Acts 2

Chapter two records the event that has set the tone for the past 2,000 years of human history. The apostles waited for ten days in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3). While the Twelve 1 were celebrating the Feast of Weeks together (Leviticus 23:15-22), the Holy Spirit entered the house where they had gathered, coming in the form of a singular flame of fire which divided itself and “CAME TO REST UPON EACH ONE OF THEM.” This signified that his presence was not only general but individual.

Immediately the men (Acts 2:15) began praising God in other languages (Acts 2:4). Quoting the prophet Joel, Peter explained that this miracle was the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in them (Acts 2:14-21), which began to fulfill God’s promise that the Spirit would come upon people again. We should note that this is the clearest passage in Scripture on the subject of what “tongues” are; they are human languages previously unknown 2 to the speaker. Additionally, it is important to observe that the preaching was done in the common language, not in the other languages. The other languages were used to give praise to God, not the gospel message or new revelation or prophecy. This was the pattern in all three occurrences of speaking in tongues/languages in Acts (Acts 2:1-13; 10:44-48; 19:1-7).

After explaining how the Twelve could miraculously speak these other languages, Peter preached to the captivated crowd, highlighting two key points, each prefaced by “David said.” First, Jesus was God’s prophet, whom they publicly crucified, but he was resurrected (Acts 2:22-32). Second, Jesus was God’s Messiah, and he ascended to heaven to wait until he can receive his kingdom (Acts 2:33-36). This was the crux of the matter: “GOD HAS MADE THIS JESUS WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED BOTH LORD AND CHRIST” (LORD = Jehovah, CHRIST = Messiah).

Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the crowd asked the apostles how they should respond to the message (Acts 2:37-41). Peter’s reply was that they should repent – the same message given by John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the apostles over the previous several years. Upon repentance, they would gain forgiveness of their sins and the Holy Spirit as God’s gift. Each one who believed should also be baptized as a public indication of this new belief. 3

Out of the thousands in Jerusalem for Pentecost, “ABOUT THREE THOUSAND PEOPLE” joined the little band of Christians that day (Acts 2:41-47). Fully expecting that Jesus would return shortly, especially after that show of acceptance, they gathered together regularly, both in the Temple and in their homes. They began selling off their possessions and sharing what they had with each other, knowing they would not need anything in the Kingdom, because the prophets promised that Messiah would provide for them. They listened to the apostles teach, probably what they had learned from Jesus about the Kingdom (Acts 1:3). They were a happy, excited group, constantly sharing their joy with their neighbors. As a result, many others joined their group expecting to see Messiah again any day.

Notes:

  1. Whether it was only the Twelve or the entire group of believers gathered on that day is debated, but the evidence seems to lean toward only the Twelve.
  2. “Previously unknown” does not mean that the men were able to speak these languages fluently again. It means that, at the time of their speaking, they knew what they were saying, although they had not learned that language before.
  3. Most English translations make it seem as if water baptism was required in order to be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. While it is a command in the sentence, the structure of the Greek language separates baptism from the rest of the sentence, not putting it on the same level as repentance but subsequent to repentance.

1 Corinthians 15

Chapter fifteen concludes the teaching portion of Paul’s letter. The final topic he needed to address was the resurrection. His opening statement, that he wanted “to make clear…the gospel,” reminds us that some of these believers were still “infants in Christ” (3:1) and that they were uncertain on the basic doctrines of the faith. It was also a good time to remind them of the gospel that they needed to preach in their meetings, so unbelievers could be convicted and believe (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). The basic message of the gospel is simple: Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day. Both of these events were prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures, and they were confirmed by his public burial and post-resurrection eyewitnesses, respectively (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Not only did he appear to individual apostles and small groups, including Paul himself, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time.” For anyone who thought that could not possibly be true, Paul challenged them to visit these eyewitnesses, “most of whom [were] still alive” at the time of his writing, twenty years after the fact. Circling back to his theme from chapter one, this is the only message Paul had, and this is what the Corinthians had originally believed.

