Two historic women, one old and one young, were the first to welcome and praise the Savior of the world. And two glorious paintings communicate the beauty of these wondrous events.
Dec 23, 2019
If quizzed “Who was the first person to welcome Jesus and announce his lordship?” how would you answer? It’s an important question when we consider that this man from the nowhere town of Nazareth is the most consequential individual ever.
His teaching and followers across the globe radically transformed world culture, toppled great powers without ever firing a shot, established the world of humanitarianism and accessible medical care for commoners, inspired the scientific method, and enlivened the world movements for justice, human dignity, and individual freedom. He literally divides history and is responsible for the founding of the largest, most diverse collection of people around some basic ideals.
This all started with two women no one had ever heard of, whose life-altering experiences are now illustrated in two exquisite works of art. Mary, a humble, young virgin, by tradition about 14 years old at the time, is told by an angel she will give birth to the very Son of God. At this striking news, she “arose and went with haste” to see her cherished relative, Elizabeth, some 90 miles away.
Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her own miraculous pregnancy, for she was well past child-bearing years. Of course, her baby was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
The beauty of this part of the Christmas story is the miracle that happens the moment Mary enters Elizabeth’s home. Christ is recognized, received, proclaimed, and worshiped, and Mary and Elizabeth are not the only two involved in the divine drama here. We read in Luke 1:41-44:
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
This is a major event in Jesus’ story and thus the Christian church, but we seldom appreciate it as such. It is the first time Jesus is both proclaimed and worshiped as God! This was done, we are told, “in a loud voice.” And Christ the Lord is worshiped by two people at the same time — one very old, one super young.
The First to Proclaim Jesus’ Lordship
Elizabeth proclaims the blessedness of Jesus and his mother. The simple but world-changing confession, “Jesus is Lord,” was the first and most basic way Christians began to proclaim their faith and greet one another in the church’s early years. It was the first Christian creed, and Elizabeth was the first to proclaim it, long before Christmas morning. Think on that for a moment.
The second greeting is even more incredible and speaks to an intimate relationship in the Savior’s life. Baby John leaps for joy, literally, at the coming of the Savior. He does so as a child in the darkness of his mother’s womb. (Yes, Christianity has profoundly strong words for the humanity and dignity of the unborn child in John and Jesus’ remarkable in utero contribution to the good news.)
John did not start serving as the forerunner of Christ when preaching about his coming in the desert. It was here, in the womb. And it was two very common mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, who experienced this remarkable, history-changing event. It happened in distinctly womanly interiors of their hearts and wombs, and in the humbleness of Elizabeth’s home. Humble motherhood and the intimate bond only mothers can share is the human font of the Christian story.
To be sure, the Christian church, which is often incorrectly charged with being sexist by people who know little of its actual story, is founded upon two women being the first to welcome and praise the Savior. (Remember as well, it was a small group of women who announced the “second birth” of the Savior, if you will, at his resurrection.) What other major faith or philosophy has women playing such a significant role in its founding? I cannot think of one.
Two famous paintings communicate the beauty of these wondrous events, “The Annunciation” and “The Visitation.” The first African-American painter to achieve significant critical acclaim, Henry Ossawa Tanner, created both. He is a remarkable man and one of my favorite artists.
One of the things I like best in Tanner’s two works here is that he shows us the simple humanness of Mary and Elizabeth. They are not supernatural, other-worldly, saintly subjects in the typical sense. Tanner’s images show us the regular, everyday women they were.
He will not allow us to miss the youth, innocence, and commonness of our Mary. Tanner doesn’t give her a facial expression communicating anything obvious. Is she scared? Stunned? Joyful? Solemn? His Mary is more complex than many artists’ as is undoubtably true of the actual event. Tanner has her communicating all these feelings and struggles at once.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with this most startling news, he found a teenage girl living a typical teenage girl’s life. The greatest royal announcement in the history of the universe takes place in this teen girl’s humble bedroom, illuminated by the majesty of God’s oracle. That is precisely what Tanner gives us, and it’s just stunning. Also, his technique in presenting the folds and flow of her gown and bed coverings is nothing short of magnificent.
As wonderful as Tanner’s “Annunciation” is, his “Visitation” is even more striking.
Just look at it and consider what’s happening here.
When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Tanner allows us personally to witness this event. Elizabeth most likely did not have any notice that Mary was coming or the grand news that prompted the visit. She sits at the table on an ordinary day, when she hears Mary possibly utter what any of us likely would as she comes to the door, “Liz, you home?”
Elizabeth’s divine surprise and wonder is dramatically communicated simply in her uplifted hands. It’s a glorious device. Are they hands of praise or surprise? Certainly both at the same time.
This simple scene of a surprise family visitation and domesticity is the first scene of Jesus being worshiped. Reflect on this a moment. The event we are witnessing right here in this kitchen is the initiation of what the rest of history and eternity will be about, the worship of the second person of the divine Trinity: Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son.
The interchange between these two women in this domestic setting is unspeakably profound. We typically move over it far too easily, wanting to get onto what we see as the center of the Christmas story, the manger.
This exchange is also vitally important because it is the first revelation of Christ beyond Mary’s heart and womb. It is the precise second and scene that commenced the worship of the Son of the God that will continue without end into eternity, the story that encapsulates a Christian’s whole reality.
P.S. Tanner Lived in Philadelphia
I knew Tanner lived in Philadelphia for some time, so on a business trip there some years ago, I wanted to see if his house was discoverable. It was, and I found it, right around the corner from John Coltrane’s home. How cool is that?
Glenn T. Stanton is a Federalist senior contributor who writes and speaks about family, gender, and art, is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and is the author of the brand new “The Myth of the Dying Church” (Worthy, 2019). He blogs at glenntstanton.com.
Let’s open to the Word of God, the fourth chapter of Acts, and we’re looking at a chapter that essentially is built around one single theme, the predominant part of this chapter running down through verse 31 looks at the persecution that came against the early church, the persecution that came against the early church.
The Book of Acts, as you know, is the history of the first church. It gives us something about the inception of that church, its birth on the Day of Pentecost, born in a miraculous display of Holy Spirit power. We then looked at the very early weeks and months of the church when thousands of people were being converted. By the time we get into chapter 4, the number may well have exceeded 20,000 people who, in a flurry of Holy Spirit regeneration, were added to the newly born church.
But soon into chapter 4, in fact, at the very outset of chapter 4 where we begin to get an idea of how many believers there are, we also find the first persecution. If I can take you back to the beginning of the fourth chapter, let me read the opening verse. They were speaking to the people: “As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. And many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about 5, 000.” Men, there, meaning males. Add females, add to the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost, and those being saved daily, the Lord adding to the church as we learned at the end of chapter 2, and it’s pretty easy to get to a number like 20,000 believers.
They don’t have an organization. They don’t have structure. They don’t have a building. So they’re still collecting in the temple. They pose an imminent threat to the system of Judaism, which has already been assaulted by the Lord Jesus Himself whose name they all proclaim. It was that Jesus that the system and the establishment rejected and had the Romans execute. They had been preaching that He is alive from the dead, and it is by His power that the church has come to life and continue to grow, and it is by His power and in His name as one who is alive that they healed the man at the beginning of chapter 3. This healing of a man that everybody knew was a beggar, a beggar who had sat for a long time. Later in this chapter, it tells us that he was in his 40s, and much of that time, no doubt, had been a beggar and a very familiar site by the gate called Beautiful, sitting there every day, begging. This was a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb, so no doubt started early as a beggar.
