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Showing posts from February, 2015

The Final Resurrection

According to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, along with the return of Christ there will be the resurrection of the dead. We will look at this in more detail at the end of our study of The Apostles' Creed. For now, it is enough to notice that what Paul is talking about here is the union of believers' souls with their resurrected bodies. The Lord is going to take these old bodies of ours, what substance is left of them, whether it be bones in a grave or ashes scattered in the sea, and he is going to fashion out of that substance new bodies that will never grow old and never die. Paul talks about this happening in an instant. Furthermore, the final resurrection won't be an isolated event. It will be part of God's renewal of the cosmos. Paul talks about this in Romans 8....
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the…

The Return of the King

Today, in our study of The Apostles' Creed, I would like to talk more about "The Return of the King". By that phrase I mean not the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, though that book gives a picture of what we are going to talk about. No, the return I refer to is the return of King Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul outlines what will take place when Jesus, the King, returns to earth. First, there is the return itself. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God..."

This verse makes clear that Jesus' return will be personal, visible, and physical. Remember what the angels said at Jesus' ascension? "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11)

This means that just as Jesus went physically into heaven, and was seen by his disciples going into the sky, so he will come back…

The World's Last Night

The third thing that Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, about how to handle the death of Christian loved ones, is that we need to understand the basics of the faith.

What are these basics of the faith?

Jesus died and rose again. This is the basic Gospel message we have already seen in our discussion of The Apostles' Creed. Jesus' resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all those who believe in him.God will bring the Christian dead with Jesus when he returns to earth.Those Christians who are on earth when Christ returns will not precede those who have already died. Remember, the Thessalonian Christians were concerned that the Christians who had already died might miss out on the Second Coming and the resurrection. Paul says the exact opposite is true. Far from missing out, the believers who have already died will have precedence, in regard to the resurrection, over those still left on the earth when Jesus comes back. Paul here relates "the Lord's own word"…

Templeton Honors College

Templeton Honors College is offering a summer course for high school students on the writings of C. S. Lewis. Here is the information about the course....

Course II: “Divorcing the Devil: C.S. Lewis’s Moral Vision” (HON300)Dates: July 16-23, 2015 (8 days, 7 nights)Total Credits: 2Tuition & Fees (Total): $1,699 Two of the most memorable of Lewis’s short imaginative writings are The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters. Each book frames a moral vision of the Good, but the former invites us to look from the perspective of God or of Heaven, while the latter intentionally adopts the perspective of sinful humanity or of Hell. The result in both books is an extended consideration of perennial moral questions: What is reality like, if moral action is crucial to it?  What is it to be a free moral agent, in a world governed by a moral Lawgiver?  How are Heaven and Hell related to each other? Does God create Hell? How does moral knowledge work? What is the relationship between the Good and…

Hope of Heaven

A second thing that Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is this: as Christians, we do not have to grieve like the rest of humanity who have no hope.

A Greek writer named Theocritus once said, "Hopes are for the living; the dead are without hope." Nothing could be further from the truth for the Christian.

Some of the Greeks in Paul's day believed in the immortality of the soul but not in the resurrection of the body. They believed that the soul would go to Hades, a place of ghosts, and live there forever. For obvious reasons, this idea did not inspire hope in the common Greek people of Paul's time.

Contrast that perspective with what Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi,
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. (Philippians 1:21-23)Those are the words of a m…

What happens to Christians when they die?

The main question Paul seeks to answer in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is this: how are we to handle the death of loved ones who are Christians? The Thessalonian Christians must have been instructed by Paul, when he was present with them, about the Second Coming of Christ and the final resurrection. However, since Paul left Thessalonica, apparently some of the believers there had died. Thus, the questions arose in the minds of their Christian friends left behind: "What becomes of believers who die before Christ returns? Will they share in the Second Coming and the resurrection, or will they miss out somehow?" Paul responded to the questions of these young believers, and his answer is helpful to us in understanding, not only how to handle the death of loved ones who are Christians, but also in understanding the Second Coming and the future resurrection.

