Saturday, March 31, 2012

 

The Exclusive Claims of Jesus

A little over a month ago, I was invited to speak to a church planting team on the issue of the exclusive claims of Jesus. I need to note that the material that follows is the result of a bit of reading and sermon listening. I am indebted to a lot of folks, some of whom are mentioned in the material below. I don't intend to claim individual originality in either the argument or the ideas below, as I am standing on the shoulders of many preachers and apologists. I hope the material below blesses you.

The Exclusive Claims of Jesus
What is the witness of the NT concerning Jesus as the only way to God?
Introduction
In my lesson on the origin and reliability of the Bible, I argued that the four Gospels of the NT were historically reliable
I presented evidence of their age and diversity
I presented evidence concerning their authors
Based on the materials we considered, we determined that the NT was more historically reliable than some of the materials covering Roman history
Of course, if we agree with this conclusion, then that means that we have to deal with the claims of these texts
Today, I want to present to you the idea that these texts proclaim Jesus as the one and only way to know God
Let’s consider the evidence
The Problem
Of course, before we even get out of the gate, someone will no doubt raise the objection: “Aren’t you being a bit intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to know God? Aren’t you being a bit arrogant?”
Can’t the skeptic say, “What’s so special about Jesus? Why is he the only way?”
They can say that, but the problem is that WE didn’t come up with that idea
The First Point
The first point we must acknowledge is that the claim for Jesus’ exclusivity did not originate with us, it originated with Jesus
Jesus’ earliest disciples tell us that he claimed to be the one and only path to God.
He said, “If you don’t follow me, you will not be in the kingdom of God” that is, you will not belong to God (Matthew 7:21, 26-27, 29).
Jesus also said, “If you reject me, you will not be with me. If you receive me, you are received by the Father” (Matthew 10:32-33, 37-40; Luke 12:8; cf. Rev. 3:5).
More Evidence
We have only cited references from Matthew’s Gospel, but the references could be multiplied across all four of these historically reliable books
In fact, the Gospel that discusses the exclusivity of Jesus most clearly is John’s Gospel
John records Jesus’ own claims of exclusivity in several places
In Jesus’ Own Words
John 14:6-9
This is the clearest statement of Jesus’ exclusivity
Jesus declares himself to be the way to come to the Father
He declares himself to be the truth about the Father—if you know Jesus, you know God
John 5:19-24
The relationship of the Father to the Son—the Son does what he sees the Father doing
Both Father and Son are able to raise the dead
The Father gives judgment to the Son
To honor Jesus is to honor the Father—they are one
In Jesus’ Own Words, Part 2
John 8:12, 31-59
Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees
8:12—Jesus is the Light (cf. John 1)
A question of truth and lineage
Those who know Jesus know truth
What does it mean to have Abraham for a father?
Jesus vs. Abraham
Jesus claims to be God
John 10:27-30—Jesus and the Father are one
So, Jesus makes it clear that he considers himself to be one with God the Father
John’s Witness
John 1:1-3
The eternal Word
God and Creator
John 1:9-13
The true Light who gives authority to those who receive him
He makes them children of God
John 1:14, 18
The Word made flesh
Jesus, the only one of his kind
Jesus interprets God
Jesus’ life reveals God’s character—he is God
John 3:13-19
Jesus as the Son of Man who came from heaven
Eternal life granted to those who believe in God’s unique (exclusive) Son
Judgment reserved for those who do not believe
The Witness of the Apostles
Acts 4:5-13—Peter’s preaching
In what name? Where do you get the right to preach these things Peter?
Peter—by Jesus Christ, the only one who can save
Acts 10:34-43—Peter, part 2
Jesus is the one who judges the living and the dead
Only God can do that!
Only in Jesus’ name can forgiveness of sins be received
Paul’s Preaching
Acts 13:32-39
Jesus is the means by which forgiveness of sins is given
Through Jesus freedom from sin is granted
Romans 10:8-11
Jesus is the means of salvation
Confess and believe
1 Timothy 2:5-6
Jesus is the ONLY mediator between humans and God
Need More?
We could keep inundating you with more and more references, but it may help to consider a few points about Jesus’ exclusive statements that span a large chunk of the NT
Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, it is our contention that Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of bringing humans into a proper relationship with God.
Let’s consider some reasons why we may be justified to think of Jesus as the only way to know God properly
Bruce Ware offers five pieces of evidence to show that Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior
1. The Virgin Birth
Jesus Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38).
Why does this matter?
The one who will bring humans to a proper relationship with God must be divine and human. Such a person alone can make God known (cf. John 1:18)
Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus' conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully human.
Jesus must be both God and human to deal with the issue of sin decisively, and for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. (cf. Romans 8:2-4)
No one else in the history of the world was conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother.
Therefore, Jesus is exclusive in this claim and qualifies to be Savior.
This is further shown in the claim that Jesus is God.
2. God Incarnate
Christ alone is God in the flesh (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:14-18; Phil 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim 2:5-6).
As Anselm argued our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of sinful humanity, and he must be fully divine in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands God’s holy justice.
But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man except Jesus. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
This is also seen in the kind of life Jesus lived
3. Sinless Life
Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:23-28; 9:13-14; 1 Peter 2:21-24).
In the sacrificial system of Israel, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish.
This prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus who, as sinless, was able to pay for the sins of others by his death.
No one else in the history of the world has lived a sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
His sinless life makes him a proper means to make things right between God and humans
4. Atoned for Sin
Jesus Christ alone died a substitutionary death (Isa. 53:4-6; Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10-14).
The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
And because Jesus lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die.
Rather, the cause of his death was owing to the fact that the Father put our sin on him.
The death that he died was in our place.
He paid our debt!
No one else in the history of the world has died bearing the sins of others while facing no judgment for his own sin. Jesus’ sinless life made him the proper sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
But he did not simply die, he also rose again!
5. Rose from the Dead
Jesus alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22-24; Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:3-8, 16-23).
The Bible indicates that a few people other than Christ have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; John 11:38-44), but only Jesus has been raised from the dead never to die again, triumphing over sin.
The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death.
So, Christ's resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin's penalty and full victory over sin's greatest power. (Heb. 2:14-15)
No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
What a Savior! What amazing love!
Surely he is unique in who he is and what he has done!
Conclusion
Jesus alone qualifies as Savior, and Jesus alone is Savior.
His own words could not be clearer: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
And Peter confirms, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
These claims are true of no one else in the history of the world. Indeed, Jesus alone is Savior.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

