Friday, June 18, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 11: Providence in the Passion of Christ

The death and resurrection of Christ are the pinnacle of the Bible story. We have learned in earlier chapters of Not By Chance that God's providence still reigns, despite man's deepest and most evil designs, and hedges man's depravity. The events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ demonstrate that God can transform man's worst depravity and vilest plans into the service of His plans! Consider the implications of this!

Throughout the life of Christ, there were those who wanted to kill Him. Herod tried to slaughter Him as a baby (Matt. 2:13-18). There was an attempt on his life in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30). There are a number of references to serious plotting against His life throughout the Gospels, and particularly during the Passion Week. In none of these, however, was Christ's life threatened; if anything, the "fear of the people" hindered those who sought to kill Him.

Christ was delivered into the hand of the Jews in God's time. They didn't want it to happen on the feast day, but God did. Pilate, whose power was from God (John 19:10-11), received Christ, delivered into his hand at the time God wanted him there.

As most people familiar with the Bible know, the death of Christ also fulfilled a myriad of prophecies. In our Sunday School class, we focused on these, particularly from the book of Zechariah:

  • Zechariah 9:9—The King will come, riding upon an ass (Matt. 21:1-9)
  • Zechariah 11:12-13—He will be sold for thirty pieces of silver, later "cast" in the house of the Lord; the money would be used to buy the potter's field (Matt. 27:3-10)
  • Zechariah 12:10—His body would be pierced (John 19:31-37)
  • Zechariah 13:7—His followers would scatter from Him (Matt. 26:31)
  • Isaiah 53:9—He would be buried with the rich (Matt. 27:57-60; consider how unlikely this was!)
One of the marvelous things about Christ's passion is that Satan was used as the tool of Christ. Satan tried to use Peter to hinder Christ's mission (Matt. 16:21-23), but Christ rebuked Peter. Satan entered into Judas (twice: Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2, 27). Satan sought—and obtained permission—to sift Peter and the other disciples (Luke 22:31-32). He was even given "power" over Christ (Luke 22:52-53). Satan was deluded into thinking that he could "get away with" this...but not so!

The latter part of Chapter 11 describe some of the elegant extra touches that God included in the events surrounding Christ's crucifixion. They give evidence to the fact that there was no way that man could have done what was done. They are, in essence, the "fingerprints" of God, showing "His hand" in the work.

Here are a number of ways Dr. Talbert described God's providence during (and leading up to) Christ's passion:
  • Providential Symbolism: The timing of the crucifixion was Passover Week. What, after all, did Passover foreshadow for 15 centuries?
  • Providential Training: The disciples were given specific—and quite honestly, rather odd-sounding—instructions regarding the provision of the colt and the upper room. Christ gave them "odd-sounding" instructions to follow, and they obeyed and witnessed God's provision and blessing. Later, they would receive other "odd-sounding" instructions, and the world would be changed.
  • Providential Prophecy: The counsel of Caiaphas in John 11:47-53 is most interesting. His motives for Christ's death are almost strictly political: He wants no problems with Rome. Yet, the words that he spoke are theologically accurate—despite the fact he never intended them that way.
  • Providential Cue: The cock the very moment Christ said it would (Matt. 26:34, 74-75).
  • Providential "Coincidence": Herod's visit to Jerusalem (Luke 23:7) was timely. Pilate would have been very tempted to stall a decision about Christ pending an appeal to Herod, but God didn't want Pilate to stall. Herod was in town already.
  • Providential Warning: The dream of Pilate's wife (Matt. 27:19), while seemingly irrelevant to the main plot, adds yet another layer of evidence that God was at work.
  • Providential Parable: The exchange of Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-26), a rebel and murderer, for the sinless Savior was a literal "death as a sinless substitute"—and what a picture for us! Also of interest: The literal meaning of the name Barabbas is "son of the father."
  • Providential Irony: Thorns were a result of the curse which Christ put upon earth for sin; then, He wears a crown of thorns upon His own head as he suffers for that very sin. Indeed: Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).
  • Providential Means: Christ was crucified upon a cross; this was the only way He could have fulfilled a myriad of Old Testament prophecies. He also prophesied about His own crucifixion (Matt. 20:17-19; John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32-34). The Jewish leadership wanted it for a variety of reasons, but especially for the shame.
  • Providential Proclamation: The superscription Pilate ordered to be placed on the cross ["This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"] annoyed the Jews—and not just because it was truth.
  • Providential Picture: There was midnight at noonday. This could not have been a solar eclipse. The Jewish calendar is lunar, so Passover happens around the time of a full moon; solar eclipses happen when the moon is new. Christ is the Light of the World; His death brought darkness upon that world.
  • Providential Witnesses: The Roman guard was placed at the tomb (Matt. 27:62-66) in order that there would be no "faked" resurrection. It was also interesting that these unbelievers remembered something Christ said, in part because....
  • Providential Dullness: Why did the disciples not comprehend what Christ said? Why did they not remember His repeated and clear assertions that He would rise from the dead on the third day after His death? Talbert goes into this at some length, but a main point of the discourse is that the disciples, by their "dullness," could not and did not cast any doubt on the authenticity of the resurrection.
God, the Sovereign, was in control of everything surrounding Christ's death (John 19:11; Acts 2:23). As we read on p. 188, "If God can so sovereignly control such combined, focused chaos and hatred, is it possible that He could for a moment lose control over the affairs of your life?"