The miracle, literally, was known by everyone in Jerusalem, added to the credibility that Jesus was alive, because when Jesus was alive, He was a healer. He was a miracle worker. Now, He was still alive, and He was transmitting His power through the apostles. The threat, then, to Judaism and the threat to the leaders of Israel was very, very serious. They saw it as a religious threat. They also saw it as a political threat. They saw that the impact of this movement exploding in their city, contrary to what they expected; they expected we kill the leader, cut off its head, and the rest dies.
Well, that didn’t happen. He did rise from the dead. The leaders knew that. They bribed the soldiers to lie about it, and now they’re threatened by the reality that not only is He alive, but He’s continued to unleash His power to draw followers, and even to do miracles.
So in chapter 4, we have the beginning of the persecution of the church, which is still going on today. I told you last time that current figures would indicate that there are about 100 million Christians in the world, right now, in this year, that are under persecution. And I’m not talking about those that are socially abused, or alienated. I’m talking about those that are actually under the threat of bodily harm and death. As many as 100 million. Well, all of that persecution which will continue to go on until our Lord comes, and even after the rapture of the church, there will continue to be an antichrist world in which Christians will be slaughtered far and wide. This persecution, all is launched here, and it is launched initially because it is a threat. The growth of the church is a threat to apostate Judaism.
Now, we’ve all known, I think, those of us who are believers who’ve lived in the world at all, we’ve all known a measure of alienation, being ostracized. We’ve all understood that to one degree or another. We know what it is to have to forfeit friends, family. We know what it is to be under pressure not to speak for Christ, or it might threaten our position in the world in some social structure, be it a job, or a school, or whatever. We all understand that. That’s part of the persecution. But the kind of persecution we’re going to see here threatened life and limb.
Now, to start with, I want to just kind of back up from this, as I often like to do to maybe give you a larger perspective on persecution. And by the way, those of you who are under persecution, I trust that the Lord will encourage you by the things that we’re saying in this series. Now, we have to understand that persecution is a trial, all right? Persecution is a trial, and trials are for our benefit. I know that is perhaps not the way we think of persecution. There are people, well-intentioned I assume, who are busy lobbying to get our government and other governments around the world to bring a halt to persecution, to stop the persecution. And while it’s certainly noble to call nations that are killing people to stop killing them, and nations that are threatening people to stop threatening them, imprisoning them, harming them; at the same time, it must be noted that none of this happens outside the purposes of God. This does not lessen the culpability of those who do it. But we need to be reminded that persecution is a trial, and trials have a positive impact. They’re designed by God to that end.
Listen to James 1. James 1 verse 2. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” There is unmistakable revelation that trials produce a tested faith that yields endurance and causes a believer to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
In verse 12, James then adds, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, having stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” So there is a promise that trials produce a perfected faith, and an eternal reward. They have benefit in this life, and they have benefit in the life to come.
Peter understood that. Listen to 1 Peter chapter 4. First Peter chapter 4. “Beloved,” verse 12, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you shared the sufferings of Christ, that would be unjust persecution and suffering. Keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exaltation, for if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” There again, a fiery ordeal. What is this fiery ordeal? Well, Peter is writing a letter to persecuted believers, aliens, chapter 1 verse 1, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, who were chosen. These aliens to the world system are under persecution. Verse 5 says they’re being protected by the power of God through faith. They are to rejoice, because now, for a little while, you have been distressed by various trials so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found or result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing more precious in this life than a tested faith. Nothing worth than wondering if you’re saved. Worrying if you might not be a true believer.
How can you be sure? You can be sure if you’ve gone through a fiery ordeal. You can be sure if you’ve gone through an extreme trial, you’ve gone through a great test. You can certainly be sure if you’ve gone through dire circumstances of persecution and your faith is rock solid, and it survives, and it endures, and it grows, and it is perfected. And then, you rest secure in the confidence of that assured faith.
Trials produce that, as well as we see in all of those, an eternal reward. So here are the writers of the New Testament telling us that we should, in the midst of trials, rejoice, that we should, in the midst of trials, welcome their product, their fruit their result, and that we should look forward to our heavenly reward. The apostle Paul talks about a terrible trial he was experiencing in 2 Corinthians 12. He says, “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. He said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” Paul’s response, “If power is perfected in weakness, if faith is perfected in trials, then I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then he says this: “Therefore I am well-content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with difficulties, and with persecutions for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He knew that persecutions brought about spiritual strength. Persecutions brought about a tested faith. Persecutions brought a tested faith. Persecutions produced a greater eternal reward. He also knew that persecution was inevitable in preaching the gospel. Philippians 2:17. “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” If I lose my life getting the gospel to you, I rejoice.
Similarly in Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. What sufferings is he talking about? It was all persecution. Beaten with rods, whipped by the Jews, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger from robbers, rivers, everywhere he went. Natural disasters, natural and supernatural enemies, demons. He found joy in all of that, in all of it, because in his weakness, he became strong. And as he became strong, his faith was perfected, and his joy came out of the confidence of a perfected or assured faith. He also had great hope for his eternal reward.
Listen, the world hated Jesus. He said that. They hated Him, really, with an insatiable hate that could only be satisfied when they had Him dead, and then He rose from the dead and continued to live through the apostles and through His church. And so, as Paul said, believers who follow after Christ receive in their bodies the wounds intended for Christ. We take the blows meant for Him. It isn’t that they hate us; it’s that they hate Him, and He’s not here, so they attack us. But it is in this sense that all believers who suffer persecution must view their persecution. It is designed by God to produce a perfected faith. It is designed by God to produce maturity, assurance, joy, and eternal reward.
In Mark 13:13, we read, “You shall be hated of all men for my sake.” In 2 Corinthians 1:5, the afflictions of Christ overflowed toward us. To the Corinthians, Paul says he was always bearing in his body the dying of Jesus Christ. He says to the Galatians, “I bear in my body the marks of Christ.” He even prayed for more, that I may know Him, and fellowship of His sufferings. Philippians 3:10. For the Christian then, persecution is a noble expectation. It produces growth and glory, and maturity, and assurance, and blessing, and encouragement, and reward, and is part of who we are. It is one of the privileges of our union with Christ.
Some of you may be saying, I never thought of persecution that way, but that is the Bible’s way to think about it. That is how the church learned to think about it, through the very revelations of Scripture that I’ve just recited for you.
Now, as we come to chapter 4 of the Book of Acts, the church is going to learn this. The church is going to learn the blessing and benefit of persecution. Those who were persecuted in the past have all entered into the eternal reward, and if they were here, they could give testimony of the glory of that reward. The sufferings of this world, they have learned, are not worthy to be compared with the joy that will be ours in the presence of the Lord. We have a far greater weight of glory awaiting us.
Well, the early church is beginning to learn this. And as chapter 4 unfolds, there are some principles that arise as we watch how they handle persecution. I’ve identified seven of them, and I gave you three last time. We’ll work on giving you the rest this time. One could simply ask the question: how did the early apostles and the early church handle persecution? By what means? The answer is here. First of all, we started in verse 5 to look at the response, and the first thing I told you last time was, this is the first principle of facing persecution: be submissive to it. Be submissive to it. That is precisely how they responded. When everybody gathered together against them and confronted them, they saw it as an opportunity to preach the gospel to the Sanhedrin. They wound up sitting in the middle of the gathered rules and elders and scribes of Jerusalem, with Annas, the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, two other of the elite blue bloods related to the high priestly family. All of them from that descent. They took Peter and John, placed them in the middle of the encircled Sanhedrin, and began to ask them questions. This is the first necessary response that the Lord providentially has brought me to this place and this is going to give an opportunity that probably couldn’t be gained any other way.