First off, Paul says, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died..." Paul…

I Believe in the Second Coming

A Greek Icon of The Second Coming, c. 1700
A man was sitting in a restaurant reading a newspaper. Several times in the course of his reading he let out a huge sight and had a disgusted look on his face. Finally, the waitress came over to him and asked, "Is everything alright? You seem upset."

The man responded, "You bet I'm upset. I'm sick of all the bad news."

Trying to encourage the man, the waitress responded, "You've got to have hope!"

The man then asked this vital question: "How can you have hope in a world like this?"

I do not believe that this world offers us any hope. But Jesus does.

We come today in our study of The Apostles' Creed to this statement: "...from thence he shall come..." I believe the Second Coming offers us hope in a hopeless world.

The Second Coming of Christ is referred to over three hundred times in the New Testament. That is once every thirteen verses. We are going to look at one of the key passages…

Owen Barfield, Clyde Kilby & C. S. Lewis

My friend, Bill Leachman, just shared this wonderful little video with me. I think all Lewis fans will enjoy this.

Set your Heart on Things Above

A fifth implication of the ascension is that because Jesus has ascended to heaven we should set our minds and hearts on things above not on earthly things. This is what Colossians 3:1-3 urges us to do: 
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.There is a saying that goes, "You are so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good." Whoever came up with that saying apparently knew someone who did nothing but sit around all day thinking about heaven while forsaking their responsibilities here on earth. But actually, if you are heavenly minded in the right way, the opposite will be the result: you will do earthly good. C. S. Lewis explains it this way in a chapter on "Hope" in Mere Christianity....
Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual lookin…

Reigning with Jesus

A fourth practical implication of the ascension of Jesus for your life and mine is that we can reign with Christ now and extend his kingdom. Ephesians 2:6 says, "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus..." Because Jesus has ascended to heaven and is reigning there, we can reign with him spiritually.

How do we actualise our reign with Jesus? We do it by seeking to extend his kingdom through the power of the Spirit. Right before Jesus ascended to heaven he gave his first disciples a great promise. He said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

I once had someone leave a church I was serving because, they said, "You focus too much on personal evangelism." If that was true, I praise God for it. As C. S. Lewis once said, 
... the Church exists for nothing else but to draw…

Jesus Has a Gift for You!

A third implication of Jesus' ascension is that because of it we can experience the Holy Spirit and his gifts. Acts 2:33 has this to say about Jesus:
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.Then, in Ephesians 4:7-12, we read:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:"When he ascended on high,he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...If Jesus had not ascended to heaven then his ministry would have re…

Jesus is Praying for You

A second implication of the ascension of Jesus is that he now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Paul says:
Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked, "If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference. He is praying for me!"

We need not fear a million enemies, enemies of debt, exhaustion, marital trouble, job problems, sin, or death. We need not fear because Jesus is praying for us. Like a perfect father, Jesus holds us in his arms, spiritually speaking, and cares for us through prayer.

Think about this. As Americans we each have a representative in Washington, DC. We have probably never seen our representative, never even spoken to him or her. When we do try to communicate with our Congressional representative, they may take little, real notice of us. A…

Christ Ascended--So What?

What difference does Jesus' ascension make to our lives? I would like to suggest five practical implications....

First, because Christ has ascended we can know that he is in control. At present, we do not see Jesus with our physical eyes. However, because of the New Testament, we can know that Christ is ascended, that he is reigning in heaven, and that therefore he is in control of all things. English clergyman John Nelson Darby once wrote, "God's ways are behind the scenes; but He moves all the scenes which He is behind. We have to learn this, and let Him work."

I like C. S. Lewis' way of putting this. Throughout The Chroniclesof Narnia there is the repeated refrain: "Aslan is on the move." Aslan, of course, is the great lion who is the Christ figure of these stories. Not only is Aslan in control behind the scenes, he is on the move for the good of his creatures.

