Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sparkling Gems April 23: Golgotha: The Place of the Skull

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Golgotha: The Place of the Skull
And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull. — Matthew 27:32,33
When the soldiers brought Jesus out from the residence of Pilate, Jesus was already carrying the crossbeam that would serve as the upper portion of His Cross.
Most Roman crosses were shaped like a "T." The upright post had a notched groove at the top into which the crossbeam was placed after a victim had been tied or nailed to it. The crossbeam, normally weighing about one hundred pounds, was carried on the back of the victim to the place of execution.
According to Roman law, once a criminal was convicted, he was to carry his own cross to the place of execution if his crucifixion was to occur somewhere other than the place of the trial. The purpose for exposing criminals heading for crucifixion to passersby was to remind those who watched of Roman military power. At the place of execution, vultures flew overhead, just waiting to swoop down and start devouring the dying carcasses left hanging on the crosses. In the nearby wilderness, wild dogs anxiously waited for the newest dead bodies, dumped by the executioners, to become their next meal.
After the person was declared guilty, a crossbeam would be laid across his back and a herald would walk ahead of him, proclaiming his crime. A sign with the person's crime written on it would also be made, later to be hung on the cross above his head. Sometimes the sign bearing the person's crime would be hung from his neck, so all the spectators who lined the streets to watch him walk by would know what crime he committed. This was the very type of sign that was publicly displayed on the Cross above Jesus' head, with the crime He was charged with — "King of the Jews" — written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
Carrying such a heavy weight for a long distance would be difficult for any man, but especially for one who had been as severely beaten as Jesus. The heavy crossbeam on which He was destined to be nailed pressed into His torn back as He carried it to the place of execution. Although the Bible does not state the reason why, we may assume that the Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help because Jesus was so drained and exhausted from the abuse He had suffered.
Little is known of Simon of Cyrene, except that he was from Cyrene, the capital of the province of Libya that was situated approximately eleven miles south of the Mediterranean Sea. Matthew 27:32 informs us that the Roman soldiers "compelled him to bear his cross." The word "compelled" is the Greek word aggareuo. It means to compel; to coerce; to constrain; to make; or to force someone into some kind of compulsory service.
Matthew 27:33 says, "And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull." This scripture has been the center of controversy for several hundred years, for many have attempted to use this verse to geographically identify the exact location of Jesus' crucifixion. Some denominations allege that the place of Jesus' crucifixion was inside modern-day Jerusalem, while others assert that the name Golgotha refers to a site outside the city that from a distance looks like a skull. However, the earliest writings of the Church fathers say this phrase "a place of a skull" refers to something very different!
An early Christian leader named Origen, who lived from 185-253 AD, recorded that Jesus was crucified on the spot where Adam was buried and where his skull had been found. Whether or not this is true, there was an early Christian belief that Jesus had been crucified near Adam's burial place. As this early story goes, when the earthquake occurred as Jesus hung on the Cross (Matthew 27:51), His blood ran down the Cross into the crack in the rock below and fell on the skull of Adam. This history is so entrenched in early Christian tradition that Jerome referred to it in a letter in 386 AD.
Interestingly, Jewish tradition states that Adam's skull was buried near the city of Jerusalem by Noah's son, Shem. Tradition says this burial place was guarded by Melchizedek, who was the priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem) during the time of Abraham (see Genesis 14:18). Unknown to most Western believers, this history is so accepted that it is considered a major theme of Orthodox doctrine, and the skull of Adam appears consistently at the base of the Cross in both paintings and icons. If you ever see a skull at the base of a crucifix, you can know that it symbolizes Adam's skull that was allegedly found buried at the site of Jesus' crucifixion.
These extremely interesting facts, although unprovable, have retained strong support throughout 2,000 years of Christian history. If it were true, it would be quite amazing that the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, died for the sins of the world exactly on the spot where the first Adam, the original sinner, was buried. If Jesus' blood ran down the crack in the stone and fell upon Adam's skull, as tradition says, it would be very symbolic of Jesus' blood covering the sins of the human race that originated with Adam.
But what can we definitely know about the place of Jesus' crucifixion?
We definitely know that Jesus was crucified like a criminal by the Roman government just outside the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Whether or not He was crucified at the place of Adam's skull is interesting but not important. What is vital for us to know and understand is that Jesus died for the sins of the entire human race — and that includes you and me!
Today we may not be able to say with certainty exactly where Jesus was crucified, but in our hearts and minds we should meditate on the scriptures that speak of His crucifixion. Sometimes life moves so fast that we tend to forget the enormous price that was paid for our redemption. Salvation may have been given to us as a free gift, but it was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Thank God for the Cross!
This question of where Jesus was crucified is a good example of the way people tend to get distracted by unimportant issues and, as a result, miss the main point God wants to get across to them. People have argued and debated for centuries about the accurate location of the crucifixion when the truth they should have been focusing on is that Jesus was crucified for their salvation! The apostle Paul wrote, "…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again on the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). Of this, we can be sure!
Aren't you thankful that Jesus' blood purchased the forgiveness for all of mankind's sin? It is true that through Adam's disobedience, sin entered the world and death was passed on to all men. But just as sin entered the world through Adam, the gift of God came into the world through the obedience of Jesus Christ. Now the grace of God and the free gift of righteousness abounds to all who have called upon Jesus Christ to be the Lord of their lives (see Romans 5:12-21). Now every believer has the glorious privilege of reigning in life as a joint heir with Jesus Himself!
Lord, how can I ever adequately say thank You for all that You did for me at the Cross? I was so undeserving, but You came and gave Your life for me, taking away my sin and removing the punishment that should have passed to me. I thank You from the depths of my heart for doing what no one else could do for me. Had it not been for You, I would be eternally lost, so I just want to say thank You for laying down Your life that I might be free!
I pray this in Jesus' name!
I confess that I am washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. His blood covered my sin, washed me whiter than snow, and gave me rightstanding with God. I have no need to be ashamed of my past sins, because I am a new creature in Christ Jesus — marvelously made brand new in Him. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new because I am in Jesus Christ. That's who I am!
I declare this by faith in Jesus' name!
1. How often do you reflect on the work of Christ on the Cross?
2. Have you ever taken time to think of what it must have been like for Jesus to take the sins of the whole world upon Himself?
3. How would it affect you if you read each Gospel's account of the crucifixion over and over again for an entire month? Why don't you commit to doing this and see what God does in your heart as you read, reread, and meditate on these important scriptures?
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More to Life