 

The Reliability of the Bible

About a month ago, I was invited to speak to a church planting team on the issue of the origin and reliability of the Bible. This is a topic I tackled a couple of years ago, so I got out the old notes and rewrote them. I need to note that the material that follows is the result of a bit of reading and sermon listening. I am indebted to a lot of folks, some of whom are mentioned in the material below. I don't intend to claim individual originality in either the argument or the ideas below, as I am standing on the shoulders of many preachers and apologists. I hope the material below blesses you.

The Origin and Reliability of the Bible
Where did the Bible come from and can I trust it?
Introduction
To many Christians, the Bible is a book that has simply been around forever.
Whether they think it was handed down as “golden tablets” or dictated by God, they think that Bible has just always been there.
Unfortunately, that is simply not true.
What I intend to do is to give you an idea regarding where your Bible came from and why you can rely on it as a sound witness to the historical events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus.
Are you ready?
What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of books, it is not a single book
It consists of 66 books collected into one volume
These books were written by around 40 different authors over many centuries
In general these books agree on one thing—God is making himself known through these writings
The purpose of these books is the self-disclosure of God, his character, and his interactions with humans
In Christian circles, the Bible is divided into two basic sections
The Old Testament (or Hebrew/Jewish Scripture)
39 books
Reflects the history of God’s interaction particularly with Israel but also with other people
The New Testament
27 books
Focuses on the life of Jesus and his impact
The Bible is more precisely a library of books that speak of one major topic—God’s interaction with humanity
How Did We Get Our Current Bible?
Since the individual books of the Bible were written over a period of more than one thousand years, the question of origins could be a lecture in itself
Simply put, these books were written by authors at a particular time and in some cases for particular reasons and then collected by those who acknowledged the importance and inspiration of the documents
By the fourth century AD, the Bible as we currently know it was considered authoritative and settled (no more books were to be added—Council of Carthage)
Since then Christians everywhere have accepted this as God’s Word

