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Thursday, May 26, 2011

When is He coming?

As New Testament believers, we are called to hope in God, knowing that He will surely bring about Christ’s return and the eschatological coming of His kingdom.  That hope is founded on the certainty of God’s prophetic word.  To the born again, struggling to endure the trials of this world, there may be no more precious comfort than that given by Christ to the disciples on His last evening with them: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Through every heartache and disappointment, through every loss of a loved one, through every temptation and failure, and every physical infirmity, there is in the hearts of the saved the immovable conviction that this is not all there is.  There awaits us a future glory where we will spend eternity glorifying God and exalting Christ.  There will be no pain, no sickness, no evil, no temptation, no night, and no sin.  Only joy.
It’s understandable that people would want to know when this is going to happen.  I believe that if we truly grasped the wonder of what the eschaton holds for us, we would hardly be able to contain our eagerness for it.  When my children find out they have a special treat waiting for them, the line of questioning I can expect to hear repeatedly is, “When?  When can we have it?  When will it be here?”  How much more should we anticipate eternal glory with our God?
But even though it is natural to want to know when the end is coming, God has made it clear that He isn’t telling.  In Acts 1:6-7, just prior to Christ’s ascension, the disciples wanted to know, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"  He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”  Think about who Jesus is talking to here – the eleven remaining disciples, men He had handpicked to follow Him and learn from Him and carry His message to the ends of the earth.
These were men with inside access.  In Matthew 13, after Jesus started teaching the Jews in parables, His disciples came to Him and asked Him why.  He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (v11).  Jesus then gave only His disciples the interpretations of the parables.  He gave them information that He did not give to others.  Jesus also gave them power that He did not give to others, power to cast out demons and to cure diseases (Luke 9:1-2). 
And yet, even the disciples were not told when the Kingdom would come.  Jesus told them explicitly, “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” and “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 24:44, 25:13).
In fact, a startling statement by Jesus in Matt 24:36 indicates just how privileged this information is: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  Not only are the disciples in the dark on this issue, but Jesus doesn’t even know when the end is coming! 
So what should we think when someone like Harold Camping proclaims that God has shown him in the Bible the precise day and hour of Christ’s return?  Simple.  He is a false prophet.  He is blatantly contradicting the Word of God and claiming a knowledge not even held by the disciples, nor the angels, nor Christ. 
Over the last couple of weeks, media outlets have reported the certainty with which Camping’s followers believed him.  They quit their jobs, quit school, and squandered their life savings.  What a grim lesson in the importance of knowing the Word.  People who know the Bible are not susceptible to such outrageous claims.  It is a sad thing that so many have been deceived when God’s Word clearly and repeatedly declares that only the Father knows the time of the end.
Why might it be that God does not want us to know when the Son is coming?  The testimony of Scripture is that He wants us to live our entire lives as if it could be any minute.  The parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13) and the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) indicate that we are to live wisely, not squandering our days and gifts.  If we knew when the Lord was coming, we might be tempted to live for ourselves for a time and repent at the last minute to save ourselves.  The uncertainty of when He is coming produces a sense of urgency to get right with God and live for Him now. 
It is right to look forward to Christ’s return.  It is right to long to see Him face to face and to be free from the darkness of this world.  And God has told how to spend the time He has given us until He comes.  We are not to spend one second trying to figure out when the time will be – to do so is to disbelieve His word.  Rather we should live faithfully everyday, seeking to further His kingdom. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