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April 23, 2014
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Toxic Friendship
Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.
Philippians 4:2
Human relationships share a striking characteristic with plutonium. We don't recognize the energy stored in the bond until it is split. The destructive power released in an atomic reaction unfortunately compares closely with the injury and fallout created by the splitting of a strong human relationship.

Euodia and Syntyche represent those countless relationships that have advanced the kingdom of God for a while but have also caused it great damage. How ironic that in his great letter about joy to the Philippians, Paul felt it necessary to single out two key members who needed to resolve their differences. For them, joy would be impossible without settling their disagreement. And, as if to get them started with a motivation, Paul reminds them why they should reconcile: "because you belong to the Lord." The thought relates closely to Jesus' words about the way the world would watch his disciples: "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35).

This was obviously a public conflict, and Paul confronted it publicly. He addressed the two women directly. He challenged other believers to get helpfully involved. They all need to remember their place in the larger group who "belong to the Lord."

Hardly a church gathers around the globe in which several Euodia/Syntyche conflicts are not being enacted. The fall-out radiation injures those directly and indirectly involved. Trying to help often means getting hurt. But a willingness to get hurt surely characterizes the mind of Christ, does it not? Paul wanted his dear friends to share the mind of Christ. He described it earlier in the letter (2:5-11). A Christlike attitude sets aside personal safety for the sake of others. Yet Paul affirmed that the most distinct characteristic of the mind of Christ is joy. The way of joy leads through pain.

