One of the interesting things going on in the world today is how we use our money. The sale of a T. rex fossil is one example. The skeleton of a massive dinosaur can bring huge profits to the owner. Recently a 13-foot tall Tyrannosaurus rex fossil known as “Stan” was sold at Christie’s Auction House for $32,000,000. Most of us would wonder why anyone would spend that kind of money on a fossil? Sarah Rose Sharp gave a possible answer in Hyperallergic.com:
“And honestly, can we find a more contemporary symbol than a tyrant king who stomps on all other living things with no regard for propriety, before witnessing the extinction of his species based on natural science beyond his control?”
Daily we see reports of leaders in politics, media, and technology raking in vast amounts of money no matter who gets hurt in the process.Jesus dealt with this mindset in His day. The parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21 is a picture of what is happening today. We should heed His follow-up teaching in verses 22-34. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21 tell us what we should hold as important. Luke 18:10-14 demonstrates the attitude we should have.
The sale of a dinosaur fossil for massive amounts of money is just one more illustration of how we use our money and where we place our priorities.
The November/December 2020, issue of Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, carried an interesting article titled “The Price of Purple.” It tells about an archaeological site known as Tel Shikmonan in northern Israel, where there is a very long history of securing purple dye for coloring textiles.
Textiles colored with purple dye were listed along with precious metals in trade and tax records indicating prestige and royal status. In Jesus’ time, Roman high officials wore distinctive purple togas. In Mark 15:17, Jesus was clothed in purple when the Romans wanted to portray Him as king of the Jews. In Luke 16:19, the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus was clothed in purple to indicate his status.
In the New Testament, we read the story of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul had arrived in Philippi, which was a “chief city” of that part of Macedonia. There he met Lydia, who came from Thyatira, which was a city near Philippi. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (verse 14). Verse 15 tells us that she owned a house and other people lived in the house with her. Selling purple dye was a high scale business. A woman owning a home and having a household indicated wealth and prestige in the Roman culture. Verse 40 tells us that the Church was meeting in Lydia’s house.
Skeptics have attempted to deny this account, but excavation at Tel Shikmona has strongly supported the Bible. Tel Shikmona is located on the coast at the foot of Mount Carmel near the present-day port city of Haifa, Israel. The ocean is shallow and rocky at Tel Shikmona, and there are large populations of murex snails in those waters. Liquid extracted from the hypobranchial glands of murex sea snails formed the purple dye when treated with light or oxygen. The sea snails at Tel Shikmona can produce large quantities of the purple dye that stains textiles like no other known dye. People had ground up lapis lazuli, which we rock hounds know is a blue color, but it fades and was not as unique as the murex purple.
Joseph Elgavish excavated Tel Shikmona in the 1960s and found thousands of artifacts. Later excavations convinced archaeologists that this was an industrial site focused on the purple dye industry. Roman rulers starting with Julius Caesar (46-44 BC) and continuing through Nero (AD 54 – 68) had laws to fine anyone wearing murex purple without permission. So Lydia was indeed a special woman with connections and clout with people at the top of the social structure. These facts strongly support her ability to use her status to help Paul in his work at Philippi.
People sometimes use demon possession as an excuse for bad behavior. The person will say, “It wasn’t my fault! A demon made me do it.”
First, let’s understand that Jesus conquered the forces of Satan. In Colossians 2:15, after Paul said that Jesus had forgiven our sins and canceled the written code, he goes on to say that Jesus also “disarmed the powers and authorities” which are Satan’s spiritual forces. You and I do not run the risk of having a demon take over and make us do something against our will. Here are some of the biblical reasons why we know that can’t happen:
#1. Prophecy said that when the Messiah would come, unclean spirits would be gone. See Zechariah 13:1-14. That is backed up by 1 John 3:8, and Colossians 2:15.
#2. One primary theme in the New Testament is that every person chooses what to believe and whom to obey. We cannot be taken over by anything, because it is our free moral choice. See Philippians 2:12, John 20:31, and James 2:14.
#3. The Church was never warned about demons even though it was warned about everything else. If we were at risk of demon possession, the Church would have been warned. See Acts 20:28-31, 1 Corinthians 4:14-17, Colossians 1:28, and 2 Peter 1:3-9.
#4. The New Testament gives us the cure for overcoming Satan’s power. See James 4:7, Ephesians 6:12-18, 1 Peter 5:8-9, and Hebrews 4:15-16.