This simple, verifiable message did not stop people from trying to lead the believers astray, though. Even though Paul said they could talk to eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, those people were almost 1,000 miles away, and some of the Corinthians were beginning to believe that the concept of a resurrection was a hoax (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul countered that, if that were true, three other truths would be certain as well. First, no resurrection at all means that Christ was not raised. Second, a dead Christ means that our faith is empty, we are false witnesses, and we are still in our sins. Third, no resurrection means no hope for those who have already died.

Against this false teaching, Paul pointed them back to the Old Testament Scriptures, noting that death has been common since Adam and that their belief in Christ was a belief that he undid what Adam did; thus, a resurrection from the dead is both theologically and logically sound and necessary (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). He also pointed to the prophecies of what Christ is supposed to do: rule in his kingdom until all his enemies are eliminated, including death itself. None of this is possible if Christ is still dead.

Paul’s comment about people being “baptized for the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:29-34) has found its way into Mormon theology, where living people can be baptized in the place of their dead relatives to create a retroactive salvation for them. This has caused a great debate in Christianity as well. It is possible that these Corinthians had been including the pagan practice of baptism for the dead because they had begun to disbelieve the basic gospel (which does not include baptism at all) and the truth of the resurrection. This view fits the context of Paul’s comments about their human thinking, bad company, and command to stop sinning. 1

Paul anticipated a further question asking for more detail about the resurrection: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). His response indicates that this was not a line of honest questioning but one of defiance. His answer was simple: the resurrection body will be similar but different than our current bodies. Humans were meant to live in physical bodies, and we will live forever in physical bodies, except that they will be better. Some people believe there is a difference between “flesh and blood” and “flesh and bone” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). 2 Regardless of the details, Paul was clear that our resurrected bodies will become imperishable and immortal. This will happen in an instant, at the Rapture, both for dead saints and those still alive. At that time, “death [will be] swallowed up in victory.” This truth should cause us all to live in victory, “knowing that [our] labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Notes:

  1. Another option is that some had come to believe because of Christians who had died, and their baptism was due to the others’ martyrdom. This is more palatable and has a lot of support from conservative scholars, but it does not seem to be the natural reading.
  2. Paul here said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Some compare this to Adam’s statement that Eve was from his “flesh and bone,” indicating that they did not have blood at that time. Since physical life is connected to blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11, 14), their conclusion is that spiritual life does not need blood. For an explanation of this position, see Henry Morris, “Flesh and Bones”, https://www.icr.org/article/5946 (accessed 10/23/2015).

“It is an abomination”

Recently, because of the debate about homosexuality in our culture, the word “abomination” has resurfaced. In the context of this topic, we find the word in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13, as God’s description of homosexual activity.

“You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.” Leviticus 18:22

“If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.” Leviticus 20:13

The Hebrew word is the same for both of those bolded words above – to`evah (תּוֹעֵבָה) – and it means “something abominable, detestable, offensive.”

However, while Leviticus is the first time this word is used to describe something God hates, it’s certainly not the last. So what does God consider an abomination? Here’s the entire list (each one uses the same Hebrew word, regardless of how various English Bibles translate it):

coveting silver and gold from idols…Deuteronomy 7:25

idols, idolatry…Deuteronomy 7:26; 27:15; 32:16; 2 Kings 21:11; Jeremiah 16:18; 32:35; 44:3-4; Ezekiel 5:11; 6:9; 7:20; 14:6; 16:36; and all of Ezekiel 8

false worship of God…Deuteronomy 12:31

blemished sacrifices…Deuteronomy 17:1

worshiping the sun, moon, stars, and other gods…Deuteronomy 17:4

witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, magic…Deuteronomy 18:12

child sacrifice…Deuteronomy 18:12; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3

crossdressing…Deuteronomy 22:5

prostitution…Deuteronomy 23:18; 1 Kings 14:24; Ezekiel 16:43

improper divorce and remarriage…Deuteronomy 24:4

cheating others in business…Deuteronomy 25:16; Proverbs 11:1; 20:10, 23

living in rebellion against God’s law, wicked plans…Proverbs 2:32; 6:18; 15:9, 26; Jeremiah 7:9-10