Have you prayed for the Euodia/Syntyches you know today? Were some of your own relationships included in that prayer? Have you asked the Lord for a willingness to settle disagreements? Joy is an endangered species when Christlike attitudes are in short supply.
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Standing Strong Through the Storm

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Take the helmet of salvation… Ephesians 6:17a
In describing the Christian's helmet, Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, "and the hope of salvation as a helmet." The best armor you can give a soldier is the kind that cannot be destroyed by the enemy. Paul, knowing the eternal nature of God's salvation, exhorts the servant-soldier to put on—that is, believe in—the hope of life beyond this world. Soldiers without fear of death? What a mighty force!
God also provides the helmet to protect our minds. When the enemy tries to infiltrate our thinking with doubts about our salvation, the helmet becomes our protection.
You are God's own child. He Himself redeemed you from slavery. He does not want the enemy to overcome you. You are secure in your relationship with God. The power within you is greater than the power in your enemy. Give no place to doubt. Take your stand for God in confidence wearing you helmet of salvation.
Teshome comes from northern Ethiopia and grew up in the traditional Orthodox Church. In Sunday school he was taught that the evangelical Christians eat the meat of dogs and cats when they celebrate Holy Communion. Their Sunday school teachers made a mistake by asking them to read the gospels and so Teshome discovered the truth about Jesus Christ. He went to evangelical Christians to hear more about Jesus. He found that his Sunday school teachers, priests and bishops were teaching him lies. He accepted Christ. After this he was chased away by his family, community and congregation.
Brother Teshome and new friends went to live with Christians who received them in their homes. It was during their stay with these Christians that they heard about a well-established evangelical church. They contacted its leadership and joined after getting a positive reply. Presently they have sixty members in their region. Brother Teshome's vision is to go back to his people and witness to them.
RESPONSE: Today I put on the helmet of salvation so Satan will not have a stronghold on my thoughts.
PRAYER: Lord, I rejoice in my salvation and ask You to help me keep my mind focused on You.
Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS)
A daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks

© 2011 Open Doors International. Used by permission
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The Gospel Coalition Blog

The Gospel Coalition Blog

Posted: 21 Apr 2014 11:27 PM PDT
Them39.1The Gospel Coalition just released the latest issue of Themelios, which has 212 pages of articles and book reviews. It is freely available in three different formats:
  1. PDF (ideal for printing)
  2. Logos edition (ideal for research and mobile access)
  3. web version (ideal for interacting and sharing)
It contains the following contributions:
  1. D. A. Carson | EDITORIAL: Do the Work of an Evangelist
  2. Michael J. Ovey | OFF THE RECORD: The Covert Thrill of Violence? Reading the Bible in Disbelief
  3. Brian J. Tabb | Editor's Note
  4. Thomas R. Schreiner | A Biblical Theologian Reviews Gerald Bray's Systematic Theology (with a response from Gerald Bray)
  5. Gerald Bray | A Systematician Reviews Tom Schreiner's Biblical Theology (with a response from Thomas R. Schreiner)
  6. Collin Hansen | Revival Defined and Defended: How the New Lights Tried and Failed to Use America's First Religious Periodical to Quiet Critics and Quell Radicals
  7. Robert W. Yarbrough | Should Evangelicals Embrace Historical Criticism? The Hays-Ansberry Proposal
  8. Ray Van Neste | PASTORAL PENSÉES: The Care of Souls: The Heart of the Reformation
  9. 76 Book Reviews
    1. Old Testament | 7 reviews
    2. New Testament | 19 reviews
    3. History and Historical Theology | 8 reviews
    4. Systematic Theology and Bioethics | 25 reviews
    5. Ethics and Pastoralia | 10 reviews
    6. Mission and Culture | 7 reviews
Posted: 21 Apr 2014 10:02 PM PDT
With the way some Christians talk, you might be forgiven for wondering why the canon includes more than four books. Sure, the Old Testament is useful in tracing the development of human reflection on the divine, and the New Testament in conveying the thoughts of some of Jesus' earliest followers. But if you really want to know what God thinks about something, you hear today, you'll need consult the recorded thoughts of Jesus. And if you want to do that, you'll need to stick to the "red letters." In other words, flip to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (or that less traversed terrain, Revelation 2-3) and stay put.
To be sure, I understand the impulse. It makes some sense in light of the differences between the sinless Son of God (on display in the Gospels) and the bona fide sinners who penned most of the rest of New Testament (unbelieving James and Jude, denying Peter, blaspheming Paul, and so on). Dubious résumés, to say the least.
Nevertheless, Christians have always recognized the God-breathed character of their words. The miracle of inspiration means the whole Bible is the voice of God. While central and foundational, the fourfold Gospel witness is no more true or reliable or relevant or binding than the black letters that precede and follow. Indeed, when we treat the red letters more seriously than the black ones, we muzzle the Son who speaks in all of them.