There was no resistance. That’s what we see here. It’s really an argument from silence. There’s no struggle here. They knew that even as new believers, that God had allowed this. They were content with that. They waited for God’s purpose to be unfolded. This is God plan. Everything they’ve seen has been God’s plan. From the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and then it was all explained that this is the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies, and they understood all of that for the first time. We see them pour out references to the Old Testament. For the first time, the apostles do that in the Book of Acts because they understand it.
So it’s all coming clear to them, the whole unfolding plan of God, and they submit to it. The second thing we saw last time, the second principle that rises out of this persecution is they were filled with the Spirit, verse 8. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. They were beyond their own strength, like Paul. They were in the midst of weakness. They had no human resources. They had no one who would get them out of this situation. They didn’t know what they were to say, but they remembered the words of Jesus who said, “Take no thought in what you’ll say. I’ll put the words in your mouth.” That, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So there, we find Peter yielding up fully control to the Holy Spirit.
Now, that’s not just some kind of nebulous expression. What it means is peter didn’t try to operate in his own strength, in his own wisdom. In fact, it parallels James 1. You remember in the next verse, after we read that trials have a perfecting work, producing endurance in a completed faith, we read immediately after that, these very familiar words from James. Remember them? “If any of you lacks,” what? Wisdom. Let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it’ll be given to him, but he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind, for that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In other words, throw yourself completely, trustingly on the power of God, which means: yield to the Holy Spirit, in the midst of the trial, in the midst of the struggle. So, we saw that last time, the necessity of calling on God, and crying out to the Holy Spirit to take over and fill your life, and give you the words and the understanding and the wisdom to deal with it. This is triumphant.
The third thing and last point that we looked at last time was, in the midst of persecution, boldly use it as an opportunity to present the gospel. Boldly use it as an opportunity to present the gospel. Verse 8, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. And this is bold: “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man as to how this man is has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all of the people of Israel that buy the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name, this man stands here before you in good health. He, that is, Jesus Christ, is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” This is really so powerful.
How emboldened are these disciples? You say they’re essentially just in the church for weeks. The church is newly born. They’ve just been literally given the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. They received the indwelling Spirit. They’re filled with the Spirit. How in the world could they have such assurance and confidence and boldness? The answer? They knew all that the Old Testament had said but didn’t understand its meaning. They knew all that Christ had said but were shaky and foggy about its meaning. But when Christ rose from the dead, met them in the upper room, and for 40 days explained the meaning of everything, all of it came together in completion. Now, their theology is full, and rich, and historic.
Jewish people who are converted to Christ are the only converts who can drag their former religion into the new one. If you’re a converted Buddhist, you can’t bring anything with you. If you’re a converted Hindu, you can’t bring anything. But if you’re a converted Jew, you bring everything and you understand it, and that’s what was happening to them. They were new in the sense of New Covenant converts, but they had such a vast education that now all had become clear. They understood the plan, the purpose. There is Peter there in verse 11, rattling off Psalm 118 verse 22 to show again this experience of now for the first time understanding even isolated portions of the Old Testament. They preached the exclusivity of the gospel.
What did they do in persecution? Soften the message? No. Broaden the message to be inclusive, so no one is offended? No. They preached the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ and in no one else. Now listen, they start throwing around Old Testament verses, and they do this with confidence, and this shakes the rulers in the Sanhedrin. Verse 13. Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Now understand, they, like the rest of the Jews, had been raised on the Old Testament. They knew the content without knowing the meaning. But now, all of a sudden, with their teacher after His resurrection explaining it all to them for 40 days, with the Holy Spirit becoming an internal resident truth teacher, they are profoundly educated in an understanding of Scripture. And so, they speak with confidence about salvation in Christ and Christ alone. And this shocks the Jewish Ph.D.’s who are supposed to be the only ones who can speak with certainty. They’re astounded that these uneducated Galilean fishermen say what they say with such boldness, such confidence, and who talk like they knew what they were talking about. They’re really stunned by this. They obviously know that this is beyond what they should expect, and they began, end of verse 13, to recognize them as having been with Jesus. They were like Jesus. Confident, assured, authoritative.
Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, what shocked the crowd as He spoke as one having what? Authority. They saw the same boldness in the apostles they had seen in Jesus. They saw the same forthright fearlessness they had seen with Jesus. And neither Jesus nor these men had ever set their foot in any rabbinical, authorized school. And yet, they taught as if they had authority. Certainly, none of them, not Peter or John, or any other apostles, in one sense, could handle the Old Testament the way Jesus did, but this is what they were used to from Jesus. None of them could be as assured and as bold and confident as the omniscient Son of God, but it was very much the same.
That leads to a fourth principle. Be obedient to God no matter the cost. Be obedient to God no matter the cost. The leaders have a problem on their hands. They are looking at the man who had been healed standing with Peter and John. He’s still there. Remember? That’s how the scene started, right? Well, when Peter and John came to the Sanhedrin, they brought the man, the living illustration. They didn’t know what to say in reply. They were in no position to deny the miracle. There’s the man. Can’t deny that. They’re not in any position to question the disciples’ understanding of the Old Testament. They could’ve repented. They could’ve said, “We were wrong. Obviously, Christ is alive because His power is at work.” They didn’t. They have to figure out a way to deal with this.
So, in verse 15, they ordered them to leave the council, and then they began to confer with one another. They take them out of the room. They don’t set them free. They just get them out of there so they don’t hear the deliberations. And they say, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” Does that tell you about unbelief? How stubborn is unbelief?
All right. The miracle happened. It’s a notable miracle. The whole city knows it’s a miracle. We can’t attempt to deny the miracle. What are we going to do with these men. This is a tough problem. Oh, by the way, there’s no law against healing people. There didn’t need to be a law against it ‘cause nobody could do it. There’s no rule against a good deed. And furthermore, Peter and John were popular with the people. How popular were they? 20,000 people by now or about that make up the church which, as far as they’re concerned, doesn’t appear as a church, but a mass movement against them by the populous. They can’t kill these men or they’re going to have a revolution on their hands. That’s not good. They can’t let them go, and at least they can’t let them go doing this, teaching and healing. They’ve got to come up with something, and this is the brain trust now of Judaism. So, they come up with a solution, verse 17, “‘But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.’ And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
That is the inevitable moment in persecution. Is it not? Every martyr came to that moment in the past. Every martyr comes to that moment in the present. We read it in the papers all the time. ISIS finds Christians, they bring them in, they say “denounce Christianity, embrace Islam or we’ll chop your head off.” That moment comes in persecution. Will you deny Christ? Will you deny Christ? You read the history of the persecution of the church, and that moment comes back again and again and again. They brought them in, commanded them never to mention the name of Jesus again.
Kind of an interesting little turn. The early believers had to be commanded to be quiet about Jesus; modern believers have to be commanded to say something about Him. We’ve come a long way from the fire of the early church, I fear. They still despise His name. They still hate Him, and they can’t get rid of His name, they can’t get rid of Him. So, they warn them. The warning implies some kind of threat, some kind of response if they fail to obey, to speak no longer to any man that name. What they mean there of course is public speaking. The verb is used to refer to actual public speech. No more preaching. So they put a ban on preaching. There are bans on preaching all over the world today. There always have been in the life of the church. So they threatened them with some unnamed retribution if they don’t stop preaching. A ban on preaching. I wonder how far away that is, even in our own country.
So how do they respond? Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” Boy, that is well-crafted, isn’t it? They might’ve been fishermen, but they were pretty shrewd. You need to make another judgment, gentlemen. Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you or to God. That’s it. You say, well, wait a minute. The Bible says that we are to be subject to the powers that be for they are ordained of God. Romans 13. The Bible says that we are to be subject to the king and all rulers, and to submit to them and be good citizens. First Peter chapter 2. We are to come under authority. God is ordained government. They don’t bear the sword for nothing, and we’re to be model citizens and not revolutionaries. And so, this would’ve been the time for them to say okay, we will submit because the Bible tells us to submit. We are to honor the king, and the governor, and those that are in authority over us. God has ordained all authorities for the preservation of life.
