Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ananias And Sapphira: Believers?

Biblegems #142
Question: Do we know for sure if Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 were believers?

There are actually several indicators in the context of Acts chapter 5 that Ananias and Sapphira were in fact believers in Jesus Christ. An added bonus is that finding these details helps us learn how to study the context of any Bible passage to discover truths that aren’t right on the surface.

General Context
The account of Ananias and Sapphira actually begins in chapter four. In Acts 4:32-37 Luke describes how “all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” That statement is tied to the scene just before, where Peter and John shared the story with the church of their arrest and release following the healing of the lame man, and the believers joined in spontaneous praise and prayer. Then, in verse 33, we learn that the Lord answered their prayer for boldness to continue witnessing and, as a result, the body of believers grew not only in number but also in love and unity.

The general context is all about the body of believers in Jesus and how they responded to what God was doing through the apostles.

Then, to emphasize what God was doing among these new believers, Barnabas is highlighted as a good example of this agape love so typical among the early believers (Acts 4:36-37), and Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5 are highlighted as a glaring exception of what God was doing among these believers. But the point is, they were counted as among the believers.

Specific Context

In Acts 5:3 the apostle Peter is astounded at Ananias “that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…” Then in verse 9 Peter expresses the same surprise at Sapphira’s willingness to conspire with her husband and “agree to test the Spirit of the Lord…”  If they had been unbelievers there would be no reason to be surprised at their selfish, deceitful behavior. There would be even less reason to be surprised at how they had lied to the Holy Spirit or had been manipulated by Satan. The reality is…
         2Cor. 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

But as Christians—and especially as recently converted Christians—their behavior came as a shock.
Ananias and Sapphira’s tragic failure stands in Scripture as reminder that a born-again believer is not exempt from temptation and sin. It is also a reminder that God loves us so much that He will discipline His people, even publicly, that others might learn from their example.
         1Pet. 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

God's Justice

Biblegems #141

Question: What is justice, from a biblical point of view?

This is a very important question because we typically think of justice in terms of our legal system and in terms of people getting what they deserve for crimes or offenses they have committed. Consequently, we tend to view justice almost totally in terms of fairness and punishment for unfair treatment:
         Prov. 11:1 The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.

But this is only an offshoot of justice as found in Scripture, not justice in its full sense. In fact, justice is virtually synonymous with righteousness in the Old and New Testaments alike—so much so that the word “justice” does not even occur in the New Testament. “Righteousness” is usually found in its place. For us to exercise justice, then, means:
         Is. 1:16-17          …wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Perhaps the best way to understand the biblical concept of “justice” is to understand its origins and its purpose.

Justice originates in the very nature of God. He does not simply exercise justice or demand justice from us—God is just. And because He is just, He makes things right. The purpose of justice is to eradicate sin and evil and establish righteousness in their place:
         1John 3:7  Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Because God is holy, sin is abhorrent to Him. It disgusts Him and tears at His heart because He created all things to be holy as He is holy. Sin and evil destroy that. So His very nature demands that sin and evil be removed, eradicated completely.

At the same time…
         Ps. 103:8   The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

Love and grace are just as much a part of God’s nature as is justice. You could even say justice is a demonstration of God’s love, grace and mercy. For, it is the Lord Himself who established forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. When sin is forgiven it is cancelled out completely, because justice has been met at the cross of Christ. That is why…
         1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

So, on the human side of the equation, justice is doing all we can to restore what sin and evil have taken and destroyed, replacing unrighteousness with what is right. On God’s side of the equation, justice is also restoring holiness and righteousness, sometimes through judgment and sometimes through forgiveness, but always as an act of redeeming love.
         Is. 45:21-22And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth…”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Ark Construction Co.

Biblegems #140
Question: How is it possible for eight Bronze-Age humans in extreme old age to build a boat the size of a football stadium, then load, manage and care for 32,000 animals that require specialized diets and habitats?

There are a few unspoken assumptions in this question. Assumption # 1 is that Bronze-Age humans did not have the technological ability to construct the ark. Assumption #2 is that Noah, at the age of 600 (Gen. 7:6), was in “extreme old age” for the time period, and therefore to decrepit to build the ark. Assumption # 3 is that the various species existing in the pre-Flood world required the same or very similar environmental conditions as we experience in the world today. Each of these assumptions is incorrect.