Whatever difficulties we may be passing through right now, we can know that Christ is still o…

The Significance of the Ascension

"The Ascension" by William Blake
It seems a bit strange to be writing about the Ascension on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent. However, I want to continue with our journey through The Apostles' Creed. And if you want to know more about the meaning of Shrove Tuesday in the context of the Church Year, I encourage you to read the blog of an acquaintance of mine, Malcolm Guite, by clicking here: Shriven & Ready.
So, on with the Ascension. So far, we have examined the biblical meaning of the Ascension of Jesus, but what is its meaning? The event of the Ascension is recorded only in Mark, Luke, and Acts, but the significance of this event is proclaimed throughout the New Testament. One of those places is in the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2:32-36....
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he h…

Presidents' Day

I don't think I have ever posted anything on this blog about American history but in consideration of our recent move to the Washington, D.C. area and with this being Presidents' Day, I thought I would break tradition.
Of late I have had more reason to think about our presidents. I pass by the White House quite often and pray for our current president. Every Sunday our family attends worship services at a church where George Washington once served as a vestryman. And one of my favorite preachers of all time, Peter Marshall, served as the pastor of a nearby church (New York Avenue Presbyterian) back in the 1940s.

It was while visiting the web site of that church that I came across this fascinating little story....
“Under God” was first added by Lincoln to his Gettysburg Address while at Gettysburg. All of Lincoln’s preliminary drafts of the Gettysburg Address contained no mention of “under God,” while all newspaper reports and copies of the address thereafter included the words “u…

Exploring the Meaning of the Ascension

"The Ascension" by Benjamin West
We find the biblical basis for the ascension of Christ in Acts 1:9-11,
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."Thus, the first thing we confess in this article of The Apostles' Creed is that Jesus ascended into heaven. But what does that mean? What exactly happened?

Allow me to offer this summary of C. S. Lewis' thinking on the matter from my book, Mere Theology....
So how does Lewis handle the apparent crudities of the Ascension story? He points out that the statement that Christ “sat down at the right hand of God” is a metaphor, a poetical quotation…

I Believe in Christ Ascended

We come today in our study of The Apostles' Creed to one of the most vital, but often neglected doctrines of the Church, the doctrine of the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Perhaps, this doctrine is neglected because some Christians find it embarrassing. The doctrine itself seems to commit us to a pre-Copernican view of the universe--that heaven is up in the sky, hell is down below the ground, and eat is in between.
C. S. Lewis has very articulately summarized both the difficulty and importance of this doctrine in his book, Miracles....
All the accounts suggest that the appearances of the Risen Body came to an end; some describe an abrupt end about six weeks after the death. And they describe this abrupt end in a way which presents greater difficulties to the modern mind than any other part of Scripture. For here, surely, we get the implication of all those primitive crudities to which I have said that Christians are not committed: the vertical ascent like a balloon, the local Heave…

If Christ has been raised

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul draws five practical conclusions based upon Christ's resurrection. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then:

That guarantees our resurrection. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." The first fruits refers to the first sheaf of the harvest grain that the Jews would give to the Lord as a token of the fact that the whole harvest belonged to him. Christ has been raised as a first fruits offering given to the Father in token of the fact that all believers in Christ will also be given to the Father in bodily resurrection. Christ's resurrection guarantees that our resurrection will take place, if we trust in him.The results of Adam's fall have been undone. "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." Because of the sin of the fi…

If Christ has not been raised...

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul notes five things that are true if Christ has not been raised from the dead. It is important that we mark these five points so that we realize just how central the resurrection is to Christian faith. Paul writes this to those in Corinth who were saying there is no resurrection of the dead....
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life on…

The Last Appearance

"The Apostle Paul"--by Rembrandt
James was not the only "hostile" witness to the resurrection. Saul who became Paul was another.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes, "... and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

Paul's apostleship was unusual in at least two senses. (1) He had been a persecutor of the first Christians. (2) He did not see the risen Jesus until after the ascension. Was this a vision or an appearance like the others who saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion? That question is hard to answer.

One thing is clear: Saul did not want to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He was on his way to Damascus to have Jesus' followers put in prison. Saul could not understand how a crucified, and thus, from a Jewish perspective, cursed man, could be the Messiah of Israel. Thus, Saul bet his life on t…

A Hostile Witness

Now we come in 1 Corinthians 15 to Paul's report of a hostile witness to Jesus' resurrection. Some people say they do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because he is only reported as appearing to his disciples and they wanted to believe in the resurrection, therefore their testimony is not fully credible. However, this is not completely accurate. Jesus also appeared to James.

