I understand that there is some discussion about the true meaning of the Word of God in Hebrews 4:12. Let’s take a look at it.
Heb 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Heb 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
There are two main interpretations. On one hand, the Word of God could mean the Scripture. After all, that is how we refer to it all the time. The Word of God could also mean Jesus Christ Himself following the tradition laid out in John 1.
Personally, I had always thought about this verse meaning the first. After all, it seems that the Bible meets all of criteria in verse 12, and in our popular vocabulary, the Word of God normally means the Bible. However, given that verse 13 applies a personal pronoun to presumably the Word of God, it seems to me that perhaps the second is the better interpretation.
All of these criteria could certainly apply to Jesus, and I think that they might actually fit better. Jesus was a discerner of the thoughts of people when He was on earth. As a result, it makes sense that He would still be able to do that. He would still be able to understand what we are going through because He Himself had experienced it.
My commentaries are divided on this issue, and I’m sure that there are people who can make a compelling case for either side. However, the implications for you and me are that whether it is Jesus Christ Himself or our Scripture, we are talking here about the truth of God. In either case, we are not hidden from the sight of God, and God is able to see our inmost thoughts. Therefore, we need to be vigilant that even in our thought lives, we’re doing whatever we can to focus on Him and glorify Him there as well.
Timothy 2 brings me back to my school days. How do you do well in school? Although it is certainly the case that some people have natural propensities towards reading or math, it is also true that there comes a point where everyone needs to put in work in order to do well.
2Ti 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Similarly, Timothy needed to make sure that he was studying the word of God. He was in a leadership position, and it was his responsibility to help the people rightly divide or understand the word of God. How would he be able to do that well unless the devoted time and effort to learning all that he could?
This clearly has practical application for all of us. If we want to talk about the Bible and if we want to help other people with their own understanding, then seems to be the case that we need to know the material. We need to know what God has said if we want to be in a position to actually help people understand it.
I know that that seems intuitive. How can we talk about something that we do not understand ourselves? It would be almost like trying to be a referee in basketball and explain the rules to people when you have never read the rulebook.
We certainly do not all have to be perfect Biblical scholars who know every possible interpretation of every possible passage, but we do need to be engaged in study so that when questions come up, we are able to have some type of answer. After all, if we are claiming to be Christians, then we probably should know what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
Church discipline can be difficult, and I’m certainly not going to pretend to have all of the answers, but if we look at 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clearly seems to indicate that there is a way that we should treat those who call themselves Christians and those who make no such claim.
1Co 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
1Co 5:12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
1Co 5:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
I think that the best way to approach this topic is to consider what it means to be a Christian. We agree to certain things as Christians. As much as identifying as an accountant comes with the expectation of certain pieces of information and expertise, being a Christian means that we are identified with certain things.
One thing that we ought to agree on is the authority of Scripture. I know that people disagree on certain interpretations of Scripture, but I think we all ought to agree on the fact that the Bible is a guide to life. If we agree that the Bible ought to influence how we live our lives, then we have a common ground to identify violations of that agreement.
For people who are not Christians and do not agree to the Bible as an important piece of God’s revelation, it is not possible to hold them to the same standard because they don’t know the standard. We can still identify sinful behavior, but we should not be surprised when people who are not Christians don’t live in the way that God wants us to live.
However, Christians, or at least people who identify as Christians, understand what God expects of us, and as a result, it seems to be the case that one a fellow Christian falls into something that he or she should know is wrong, then we have the responsibility to help him or her correct that relationship with God.
Acts 17 has become one of the hallmark chapters for apologists everywhere. I really could point to three different things in this chapter that demonstrate Paul’s interactions. We’re going to start with only two of them however because everyone writes about Paul in Athens.
Act 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
Act 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
Act 17:3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
Act 17:4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
Some people believed here. We obviously do not have a hard number, but after the Jewish people created trouble and drove Paul out, he went to Berea to try again.
Act 17:10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
Act 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Act 17:12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
Many people believed here. Again, I wish we had hard numbers to go by, but at the very least it seems to be the case that more people in Berea believed than believed in Thessalonica. However, it seems like something else happened in Berea. The people actually did their homework to find out if Paul was being honest. We don’t know the content of everything that Paul said, but this is the type of situation where it seems like they made sure that he had his Old Testament prophecies in a row. They didn’t assume right away that he was right or wrong. They went to the Scriptures and saw that the prophecies were there that Paul claimed Jesus was the fulfillment of.
