Posts tagged ‘Abraham’

The U.S. Moves Its Embassy

This past week, a piece of legislation first passed in 1995 under President Clinton was finally implemented.  The Congress at that time passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which recognized Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel and made plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.  Since that time, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have delayed the move, citing national security concerns.  President Trump decided it was finally time to make the move.  So, a week ago Monday, the new U.S. embassy opened in Jerusalem.

While celebrations were taking place at the new embassy, only miles away, along Israel’s border at the Gaza Strip, members of Hamas were protesting the move, seeking to storm the border into Israel while flying incendiary kites across the border into Israel.  50 of these rioters were killed by Israeli forces.  Some other Palestinians were also killed, including an eight-month-old girl.

The antipathy between the Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new.  Both groups claim rights to this region and look suspiciously at the intentions and activities of the other.  The terrorist provocations of Hamas serve only to heighten tensions.

To some Christians, unalloyed support for the modern-day nation of Israel by the U.S. is a theological necessity, for they believe that anything less is a direct affront to the covenant that God made with Abraham to give him and his ancestors land in this region.  Other Christians, among whom I would include myself, do not see a one-to-one correlation between the ancient theocracy of the people of Israel and the modern democracy of the nation of Israel.  The true heirs of Abraham are not ethnic Jews living in a particular region of the world, but all those who, by faith, call on Abraham’s God – whether these people be ethnically Jewish or ethnically Gentile.  Abraham’s true heirs do not so much concern themselves with a particular piece of land in the Middle East as they do with an all-encompassing kingdom of God.

This second view does not mean, of course, that Christians should not be concerned with the events that are unfolding in the Middle East.  It is standard practice for sovereign nations to be able to name their own capitals and it is standard protocol for other nations to respect and recognize these capitals and place embassies in them, as the U.S. has now done with Israel.  Geopolitically, Israel’s status as a democracy in a region that is widely known for oppressive regimes is an important and stabilizing influence.  It is also essential to have a safe haven for ethnic Jews in an area of the world that has proven to be widely and often vociferously anti-Semitic.

At the same time, we cannot forget or overlook the struggle and suffering that many Palestinians face.  Living under Hamas has never been easy.  The small number of Christians in this region are doing yeoman’s work as they open their churches and homes to their Muslim neighbors who have been displaced by riots and bombings.  They are shining examples of Christ’s love in an area of our world that is regularly marked by hate and unrest.  These faithful people deserve our prayers and support.  They too need safe places to live and free communities in which to thrive.

The unrest and violence that has been sparked by the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a reminder of the volatility in civilization’s cradle and the fragility of human life.  Every U.S. president for the past 70 years has sought to broker peace in the Middle East and, sadly, every U.S. president has failed.  This is because, more than a president, we need a Prince – a Prince who knows how to bring peace.  He is the One in whom Israel once hoped.  He is the One who Palestinian Christians now proclaim.  And He is the One the whole world still needs.

Last week, a president kept a promise to move an embassy.  On the Last Day, a Prince will keep His promise to bring peace.  That’ll be a day to behold.

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May 21, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Common Question: How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Last weekend at the church where I served, we talked about Jesus’ audacious claim that faith in Him and Him alone is the way to salvation. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The truth that salvation is through faith in Christ alone raises a perennial theological question – one that, once again, came to my attention in an email I received after last weekend’s services:  If people can be saved only by faith in Christ, how were those people who lived before Christ saved?

At the heart of this question lies an assumption – that people before who lived before Christ were somehow saved in a different way than those who lived after Him. The apostle Paul, however, would beg to differ. He points to one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament, Abraham, and specifically asks the question, “How was Abraham saved?” His answer is unmistakably clear:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul announces, “Here is how Abraham, perhaps the most famous character in the Old Testament, was saved: by faith.” How does Paul know this? Genesis 15:6, of course: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Importantly, Paul says that God “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” In other words, before Jesus came to save sinners, God announced that Jesus would come to save sinners.  For example, the prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus’ advent, speaks of a servant who will be sent by God to take away the sins of the world:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

So how were people saved, forgiven, and made righteous before Jesus? By believing that Jesus would come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. How are people saved, forgiven, and made righteous now? By believing that Jesus has come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. In other words, people both before Jesus had come and now that Jesus has come are saved in the same way. They are saved by Jesus.

Oftentimes, people harbor a misconception that people who lived before Christ were saved by following God’s Law while people living after Christ’s advent are now saved through faith in Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. People have always and only been saved by Jesus Christ and His work, even as Jesus Himself says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” God’s gospel has always been the only plan for our salvation.

If your life is anything like mine, plans are constantly changing. While writing this blog, I had to move an appointment because things on my calendar changed. Last week, as I was coming home from a trip to Dallas with some friends, we got a flat tire and plans, due to circumstances beyond our control, changed – we got home later than we expected.  Plans are constantly changing. And oftentimes, it can be frustrating.

The promise of the gospel is that even if our plans change, God’s plans are sure and certain. The plan for our salvation always was, is, and will continue to be Jesus. There’s no need to look for another plan.

April 20, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Camel Controversy

Camels 1And you thought it was it only impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

As it turns out, threading camels isn’t the only thing that’s impossible according to some archaeologists.  Domesticating them before the tenth century B.C. also turns out to be quite the trick.  Writing for the New York Times, John Noble Wilford provocatively declares, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis.”[1]  Wilford explains:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

How does Wilford know that camels had no role in the era of the biblical patriarchs?  He cites a study, recently published by two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, which employed radiocarbon dating to test some camel bones found in the Aravah Valley.  This study found the bones to be from the last third of the tenth century B.C., which, Wilford notes, is “centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”  So there you have it.  Thanks to some late breaking bones, Genesis is discredited – at least the parts that talk about camels.