The Pages in Black Fulfill the Promise in Red

It's foolish to downplay the Bible's black-lettered pages if for no other reason than they're fulfilling a red-lettered promise. Consider Jesus' words to his apostles:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15, emphasis added)
Now ponder the words of Paul:
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12, emphasis added)
Did you catch the parallel? Christ's promise finds fulfillment in Paul's teaching. The ministry of the Savior marches on in the ministry of the apostle. Jesus said that he had more to say. He promised further revelation of truth to his apostles through his Spirit. Paul is just Exhibit A.
As John Murray put it:
Prior to his ascension, Christ's teaching was directly by word of mouth. But afterward he taught by a different mode . . . by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers. The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus' ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh. How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus' spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture. The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension. . . . The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus' own speaking. (Collected Writings, Vol. 1, 40)
The apostle Peter goes so far as to say the prophetic word of Scripture is a revelation "more sure" than even Christ himself in transfigured glory (2 Pet. 1:19). That's a stunning claim! He then exhorts us to recall the "commandment of our Lord and Savior through [the] apostles" (2 Pet. 3:2; cf. Acts 2:42). No wonder Paul enjoins his protégé to heed the "sound words you have heard from me" (2 Tim. 1:13) with no less urgency than the "sound words of our Lord Jesus" (1 Tim. 6:3). Or elsewhere claim his instructions are "the Lord's command" (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:15) imbued with heaven's authority (2 Thess. 3:14).
When I write, the result is a tweet or a blog post. When Paul wrote, the result was holy Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16).
Is the church's authorized foundation, then, Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11) or the Bible (Eph. 2:20)? Yes.
The Word of God: Jesus or Scripture?
Another related mistake is the popular tendency to imply that since Jesus is the Word of God, Scripture must be something else. But once again this is a false dilemma. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God's Word (e.g., John 1:1-2; Heb. 1:1-2; Rev. 19:13) and that it is God's Word (e.g., John 10:35; Acts 17:11; Heb. 4:12; 13:7). The urge to wrest an "either/or" out of a "both/and" smells more of Enlightenment rationalism than biblical Christianity. What God has joined together, let no man separate.
As Kevin DeYoung observes:
God's gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated Word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out Word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.
Diminishing the integrity of the Word inscripturate in the name of upholding the integrity of the Word incarnate is, ironically enough, the quickest way to domesticate and diminish him.

Jesus Blinders

I recently heard a remark that only in Jesus do we see God "as he is." While this statement may sound profound and even have a ring of truth—Christ is the "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3) and the point of the biblical story (Luke 24:27, 44)—it is finally misleading since it does not reveal the whole picture. The Lord's self-disclosure was not exhausted by the Son's earthly life. Jesus' appearing neither nullified the revelation that came before (Matt. 5:17-18) nor rendered redundant the revelation that followed after (John 16:12-15).
On the surface, "Jesus shows us what God is really like" language appears pious and even Jesus-exalting. In reality, it betrays a tragically truncated view of the Jesus of the Bible. We see God "as he is" by gazing with the eyes of faith on the pages of his Word—all of them.
One day, our faith will vanish into sight, and we will at last behold the king in his beauty. Until then, however, we live and move and have our being in the age of the ear. "For now," Augustine taught 1,500 years ago, "treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence."
If you love Jesus, you'll love his voice wherever it appears—even in the black letters.
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Thought Tools - Lots of Hope

Thought Tools with Rabbi Daniel Lapin
April 23, 2014        23rd of Nisan 5774        Volume VII Issue #15
Lots of Hope
As humans, we can't know for sure
what lies ahead,
 but the next best thing is to know
that it is possible.

