Stay Steadfast in the Lord

Stay firm in the faith, as Christians even in the early second century did under tyrannical rule of Pliny in Rome.  (See here for the source link.)

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it.


Did Circumcision in the Old Testament Have Medical Benefits?

Many of us have heard the some of the ‘strange’ laws in the Old Testament about what to eat, what to sacrifice, etc.  While those that don’t understand many of these laws may just think circumcision was just another one of those strange laws too, there may be more to it.
From a medical perspective, John Hopkins University researchers, here
studied the economic impact of males who were and were not circumcised.

A 20-year decline in male circumcision has cost the country $2 billion in medical costs that could have been prevented, Johns Hopkins researchers say in a study released Monday.

Research has found that circumcision reduces the number of infant urinary tract infections. Men who are uncircumcised are more at-risk for cancer-causing HPV, HIV, herpes, bacterial vaginitis and other sexually transmitted diseases, studies have found.

Really?  So medically there is a benefit to being a circumcised male?  Who would have guessed God would ask the Israelites in the Old Testament to do something that would be for their spiritual benefit and medical benefit?  If we look at the Old Testament God institutes his covenant with Abraham in Gen 7:1 and 7:10-11

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”

10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

Jesus then fulfills this covenant down the line.  Actually this covenant with Abraham has been a pointer to Jesus since it was instituted.  God says Abraham, if you “Walk before me blameless” I will “multiply you greatly”.  You hold up your end of the bargain Abraham and I will hold up mine, God says.  Now, to a fatherless 99 year old guy who in this society would have valued children like we value Ferrari’s and a mansion on the beach, this would have seemed so incredible Abraham may have even doubted it, (though we see later in the text he did not doubt this promise).

Now we all know, none of us today and no human even recalled in the Old Testament was ‘blameless’ or without sin.  So how does this point to Jesus?  Well first of all, God is giving a people to Himself.  Abram, this nomadic pagan wandered who is also fatherless, is called to bring about the nation of Israel, or the group of people God sets aside for himself.  Secondly this perfect work of being ‘blameless’ is a thorough failure just looking at the Israelites (reference the rest of the OT).  Even Abraham has some failures, but Jesus fulfills this ‘be blameless’ portion.  He is without sin and He is blameless.  Jesus actually by His blood brings, God’s people to spiritual restoration (now and for eternity in Heaven) in a way people could never fulfill this physically.
Paul says it well

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:11-14 ESV)

This uncircumcised heart of the people becomes circumcised and truly pleasing before God when are made clean “through faith” in Christ.  So yes, God cares about the physical and medical benefits to circumcision, but he cares most importantly about the spiritual, our hearts.  The physical was a pointer to the spiritual.  And “God made us alive together with him” by fulfill both parts of the covenant — the numerous generations He promises Abraham and walking blameless before Him

Is Jesus God?

Here are the 3 questions that will be addressed:

Did the Biblical writers believe Jesus was God?

 Did other people of the day believed Jesus claimed to be God?

 Is it necessary Jesus was God?

Let’s initially look at whether the writers of the New Testament believed if Jesus was God or not.  Paul in Philippians gives the incarnate description of Jesus coming into human form, but does not stop there.  He capitalizes this idea with verse 11 stating “Jesus Christ is Lord”

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

(Philippians 2:6-11 ESV)

Also, in Matthew 9:2, Jesus tells the paralytic to get up and walk, his sins are forgiven.  Matthew obviously sees Jesus as God here in that he mentions Jesus said “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Which only God can do, see Mark 2:7.  Secondly Matthew notes the proof or evidence.  Anyone can walk into somewhere and claim their sins were forgiven, but only Jesus as God incarnate would have the power to make the life long paralytic walk again.  Thus by enabling the man to walk through His power, Matthew is recording that Jesus would also have the ability to forgive sins.

Mohammed, Buhdda, and all the other great teachers could have said thought provoking claims.  But none had the ability to forgive sin as Jesus did.  This separates Jesus from all the other teachers there have ever been.

Next, let’s look at whether other people thought Jesus claimed to be God.  Not only should we expect that the followers of Jesus believed his claim to be the messiah, but others should have taken note too.  Josephus, a non-Christian first century historian said:

Antiquities 20.9.1 But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

Antiquities 18.3.3 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.

Also, “Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliney the Younger, Thallus, Celsus, Lucian of Samosata, Mara bar Serapion, and certain Jewish rabbinic traditions all contain some references to Jesus and/or the early Christian movement.” See The Jesus Legend by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd

Lastly, does Jesus need to be God? Why can’t he be a good moral teacher, or a very wise person?

“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

(1 Corinthians 15:14-19 ESV)

Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that our faith depends on Christ being God, being raised from the dead.  That if Christ has not raised “you are still in your sins”.  We have no hope other than that Christ is God as He claimed to be.  He must be God if we are to have salvation in God.  Otherwise our sin leaves us separate from God, but Jesus has secured our eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12)