But that has limits, folks, when what men tell you to do is contrary to what God tells you to do. Then, who do you obey? You be the judge. Whether it’s right in the sight of God to give heed to you, rather than to God, you judge that. How did Daniel face that? Daniel was told: do not pray. Daniel answered that question, “I have a higher authority.” Daniel, by nature, was a submissive young man. He had demonstrated that in his training in Babylon. He was a well-rounded noble, accommodating man, and rose to a prime ministership in an alien country. But when it came to being told not to do what God commanded him to do, that’s where he had to obey the higher authority.
So what does someone do in persecution? First, you boldly proclaim the message that brought about the persecution, and secondly, with holy courage and boldness, you take your stand. You have, really, no choice. When the culture tells you you cannot proclaim the gospel, when the culture tells you you cannot read the Scripture, when society forbids you to name the name of Jesus Christ, or when society demands that you do something God forbids like allow homosexual marriage. That is an oxymoron. You have a higher authority.
Listen, they knew that they had a responsibility to government. It was Peter who wrote those words: submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. He wrote that. He understood that. But when obeying that government makes you a violator of Christ’s command, you cannot be obedient. You must not be obedient. You will not be obedient. Chapter 5 verse 29, it comes up again. Further persecution. Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” We must obey God rather than men. I say this not only to you, but to persecuted Christians around the world who may hear this message. When they command you to stop speaking the name of Christ, you cannot obey them. When they command you to stop preaching the gospel, you cannot obey them. When they command you to accept something immoral, something unjust, or something unrighteous, you cannot obey them.
Here we are in America, and some professing Christians have so little courage that the voice of their neighbors sound louder in their ears than the voice of God. The real secret here is the tribute once paid to John Knox. He feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man. Well, that was Peter and John. They obeyed in faith, leading the results to God. That’s boldness.
A couple of other things come out of this. Little dialogue here. It shows how opposite Judaism was from God, because they were put in a dilemma where doing what the leaders of Judaism told them to do would be absolutely contrary to God. Again, another way to demonstrate how ungodly Judaism was. It also let them know that their superficial self-designed authority was meaningless in God’s kingdom.
So, verse 20, they say it as clearly as you can say it: “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That’s how John described his experience with Christ. First John 1:1. You remember how he begins that epistle? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Christ. We saw Him. We heard Him. We touched Him. We handled Him. The Word of Life. We cannot speaking about Him. This, of course, is where persecuted people have to take their stand. And if it means off with the head, burned at the stake, whatever it means, there’s no choice. Paul put it this way, 1 Corinthians 9:16: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” I bring judgment down on my own head. I’d rather be judged by man than by God. I’d rather have the condemnation of an earthly tribunal than to have the condemnation of the heavenly one.
We can’t. We can’t stop speaking about what we’ve seen and heard. We can’t. When they had then, verse 21, “threatened them further, they let them go.” Why did they let them go? Finding no basis on which to punish them, “on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened.” There is a mass movement going on. There are the people who have become true believers and are now making up the church, but the whole city, the whole area is electrified by this incredible miracle, and they’re all glorifying God for what happened. Doesn’t mean they were all believers, but they all knew it was a work of God because they knew the man, verse 22, the man was more than 40 years old on whom the miracle of healing had been performed. That means for decades, they had seen this beggar in his lame condition. So they threatened him, but we don’t know what the teeth in the threat might be, but they didn’t put any. They didn’t say we’re going to do this, or we’re going to do that, because they were afraid of this mass movement, this populace.
So, they just released them. If you look over at 40, it’s a similar situation. Only this time, they put some teeth in their demands. They called the apostles in, and they flogged them. They whipped them, and then ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So, the first time, they think the warning might scare them. The warning doesn’t scare them. The next time, they whip them and give them the same command.
That doesn’t stop anything. Then, as you know, eventually they began to kill them. But at this point, they do nothing. Verse 23. When they had been released, they went to their own, their own friends and family, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. They just gave a report. They had stood their ground. They had been bold. No threats could’ve deterred them. This is an appropriate response to being brought to the brink in persecution when your life is threatened.
Wonderful story of John Chrysostom, summoned before the Roman emperor Arcadius, threatened with banishment if he didn’t stop preaching Christ. He is said to have said this: “You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” The emperor said, “Then I will slay you.” “Nay. You cannot slay me, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “Then, your treasures will be confiscated.” “That can’t be. My treasures are all in heaven, where no one can break in and steal.” “Then I will drive you from men, and you will have no friends.” “You cannot do that either. I have a friend in heaven who said I will never leave you or forsake you.” Ultimately, Chrysostom was banished to a remote place on the edge of Armenia. And all he did when he got there was preach. All the time. So they determined they had to banish him further into a terribly obscure place, and he died on the journey. No threat could break his spirit, and no threat could take him away from obedience. Boldly obey Christ in the face of persecution. Boldly obey Christ in the face of persecution.
So what did we learn? Be submissive, be Spirit filled, boldly use it as an opportunity, and be boldly obedient, no matter what the cost.
There’s a fifth principle, a fifth principle. Bind closer to other believers, verse 23. “When they had been released, they went to their own companions,” friends, “and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” You know, persecution produces unity. Go over to verse 32. As this persecution accelerates, the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul. Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own. All things were common property to them. With great power, the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was on them. There was not a needy person among them. All who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sale and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. This is an incredible coming together. Persecution does that. It produces unity. They clung tightly to one another, dependent. The persecuted church is the united church because it draws its strengths in that corporate fellowship. Persecution inevitably produces unity. It forces believers to circle the wagons, to cling to each other, to hold on tightly.
Persecuted church, then, because expressive of its love. It becomes stronger in its union. Persecution then makes the church collectively strong. So, the fifth principle, just in that one little verse: “Bind yourselves closely together with other believers.”
Two more. Number 6, thank the Lord. Thank the Lord. When the message was given and they heard it, verse 24, they lifted up their voices to God with one accord. There’s the unity. And they said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant said,” Psalm 2, “‘Why did the nations rage and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
What was their response? Just immediate praise to God. Immediate praise. They pour out true worship. They address God as Lord, not the usual Kurios, Lord, but despot. It becomes the English word, “despot,” referring to one who is the absolute ruler of slaves, the absolute master of all. They see themselves as slaves, and they praise their master. They praise their God with one accord, who is the creator of the entire universe, the God who has all of the rulers of the world and nations of the earth in the palm of His hand, the God who allowed them to gather against His Christ. And in their gathering, they accomplished His purpose, which was predestined. This is where theologians get the invisible hand to describe the providence of God, verse 28, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to accomplish.
This is praise. This is blessing God. Their response to the report then, is to praise the Lord, to lift up their praise. They recognize the guilt of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the people of Israel. But behind it all is the invisible hand of God, affecting His predestined purpose.
This is so critical in persecution, to see that this is part of a scheme, a plan, a purpose unfolding, that God ordained before the world began. Listen. This is where your comfort comes from. This is not outside the plan. This is inside the plan. This is not outside the power of God. This is inside the power of God. This is His purpose, it is His plan, it is by His power and His will. The Old Testaments prophesied that the world would gather against the Messiah, that the kings of the earth would take their stand and the rulers would gather together, and they did, and who are those rulers who gathered against Jesus? Herod, the Idumean; Pilate, the Roman; the Romans and the Jews. The world gathered against Him, just what is prophesied in Psalm 2, and raged, the Gentiles raged, the Jews raged. But all they did in their rage was what God had predestined to occur. This is where the one in persecution finds final, ultimate comfort. This is in the plan of God. That’s how the Book of Genesis ends, in the story of Joseph. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for God. Psalm 76:10 puts it this way: He causes the wrath of men to praise Him.