The James whom Paul mentions was not one of Jesus' first disciples or apostles. Paul has already mentioned them. So this is obviously a different James. Commentators think Paul is talking about the half-brother of Jesus who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah before his resurrection. James is mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and in John 7:2-5 we read:
Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show …

Called: A Review

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to study in Oxford, England? Or maybe you have dreamed of being a writer. Or wondered what Christians mean when they talk about God "calling" them to do something. If you feel any of these statements might apply to you, then I think you will enjoy reading Ryan Pemberton's book, Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis's House and Back Again

Called is the story of Ryan and Jen, two twenty somethings who give up a secure life (with Ryan working for a marketing firm) to travel thousands of miles around the world and study theology at Oxford. At turns this book is reminiscent of Bruce Feiler's Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge, Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford, or even Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy. The reason I associate Pemberton's first outing as a writer with some of these classic books is because the man is a wordsmith who loves, as he says, "stringing words together like Che…

Evidence for the Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15 provides significant evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, especially because it was written in the 50s of the first century, a mere twenty years after the events it tells about.

Paul writes "that he [Jesus] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter..." This appearance is also referred to in Luke 24:34 and apparently took place on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead.

Secondly, Paul writes that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. "The Twelve" was the designation for Jesus' first disciples who became apostles. Of course, Judas did not continue as an apostle; another was chosen to take his place. This appearance to the Twelve took place on the first Sunday evening after Jesus' resurrection and is recorded in Luke 24:36-43 as well as John 20:19-23. It is significant, I think, that Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish in the presence of his disciples, thus showing that he rose in a body.

Next, we r…

Resistant to the Resurrection?

We come now in our study of The Apostles' Creed to this statement: "On the third day he rose again from the dead." This is one of the most difficult if not impossible parts of the Creed for many people to accept....

The young son of an undertaker was puzzled one Easter morning when he heard about the resurrection. "Do you mean," he asked, "that Jesus really rose up from the dead?"

"Oh yes," his Sunday school teacher replied.

The boy shook his head. "I know my daddy didn't take care of Jesus after he died," the boy responded. "If he had, then Jesus never would have got up again!"

Many people are resistant to the idea of the resurrection. Some of the Corinthians, to whom Paul wrote, apparently doubted it. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2,
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you h…

descendit ad inferos

This next part of The Apostles' Creed has proved, perhaps, the most controversial over the years: "He descended into hell."
First, an admission: this line did not become part of the Creed until the fourth century. However, that does not mean that it does not find its foundation in the New Testament.

There are at least two Scriptures from which this doctrine is drawn. The first hint of this comes in 1 Peter 3:18-20....
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.
The words in italics have been interpreted in various ways. However, I and many others in the Church down through the ages have interpreted…

Mortuus, et Sepultus

The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem
In this part of The Apostles' Creed we confess that Jesus died and was buried. In other words, Jesus really died. He did not merely swoon on the cross and later wake up in a cold tomb and roll a humongous stone aside and come out pretending to his disciples that he had risen from the dead. No, Jesus really died. This was certified by Roman authority, by a spear thrust through Jesus' side, after which blood and water came out, something which any doctor would confirm as a signification of expiration. Jesus' disciples wrapped his body in a hundred pounds of embalming ointment and they buried him in a tomb, in the side of a hill. This article of the Creed affirms Jesus' full humanity. You cannot bury an angel or an idea.

However, what is the significance of this for us? I believe it is simply this: because Jesus faced and (as we shall soon examine) conquered death, we too can face and conquer it, as we trust in him. We can have the same confidenc…

Theories of the Atonement

Through the centuries, there have been many theories put forth as to what the point of Jesus' dying was. I like what C. S. Lewis has to say about this in Mere Christianity....
Now what was the sort of "hole" man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of our "hole". This process of surrender--this movement full speed astern--is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing…