Sunday, January 31, 2016
Ken Ham’s book, Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church’s Lost Generation is the newest volume in the series preceded by Already Compromised and Already Gone (which I have not read).
Ham et. al. asked 20-somethings questions about Genesis, Biblical authority, etc., and tallied their views and compared them to past generations. What Ham sees is a less literate, less believing generation of people who were brought up in the church.
In questioning what to do, Ham asks why we can just tell everybody, “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? (57). Why do we have to teach and believe that the Bible is a historical document to be believed?
As a Calvinist, I disagree with the assumption that “Jesus loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for [their] life.” However, I agree with Ham that Christianity is a historical religion, and if it is not historically substantiated, then there is no reason to believe it – in fat, our faith in Jesus and our hope of salvation through Him – if it is not historically true, it is all a vanity.
Ham explains that the current generation holds subjective experience in high esteem, rather than objective truth – in fact, they often deny objective truth (72).
In the latter half of the book, Ham asks what can be done to bring this generation back and to keep other generations from falling away. He concludes that we must in our families and in our churches strongly educate and equip our youth to know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to show that it is true.
Similarly, for those currently outside the church, we have to learn how to show them that the truths of the Scripture matter and hinge together – for example, if there is no historical Adam, there is no salvation in Christ, because Christ says that He is the fulfillment of the historical Adam, which, if there is not historical Adam, makes Christ – at least inaccurate – and definitely ineligible to be a holy Savior.
Too often, we have thrown up our hands and said, “you just have to believe on faith” – as though there was neither apologetic or historical proof for the claims of Christianity. But there are, and our chief need is to learn them and learn how to present them to help our children grow up to be strong believers and – by God’s Grace – to bring back the church’s lost generation.
[I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review appears on my blog, Amazon.com, and Masterbooks.com.]
January 24, 2016/January 31, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Do you like to play games?
Well, it matters what I mean by “games,” doesn’t it?
If I mean, do you like to play sports or board games or cards, many of us would say that we do.
If I mean, do you like to twist the truth to get what you want, I would hope that you would say, “of course not!”
This second type of “game playing” is what the devil and his followers like to do. They say something that is almost true, or they say something that is true, but they twist it or use it in the wrong way.
We will remember that the devil played games like this with Jesus in the wilderness at the start of His ministry:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, ‘” You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
“Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV).
Notice, everything the devil said – he quoted from the Word of God – everything he said was true, but the way he said it – the context in which he framed it – it was a lie – an evil game.
Jesus said of some of the Pharisees: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, ESV).
A game inspired by the father of lies is what we have in this morning’s text:
After Jesus spoke to the crowd on the last day of the Feast of Booths, He left the Temple and rested the night. In the morning, He returned to the Temple, and He began to teach the great crowd that assembled around Him:
“They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.”
We see, first, this morning, that the scribes and the Pharisees used a woman caught in adultery to try to trap Jesus.
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.”
The language that is used in this text points to this being a plan of the scribes and Pharisees. It is as though they thought a way to trap Jesus and bring Him to trial would be to bring a woman caught in adultery to Him and ask Him to rule on what she did. She was a pawn – a tool – in their game. They went from door to door, peering in windows to find someone committing adultery – to catch them in the act.
With venom on their lips, the scribes and the Pharisees addressed Jesus as “teacher” – “rabbi,” with hatred in their hearts and devilish hope to trap Him.
“This woman has been caught in the act of adultery.” Does anything seem strange about what they are saying?
If it doesn’t, consider what the law of God was:
“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10, ESV).
“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22, ESV).
If she had been “caught in the act of adultery,” the man was also caught in the act of adultery. The law calls for both of them to be put to death. Where was the man?
There has been a lot of interesting speculation about where the man was, but the point is this – the scribes and the Pharisees didn’t care about the man, they didn’t care about the adultery that they had uncovered – they were using this woman to get at Jesus – to trap Him – they were playing a game with this woman’s life – using the law – not because they cared one way or another about her, but because they wanted to trap Jesus and have Him arrested.
They wanted an answer from Jesus – should they stone this woman? If Jesus said “no,” He would be violating the Law of God. If Jesus said, “yes,” He would be violating the law of Rome. Either way – they would have Him.
Also notice, there was no reason to question Jesus – the Law of God was clear and stood for the nation of Israel. They were not concerned with honoring God and His Law or prosecuting sin, and they had no compassion on this woman. They used her and did not hold the Law of God as the holy, inviolable law given to Israel. In their sin, they looked for loopholes and added restrictions – not unlike what we do – we make excuses and claim exceptions and add on personal and church and denominational requirements that God never commanded. So let’s not get too high on our horses.
The Pharisees and scribes sinned grossly in bring this woman to Jesus and trying to trap Him using God’s Law against her.
Second, we see that Jesus did not fall for their trap.
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”
This is another text where there has been a great deal of speculation – what did Jesus write?
God did not see fit to record what Jesus wrote in the dirt – so, we cannot say for sure.
What we can say is that Jesus turned His back to the Pharisees and the scribes. He ignored them. He despised what they were doing and allowed them to stew in their own juices.
“Jesus! We want an answer from You. Stop doodling in the dirt and answer our question. Should we stone her or not? Are you listening to us?”
“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’
Listen to what God says about enacting capital punishment:
“On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 17:6-7, ESV).
Two or three witnesses were required to prove someone guilty of a capital crime. And the witnesses had to be the first ones to throw stones at the guilty party. And then, the whole community was to continue to enact the punishment until the person was dead.
So, Jesus was challenging them, “If you are witnesses of the crime, and you yourselves are holy – if you have never sinned – (perhaps), if you have never committed this sin – lust and adultery are the same sin – if you pursued her out of holy obligation and not because you are using her and twisting God’s Law to trap Me in this wicked game – go ahead and kill her.”
“The Law says that if you are just as witnesses and in prosecuting her for this crime, very well then, but you must raise your hands against her – to kill her – before the community joins in.”
And Jesus gave them time for this to settle in:
“And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”
What did Jesus write? Did He write anything? Or was it a way to kill time while His words settled in? We’re not told.
What is the significance of their leaving – one by one, beginning with the oldest? We’re not told.
But Jesus was left alone with the women. The Pharisees and the scribes realized that they had been outwitted. They could not bring the death penalty against her. Despite her being guilty – they didn’t bring the man, and they were just using her in this sick life and death game to trap Jesus.
And Jesus said, “They have all left, but I am the Lord God Almighty. I am Holy, and I know your sin, so I am calling down the fires of heaven to kill you and take you to your damnable destiny.” Right?
We see, third, Jesus offerd her grace.
“Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
Jesus wanted what happened to sink in for this woman, so He asked her where all those who brought charges against her had gone – hadn’t anyone condemned her – hadn’t anyone taken a rock against her – hadn’t anyone thrown the first stone?
“No one, Lord.” She was naturally stunned. She knew Jesus was someone important. She may have known He was a rabbi. She may have known about the controversy about whether He was the Christ or not.
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither do I condemn you;”
Was she shocked? We’re not told.
Are we shocked?
Didn’t Jesus care that she was caught in the act of adultery – a sin that required the death penalty?
Why didn’t Jesus condemn her? Why didn’t He – at least – read her the riot act?
Hear what John records:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).
And Peter wrote:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV).
Jesus did not come to condemn in His First Advent – He came to reveal the Gospel – to secure the salvation of His people. Certainly, Jesus had some harsh things to say to those who were full of themselves – those who didn’t think they needed salvation – but generally, Jesus came – the first time – with His message of salvation for all those who will believe. A day of judgement will come when Jesus returns.
Jesus offered her grace; Jesus offered her the hearing of the Gospel with the hope that she would receive it. He gave her time to hear the truth of salvation and did not damn her that instant for her sin.
Similarly, Jesus did not come and condemn all of us in His First Advent, rather He came to call all of His people to belief and repentance that we might be redeemed and live with Him in His eternal kingdom.
Jesus would have been right, as the Holy and Almighty God, to damn us all, but God’s plan was to present the Gospel – to fulfill the promise to make the Way to be right with God that all we who believe would be saved from the debt of our sins and made righteous through Jesus and His work in history.
That is a lesson for us as Christians – we are not to condemn people that God has not condemned. We have no right to go through the streets and say, “Oh, look at you, everyone knows you are a sinner that does this and that. You are damned to Hell for your sin – the ground is opening up for you right now.”
Jesus showed compassion for this woman – for His lost sheep. We have no idea who might believe in the last moment of life; we have not right to damn people to Hell. We have no right to cast the first stone. That is the privilege of God Almighty on the last day.
However, that does not mean we should tell people it doesn’t matter what they do – that they can continue in unrepentant sin and carry on in the work of demons. We should never be dismissive of someone who sins and say, “Oh, well, we all sin – no big deal.”
Sin is a big deal. God is very angry about sin. God sent His Son to die for our sin. Sin is serious business – it is cosmic rebellion against God – the Greatest Being in all of Existence.
That’s why we ought to notice that though Jesus did not condemn her, He said, “and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus did not condemn her, but in His Grace, He gave her time to hear and respond to the Gospel, and He told her that her sin was unacceptable and she must stop.
As we proclaim the Gospel and call people to believe, we also call them to repent – that means both to ask forgiveness for their sin and to stop sinning. We are called to name sin as sin and to call for an end of it.
If someone is stealing, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
If someone is murdering, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
If someone is lying, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
If someone is committing adultery, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
If someone is using the Lord’s Name in vain, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
If someone is dishonoring his parents, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
If someone is not keeping the Sabbath, we must call that sin and call him to stop.
And so forth.
Even so, as we speak against sin and call people away from their sin and call them to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are called to have compassion on them. They are dead in their sin – they cannot stop sinning until God intervenes – and so, until God chooses to do so, we are called to proclaim the Gospel and call people to repent and believe, while having compassion on them.
Do we understand?
God does not play games with us.
God is patient and sent His Son, not to condemn us, but to make the Way for us to be saved through Him Alone.
Now, we are all called to go out, in compassion, and call this lost world to hear and believe the Gospel, and to repent of their sin – to stop unrepentantly pursuing their sin.
God has not sent us out to condemn, but to compassionately call people to believe in Jesus Christ and His Work of salvation.
So, if we know someone who isn’t a believer, compassionately tell him how much we want him to believe and be made right with God – tell him the Gospel – and tell him to stop sinning.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, sometimes we are like James and John and want to call down fire on the unbelievers, forgive us for our arrogance. Help us to speak to others with the compassion that You showed to the women in this Scripture and in opening Your Gospel to us. Help us to speak the truth in love – even as we call people to stop their sin – for the sake of Christ and His Gospel – in love of the people we speak to – as the spoken grace of the Gospel proceeds from our lips, carried by God the Holy Spirit. May You bring many people to Yourself. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.