So, how do you handle persecution? Be submissive, be Spirit filled, boldly use it as an opportunity, be obedient at all costs, bind yourselves together with other believers, and praise the Lord for His purpose and providence in it all.
And then, the final note. Amazing. Pray for greater boldness. Pray for greater boldness. Verse 29. “And now, Lord, take note of their threats,” after all the praise and affirmation, then comes the request. What’s your request? Get us out of this.
No. Here’s their request: “Grant that Your slaves,” your douloi, “may speak Your word with all confidence. Give us greater boldness.” That’s the prayer of a persecuted believer. Give us greater boldness, greater boldness. Amazing. You are despots. You are the absolute ruler. We are douloi. We are slaves. We are committed to whatever Your Word says. We will speak Your Word with all boldness and confidence. And Lord, undergird that speaking. Extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant, Jesus. Undergird our preaching with more miracles, more wonders. Keep it up. And you know that that is what was happening.
If you go back to the end of chapter 2, we know that there were wonders going on. Verse 43. “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” Scripture wasn’t written yet. They needed to be validated. They were validated by the miracles, and so they cry out to God: do more miracles to undergird our preaching. Give us greater boldness, and do more miracles.
Their prayer was answered fast. Verse 31. This is heaven’s response. “When they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the Word of God with boldness.” Verse 32. “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” Powerful. Too many to number, now. Bold, fearless, undaunted, confident, courageous, trusting in the purpose of God. They are triumphant.
This is how to face persecution. The church, throughout its history, has demonstrated a similar triumphant character. We rejoice in the faithfulness of the saints because we’re here today because of that faithfulness. Faithful saints preserve the Scripture. Faithful saints preserve the credibility of our Christian faith. Faithful saints wrote the books illuminated by the Holy Spirit that explain the Scripture so that it could come to life through the centuries and be brought down to us. We look backwards and see many faithful persecuted believers, but we need to realize that there are many today living. There will continue to be many more in the future. Maybe some of you, who knows.
I was glancing through a book that just came out in the last couple of days called “The Upper Room,” which gives an account that I wrote of John 13 to 16. I was reminded of a little story I put in there about a young man in our church here who used to like to go down to Los Angeles and tell people the gospel. He was in the middle of Los Angeles, and he was at 7th and Broadway, and he was giving the gospel and passing out gospel tracts and sharing the gospel. And somebody came along and bashed him in the back of the head, fractured his skull, and killed him. Tried to save him by drilling holes in his skull, but they couldn’t. That’s a few years back. That’s how it is for some people right now in our world, and it could be our legacy in the not too distant future. But we can rest on the truth of the testimony of the early church in the fourth chapter of Acts, can’t we? What a great gift this is.
Father, thank You again for Your Word. We always say that, and we always mean that from the bottom of our hearts. Thank You for its glorious insights, revelation, truth. Be with persecuted believers. Use this message wherever it can be a help and encouragement to bring glory and honor to You through the faithfulness of Your persecuted saints, and give us courage and strength when we face the hostility that comes against Your glorious name. We ask these things for the sake of Christ. Amen.
Most situations in life are the result of a negotiation. The best negotiators are the ones who have refined the art of reading the situation and the parties involved. A misread of the situation or parties can be disastrous.
Most people became involved in multiple contracts when they got a phone, opened an email account or bought a house.
How many people took the time to read the fine print? There could be something in the fine print that is objectionable. However the fine print is where the ‘gotcha clause’ is hiding in plain sight.
For a couple of thousand years, we have been warned, that whatever is done in secret will come out into the light.
A daily reading reminded me that we should rightly divide the Word. I would take that one step further to say we should rightly divide every situation.
The term rightly divide the Word has also been written to properly handle the Word, digging into the real meaning and using it in context. The Word should be separated into two or more parts, meanings, areas, or groups which fit into the context of the sentence, paragraph and chapter to determine the true meaning of the Word
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Properly reading the situation will provide you the best opportunity to obtain favorable results
This command is for us to “give diligence” (Greek spoudazo) for God’s approval by “rightly dividing” the word of truth. That which is to be rightly divided is not in doubt: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The end goal is to “display yourself” as one who is, therefore, approved by God.
Properly understanding the people, situation, or documents will provide you the best opportunity to obtain favorable results and a peaceful outcome.
The key is to “rightly divide” the Scriptures. The Greek word orthotomeo, only used this one time, has several shades of meaning: to cut straight, to cut straight ways; to proceed on straight paths, hold a straight course; to make straight and smooth; to handle aright; to teach the truth directly and correctly.
This cuts down the opportunities for deceptive practices to prevail.
Two passages emphasize the way to “divide” the Scriptures. When Isaiah asked rhetorical questions about how to learn and understand biblical knowledge, the answer was “precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10).Thus:
Find the major pieces first. Find the supporting elements next. Find the pieces throughout the text.
Solomon, as the “wise preacher,” noted that one who would teach the people knowledge must have given “good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs” (Ecclesiastes 12:9).
Pay attention to the words (meanings, context). Penetrate (research) the teaching (text first, then books). Organize the information for teaching purposes.
This kind of study preparation requires a “workman”—one who is willing to give the diligence necessary to produce the powerful sayings built on the “word of truth.” If properly prepared, the workman will never be “ashamed.” HMM III (1)
We are all the workman in every situation in life. You decide if you want to do life the easy way or the hard way. The hard way could lead you to spiral down the road of fear, anxiety, depression and their related costly and generally unwanted consequences.
When all else fails, read the directions. Pay attention to the words and their meanings in context; to the signs and the situation. Stay alert to the fine print to save yourself a lot of needless aggravation and from the road of fear, anxiety, depression and their related costly and generally unwanted consequences.
Have you ever had one of those days when everything was going along beautifully, and then suddenly a crisis hit? It may have caused you to say, “Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this?”
The Bible asks the question, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34 NKJV).
The answer to that question is I have . . . on many occasions. I’ve tried to give God counsel and direction.
But as I think about my attitude many times, I realize that I’m not alone. That’s why I’m so glad Peter’s story is in the Bible. You have to love a guy like him, because he was so utterly human. He was outspoken and thoroughly honest. Peter said what we’d probably say in a situation.
Although Peter was impulsive, impetuous and hotheaded, he also was very honest, courageous, and intelligent. And perhaps he was the most accessible of all the followers of Jesus.
I can look at Peter’s life and say, “There’s hope for me,” because not only does the Bible record Peter’s great victories, but it also records his foibles and defeats.
In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus commended Peter for his insightful statement in which he recognized that Jesus was the Messiah. But then Jesus spoke of His impending death and suffering.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (16:21 NKJV).
Jesus knew exactly what was in His future. It came as no surprise to Him. He even knew who would betray Him. He knew He would be raised from the dead, and He knew exactly when that would happen.
Peter, however, couldn’t believe that Jesus was saying this. In fact, Jesus used an interesting word here when He said He would be killed. From the original language, this word also could be translated “murdered.”
I wonder if Peter heard anything else after that. He must have been thinking, “What? That cannot happen!”
It’s commendable that Peter was concerned about Jesus, but he was missing what Jesus was trying to say. And he took things way too far: “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’” (Matthew 16:22 NKJV).
Maybe Peter thought, “Look, I’m on a roll. It wasn’t that long ago when He told me, ‘Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’ Hey, I’d better set Jesus straight. He’s making a big mistake.”