perverted hearts…Proverbs 11:20

lies, lying…Proverbs 6:17-18; 12:22

religious acts, outward religion…Proverbs 15:8; 21:27; Isaiah 1:13

arrogance…Proverbs 6:17; 16:5

acquitting the guilty, condemning the innocent…Proverbs 17:15

shedding innocent blood…Proverbs 6:17

the prayers of those who ignore God…Proverbs 28:9

adultery…Ezekiel 22:11

creating disunity…Proverbs 6:19

It is important to remember that, while “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), Christianity does not give us the license to do whatever we want. Because God’s standard against sin has never changed, and he is working to grow us to become like himself, we must learn to despise the actions that he despises, while at the same time pointing the people who do them back to Jesus.

Which of these surprised you the most to be on “the list”?

Is homosexuality really sin?

There is great debate in our culture and in our churches right now over whether homosexuality is really sin. Many in our culture insist that it is a state of being, that they are “born that way,” and many in our churches are choosing to believe and accept that as truth.

However, we have only one source of absolute truth: the Scriptures. It is here, and only here, that we must search to discover what God has said, and once we discover that, we must accept that as God’s final word.

So, “what does Scripture say?”

First, we should note that the Scriptures always speak of homosexuality as an action, not a state of being. The Scriptures do not see “gay” as a valid state of being, only male and female (biologically) and unregenerate, carnal, and spiritual (spiritually). “Gay” is just a deceptive feeling perpetrated by a depraved mind. The only thing inherent about “being gay” is being a sinner by nature, and that is true of every human.

Following is a brief summary of five key passages in this discussion. I may break them out further at a later time, but this summary will do for now. Please use the comments section for questions, discussion, and (civil) debate.

Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 – Interestingly, this is the only sin in all of Leviticus that God called an abomination (other things are called that elsewhere in the Old Testament). The fact that we are not under the Mosaic Law does not change God’s view of this sin. Those who say that we must now accept homosexuality because we eat bacon are grossly mishandling the text and do not understand Bible interpretation (which is a different post).

Now, to be sure, if this were the only place it was mentioned, we would seriously have to take pause, but it’s repeated in the New Testament, which solidifies it for all time. Frankly, I rarely go here first because people misuse it, but I’m taking these passages in order.

Romans 1:24-32 – In the first four verses (24-27) homosexual activity is called impurity, a dishonor to our bodies, a lie, false worship, dishonorable passions, unnatural, shameless acts, and error. I can’t think of another action that is so soundly repudiated this way anywhere else in Scripture. Interestingly, homosexuality seems to be linked to idolatry here as well, which makes sense, because it’s essentially self-worship.

In verse 28, Paul continued saying that “they did not see fit to acknowledge God,” that they had “a depraved mind,” and that they “do what should not be done.” At some point their rejection of God ultimate leads to God fulfilling their desire to be completely free to wallow in their depravity.

Finally, in verse 32 Paul referred to those who know God’s truth yet “approve of those who practice” these sins. Since the whole context is actually talking about unbelievers (starting in verse 18), how much more should believers not participate in or celebrate and approve of these sins?

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – Although recently there has been a push to reinterpret Paul’s last two words in verse 9 to mean something else, the ancient people knew what these words meant and used them the way the NET translates them: “passive homosexual partners” and “practicing homosexuals.”

The first word with no context can simply mean “soft.” In general reference to a man it means “effeminate” (the KJV and NASB translations). But used in conjunction with the next word it means the submissive male partner. In fact, it was used in ancient times as a crass insult, much like “fag” (please pardon the use).

The second word literally means “to bed a male” or “in bed with a male” and can refer to homosexuality in general or, when referring to them individually like in this case, to the dominant male partner.

The great news is that Paul said this was activity that some of the Corinthians had participated in during their pre-Christ lives, but in salvation they were “washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This again speaks to the fact that it’s an action, not a state of being, and certainly not something that cannot be changed by God’s power.

1 Timothy 1:8-10 – The second word from above is used here in verse 10. The NET translates it again as “practicing homosexuals” and can refer to both partners, since the passage doesn’t refer to them separately. In this case the people who commit these sins are classified generally with “lawless and rebellious people, the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane…any who live contrary to sound teaching.”