The actual development of our current Bible can be summarized as follows:

Many of the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures began to be collected shortly after they were written
By the time of Jesus, most of the books currently in our OT were recognized as authoritative by Jews
Criteria for this recognition included conformity to the theology of the Law (first five books), inspiration (Prophets), written in Hebrew, and commonly used among most Jews
After Jesus’ life and ministry, some of his followers wrote materials pertaining to his life and impact on humanity. These books were written roughly from AD 45 to about 100. They began to be collected early on (Paul’s letters are mentioned as a collection by Peter sometime in the mid-60s—2 Peter 3:14-16), and we have authorized list of our current 27 books as early as the second century. The criteria for acceptance included the books ties to an apostle, the use of the book by the church at large, the theology of the book, and inspiration

Is the Bible Reliable?
Now that we have some history about this collection of books, we have to consider whether or not we can accept this collection as reliable. In order to make the process more manageable, we will focus only on four books of the New Testament—The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
My argument is simple
If these books are reliable historical witnesses, then what they say about Jesus is true
If what they say about Jesus is true, then the claims that Jesus is the Son of God must be true
If Jesus is the Son of God, then what he says about the rest of the Bible must be true and what he says about God must be true as well
How do we determine historical reliability?
Note that we are primarily concerned here with historical reliability
How can we tell if a document is historically reliable?
We have to be aware that offering a “proof” of history is difficult if not impossible. “Proof” requires observation and repetition. What we have to consider is evidence. What does the evidence tell us?
Think of a court of law. Both sides of a case present evidence to support their view or their claims. Evidence is not a proof, it is simply a testimony to the probability of a certain set of circumstances. Whichever set of evidence is considered most probable usually wins. (Example—how do you prove you are married, or that you came to this training session? )
The question to be answered involves what is most probable, not what is possible—we have to have probable cause
An example from my life—a car wreck in Waco, TX
What is the most probable explanation of what happened?
Ancient Manuscripts and History
The four books we are considering are ancient manuscripts
Two ways to show the reliability of ancient manuscripts
Look at their age/date and distribution
Look at their authors—are they reliable?
Let’s consider the manuscripts first—Roman history as an example
Rome existed for almost a millennium—during that time Roman emperors and other leaders commissioned many different authors to write an authorized version of Rome’s history
Literally dozens (if not hundreds) of documents were created, published, and preserved. Writers like Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus wrote volumes on Roman history.
The Gallic Wars—our oldest copy dates to around AD 900—many centuries after the events they record
Yet only a few of the copies remain
Tacitus—lived and wrote near the end of the first century—wrote a 30 volume history of Rome
Yet only about 20 copies representing maybe half of the volumes remain
These Roman materials are used regularly in history classes all around the world.
In spite of the limited number of copies and the late date of the materials, these works are considered historical and worthy of use as representations of “what really happened”