Interestingly, in the original language the word used for “rebuke” carries the meaning of a leader or an officer rebuking someone under his jurisdiction. It’s a word that would describe a commanding officer giving his troops a tongue-lashing. It also implies that Peter did this repeatedly.
So picture this in your mind. Jesus had just made this statement and was obviously in anguish over it. And then Peter took an authoritarian position over the Lord and repeatedly began to rebuke Him.
Peter had lost touch with reality, but Jesus set him straight. He said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23 NKJV).
Now, why did Jesus say that? Because it was Satan who wanted to stop Jesus from going to the cross. But Jesus would not let anything deter him from His course. He knew what He had to do.
So one moment Peter was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the next moment he was speaking under the inspiration of the devil himself. It’s that continual struggle that we all face between right and wrong, between the flesh and the Spirit.
The Bible says, “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17 NLT).
And guess what? The battle never stops. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, this battle will rage until your final day. On one hand you can speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and on the other hand you can speak under the inspiration of the flesh. We must guard our words and be careful, because that battle will persist.
May God help us to trust Him when He doesn’t do things the way we think He ought to do them. May God help us to trust Him when we’re tempted to say, “Why, Lord?” or when, like Peter, we say, “Lord, that’s a bad idea. What are you doing? What are you thinking?”
God is thinking of His eternal purposes. We can only see the short term and what will benefit us in this moment. God is looking at the long term, the big picture. And He knows what He’s doing.
It’s during these times that we must trust Him, cast ourselves at His feet and say, “Lord, I admit to You that I don’t understand. I don’t know why. But I thank You that You are in control.”
When it comes to things that I don’t understand, I fall back on what I do understand. I understand that God loves me, that He’s looking out for my best interests, and that He will work all things “together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).
I don’t understand a lot of things that happen in life, but God will make it clear in that final day. Until then, we all need to trust Him.
The baby was soon to come and Mary had so much to do. In spite of all her preparations in the physical, she had to spend spiritual one on one time with God. Spending time alone with God is an important part of spiritual development. This week, amidst hectic holiday preparations, make time for quiet meditation. Stop the talking, working and rushing long enough to be still. God is waiting for you. Begin now!
2. Yahweh Source of All Hope
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
For 9 months Mary and Joseph lived with great hope and expectations. Hope is a powerful thing, but the real strength comes from the source of hope. When you place your desires and dreams into the hands of God, nothing is impossible. Hope for all mankind came through Christ, born as a lowly child in a stable.
Are you feeling run down, dealing with worry or frustration?
Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ today, say a prayer and stand in hope…
3. Make Faith In Yahweh a Habit
So exercise yourself spiritually and practice being a better Christian.
1 Timothy 4:8
Mary had to make faith a daily habit. She had to trust God moment by moment, day by day. Through loneliness, ridicule and the pain of pregnancy she had to exercise faith and make it a habit. Someone once said that practice does not make perfect; practice makes habit. This advent season, dedicate time to your spiritual exercises–prayer, Bible reading, meditation and make deepening your relationship with God a daily exercise. So like Mary, you can stay on track on your spiritual journey.
4. Focus on Yahweh’s Gift
Be very careful, then, how you live…making the most of every opportunity.
This time of year was a busy time in the Jewish calendar. Mary and Joseph would have had lots to do. But they had to stay focused on the gift God had blessed them with. December is a busy month for most of us. Filled with opportunities—parties to attend, special worship experiences to have and chances to reconnect with family and old friends. Make sure to focus your heart on the true reason for every Season. Focus on God the man, Christ Jesus and the tremendous difference He makes in your life. Pray for the wisdom to keep the holidays blessed rather than stressed.
Pray With Me
Yahweh, our Creator, we offer this humble prayer today. Father, we worship you with a song of thanks in our hearts—a song of redemption, a song of hope and renewal. We pray for joy, hope, love, forgiveness and peace upon the Earth. God, we ask for the salvation of all our family members and friends, and we pray your blessings on all people. May there be bread for the hungry, love for the unlovable, healing for the sick, protection for our children, and wisdom for our youth. We pray for the forgiveness of sinners and abundant life in Christ. Holy Spirit, be with us in love and power. In Christ’ name. Amen.
When human life begins is a question that has been the focus of a lot of controversy and debate, especially in recent times. One of the main reasons for this is because it is directly related to the abortion debate. It would be impossible to determine if abortion is morally right or wrong, or whether or not it should be legal without first determining when human life begins.
To begin with, it is important to understand what specific question is being asked by “When does human life begin?” It could mean, “When does biological life begin?” It could also mean, “When do human organisms attain basic human rights or value?” The second question is philosophical as it deals with the rights and value of the organism. However, when biological life begins is a purely scientific issue.
Biologically, the answer is clear. Life begins at conception. But what proof is there of this? Consider these logical points: If the unborn is growing, it must be alive. Dead things do not grow. From the moment of conception, a human fetus grows through cellular reproduction and division. Also, during later stages of development, the human fetus can react to external stimuli and metabolize food for energy. Have you ever heard of something that is not alive that can react to external stimuli or metabolize food for energy? If you find yourself thinking, “Sure… but animals and trees are alive also!” you would be right! Life exists in many forms, but here, the focus is on human life.
If the parents of the unborn organism in question are human beings, wouldn’t that make the unborn being in question also human? The Law of Biogenesis states that each living thing reproduces after its own kind. It is clearly true that two human parents can’t produce something that is not human. Also, it is impossible for human parents to produce something that it is not initially human but only becomes human at a later point in time. Te only option left is that the unborn fetus conceived by two human parents must be human. It could not be a tree, or another kind of animal. The unborn child has the DNA that is completely unique to the human species. All credible embryology textbooks will confirm this. For example, Langman’s Medical Embryology, 12th Edition states, “Development begins at fertilization, the process by which male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote” (pg. 10).
Despite this line of reasoning, there are some that argue that while the fetus of human parents is indeed human tissue with human DNA, the fetus is no different than the sperm or eggs that also contain human DNA. But this view is obviously not correct. There is clearly a scientific difference between the two. It is true that sperm and eggs are made up of human substance and DNA, but they are not a whole complete human organism. In fact, a sperm and an egg are only functional parts of male and female organisms. At the moment of fertilization, the sperm and the egg no longer exist and a new and unique organism begins to exist. Also, after the time of fertilization, there is no additional DNA or essential material that is added to the unborn fetus.
So despite what some would say, there is a clear scientific argument for when life actually begins. But what does the Bible say about when life begins? Does the Bible go against science? There are certainly many who argue that this is the case, But these individuals are incorrect. The Bible doesn’t, and never has, contradicted true science. On the contrary, The Bible actually validates true science. According to God and His Word, human life begins at conception, just as we observe in biology.
There are several biblical passages that unmistakably show that God views unborn babies as human beings. Unborn babies are called “children,” the same word used for already born infants and young children (Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16; Exod. 21:22). The unborn are created by God (Ps. 139:13) just as God created Adam and Eve in His image (Gen. 1:27). The life of the unborn is protected by the same punishment for injury or death as that of an adult (Exod. 21:22; Gen. 9:6). Unborn children possess personal emotions such as joy that are distinctive to humans (Luke1:44) . Personal pronouns are also used to describe unborn children (Jer. 1:5; Matt. 1:20-21). Finally, the unborn are known personally and intimately by God just as He knows all other people (Ps. 139:15-16; Jer. 1:5).
What about those that claim that while God does consider the unborn to be humans, they are not alive humans until sometime after conception (more specifically after birth)? The most common passage used to support this is Genesis 2:7 which says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” These individuals argue that the unborn do not become a “living being” until they are born because it was at birth that God ‘breathed” the breath of life into them. However, this line of thought is built on a couple of serious logical errors.