In addition to these specific passages, “sexual immorality” (which covers all sexual sin) is mentioned frequently throughout the New Testament. Galatians 5:19 lists sexual immorality first in its “works of the flesh,” noting that these are always against the Holy Spirit and that those who live according to the Spirit will not be able to do these works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26).

Conclusion

To say that the Bible doesn’t speak to homosexuality at all or that it doesn’t really condemn it if it’s between two loving people misses the point, at best, and completely rejects it, at worse.

Unless a person comes to the Scriptures with his mind already embracing homosexuality, it is impossible to read these passages and not see homosexuality as a sin against God.

May our churches and those who claim to know Jesus embrace the Scriptures and stand firm in this culture, always pointing people back to Jesus.

Can America be saved?

us-flag-star-of-davidIn a recent message on Psalm 2, I pointed out that, while 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a promise only for Israel and does not apply to America, there is another passage that does:

“There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom. But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it. And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom. But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it.” — Jeremiah 18:7-10

Now, God has not made any specific promises to America like he did to Israel. However, I think there are at least three things we are dealing with in our nation today that fit under this concept of God’s building up or destroying a nation based on some of his general commands.

How we treat Israel

God told Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, but those who look down on you with contempt I will curse.” This applies across every generation for all time.

I believe that one of the things that has helped make America the global superpower we have been for over 100 years is our friendship with Israel. God has promised to bless those who bless Israel.

However, the nation that stands against the welfare of Israel cannot be blessed by God and instead has chosen to stand against him as well.

How we value life

After the Flood, God told Noah that humans were now civilly responsible to protect the lives of other humans (Genesis 9:5-6). Before the Flood, there was no sanctity of life. Genesis 6 shows a world full of corruption and destruction. It was so bad that God described it this way: “The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” (Genesis 6:5, NLT)

After cleansing the Earth with the Flood, God established an infant version of human government. The new rule was that if a person was murdered, society (not personal revenge) was commanded by God to destroy the murderer, whether that was a wild animal or another human. The reason was because God made people in his personal image, and he sees murder as a personal insult to him.

There are at least three reasons why capital punishment should still be in force today:

  1. People are still created in God’s personal image. This has not changed.
  2. This command was given to the entire human population and was not limited to Israel’s law code given through Moses centuries later.
  3. This command was never rescinded in the New Testament. In fact, Paul supports the continuation of government’s role in executing criminals in Romans 13:1-7.

God demands capital punishment, and the nation that does not carry it out values the life of the murderer more than the life of the victim and cannot be blessed by God.

I believe that this applies not just to what most people consider murder but also to abortion. Several times in the Old Testament God referred to those who slaughtered children as shedding “innocent blood” (see, for example, Psalm 106:38 and Jeremiah 19:4). The prophets also mentioned orphans as some of those that God pointed out as especially important to him.

Since we believe that life begins at conception, those still-developing infants are also created in God’s image, and those who murder them should be punished. The same principle applies to the elderly. It is not the government’s job to take care of each person, but our laws should protect them, not create ways to kill them.

The nation that does not value and protect the lives of its citizens – especially the infants and elderly – cannot be blessed by God.

How we celebrate gender and marriage

In both the Old and New Testaments, God has stated that homosexuality is an abomination to him. Those who wish to link this only to Israel’s Old Testament Law could not be more wrong. It is true that Leviticus 18:22 is part of the Law code. However, that verse is not a law in itself. It simply states God’s stance on the matter of homosexuality: “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.” We do not advocate killing homosexuals as in the Mosaic Law, but that does not change God’s attitude about the act itself.

Paul repeated this concept in Romans 1:26-27, when he wrote, “For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

It is important to note that the arguments by advocates of homosexuality always focus on how people feel about each other. “You can’t stop people from loving each other. Paul didn’t know anything about loving, committed homosexual relationships.” Even if that were true (which it’s not), that’s not what Moses and Paul addressed.