#5. The Bible says that God has restricted Satan. See Revelation 20:1-3, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Romans 8:28, and 2 Corinthians 12:7-12.
God gave us the right to choose Him or Satan. It is our free choice, and God has promised He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We cannot use the excuse that a demon made me do it.
Atheists are desperate to attack the reliability of the New Testament. Bart Ehrman wrote that the biblical stories about Jesus “were changed with what would strike us today as reckless abandon. They were modified, amplified, and embellished, And sometimes they were made up” (Bart Ehrman in his book The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, page 269.)
Atheist scholars like Ehrman assume that the average person is too ignorant to understand why such a statement isn’t true. They assume that most people won’t take the time to find the answer to a challenge like this one. Thankfully some Christian scholars have responded. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones explains why Ehrman’s statement is false.
The accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching emerged among eyewitnesses shortly after the events occurred. Can we trust the New Testament accounts to be true? How about the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Paul summarizes the story of Christ’s resurrection with two Greek words – paradidomi and paralambano. When these two words were used together, ancient Greek readers understood that the writer was citing oral history. Paul wrote in Greek, but in that passage, he called the apostle Peter by his Aramaic name “Cephas.” Paul also used a Greek word to describe an Aramaic method for joining clauses. What that means is that the oral history was originally in Aramaic. People in Galilee and Judea spoke Aramaic, and Paul must have received this oral history in Aramaic.
What that tells us is, Paul heard the story of Jesus from eyewitnesses (Galatians 1:18) who conveyed it to him in Aramaic. In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul reminds the Corinthians of what he had told them three years earlier. Paul carried this message everywhere he went, meaning that it was unchanged as it spread across the Roman empire. Clearly, the story of Jesus’ resurrection was not made up long after He died. The account was not “changed with reckless abandon”.
I sometimes get a heated letter, email, or phone call chastising me for advocating something that isn’t possible or safe. I can understand the concerns, and yet it is hard to miss the clear teaching of Matthew 25:35-40. How can we do we what Jesus told us to do? The fact is that it is safer and easier to do those things today than when Jesus spoke these words. The examples of the first century Church in Acts 2:44-47, of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-39, and of Lydia in Acts 16:13-15 give us clues as to how we can be doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25.
HUNGERED AND YOU GAVE ME MEAT. Every major city in America has a food bank, operated by Christians, that needs volunteers and donations.
THIRSTY AND YOU GAVE ME DRINK. There are Christian groups like “Healing Hands” drilling wells and putting in water purification systems in areas without clean water. They need help and donations.
A STRANGER AND YOU TOOK ME IN. Churches near major hospitals such as Hands of Compassion near the Mayo Clinic provide housing and help strangers–and they need support.
NAKED AND YOU CLOTHED ME. Programs like “Coats for Kids” are operated by churches in nearly every major city in America. Finding and distributing coats to needy people is always a work that needs help.
SICK AND YOU VISITED ME. Visitation programs to hospitals are operated by groups of Christians and local congregations in every hospital in America. Hospital chaplains can integrate workers into visitation programs.
IN PRISON AND YOU CAME TO ME. There are prison ministries in virtually every prison in America and national correspondence programs like ours that offer programs free of charge to anyone who is incarcerated.
I get frustrated with the fact that my mailbox is stuffed every day with requests for help in works like these. Then I think about the fact that Christians do what most people in this world won’t do, and that is doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25. If you can’t find any of these things close to where you live, we can help you find a national and/or local group where you can serve.
One part of my life’s history that I don’t talk about a lot is my experience with racial issues growing up in a divided society. As a child, I lived for several years in Alabama, where my father had his first college teaching job at Talladega State Teacher’s College. He and the school president were the only whites on the staff, and I was the only white kid in my school. All of my friends were black, and the people we knew in our daily lives were black. We never had a problem with anyone in that community.
When we left the campus area, we had problems. I remember when I had my tonsils removed. My mother had to take me to Birmingham to have it done. She told me later that when they brought me out of the operating room on a gurney, covered with blood, the doctor shoved the gurney at my mother and said, “Here nigger lover, you clean him up.”
We moved to McComb, Illinois, where my father got a job at Western Illinois University. When people learned that my father had taught at an all-black college and that I had attended an all-black school, we had all kinds of problems. The fact that I had spent grades 2, 3, and 4 in an all-black school meant to a lot of folks that I was inferior, and it was okay to beat me up. I tell you this to point out that now as a Christian and having had that experience, I can relate to the current struggles with prejudice and abuse in America.