Questions About Manuscripts
Would you expect Roman history to survive through the ages?
Absolutely.
Roman leaders kept records and stored them in vaults to keep these things for the future.
The Roman Empire existed for hundreds of years and ruled the world.
Of course we would have some copies of historical documents regarding these events.
All of Rome with all its wealth produced histories of the empire, yet all we have left are a few copies of key manuscripts.
Would you expect to have four detailed accounts of 3 years of the life of a Jewish carpenter from Galilee in the first century AD?
He didn’t write anything, he didn’t run for office, but it may surprise you to find out that we have more information for him than we do for the Caesars!
The NT Manuscripts
Let’s look at the manuscripts of the Gospels
They represent not a history of an entire kingdom, but rather about three years of the life of Jesus in the first century
We actually have hundreds of copies of the manuscripts for the Gospels (not dozens, but hundreds)
We even have one fragment that dates to around AD 130—the John Ryland’s Papyrus—that is a part of the Gospel of John
This manuscript was found in Egypt, which means that it was probably written sometime near the end of the first century (to give time for a copy to be made and circulated to Egypt)
By AD 250, we have complete copies of all four Gospels as we have them in our current Bibles
As far as the rest of the NT is concerned, we have over 5,500 copies of manuscripts of the books of the NT—almost 10 times the number of manuscripts for Homer’s works
Compared to Roman history, the Gospels (and the other NT books) have a better distribution and dating of manuscripts.
Surprising, No?
How is that possible?
Why would so much time and attention be given to these three years of a single Jewish life?
Why would they survive in such large numbers?
Apparently someone found these materials to be so important that they copied them—multiple times over!
In fact, you could argue that these documents seem more important than even documents of the history of Rome!
What about Differences?
What about errors? Don’t this many copies have errors?
Example of copying a letter today
Given the sheer number of copies of New Testament works, you would expect some differences in the manuscripts
On the other hand, the sheer volume of copies also provides comparison data to ascertain the probable original wording
To compare this—the manuscripts of the NT are old enough and numerous enough to offer the promise of ascertaining the original readings, even though the originals no longer exist
We have over 600 manuscripts of Homer and scholars are certain that we have restored Homer to 90% of the original
Given the sheer number of NT manuscripts, we should be able to do better than 90%
In fact, the differences in the NT manuscripts are negligible—the manuscripts agree on over 90% of the material, and the disagreements amount to insignificant details
There are no doctrinally significant differences in NT manuscripts
So? What’s the Problem?
Why aren’t the Gospels (and the rest of the NT for that matter) considered history?
If we have more of them, if they are better distributed, if they date closer to the originals than others, if we can come to some idea of the original wording, why aren’t these works considered “history”?
The answer may surprise you
There seems to be a real prejudice against the supernatural
The idea is something like this: “Documents that contain supernatural events cannot be considered historical since ‘supernatural’ things don’t happen on a regular basis.”
Do you see a problem with that logic?
How about the Civil War?
How about the Holocaust?
How about 9/11 and the rescue teams?
Do we see these events or the responses to them on a regular basis?
We don’t judge those historical events on personal experience or presuppositions alone, do we?
We have to consider the evidence and ask “What is the most probable explanation?”
Can we trust the authors?
Let’s consider the authors of the Gospels
Matthew—a tax collector and eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry
Mark—a friend of Peter (1 Peter 5:13)—history tells us that Mark wrote down what Peter preached
Luke—a Gentile doctor and friend of Paul
John—a disciple of Jesus and an eyewitness
The material these individuals wrote agree on basic topic, order, and historical record
Although they wrote at different times and from different perspectives, they come to the same conclusion about Jesus and present the same basic historical information about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ
These four different presentations of Jesus offer historical events
They are portraits of the life and ministry of Jesus
The Case of Dr. Luke
Luke is unique among the Gospel writers
He was not an eyewitness follower of Jesus nor a Jew
He came to be a follower of Christ as a result of the testimony of others
He then decided to investigate the claims about Jesus so that he could write an orderly account for his friend (Luke 1:1-4)
He interviewed eyewitness and read accounts about Jesus so that he could compile his history of the events
He had no idea that his work would be collected with three other accounts and included in some “Bible”!