First, the creation of Adam and Eve was a intensely unique situation. Adam was the only human who was ever created with a mature body from the dust of the earth. Eve was equally unique being created from Adam’s rib. Because these verses apply specifically to that unique situaiton, they can’t be applied to unborn children. Second, the Bible describes humans as being alive in the womb before birth, even at the moment of conception. For example, Psalm 51:5 describes King David being alive at the moment of conception. In this passage, the Psalmist writes “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Further, Matthew 1:20 states, “But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’” In addition, while it is true that an unborn baby does not breathe in one sense, the process of breathing through the transfer of oxygen from the mother does occur. It is simply a different way to “breathe.”
When all these things are considered, it is clear that both biology and the Bible support the scientific truth that human life does indeed begin at conception. This is a very important truth. But why? Because, as Greg Koukl (a Christian apologist) once said, before you can answer the question, “Can I kill this,” you must first answer the all-important question, “what is it?” This could not be more true than it is in the debate surrounding abortion. How can anyone truly know whether it is morally right or wrong to kill the unborn unless we first know what it that is being killed? If human life begins at conception, it can be safely concluded that killing the unborn in an abortion, whether surgically, or chemically, is morally wrong.
What’s up with all the godly Christian men not making a move?
Houston, we have a problem. It’s a problem that will require all of our effort, courage, confidence and creativity to solve.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world, claiming 2.2 billion of the world’s 6.9 billion people, as of last year and dating is a big deal for most young Christians. However, ask any young woman what the Christian dating scene is like these days.
“Christian men … ugh.” Grim. Impossible. Slim pickings they’ll say.
Young Christian men simply won’t commit, they’ll say and if you’re lucky they’ll call once — never to be heard from again.
And the churchgoing men who are available? Well, there’s a reason they’re single.
“Usually, he respects or admires the godly young woman (or, other people in his Church think he should admire her more), and yet he’s not physically attracted to her. She’s not his “type,” he says.”
So why are all the single Christian ladies having trouble finding single Christian guys for companionship and romance? A plethora of Christian dating websites, books, blogs, advice columns, and magazine articles have surfaced in the last few years, attempting to give Christian young women some helpful tips for snagging a godly man and achieving that much-desired state of wedded bliss.
Date for at least a year.
Don’t kiss before you’re married.
Be careful how much time you spend together.
Date a bunch of people before getting serious.
Don’t unless you are ready to move in the direction of marriage.
It’s not terrible advice– waiting until marriage takes work. But here’s the thing: Relationships take work. However, while most Chrisitan ladies have internal regulations in the form of our Spirit inspired convictions and knowledge of the Bible, it does not seem to be enough?
Could it be that we screened all the godly young men out of church as boys?
Probably not entirely, as according to Mark Regenerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, young single women in the church outnumber young single men by a three-to-two ratio.
That’s right ladies, you’re not imagining it: there’s a severe shortage of single men in the church. Not just here in the U.S., but also around the world.
“There are almost no men in my country who are following Christ. And French men will not marry a woman whose faith in Jesus is so strong. She is a leper in their eyes.” – Christian woman from France
A young godly man knows he’s a catch — particularly if he’s dedicated to his faith, good looking and works out and there are hardly any other man is his Church. With each week that passes, he’s presented with a congregation full of single women. Most haven’t been on a date in a while. He has his pick of the bunch.
There’s even a joke about the gender imbalance. It goes like this:
“Men in the church are like parking spaces. All the good ones are either already taken, or they’re handicapped.”
Furthermore, it has been confirmed that the supply of young women grows with each passing year.
So whats the solution?
God Will Orchestrate the Love Story
Do you find yourself becoming resentful that God is withholding something from you?
Still waiting to find the man of your dreams
Your greatest desire is to have a baby
You want to experience the joy of being “equally yoked” with a godly husband
Desperation is dangerous because it focuses on self: What I want. What I must have. What I cannot live without. Firstly, if and when the time comes for you to be married, God will orchestrate the love story. But in the meantime, your focus is to be on serving God and pouring your life out for God, not on getting serious about getting married. The timing is up to God, not you.
Singled Out in Church
Secondly, research shows that single men are more likely to attend churches that fit the following profile:
Headed by a male pastor who’s bold and outspoken
Offers intentional male discipleship
Worship service is done in under 90 minutes
Apart from salvation, there is perhaps a way that the concept “God helps those who help themselves” is correct. We’re not suggesting you switch churches over this issue. It probably wouldn’t hurt to visit another church once in awhile — especially if your church offers nothing for singles.
Also remember that there are actually some Christ-men out there who are praying and hoping for a set-apart young woman — one who is not following after the trends of the culture, or who are not wallowing around in discontentment or on the constant prowl for a guy.
Any pastors who are reading, have you ever stopped to listen, really listen, to the women in your church about how they feel they are treated or perceived?
David, the greatest King Israel ever had. A shepherd, warrior, worshipper and a lot more. What did I find when I mapped his life onto the seven point framework? Similar to the previous article on Cornelius. If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment or share your thoughts as you are moved by the Spirit.
David knew his Identity
“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!” Psalms 139:17
Full marks to David for knowing the heart of God concerning him aka His children. He had no doubt that God loved him greatly, he was so filled in the love of God himself. He knew his joy and peace came from the salvation of God alone. His gratitude and adoration is revealed in his words of praise to God. What a life of hope!
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalms 139:23-24
David knew the state of man. He knew his true place as a human being on earth. Even though he was King, he knew he was nothing before the King of kings. He was eager to please God every day. His only desire was to be with God forever.
David knew he was Unique
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Psalms 139:14
David believed he was uniquely created. He had a clear vision of his life, knowing that God had created him with purpose. He fed his spirit with Gods will, and not his own.
David only Expected from God
“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” Psalms 62:5
One of the key enablers of all confusion and unrest in life is living on wrong expectations. It’s impossible to satisfy a longing soul. He knew God alone could fulfil the longings of his soul.
He expected only from God. He waited on God for every help he required for battles and life.
David gave his Time to God
“My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Psalms 84:2
When Jesus is your first love, you’ll only want to spend all your time with Him. Are you hungry and thirsty like the OT King? We who have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us, how passionate are we about praying and meditating on Gods word?
David loved fellowship | People
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalms 133:1
David not only loved God, but also loved fellowship. He believed in a lifestyle of unity. When the families of his army and his own family were captured, his own people turned against him. Yet, he encouraged himself in the Lord. He leaned on God when everything was against him. Not only did he get the families back but the love of his people was greatly restored.
David knew the secret to true success in this World
“What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?” Psalms 34:12
Everyone wants a good and long life (when things are going well for them), but you cannot have it without walking in the fear of God. David who had it all, personally realised the price one pays when he or she strays away from the Word of God.
David knew his Enemy
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Psalms 23:4-5
David’s lifestyle, his love for God and people, not only brought him victory over his enemies but also converted enemies into friends. His devotion in worship brought healing to those who were affected by evil spirits of depression, anxiety and other mental and emotional problems. No matter who the enemy was, in the physical or spiritual, He relied on God to overcome them all.
Christian post-liberals on the right have seen how readily the liberal center-left and the Chamber-of-Commerce right surrender to the extreme and illiberal left. It makes them wonder: Why not us?
Dec 26, 2019
It is a basic Christian teaching that good works are insufficient for spiritual salvation. We should also remember they are unlikely to suffice for cultural and political salvation either.
Chick-fil-A’s abandonment of The Salvation Army is yesterday’s news, but its lessons should be remembered, for they explain our cultural and political trajectory. That the chicken chain capitulated even though everyone was “eating mor chikin” is instructive regarding the power of the LBGT lobby and its allies. That they directed this power against a Christian organization dedicated to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless — including those who identify as LGBT — is even more instructive.