Jesus dealt with similar issues throughout His life. John 4 tells us of His exchange with a Samaritan woman. Verse 9 says that the Jews avoided and rejected the Samaritans because they were of mixed race and had different religious beliefs. She was a woman, married five times, and living with a guy she wasn’t married to. Jesus addressed her needs and taught her. In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus showed compassion to a man who was severely mentally ill. The crucifixion of Christ happened because people had the same willful blindness that permeates our society today. The people who welcomed Him to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, crucified Him in Matthew 27:22-25.
The early Church faced massive persecution. In Acts 6:8-14, a man named Stephen was doing great things in the community. In Acts 7:54-60, the community stopped their ears and stoned him to death when he stated religious facts they didn’t want to hear. Christians are still being persecuted today. Racial prejudice still survives today. Children are still growing up in a divided society. We must replace hatred and division with love and service. That’s the only way our world can survive. If Christians don’t lead in this vital matter, who will?
There is a common mistake made by atheists and by many preachers who say they take the Bible literally. The problem involves knowing the difference between literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible. Literalism is interpreting a passage while ignoring who wrote it, why they wrote it, what kind of literature or teaching technique it is, and to whom it was written.
When atheists try to say that a biblical passage cannot be true, they are almost always using literalism. An example is skeptics who claim that the Bible says the Earth is flat and has corners like a sheet of paper. They use Revelation 7:1 to support this, “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth…” If you don’t read the passage’s context, you might conclude that it says the Earth is flat and has corners. There is a “Flat Earth Society” that believes that today, but that is not what the Bible is saying. In the past, literalist church leaders insisted that the Bible says the Sun orbits the Earth instead of the other way around. They based that on passages that talk about the motion of the Sun (such as Joshua 19) or a passage they believed said that the Earth cannot be moved (Psalms 93:1 KJV).
A more complex example is seen in Luke 16:19-31. It’s the familiar story of Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham. Atheists have used this account to ridicule the concept of heaven and hell and preachers have used it to justify fire and damnation sermons. Is this passage a literal description of the judgment scene? This is an excellent example of the principles of literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible.
This passage is one of a series of parables. It begins as the other parables with, “There was a …” Abraham is the only proper name used in the passage. “A certain rich man…” is never identified. The word translated “Lazarus” means “without help” in the original language. It is a description of the beggar, not his formal name. Abraham is never given the role of a judge in the scripture. He is the father of Israel, but he certainly is not God. Jesus told the story to “the Pharisees who were covetous” (verse 14) and considered themselves sons of Abraham. Jesus did not address the parable to theologians wanting to know the nature of hell. The picture of people in hell seeing people in heaven may be useful for artists, but it violates all descriptions of heaven and hell. The parable’s message is condemning the hypocrisy of people who claimed a relationship with God but did nothing to help others.
We must apply these principles to any passage we read. Were the nephilim of Genesis 6 literal giants? No, we have discussed that before. Did the animal in Job 41:14 have doors on its face? Does light shine when it sneezes (verse 18)? Do sparks, smoke, and flame come out of its mouth (verse 19, 20)? Is its heart as hard as a millstone (verse 24)?
There are many other passages where people confuse literalism and a literal understanding of the Bible. The entire book of Revelation is misrepresented by folks who use literalism instead of taking it literally. As we have said before, taking a Bible passage literally means looking at who wrote it, to whom and why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. The Bible is easy to understand, and its message is 100% true, but, like any written message, it can be distorted and misrepresented. Sometimes skeptics do that purposely. Many times believers do it innocently because they don’t read it carefully and apply common sense to understand it literally.
I have been thinking about willful blindness. Many years ago, in a lectureship in Canada, I met a Christian lady who was born and raised in Germany before and during World War II. After the war, she became a Christian, but during the war, she was part of Hitler’s youth workers and active in the Nazi movement. As she talked about her leadership role in the Nazi movement, she spoke of being enthusiastic about the successes of Nazism and how it gave young Nazi workers pride and enthusiasm for the economic and social achievements it generated.
As she spoke, she became subdued and said that when she and other young Germans heard that Jews were being put in concentration camps and killed just because they were Jews, they didn’t believe it. “We are too smart, too religious, too kind to ever allow such things to happen. That can not be true!” She then looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “But we were so terribly, horribly, awfully wrong.”