I think this has tremendous application for us today. We live in a very biblically illiterate culture, and there are many misconceptions about what the Bible says. I feel like one of the best ways to do apologetics is to get people into the book itself. “Oh, you think there are contradictions that make you unable to believe in the Bible? Let’s look at some of them.” “Oh, there’s no way that Jesus could have fulfilled all of this prophecies? Let’s read them.”
There is no point in attacking or defending a straw man. In a biblically illiterate society, it helps to get people back to the text itself. It is something we can both read and both talk about. It seems that that is what happened in Berea. Paul had people who knew the text, and it seems that they were convinced.
I find it interesting in John 12 the people wanted proof of what Jesus had done. I think that we can sometimes put on chronological snobbery and assume that people in the past were incredibly gullible and willing to believe anything. However, I wrote about that two days ago, so I’m not going back there again other than to point out verse nine.
Rather, I want to focus today on the disciples regarding Palm Sunday. It stands out to me that John reports the fact that the disciples did not recognize the fulfillment of prophecy until later on. As they were experiencing the events that were going on, they apparently did not put the pieces together.
Joh 12:12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
Joh 12:13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Joh 12:14 And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written,
Joh 12:15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.
Joh 12:16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.
I think that it shows us something about the value of memorizing Scripture as well as the value of reflection. The disciples clearly put the pieces together because they knew the prophecy. If they did not know the Bible, they would not have been able to figure that out. The obvious implication for us is that we need to know our Bible as well or we might miss something important.
Secondly, the disciples remembered this later. They were clearly thinking about their experience with Jesus, and they were then able to put together the Bible and the event. Do we actually consider our past and then reflect on where God is at work? Maybe we don’t have specific prophecies that relate to our individual lives like this one about Jesus’ life, but we do have things like the fruit of the Spirit. As we grow nearer to Christ, these qualities should become more evident. How are we doing? Are we growing? Are there things that we could be improving on?
The disciples were clearly human, and they were not perfect by any means, but I do think we can learn from their example.
In Mark 6, it is interesting that Jesus already began the missionary work of spreading the gospel.
Mar 6:7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
Mar 6:9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
This stands out to me because the Gospels as we know them were not written yet. I hold to an early dating of the Gospels, but they all involve Jesus being crucified, and that had not happened yet. However, the disciples were going forth with some type of message. Surely, Jesus as their teacher did not just send them out and tell them to teach whatever they wanted. There was some type of message that would have been communicated orally.
This is a very important point especially because the Gospels might not have been written until at least 60 A.D. That is a gap of 30 years from the events that they narrate. How do we know that the stories were not corrupted over that time?
I am taking a class on Scripture and Apologetic Implications with Dr. Mike Licona at Houston Baptist University right now. We just got done talking about the culture that Jesus was a part of. In that time, there was a teaching method used by rabbis that relied heavily on memorization. It would not have been strange at all for Jesus to have taught His disciples in the same way. Also, by using memorable parables and mnemonic devices that were recorded in the Gospels, Jesus would have been helping His followers remember.
I know that some people are worried about the distance that the Gospels were written from the events they narrate. However, by looking at the content of what was written and realizing that these would have been important, life-changing memories for the disciples, it is not hard to believe that the tradition we have been given in the Gospels had been faithfully transmitted orally by a culture that was very good at doing that.
Jesus begins Matthew 13 by giving a variety of parables relating to the kingdom of heaven, but these parables were not told in His hometown. At the end of the chapter, he does return home, and He is not received with much belief.
Mat 13:54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Mat 13:55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
Mat 13:56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
Mat 13:57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
Mat 13:58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
These people felt that they knew who He was. They felt like they understood His upbringing, and it doesn’t seem to me that people necessarily thought He was a bad guy, they just did not think of Him as a great teacher or miracle worker.
Jesus had the opportunity to teach in the synagogue, and while it says that He did not do many miracles, that implies that He might have done some. We don’t necessarily know the content of either of these things, but Jesus was probably saying similar things to what He had said elsewhere.
I point that out because, just like today, there are different responses to Jesus. We all have the same Bible more or less. Almost everybody at least in America is capable of going to the store and picking up a normal English translation to be on the same page as Christians around the world.
Why is it that for those of us who are Christians the response is different than it is for those who are not of the faith?
I actually think this is a rather complex question, but let me suggest something from earlier in the chapter.