Now, before we fall prey to camel chaos, a few things should be noted.  First, the Tel Aviv archaeologists, by declaring that camels could not have been used in the way Genesis 24 describes them, are making an argument from silence.  Their assumption runs like this:  because we do not have domesticated camel fossils dating before first millennium B.C., there must have been no domesticated camels before the first millennium B.C.  The Bible must be wrong.  But a lack of evidence does not necessitate a lack of existence.  One need to only think back to 1961.  This was the year the “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima.  It had an inscription dedicated to the emperor of Rome at the time, Tiberius Caesar:  “To the Divine Augustus Tiberieum:  Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea has dedicated this.”  Before this stone was discovered, because there was no hard archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate, many assumed that Pilate was a fictional character, made up out of the sacred authors’ over-active imaginations.  Whoops.  So much for that argument from silence.

It should also be noted that the archaeologists who discovered these bones do not even have complete silence in favor of their argument against camels during the time of the biblical patriarchs.  They only have archaeological silence.  There are extra-biblical references to domesticated camels prior to the first millennium B.C.  Titus Kennedy, adjunct professor at Biola University, notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating anywhere from 1950 to 1600 B.C.  In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy explains:

For those who adhere to a twelfth century B.C. or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away …

[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 B.C. … So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia the same thing.[2]

Kennedy concludes that there were not only domesticated camels at the time of the biblical patriarchs, but before the time of the biblical patriarchs.  Thus, the biblical record is quite believable.  There is no reason that Abraham could not have acquired “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:16), just as Genesis says.

Ultimately, the difficulties with the premature conclusions drawn from this discovery reach much deeper than simply whether camels were around in the second millennium B.C.  These difficulties are summed up in Wilford’s conclusion:

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

In other words, the Bible cannot be trusted to get its facts straight – at least not all of them.  When reading the Bible, then, skepticism must be given preference over faith.

Finally, if I assume camels could not have been in Genesis based on an argument from paleontological silence, it is only reasonable for me to assume that a Savior cannot rise from death based on medical science.  After all, doctors have long known that dead people tend to stay that way.  Thus, Jesus’ resurrection must have never happened.   But if this is true, then my “faith is futile; I am still in my sins … [and] I am to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).  Wow, that’s a downer.

Let’s hope the archaeologists are wrong on this one.  After all, I don’t really like to be pitied.


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times (2.10.2014).

[2] Gordon Govier, “The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy:  Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels?Christianity Today (February 2014).

February 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Why Do Good Things Happen To Bad People?

The other day I participated in an internet poll.  The question asked was, “Do you consider yourself to be a good person?”  There were three options:  “Yes,” “No,” and “It’s not black and white.”  The results of this poll?  The vast majority of people – a little under two-thirds – responded that they did consider themselves to be good.  Another one-third of the respondents answered that such a question is not black and white.  Finally, two people claimed they were not good.  And one of the two was me.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we looked at a list of spiritual gifts from Romans 12.  Before talking about spiritual gifts, however, Paul sounds a warning:  “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).  Paul understands that humans have a proclivity, when asked whether or not they are “good,” to think of themselves as better than they are – to think of themselves “more highly than they ought.”  Thus, Paul calls for “sober judgment.”

Last week in my personal Bible reading, I read a seemingly simple and straightforward passage that gripped me:  “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 13:10).  In Genesis 13, Abraham and his nephew Lot are on their way up from Egypt to start over and settle in a new place.  As they reach the Negeb, they arrive at a pinnacle from which they can see two lands – one to the east which looks well-watered and lush and one to the west which looks arid and barren.  Abraham, in an act of stunning generosity, allows his little nephew to pick which of the two lands he would like for himself.  Logically, Lot picks the lush land, leaving his uncle with the barren pit.  But as Lot is picking the lush land, we find out that this land is home to two infamous cities – Sodom and Gomorrah.  Before God destroys these twin cities of iniquity with fire and brimstone, however, they are apparently situated on a verdant plain.  But why?  Why would God bless such evil cities with such lush landscapes?  For these cities cannot be considered “good” by any estimation!  Even people who call themselves “good” would probably say that the residents of these cities were “bad”!

There is a foundational truth that undergirds all of God’s blessings:  God’s blessings come not because humans are worthy to receive them, but because God is gracious to give them.  Sodom and Gomorrah certainly did not deserve the land and bounty they enjoyed.  But out of His grace, God blessed them in spite of their wickedness.  And we must remember and recognize that God does the same thing with us.  The blessings we have are not the result of our worthiness, but a testimony to God’s graciousness.  As Jesus Himself says, “The Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

More than once, I have been asked, usually after a heartbreaking tragedy has struck a seemingly great person, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Though it is important to affirm the sadness of tragedy and mourn with those who mourn (cf. Romans 12:15), it is also important to understand that such a question has embedded in it a faulty premise.  There are no “good” people, at least not in the biblical sense.  Though people, when asked if they are good, may consider themselves as such, the Bible paints an entirely different picture of human holiness.  Paul explains, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts…We were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3).  “By nature,” Paul says, “we are sinners.  By nature, we are bad.  And because of our badness, by nature, we deserve not God’s blessings, but God’s wrath.”  The question, then, is not, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but “Why do good things happen to bad people?”  For we, like Sodom and Gomorrah, deserve not the verdant plains of God’s blessings, but the barren desert of God’s wrath at our sin.  So why does God give us good things even though we are bad?  He gives us good things because of His grace.  So praise God for His blessings to you today!  For you do not deserve them.  But God has given them to you anyway.

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April 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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