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's Time For Me To Leave Michigan, Part 2

As I wrote in my prior post, I am moving out of Michigan this month to take a position at Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, SC. While I believe this is the providential plan of God, and am therefore happy to go, there are some lessons here to be considered for the folks in Lansing.

1. The job environment, quite frankly, is poor. Those of us who want to live here—including people like me with multiple college degrees—are having a difficult time finding jobs that pay enough to support our families. Much of the blame for this belongs in Washington D.C., but the policies that flow out of Lansing have not helped much and have hurt plenty.

2. The job environment is poor because the business climate is poor—especially in comparison to other states. One thing I did some research on was starting my own business (a non-starter due to a lack of capital, especially after Fall, 2008); and even I, as a tax preparer, found much of the paperwork to be boggling.

3. With Granholm in office, there is simply no reason to be hopeful of improvement. Thankfully, she will be replaced with someone else in several months; but if that someone is another like-minded democrat, hope will again evaporate, and many others (like me) will head to greener pastures.

Perhaps I will add more thoughts on this later.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It's Time For Me To Leave Michigan

For those of you who don't know, I have lived in Michigan since 2004, when I came here to take a math teaching position at Heritage Christian Academy in Kalamazoo. I was laid off from that position in 2007, and for the past three years, have held an interesting array of part-time jobs. The most stable has been a case manager position at Youth Opportunities Unlimited, where I have been for nearly two years.

I have been offered, and will be accepting, a position at Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, South Carolina, in product development. My responsibilities will primarily include preparing digital media to accompany textbooks and teacher materials. (Apparently my job description is still being ironed out.)

We have enjoyed living in Michigan. We love our church, we have a nice home, and we are very content with this corner of the world. We have met new neighbors and gotten involved in the political scene. But God's good plan for us involves moving...again. We look forward to Greenville, a city with which we have familiarity and where we have family. Our four children will be able to attend one of the finest schools in America—one that will be literally walking distance from my office. We will again have health insurance and other job-related benefits.

My first day on the job is currently scheduled for June 29.

We ask your prayers for several things:

  • The prompt sale of our home in Michigan.
  • For our children, that they will make this transition well. Their comfortable little world was rocked by this news, and although we think they will do just fine in the long run, the short run may be a little tough.
  • That everything which needs to be done this month will get done this month.
  • That we will find a good church that God wants us to be a part of. There are many good churches in the Greenville area, so it's a bigger decision than you might think.
And pray for the BIG MOVING SALE, which will be on June 19. All are invited.

Not By Chance, Chapter 10: Providence in the Incarnation of Christ

"But when the fulness of the time was come,
God sent forth His son...."
Galatians 4:4, quoted above, reminds us that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, at the very time that had been prepared for His arrival. This preparation for His incarnation can be traced back for centuries before His birth, and right up unto the year in which He was born of Mary.

The word incarnation means, in this context, that God "took flesh upon himself" and became a man. Although still fully God, He became fully man in order to fulfill the prophecies and purposes related to His atonement for mankind's sins.

This chapter deals specifically with lessons from history and Scripture that point to God's providence in preparing the way for Christ's coming to earth as a man.