The issue is not whether two people love each other. In both the Old and New Testament, God speaks against homosexual acts; those actions are despicable to him, because they go against his design and plan. This, by the way, is no different than heterosexual acts that also go against his design and plan – adultery, incest, polygamy, polyandry, and others.

Homosexuality goes against God’s design in gender and his design for marriage, and the nation that not only allows but celebrates and promotes something that God despises cannot be blessed by God.

So can America be saved? Yes and no.

No – God has promised that this world is going to get worse, not better, as the end gets closer (2 Timothy 3:1-9). The Church will never make America into a “good” or “Christian” nation.

Yes – There are things we can do to hold off on our premature destruction in the meantime:

  1. Politics – A Christian can affect American politics in three ways: vote based on biblical principles; help in campaigns for solid Christian politicians who will lead from biblical principles; be the candidate who will lead from biblical principles
  2. Pray – For our leaders at all levels of government. For those who are Christians, pray for God’s wisdom in leading God’s way. Pray also for the salvation of those government officials who are not saved.
  3. Make disciples – This is actually the best and most effective option. Because we vote for our leaders, the best voters are Christians who understand the Scriptures well and take our responsibilities in this world seriously. The more Americans who believe in Jesus and grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures, the better chance America has.

At this time a majority of Americans say they believe in God and consider themselves Christians. But that’s not as good as it sounds on the surface. Someone asked me a question recently, “Is there a difference in believing in God and believing God?” Yes, there absolutely is a difference.

I would say that most of the Americans who claim to believe in God and claim to be Christians, in reality have no idea what biblical Christianity is and, in fact, believe in a false god and a false gospel. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that – and tremble in fear.” I dare say that a lot of people who “believe in God” have never truly believed him – what he has revealed about himself in the Scriptures, especially in regard to who Jesus is and what Jesus did.

The best thing we can do – our real only option for “saving” America – is to see people saved, growing in the Scriptures, and fulfilling their responsibilities of building up the Church and evangelizing the world.

Proverbs 31

The last chapter of Proverbs is best-known for its section on the “virtuous wife” – that ideal woman of dreams. But she is actually the third of three sections in chapter 31.

Like in chapter 30, we know nothing of Lemuel or his mother, except that he was a king and that God’s people recognized him/them as speaking God’s truth here and kept this together with the rest of God’s Word.

Lemuel’s mother taught him three things that he would find necessary when he became king (and we find necessary in our lives, too):

1 – Keep your mind strong (31:3-7)

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to crave strong drink, lest they drink and forget what is decreed,and remove from all the poor their legal rights. (31:3-4)

Whether they will admit it or not, everyone knows that alcohol is a mind-altering drug. No doubt it affects people in different ways – some more, some less. But those who say, “It doesn’t affect me” don’t realize the power that it has. Just ask the guy who’s 24 years sober, yet still going to AA meetings religiously.

Lemuel’s mother’s advice is right on – drink affects your mind, so don’t drink when you’re going to be needing your mind. In a king’s case (or president, governor, etc.), that could be at any time, so he shouldn’t drink at all.

Who should drink according to Lemuel’s mom? “The one who is perishing…those who are bitterly distressed” specifically for the purpose of forgetting their current troubles.

But before you go get drunk to forget your troubles, ask the guy in AA why he stopped 24 years ago.

 

2 – Stick up for the little guy (31:8-9)

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa

Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak, for the legal rights of all the dying. Open your mouth, judge in righteousness, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

This is a recurring theme in God’s Word. In the Old Testament Law, he set up very specific guidelines for taking care of “the poor and needy” (Leviticus 19:9-10) and the prophets took up the cause as well (Isaiah 1:17). The apostles practiced it in the early days of the church (Acts 4:34-35), and Paul commanded that it continue to be done through the church (1 Timothy 5:3-16). James even went so far to say that is the true meaning and purpose of religion as far as God is concerned (James 1:27).

What are you doing to stick up for the little guy? Need some ideas? Check out Hope Ministries and see how you can volunteer.

 

3 – Marry wisely (31:10-31)

Here’s the section we all know and love. Let’s spend some time together on it in my next post.