Old Man Noah
The pre-Flood world was a dramatically different place than the world we know today. Perhaps chief among the differences was longevity of life, especially among humans. At the beginning of creation death did not even enter into the picture. Death and entropy came about as the result of Adam and Eve’s sin (Gen. 2:16-3:23; Rom. 5:12; Rom. 8:21).

Once sin and death impacted the new world, the early humans still lived extremely long lives by our current standards. Adam died just shy of a thousand years; and all of his descendants up until the Flood lived many hundreds of years. Noah himself lived to be 950 (Gen. 9:29). At 600, then, Noah was the equivalent of  55 – 60 years old in comparison to an average life-span today. He would be physically strong and rich in experience, thereby debunking the first two assumptions.

Bronze-Age Technology
The Bronze-Age in the ancient Near East extended from about 3300 B.C. to 1200 B.C. The Great Flood likely took place somewhere around the mid-1600's B.C. This was a period of great technological advance and industry. Writing had been developed, as well as sophisticated mathematics and precise astronomical charts. Empires with organized, well-armed, mobile armies with horse-drawn chariots came into existence. And—giving the Bronze Age its name—the mining and smelting of tin, which was then added to molten copper to produce bronze, enabled the development of specialized tools, weapons and a variety of metal products for societal needs. The necessary technology to build a big boat was certainly available.

Zoo Habitat
Finally, the question of specialized habitats aboard the ark can be settled on two counts. One: The pre-Flood world knew a vastly different, far more uniform and tropical environment than the radically diverse climate zones familiar to us. Our turbulent weather structure is actually a by-product of the collapsed pre-Flood environment. Two: many animal species go into hibernation when placed in a darkened, enclosed environment. This would ease the burden of care considerably.

God “did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others…” (2Pt. 2:5), and He will also protect those in this age who run to Jesus for salvation from the coming judgment.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Starlight And Creation

Biblegems #139

Question: If light from the closest star takes 4.3 light years to reach earth, how could the light from that star—or any other—be visible from earth on the first day of creation?

The Question. The question assumes that the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is, and always has been, a constant. There is no proof of this assumption. Rather, it is based upon Einstein’s theory of relativity (which describes the physics of the universe as it is now) and the observation that the speed of light seems to be a constant now. Yet even that theory is under question by some physicists.

To be fair, creation of the universe according to the Genesis model is also a theory, and it is based upon the assumption that God exists and His revealed Word is true. These, then, are our two options:
1) Assumption of a universal constant based on human observation; 2) Assumption of spontaneous creation based upon God’s revelation.

Creation. Genesis 1 teaches that sun, moon and stars were created on day four of a six-day creation model, after the earth was already formed. In fact, Genesis portrays the universe as expanding outward from the relative position of earth in space. Most current astronomical theories hold that there is no central starting place for the universe.[i]

According to Genesis, God created light itself and poured it upon the earth on day one, prior to the creation of the sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1:3). This light was clearly streaming from a stationary point upon a rotating earth since the light established the pattern of day and night. God did not need to create generators of light out of matter in order to create light itself (see Rev. 22:5).

On day four of creation God created the sun, moon and stars for a specific purpose. They are to:
Gen. 1:14-15 …serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years…

God created the stars by His command (Gen. 1:14) and “set them in the expanse of the sky to give light to the earth” (Gen. 1:17). From the vantage point of the earth, God both created and placed the stars (including galaxies, etc.) in one nearly simultaneous action so that their light would be immediately visible from earth. The stars were sent in motion to their appointed places in space at virtually instantaneous speeds, way beyond the speed of light. What remains visible from earth is the light trail left behind. By way of analogy, think of the “light trail” your eye perceives when you wave a light around in the dark, or picture the starship Enterprise as it streaks into warp speed.

This magnificent universe is a fantastic testimony to the existence of God, the Creator of all that is.
         Rom. 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

[i]  “The Big Bang—as far as we understand it—was not an explosion like that at all.  It was an explosion of space, not an explosion in space.  According to the standard models there was no space and time before the Big Bang.  There was not even a "before" to speak of.  So, the Big Bang was very different from any explosion we are accustomed to and it does not need to have a central point.”  — Original by Philip Gibbs 1997.
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