It exemplifies how hard-liners are driving the cultural left. It is not clear that a majority even of those who identity as LGBT hate The Salvation Army. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg volunteered for the organization (albeit for a photo op) a couple of years back. Now he is facing criticism from LGBT activists, as those running the movement want total victory, not coexistence. And they are winning.
The campaign included government officials from Buffalo, New York, to San Antonio, Texas, retaliating against Chick-fil-A for its support of The Salvation Army. Even without full control over the government, the left has been aggressive in its use of government power against Christians who believe traditional teachings on human sexuality. The left seems to target particularly those engaged in charitable work, rather than protecting them on account of their good works.
The left’s legal wing is trying to compel Christian hospitals to perform abortions and sex-change surgeries, Christian schools to affirm same-sex relationships, and Christian charities such as women’s shelters to pretend men can be women. A purportedly serious Democratic presidential candidate wanted to tax dissenting Christian organizations, including churches, into oblivion.
The left won’t even spare elderly nuns. When the Trump administration ended Barack Obama’s legal campaign against the Little Sisters of the Poor, various Democratic attorneys general made a point of continuing that unholy effort.
The Rise of Post-Liberal Christianity
This should not surprise us. Jesus promised that the powers of this world would hate his followers, not that they would love us if we were virtuous. While we Christians should always strive to be more like Christ, we should not succumb to a quasi-Pelagianism that presumes our winsomeness determines how others receive the gospel. Christ himself was crucified, and the grace and charity many martyrs exemplified did not save them from persecution unto death.
But that we should expect trouble in this world does not mean we should be disinterested regarding politics, nor does it excuse governments that oppose the church and oppress its people. That our nation seems to be starting down this path has intensified Christian reconsiderations of liberal political theory. Although our government ostensibly protects the freedoms of religion, association, and speech, procedural liberalism increasingly appears insufficient to protect our rights or to ensure a culture of tolerance and pluralism that includes Christians who maintain the traditional teachings of our faith.
The supposedly neutral principles of the legal left consistently restrict the rights and opportunities of orthodox Christians, and the left always pushes the envelope. Christian litigators should, of course, do their best to defend our rights, and thank God for their efforts, but it should be no surprise that more and more Christians are intrigued by varieties of post-liberal thinking, including previously marginalized ideas such as Catholic integralism. It is understandable that Christians are turning against the system of liberal democratic capitalism as it turns against them.
Post-liberal Christians are unlikely to find their minority status daunting, for they see that minorities can win if they are determined and the institutions they face are weak and full of cowards. After all, a minority of hard-line leftists control cultural, economic, and political pressure points that grant them power far beyond their numbers.
For example, the 2020 Democratic field is so radically pro-abortion that even The New York Times has noticed. The Democratic Party stands for abortion today, abortion tomorrow, and abortion forever, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren illustrated in promising that at her inauguration — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — she will wear swag to rep the nation’s largest abortion chain.
Christian post-liberals on the right have seen how readily the liberal center-left and the Chamber-of-Commerce right surrender to the extreme and illiberal left and wonder: Why not us? A decadent and despairing culture with weak institutions and degraded elites is precisely the sort that a determined minority might govern.
Thus, they see an opportunity as our culture disintegrates despite its wealth and technological prowess. Liberal individualism seems to be devouring itself: Fertility is down, loneliness and depression have increased, and deaths of despair from suicide, drugs, and alcohol are way up.
Should Liberalism Be Preserved?
Perhaps it is time to be bold and reorder society toward the highest good, rather than accepting liberalism’s dishonest promises of “live and let live” neutrality. As some post-liberal thinkers note, we increasingly live in a non-Christian integralist society that mandates belief in sectarian dogmas, such as the mystical belief that a man may become — indeed, may already be — a woman. Therefore, they see the alternative to post-liberal Christian politics not as liberalism, but as some sort of post-Christian illiberal politics.
I am sympathetic to some of the post-liberal thought developing on the right. I see the appeal, especially as liberalism’s promise of legal neutrality is exposed as so much fiction. I share many of the critiques of liberal political theory and find its discourse far more interesting than the stale talking points of neoliberals and neoconservatives.
But I am neither Catholic nor Calvinist enough to be much of an integralist, and I remain more skeptical of the likelihood of governmental efficacy and rectitude than many post-liberals seem to be. I also remain attached to many liberal practices, such as the right to trial by jury.
I am, in short, still thinking over these matters and am not entirely in either camp. From this in-between, I would recommend post-liberal thinkers reflect on the frailty and fallibility of human institutions. I also suggest that the defenders of liberal democratic capitalism take the critiques of post-liberals seriously. A liberal order that seeks to shut down Christian charities for nonconformist views on human sexuality does not deserve to survive.
Nathanael Blake is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist. He has a PhD in political theory. He lives in Missouri.
Judges 6:12“When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
I struggle to know if I am moving in God’s calling in my life. After all, days turn into months and years and the grind is real. Who am I that God can use? My past, my sin, my fear, my doubts are all reasons for why I am not qualified. God couldn’t possibly use someone like me, look at what other people are doing in God’s name, look at the ministries, the salvations, the miracles… how can I measure up?
Let’s take a look at Gideon, he was a mighty warrior for God and one of the most famous of Israel’s judges. If you look at when God called him, he was not even close to who we think of him today. God first saw him and called him a “mighty warrior.” Why? Had he won battles yet? Had he defeated Israel’s enemies yet? No… but God saw him for what he could become, he called this out of him before Gideon even believed it. In fact the next verse (13) Gideon answers the angel by saying “Pardon me, my lord, but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about…. But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” God responds to this by saying “Go in thestrength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” God shut down Gideon’s doubts pretty fast, Gideon is overcome by his circumstances and basically tells God that He abandoned them, he says this directly to God’s angel, talk about being bold! God responding with “Am I not sending you”, as in- I know what I am doing, I chose you for a reason if you were to but act upon it and believe it.
This should have been enough right? I mean, if God told you directly that he was sending you, would you obey? Or would you come up with excuses? Take a look at Gideon’s NEXT response in verse 15 “But how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Gideon still had excuses, he refused to believe God knew who he was calling and tried to correct God by telling him where he came from. The Lord then responded “I will be with you,” as if to say, none of your past matters, I am calling you into a mighty future. The rest of the chapter is Gideon asking for signs from God to confirm even more what has already been spoken.
You have to give Gideon credit for his boldness in the face of God, he was worried that he couldn’t be a mighty warrior for God and yet here he is, in front of the creator of the universe, telling Him how He is wrong. I find it interesting too that God allowed Gideon to express his fears and concerns without giving up on him, he came through on Gideon’s asking for a sign and did not go and choose someoneelse. God knew what he was doing and God knew why he called Gideon. Fast-forward some verses and Gideon destroys Israelites enemies and fulfills what God spoke over him as a “mighty warrior.”
It’s been said that God doesn’t call those equipped but equips those he calls…
What does God’s calling look like on your life? Have you been walking faithfully in it or have you been running away from it because you are not “qualified.” What I have seen in my life is that following through on God’s calling is taking small steps and saying “YES” to God, in whatever that may be, big or small. God is patient and wants to hear your fears and doubts. He may not always answer a “fleece” (v.39) we put before him, but he will always encourage us and always sees us for who we really are and the“mighty warrior” we can become!
Discerning Reflection: What is the reason I use for why I “can’t” do something God is calling me to do? What have I said YES to that has turned out to be a blessing to me or someone else?
Prayer- God, help me see myself as you see me. Help me walk in the calling you have placed on my life, however big or small it may be. Help me not use excuses from my past as to why I can’t but give me boldness and guide my steps. In Jesus’ name, Amen.