God’s will.”
“Go is the first part of the word Gospel. It should be the watchword of every true follower of Christ. It should be emblazoned on the banners of the church.”
“The Gospel shows people their wounds and bestows on them love. It shows them their bondage and supplies the hammer to knock away their chains. It shows them their nakedness and provides them the garments of purity. It shows them their poverty and pours into their lives the wealth of heaven. It shows them their sins and points them to the Savior.”
“Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
(This guest blog is written by my daughter, Melissa Rogers Dalton. She and her husband Steven have two sons and live in Virginia, where she is an elementary school teacher, with an endorsement as a Reading Specialist.)
Article copyright by Melissa Rogers Dalton
When I first learned about the idea of Elf on the Shelf a few years ago, I was completely sucked in. I didn’t have any kids yet, but the idea of setting up an elf with all of these great little tricks greatly appealed to the prankster inside of me that has become dormant since my college days.
I mean, how cute are these!
Once Keagan was finally old enough to enjoy it, I brought it up to Steven and he immediately shut it down. He knows that I have a tendency to get overly involved in things like this and could picture me staying up way too late every night trying to concoct the perfect scheme for the next morning. Yeah, he knows me way too well… 😉
But over the past two years, I’ve decided he was right to say no for a completely different reason.
Teaching our children that they have to be good in order to receive gifts is completely opposite of what the gospel preaches and, therefore, goes against everything Christmas stands for.
You see, Jesus was sent to Earth because we couldn’t find our way back to God on our own. He is our Rescuer and Redeemer, and there is NOTHING we can do to earn his gift. Actually, the definition of “gift” says “a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.”
So this whole myth about Santa and his naughty or nice lists really should disappear.
I’m sure some well-meaning parent created it somewhere along the line because kids at this point of the year start going a little crazy, but we have to put an end to it. Even as adults, we struggle with remembering/understanding that our actions are not the path to heaven. Just listen for two seconds, and you’ll hear it all around. I had a coworker tell me just a few days ago that she was going to hell for saying something mean about someone else. Technically, yes you can, but stopping it isn’t going to get you to heaven either.
All we have to do is realize that we are beyond unworthy, but God sent us the perfect gift of His son to come, live, and ultimately pay the penalty for our sins with His life so that we could be reunited with Christ someday. Then we just accept that gift by choosing to follow Christ. That’s it. Our works will never be enough.
If you have an elf and want to continue your fun with it, by all means go ahead. I love seeing what creative schemes you create. But PLEASE stop telling your kids that they won’t receive Christmas this year if they don’t behave. Instead, preach the true gospel to them. If you need any ideas for ways to bring it down to their level without missing the importance, I highly recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible.
The reason I like this particular Bible for kids is because they end every story by bringing it around to Jesus and the gospel. It doesn’t matter if the story is about Leah or the actual birth of Christ. They all talk about the Rescuer coming to save us so that kids can understand that everything in the Bible points to Him. They aren’t just individual cool stories that happen to be in the same book.
There is also a FREE Advent Calendar that goes along with this Bible (it includes the actual scripture references as well if you don’t have/want this Bible). I know it may be too late for this year, but I plan on using it next year.
Merry Christmas, and God Bless!
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!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
It seems like we constantly hear bad news: mass shootings, hurricanes, war, terrorist attacks, racial strife, and on it goes. No wonder it is so encouraging that Paul’s Letter to the Romans starts by letting us know that God has good news for us! In Romans 1:1, Paul says he was called and set apart for “the gospel of God.” The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”
He goes on in the next few verses to explain the content of this gospel, the impact of the gospel, and the urgency of the gospel.
The content of the gospel.
A great tragedy occurred in 1982 in Chicago, Illinois, when people went to the grocery store to buy a bottle of Tylenol. Someone laced some of the capsules with cyanide, and seven people died. They went to the store believing they were buying Tylenol. They had belief, but their belief was not sufficient, because the contents of the bottles had been tampered with. Likewise, if somebody tampers with the contents of the gospel, it is dangerous to our spiritual health.
Paul explains in verse 2 that it was promised in the Old Testament scriptures, then in verses 3-4 he points out that it is fulfilled by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection as the Son of God, and in verses 5-7 he emphasizes that it is received by grace through faith. This sums up the contents of the gospel: it must be based on prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our eternal life, and it must be received by his grace, not be our good deeds, but by our faith.
The impact of the gospel.
Next, Paul explains the impact that the gospel of Jesus has. He says that it spreads everywhere, commenting in verse 8 that the whole world had already heard about their faith in Rome. Then he talks about the encouragement of the gospel in verses 9-12, as he discusses how mutually encouraging it will be to him and them when they meet as brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, he notes in verse 13 how the gospel bears fruit, as he looks to see a harvest of souls among them when he preaches there in Rome. We are seeing that today, as millions of people are turning to faith in Jesus Christ, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, China, South Korea, the Philippines and many other places around the world.
The urgency of the gospel.
Third, Paul explains the urgency of sharing the gospel. He says in verse 14 that he is under obligation to share it with people of every culture and race, “Greek and barbarian.” How dare he not share such good news! But he doesn’t just see it as a duty, but he sees it as an opportunity. In fact, he says in verse 15 that he is eager to share the gospel to them. Are you as excited to talk about the gospel as you are about your favorite ball team or hobby?
Dr. Tony Evans shared the experience of a seasoned chess champion touring an art museum. While passing through the gallery, his attention was drawn to a painting that involved chess. The artist had painted a match between Satan and an outwitted young man. The picture frozen on canvas showed the two engaged in a chess game being played out for the man’s soul. The man was in obvious panic as the adversary’s hand is shown making his final move. The artist’s work is simply titled Checkmate. The chess champion stood and observed the painting for a long time. His scowl of concentration was finally softened by a slight smile. He turned to the curator and said, “I’ve got good news for the man in that picture. He still has a move.” Satan, the father of lies, has convinced far too many people that he has placed them in checkmate, but thanks to the gospel of the grace of God, every person “still has a move,” if we only believe in Christ. That’s good news!
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.
We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”
The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. (This is a review of the book. You can read my review of the movie by clicking here.) It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?
Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.
Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)
This is a review of The Shack, the book. The movie has several differences, so see my follow-up review of the actual film by clicking here. The movie has no profanity, and has fewer implications of universal salvation, as some of the above conversations that imply universalism are not in the film. Also, the depiction of God the Father as a woman is explained earlier and more clearly in the film.
Whatever your opinion about the depiction of the Trinity and other controversial elements in the book, it is an inspiring message of how God works through suffering that reminds us how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.