Imagine a desperate man making his way on foot through a desert.  Exhausted and thirsty beyond endurance he keeps driving himself forward, day by day, in the hope of reaching an oasis.  Eventually, he can go no further and drops hopelessly to the hot sand.  Rescuers discover his body only a half-day's walk from a large oasis.   
Let's rewind and replay the story with the same man.   Except in this version, he knows exactly where the oasis is located.  In this account, when he reaches the place where he gave up and died in the first story, he is exactly as exhausted and just as madly thirsty.  Yet he does not give up and die.  Why?  Because he knows that redemption lies just over the next sand dune, a half-day away.  Knowing-not hoping or believing, but knowing-that redemption is near endows us with superhuman powers.  The mere knowledge that the oasis is near endowed this man with the power to overcome the heat and thirst.

It is hard to build a business.  Urgent need for capital can entirely wear down even the hardiest entrepreneur.  Gnawing worry morphs into fear that he won't find the funds, diminishing the effectiveness of most business professionals in this unenviable position.

Compare that situation with an entrepreneur who is grappling with precisely the same pressures except that he knows that his next round of financing is happening in three weeks' time.  The knowledge that redemption is round the corner endows this human with astonishing powers.

Then there is the married couple struggling to hold their marriage together. One day he is doing his best while she feels it all to be futile; another day she is willing to move mountains in the hope of saving her marriage while he has emotionally checked out. As any counselor knows, the odds of a successful salvage are slim.

Now imagine that each is shown a future vision of their marriage so happy and solid that all recollection of past suffering has been expunged.  Just the knowledge that they will be joyfully reconciled makes the hard repair work so much easier to accomplish.  

This is one message of Passover. Let me offer a brief example of how ancient Jewish wisdom combines seemingly unrelated incidents to overwhelm us with a Technicolor extravaganza of Truth.   
Here are the first two uses of an extremely rare word in Scripture - Mitmameha - meaning delaying or lingering:

And he [Lot] lingered...
(Genesis 19:16)

...and they [the Israelites] were not able to linger...
(Exodus 12:39)

Here is another feature unique to the Israelite's exodus from Egypt and Lot's rescue from S'dom:

...and he made them a feast and he baked Matzoh...
(Genesis 19:3)

...and with Matzoh on bitter herbs they ate it.
(Exodus 12:8)

Let's look at two more examples of the strong similarities that unite the account of the Israelites escaping from a doomed Egypt to safe refuge, and the account describing Lot and his daughters escaping from a doomed S'dom to safe refuge:

And God rained upon S'dom and Amorah sulphur and fire...
(Genesis 19:24)

...and God rained hail upon the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 9:23)

Finally, from the Hebrews' rescue out of Egypt emerged the nation of Israel and from Lot and his daughters' rescue out of S'dom emerged the nations of Amon and Moab.

Many more striking similarities link Lot's rescue from the soon to be destroyed S'dom with the Jews' rescue from the soon to be destroyed Egypt.  

Ancient Jewish wisdom explores the linkage. As improbable as it seemed, it was possible for Lot to escape the destruction of his city.  Passover teaches that not only is redemption available for one man and his family, but even on a national level, God can bring redemption where no hope exists.

As humans, we can't know for sure what lies ahead, but the next best thing is to know that it is possible. One of the great gifts that God gives His faithful is the eternal vision of tomorrow's redemption no matter how dark it may look today.  Knowing this in our heads and believing it deep in our hearts makes today's journey bearable.

Powerful and practical lessons like this one leap from Scripture as well as from the Hebrew language itself. We neglected to make sure that everyone knew our store and offices would be closed the past two days, so we are extending the sale on our best-selling book, Buried Treasure: Life Lessons from the Lord's Language for another 24 hours. Many readers tell us how this book enhanced their lives.  It penetratingly probes God's inner meaning into twenty-nine of His special words providing non-Hebrew-readers with uplift and inspiration in short easily digestible doses.  We'd love it if you made it part of your library and perhaps invest in a few copies to enable you to bless others at opportune times.

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