Luke claims to write an orderly account so that Theophilus can be sure of what he has heard about Jesus
Four Witnesses, Four Perspectives
The other three writers put together their materials for different purposes, but they all exist as witnesses to the same historical events (1 John 1:1-3)
Since they are writing about similar events from different perspectives, shouldn’t some variation be expected?
Think of four witnesses to a car accident
Each one will remember different details as they describe the same incident
One may remember the colors or makes of the vehicles
Another may remember the gender of the drivers
Yet another may remember the accident itself
But all are describing the same incident
We have a similar probability with the Gospels
Differences As Evidence
All four Gospels describe the same event from different perspectives
They emphasize different details
Varying level of detail is found in each Gospel
Agreement on the general flow of the story is there (they all focus on Jesus’ character, ministry, and passion)
As a result, the apparent “contradictions” are just what would be expected if we had four different witnesses
The differences show that collaboration among the four writers is unlikely
Our hypothetical car accident above took only a few minutes to develop, but the Gospels are writing about events that happened over a period of almost 3 years
We ought to expect some differences in these materials
Each Gospel writer sees Jesus from a different perspective
None of them became rich or famous for their writings—in fact they all died for their conviction that Jesus was who he claimed to be—the Son of God who came to reveal God to humans
Legend and History
Sherman White in his research found that two generations (a little over 50 years) is not sufficient to cause a legend to alter a solid core of historical fact
In other words, if the Gospel information about Jesus was a legend, then it would take 50+ years before its repetition would be viewed as historical events
How much time separated the writing of the Gospels from the actual events of Jesus’ life?
Conservative scholars place the earliest of the Gospels around AD 45 to 55. Even liberal scholars date the earliest Gospel before AD 70.
If Jesus lived and ministered in the mid-30s, then the first Gospel is written just a few decades after his life. That is not long enough for it to be considered legend!
There is also evidence that the story of Jesus’ life and resurrection circulated during the lifetime of the authors of our Gospels
Three witnesses—Paul, James, and Tacitus
First Century Witnesses
Paul—left a leadership position in Judaism to become a follower of Christ, plant churches all over the Roman empire, and write books about Jesus (Paul died in the mid-60s of the first century AD)
James—another author of a NT book who left Judaism to become a Christian. He mentions the return of Jesus in his letter (conservatively dated to around AD 45—just fifteen years after Jesus). Where did he hear about Jesus’ return? How could Jesus return unless he left (as the Gospels report)?
The final witness is the most important, in my opinion
The Non-Christian Witness
Tacitus
Wrote around AD 100 to 115
Wrote about events in the life of Roman Caesar Nero
Nero ruled from AD 54 to 68
Peter and Paul were reportedly martyred under Nero
He wrote about Nero:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite torture on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.” He continues: “Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate. A most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, but even in Rome.”
Other witnesses include the following non-Christian historians:
Pliny the Younger (AD 62-113)—describes Christian worship
Suetonius (AD 100-160)—describes Claudius’ edict of AD 49 that kicked Jewish Christians out of Rome
The Conclusion
The conclusion is obvious, isn’t it?
Tacitus and Pliny reference a superstition, not a teaching, or a philosophy.
What brought people to Christ was the story of the resurrection! It wasn’t Jesus’ teaching or philosophy that attracted people, but his claims to be the Son of God and his resurrection.
This Jesus, who was crucified by Pilate, came back to life. That is the so-called superstition.
The disciples began preaching the resurrection within 2 months of Jesus death and resurrection.
The existence of Christianity in Rome less than 2 decades after Jesus’ life and ministry support the historical perspective of the Gospels
This means that the Gospels should be reliable history
What do we do now?
What will you do with this information?
How will you respond?
If what I have shared supports the historical reliability of the Gospels, then the claims made about and by Jesus are also historical and reliable.
We cannot ignore them. Jesus spoke of the OT, he spoke of God, he forgave sins, he rose from the dead.
You now have to decide—if the Gospel accounts are historically reliable, you cannot ignore the claims about or by Jesus.
He is either a liar or he is God. He cannot be both.
What do you think? How will you respond?

Thanks for reading!

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