Lessons From History: Setting the stage for Christ's coming
  • Political Developments: A succession of empires (Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome) had come, grown, and gone in the eight centuries prior to Christ's birth. By the time of the Roman Empire of Christ's day, most of the western world was under one government. The Pax Romana provided ideal circumstances for the spread of the Gospel. Even the famous "decree from Caesar Augustus" (Luke 2:1) was a part of God's providential plan.
  • Developments in Commerce: Rome had advanced systems of communication and transportation (for its day), and God used Roman infrastructure to spread the Gospel.
  • Language: After Alexander the Great brought the Greek language throughout the New Testament world in the 4th century B.C., God directed the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek (today known as the Septuagint, or LXX). This enabled New Testament believers to have a widely accessible Bible, since Greek was far more common than Hebrew in the Roman world of the apostles.
  • Philosophy: The Greek-influenced world was accustomed to the debates of ideas (even in the year 2010 A.D., there are many places in the world where ideas inconsistent with the societal norm are scorned), making many more people receptive to at least hearing and thinking about the Gospel message. Both Greeks and Jews had ideas about logos (the Word, which is the literal meaning of logos, is a frequent biblical reference to Christ) that pointed in the general direction of Christ. See the book Not By Chance for a lengthy elaboration on this point.
Lessons From Scripture: The implications of Providence in the matters surrounding Christ's birth are unmistakable.
  • The timing of Zachariah's lot (Luke 1:9) was perhaps his only chance—in his lifetime—to offer the incense, and God had an announcement for him!
  • The conception and birth of John (Luke 1:5-7, 24-25, 57-66) was a miraculous fulfillment of prophecy. Like Sarah, Elizabeth was well past the age of childbearing.
  • The respective lineages of Mary and Joseph were planned (Luke 3, Matthew 1), and they brought up in the same town.
  • The conception of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38) was timed in such a way, especially in relation to the betrothal, that Joseph was clearly not the child's father.
  • The ordering of the census (Luke 2:1-6) is clearly a circumstance Mary and Joseph could not have manipulated! No one could accuse Joseph of fabricating anything to make sure that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as prophesied.
  • The birth of Jesus (Luke 2:6-7)—the where, when, how, etc.—was all arranged to happen in a place for cattle.
  • Visits by the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) were all planned by God to happen at precise times.
  • The Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) had knowledge of a prophecy of the birth of a king, and saw something in the night sky which was not seen or understood by everyone else, that accurately pointed them toward that king. They were first pointed to Jerusalem, then Bethlehem, in order that Herod learn of the event; then they were directed away from Jerusalem for their return trip.
  • The massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:13-23) was a horrible tragedy, and in truth, a rather inefficient way for Herod to try to eliminate the baby Jesus. Nevertheless, prophecies were fulfilled by this action (Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:15).
There are some lessons for us to take away from this chapter. God can, and does, direct and control all affairs of government, commerce, etc. God can, and will, lay the groundwork for the Second Coming of Christ. In short, God can, and will, do everything He has said He will do!

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 9: Problems of Providence

This chapter of Layton Talbert's excellent book Not By Chance deals with lessons we learn from the book of Job. Job, a righteous man who feared God, was allowed to suffer a brutal series of trials; naturally, he was confused about why God could permit this to happen. He debates these subjects with four of his "friends" before God intervenes in the conversation and clarifies matters.

There are five major lessons shared from the book of Job, in Chapter 9 of Not By Chance.

  1. Who is in charge? God is in charge. God is ultimately responsible. Who allowed Job to suffer (2:3, 42:11)? Who both allows evil, and restrains it, when He sees fit? Although Satan may "persuade" God to allow destruction to come to His children undeservedly, we must remember that God is in charge, and is ultimately responsible for what happens to me. He may sometimes allow me to suffer due to the sinful choices of others. Consider Christ—the perfect illustration of this!
  2. God is not responsible for anyone's wrong actions or choices.
  3. God is the ultimate cause of every moral right and of no moral wrong. Nevertheless, He can manipulate and orchestrate both to accomplish His purposes. A quote from p. 147: "It is as if God opens the lid on this bottomless pit of potential depravity just so far, filtering what escapes, so that only what will further our ultimate good and serve His purposes is providentially allowed to come out. The rest is just as providentially restrained."
  4. Why does God allow "bad things" to happen to us? In general, we are not given the specific reasons for what happens in our lives. We do know, however, that God is showing the angels, as well as fallen beings, His perfections, for their benefit and His glory. Our trials may well be an instruction for someone else.
  5. We are not the center of the universe. God is! It is easy to be small-minded and self-focused, thinking God acts strictly for our benefit...but all creation exists to glorify God. Let us not focus on the thought that we are greatly loved in the eyes of God—although we certainly are—but let us focus on how great God is and how we can glorify Him.
A quote from pp. 150-151:
"Every difficulty we or someone we love faces, every trial we endure, every loss we bear, every experience of the severest pain and a fresh opportunity to stand in the company of Job and to affirm that our faith in and our worship of and our devotion to God is rooted in soil far deeper than personal advantage or material blessing or physical well-being."
This discussion generates three significant questions:

1. (p. 151) Is it correct to view God as doing "bad" things to us (i.e., not moral evil, but undesirable experiences)? And do such experiences indicate a lapse in God's love or favor?

Let's turn the question around: Are we viewing the circumstances in the same way God sees them? In the case of Job, God entrusted the experience to Job. God did a similar thing with Joseph, and with other men and women throughout Scripture and history. Their stories should encourage us and remind us of this truth: God's love or favor has not lapsed when negative experiences meet us.

2. (p. 153) Was it "right" or "bad" that God took away everything that job had "without cause"?

Remember that God is incapable of evil or unjust actions. Although Satan had evil purposes concerning Job, God's purposes in allowing them were "positive and good." We must never forget all the blessings that God has already bestowed on every one of us! They were never deserved; if anything, humility should be the result, along with our gratitude.

Consider the inverse: Just as times of "bad things" do not necessarily indicate God is punishing you for sin, times of "blessings" do not necessarily indicate God is pleased with everything in your life. Never be presumptuous about God's blessings (Ps. 103:2).

3. (p. 155) What is the biblical measure/standard of suffering that helps us put all our difficulties, no matter how severe, into perspective?

The sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 2:21, 4:1-2, 5:10-11)

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8