2011 PBF Bible Conference

Few things will shake one’s faith like a well-crafted attack on the inspiration, inerrancy, and reliability of Scripture.  More than ever, atheists and skeptics are taking their opposition to Christianity directly to the Bible, proposing evidence that what has traditionally been considered the Word of God is little more than a haphazard and arbitrary collection of ancient religious writings.  This strategy is a good one.  As evangelical Christians, our final authority for faith and practice rests with the Bible.  If the enemy can persuade us to doubt or even deny the orthodox view of Scripture, at the very least he will have opened us up to all manners of destructive error.  At the very worst, he will have stolen the very foundation of our faith.
The devil is a pragmatist.  Once he finds a strategy that works, he wears it out.  His current onslaught against the faith is the same ploy he used so affectively against our first parents in the Garden of Eden.  If you listen closely to the skeptics, you can hear the serpent’s echo in their question, “Has God actually said…?”
As we have seen in our brief look at the Emergent Church in our Sunday evening series, it isn’t only the atheists who are questioning the authority of Scripture.  The enemy behind the attack is the same, although the question is modified: “Can we really know what God has said?”
If the true church is to remain strong, she must be able to defend an orthodox view of the Scriptures.  Knowing what we believe is only part of a ready defense.  We must also know why we believe.  A firm grasp of why we hold that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and reliable is valuable for two reasons.  It gives us the tools with which to counter the enemy and it strengthens our own confidence that what we have in the Bible are the very words of God, words that can be trusted, words that can be understood.
Our annual Bible conference this year will focus on this issue.  How did we get the Bible?  What do we mean when we say it is inerrant?  How can we know that the Word is reliable?  These questions will be answered in depth by our guest speaker, Dr. Robert Plummer.  
Dr. Plummer is Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  His book, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, is not only an excellent resource on the discipline of interpretation, but also gives a solid understanding of how we got the Bible, why it is reliable, and what inerrancy means.  It is a great resource for pastors and laypersons alike.
The Bible conference will be held at PBF on August 13-14.  Please mark your calendars now and look for more details in the coming weeks.  
Below is a sermon that Dr. Plummer recently delivered at SBTS.  If you have the time to listen, you will be blessed.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon

We did not have time to deal with the last few verses of Judges 12 on Sunday, so I’d like to do that here.  In Judges 12:8-15, we find the last of the six “minor judges,” Ibzan, Elon, and Adbon.  Like Shamgar (3:31), Tola (10:1-2), and Jair (10:3-5), not much is said about these judges, and this is most likely because their respective judgeships do not contribute much to the overall themes of the book.  As we have seen, the author has been very disciplined in his choices of material, seeking above all to develop the twin themes of the apostasy of Israel and God’s determination to save His people.
In light of this, we may find it difficult to determine why these judges are included at all.  As I have noted before, I believe their inclusion indicates the historicity of the events of Judges.  If the book was merely a collection of fictional moral tales or tragedies, we wouldn’t expect to find these six very brief mentions of characters that add little to the overall themes.  The author seems to be accounting for the tenures of all of the judges while focusing on those that are most instructive. 
Regarding these last three minor judges, the text reads:
After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.  He had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he gave in marriage outside his clan, and thirty daughters he brought in from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.  Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.   
After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years.  Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel.  He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years.  Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.
 (Jdg 12:8-15 ESV)
Beyond the usual information about where the judge was from, how long he judged, and where he was buried, the text offers that Ibzan had 30 sons and 30 daughters.  As with Jair (10:1-2), such a large number of children would have required a large harem (one scholar estimates between 13 and 24 wives) as well as the resources to support such a harem.[1]  The same is true of Abdon, who had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, a sign of great opulence.
What do these details tell us?  First of all, the precedent of the judge as royalty set by Gideon is still intact.  The things said of these men are what we would expect to learn about ancient Near Eastern kings – many children, large harems, and great wealth.  What should be noted is that at this point in Israel, God had not provided for a monarchy.  And even if He had, the section of the Law governing the office of a future king forbade the gathering of many wives and much wealth (Deut 17:14-17). 
Second, that Ibzan arranged for all of his children to marry outside of his clan was highly unusual.  It was customary for children to marry within the extended family.  That he did not do so indicates that Ibzan was mainly interested in building and securing a power base.  Intermarriage in the ancient Near East was a way of creating alliances and increasing the scope of one’s political influence.  This is another indication of the Canaanite influence on the Israelites.
So at the very least, these judges do not show a course correction of any kind in the morality of Israel.  The self-interest that characterized the Gideon and Jephthah cycles has become the norm. 
This is instructive for you and me.  Set patterns of sin and idolatry in our lives do not go away on their own.  Unless significant action is taken, we can expect our progression toward worldliness to continue unabated.  Only a cross-centered life will experience victory over sin and progress toward Christlikeness.

[1] K. Lawson Younger, Jr. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 277.