Mat 13:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Mat 13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
It seems to me that there is a combination. On one hand, I do believe that God speaks through the Bible to us, so there is a supernatural element. However, it also seems that these people have shut themselves down on some level. It seems that there is some level of personal responsibility here as well.
I think I am going into much deeper theological water here, but it seems to me that at least the appropriate response is gratefulness to God that we have been given His Word. We ought to be thankful that we have the opportunity to understand.
In Zechariah 10, we have more Messianic prophecy. In the beginning, God is talking about how the shepherds who were put in charge of overseeing the flock of Israel had been doing a bad job. As a result, there was going to come one who was much better.
Zec 10:3 Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.
Zec 10:4 Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together.
Zec 10:5 And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the LORD is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded.
There are a few interesting things. God has made Judah a strong force in battle, but out of Judah is going to come someone interesting. Jesus Christ is certainly the chief cornerstone. This word for nail also means a peg or is translated in the ESV as a tent peg. It makes me think of an anchor who will hold on tightly. The battle bow reminds me of someone who is coming to war and who is going to bring a sword as well. Oppressor is a word with different connotations today, but the original word according to Strong’s Numbers is from a primitive root meaning to drive. The ESV translates it as ruler, and the commentary of John Gill agrees with the oppressor translation, but he believes it has a positive connotation as shown in Isaiah 60:17. I would agree with that given the context of the verse.
This is very indicative. It seems like a tall order. First of all, the Messiah had to be from the tribe of Judah, and the Messiah would have to exhibit all of these characteristics. When you combine that with the variety of other prophecies that point to the Messiah from around the Bible, it makes a pretty strong cumulative case that the simple fact that Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies is powerful. The odds are against it, but Jesus seems to have done it.
I wonder how often we can go through the motions of religion for our own benefit. We can go to church because it makes us feel better. We can pray because it makes us feel more at peace. I don’t deny that these can both be benefits of church and prayer respectively, but as we see in Zechariah 7, motivation is important.
Zec 7:4 Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying,
Zec 7:5 Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?
Zec 7:6 And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
Zec 7:7 Should ye not hear the words which the LORD hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain?
Earlier in the chapter, two men had been sent to ask the priests whether or not they need to continue observing the day when the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Apparently, according to Jeremiah 3:12, this is a ceremony that the people were supposed to remember. It seems that now that the Temple was being rebuilt, some people wanted to get beyond this ceremony.
The response from God was to challenge the motivation of the people. He wanted to know why they had been doing the ceremonies in the first place. Had they truly been honoring God through the ceremonies, or had they only been doing it for themselves?
In fact, He broadens the discussion. Even in their everyday lives when they were eating and drinking, did they even do that for the glory of God?
That seems applicable. It makes me think about going through the motions. I think about this post I am writing for you now. Why am I writing it? Am I doing it for myself? Am I doing it as a kind of way to get people to think I am living a good life?
I am not perfect, but I try to avoid this kind of trap. I try to avoid falling into using the Bible and my writing about it as a vehicle for self-promotion. Rather, I try to first of all keep my focus on learning more about God as I go see this journey. Again, I try to write what I can so that I can share it with you.
Are my motives always perfect? I am sure they are not. Have I ever been perfect? I most surely have not. However, we don’t want to go through the motions like these people in Zechariah. We want to be the type of people who do what we do for the glory of God.
Amos chapter 8 brings us to the pronouncement of judgment, and the harshest sentences are going to be given to those who were unjust to the poor.
Amo 8:4 Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,
Amo 8:5 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
Amo 8:6 That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
These are guys who are basically sitting around waiting for the Sabbath to be over so that they can get back to doing business. Now, I know that all of us are involved in some type of business, and the exchange of products for payment is not a sin whatsoever. However, look at what these men were doing. They were ripping people off. They were falsifying the balances.
It wasn’t a problem that they wanted to go to work, but it was a problem that they were actually excited to be unfair. I think that this applies far beyond business and commerce. We should not be anxious to do something wrong. We should not desire to do something that we explicitly understand is wrong.
The irony in this scenario is that these businessmen were also selectively following what they could get away with. They knew that they could not do business on the Sabbath without being frowned upon in the community, but because they knew that they could get away with being slightly unfair in the balance, they were willing to do that.
How easy is that? We put on a good front, but we have legitimate issues behind the scenes that no one ever sees. That’s another problem that we need to confront.
As you read this chapter and recognize that these are the people who are going to be judged most severely, I think it is a cautionary tale for all of us. This is something that we don’t want to get mixed up in.