I have often heard people say that they can’t understand how the German people allowed the persecution of the Jews under Hitler. The reason is willful blindness! As we are seeing and hearing the cry of our black friends and neighbors now in 2020, we need to have the courage to ask if we, too, are willfully blind.
Willful blindness is common to humans. In Matthew 21:7-11, we see people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem with a huge parade and with cries of love and support. In Matthew 27:22-25, we see these same people crying, “Crucify him!!” In Acts 7:54-60, we see people killing Stephen and even covering their ears to avoid hearing the truth about what they were doing.
I am an old man, and I have lived and worked among people of color all my life. Yet until the last few weeks, I never heard about the horrible destruction and murder of over three hundred innocent blacks living in Greenwood, Oklahoma, on May 31-June 1 of 1921. A prosperous town known as “Black Wall-street” was made up of black homes and businesses. It was attacked, and 1265 houses were burned, 150 businesses destroyed and looted, and 9,000 left homeless.
How did I never hear of this tragedy? I never thought about the impact of how we all got here. My ancestors came to America to escape persecution and to look for freedom. My black friends are here because their ancestors were ripped away from family and home, taken on a trip they didn’t want to take, and denied basic rights and freedom. How have I ignored that fact? The answer is “willful blindness.”
In this time of having our vision restored, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of a powerful song from the musical South Pacific and reflect on how they apply to us:
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late. Before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all of the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Now and then, we come across a book that is so unique and useful that we want to share it with our friends. We publish a review of such books in our quarterly journal. Just recently, we found a book titled Reflections on the Existence of God by Richard Simmons III.
Simmons is exceptionally well-read and has accumulated a massive number of stellar quotes from people in various disciplines on the existence of God. Well documented and credited, these quotations are incredibly useful. If you are like me, you frequently know someone has said what you are trying to say, but they have said it better. A classic example in Simmon’s book is a quote of Henry Bosch from the Encyclopedia of 7,700 illustrations:
“Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40, and Jesus for only three. Yet the influence of Christ’s three-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who are among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Jesus painted no pictures, yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him. Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music, still, Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelsohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratories they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble carpenter of Nazareth.”
An author like Simmons brings things to us that we would otherwise have missed. As we ponder the words of great writers, our faith in Jesus grows. We are fed and encouraged by the words of those whose creativity of expression is greater than ours.
Reflections on the Existence of God is available from Amazon. We have used other quotes from this book HERE and HERE.
By definition, we establish a memorial to help us remember certain essential things. Memorials are very much a part of Christianity and of the history of Israel. Members of different denominations have instituted all kinds of special days and given them spiritual significance. In reality, those days are not found in the Bible, and there is no biblical command to observe them. Perhaps God knew that humans would corrupt special days and forget their significance and message. Christmas is an example of that.
In Exodus 3:15, God told Moses that the exodus from Egypt would be a “memorial to all generations.” Jesus spoke in Mathew 26:13 of a memorial for the woman who anointed him for burial. In Luke 22:19-20, Jesus gave His followers the one special memorial to observe. Early Christians met on the first day of every week to remember Christ’s body “which is given for you” as they ate the bread and drank the fruit of the vine–“the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.” Even though Jesus gave us this memorial to help us remember, it was very quickly corrupted. In 1 Corinthians 11:20-34, we read that it had become a drunken feast in the Corinthian church. The memorial’s purpose was lost because they were “not discerning the Lord’s body” (verse 29). Paul goes on in this description to say, “this is why many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verse 30).
Today in the United States, we celebrate Memorial Day. The last Monday in May was made a national holiday in 1971 to honor the memory of those who died to defend America from those who would try to destroy us. It seems that each year there is more emphasis on this day being the “unofficial first day of summer” with little emphasis on its intended meaning. Like the words of 1 Corinthians 11, this day has become a drunken feast for many, and our population is weak and sickly as a result. Many of us are more concerned with Memorial Day sales and, in 2020, how to celebrate without getting the virus than with pausing to give thanks for America and for those who died to preserve it.
As Christians, we have one special memorial to help us remember the sacrifice Jesus made. Even as we stop every week to remember what Jesus did for us, we must develop an attitude of gratitude. As we thank God who sent His Son to die for our salvation, we should also remember those who died to keep us free to worship in this country.