Lent 2009 (4) – Being a saint

God’s divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:3-4

Each one of us can become a saint. It is God who gives us all we need for life and for being saintly. Jesus came and shared our human life and showed us his glory and his goodness. Jesus calls us to share in his godly life.

If we take hold of God’s promise that we can share in his life, in his glory and his goodness, then we can leave behind all our false desires and hopes. If we are like Jesus then we too can share in his divine nature. We can be godly. We can ourselves be so like God that others will find him in us.

Lent 2009 (3) – Get dressed

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24

Paul reminds us that we have to renounce our old way of life. God sees what we are like underneath all our pretensions – naked! He sees behind all the barriers we put up to present an image to the world.

However, we are to clothe ourselves anew. We put on a whole new self. Having peeled away our old self with its lusts – with all those desires which are unhealthy and not focussed on God – we put on our real self.

We can become the person we were created to be; created in the image of God. That is the image God wants us to present to the world. Inside and out we are called to be godly. Let us pray for God’s renewal of all that we are.

Lent 2009 (2) – Breath deeply

The Lord is the everlasting God… He does not faint or grow weary… He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Lent is a time for waiting on God. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, God will strengthen and empower us. That’s who God is. He does not weary. He is everlastingly full of Spirit. And he is a God who gives his strength to us.

Lent is a time to breathe in deeply the Holy Spirit and to be inspired (to have life breathed into us). We want to wait on God and listen to his promise to renew our strength. God promises to share his life, his abundant life, with us. He strengthens. He empowers. He shall give us wings. Breathe out all that distracts and detracts from God. Breathe in the Spirit he sends to us.

What's wrong with the Gnostic Gospels

I was recently asked what sources can we use to ‘prove’ our belief that the Gnostic Gospels are unreliable. It’s a good question and one which is relatively straightforward to answer. The Gnostic Gospels have been rejected since the very earliest days of the church. The early church accepted the four NT gospels because they were written by apostles who had met Jesus or their immediate associates. The apostles were the only authoritative eyewitnesses of Jesus. No other so-called gospels fit these criteria.

1. Jesus gave his apostles, the twelve and Paul, the authority to be his witnesses (Mk.3:13-19, Matt.10:1-8). They were eyewitnesses of his resurrection (Lk.24:33-44, Jn.20:24, Acts 1:1-3). They understood who he was and were promised the power of the Holy Spirit so that they might teach the truth (Lk.24:44-49, Jn.14:26). Jesus appointed Paul on the Damascus Road to be the thirteenth apostle and made him an eyewitness of his resurrection (Acts 26:13-18, 1 Cor.15:1-8, Gal.1:1, 11-12).

2. The early church declared that these first apostles were the only people who had authority to write about Jesus.

Clement c.95
“The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ.” (1 Clement 42.1)

Ignatius c.105
Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles. (Magnesians, 13)

Polycarp c. 117
“Let us therefore so serve Him (God) with fear and all reverence as He Himself gave commandment and the apostles who preached the gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord.” (Philippians 6)

Irenaeus c.180
“For the Lord of all gave to his apostles the power of the gospel through whom also we have known the truth, that is, the doctrine of the Son of God (Against Heresies 3.5)…The apostles, likewise being disciples of the truth, are above all falsehood ” (Against Heresies 3 Preface)

3. The early church certain there was only one standard of truth and orthodoxy which had been passed on from the first apostles.

Irenaeus c.180
In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same life-giving faith, which has been preserved in the church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Against Heresies 3.3)

Tertullian c.197
The apostles were ignorant of nothing and they preached nothing that contradicted one another. (Against Heretics 25)

4. The four NT Gospels were written soon after the resurrection of Jesus and then accepted by the early church as the only authoritative gospels from the apostles and their associates. Matthew and John were apostles, Mark and Luke worked closely with Paul and Peter (Col.4:14, 1 Pet.5:13).

5. The early church leaders from the resurrection to the end of the second century formed a succession of those who personally handed down the truth and the gospels from the apostles. E.g. John the Apostle (d. 95AD) —— Polycarp (69-155AD) —— Irenaeus (130-200AD).

Polycarp c. 117
“Let us therefore so serve Him (God) with fear and all reverence as He Himself gave commandment and the apostles who preached the gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord.” (Philippians 6)

Irenaeus about Polycarp c. 180
Polycarp also was instructed by apostles, and he spoke with many who had seen Christ. Not only that, but by apostles, in Asia he was appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna. I also saw him in my early youth, for he lived a very long time. When he was a very old man, he gloriously and most nobly suffered martyrdom and departed this life. He had always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the church has handed down, and which alone are true(Against Heresies 3.3.4)…he would speak of his familiar relations with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord. He would call their words to remembrance. So Polycarp received it in this manner from the eyewitnesses of the Word of life. Whatever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord (concerning both His miracles and His teaching), he would recount—all in harmony with the Scriptures.(Florinus 2)

6. The early church rejected the Gnostic Gospels because they contradicted the teaching of the apostles.

Ignatius c. 105
How much more will this be the case with anyone who by wicked doctrine corrupts the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becomes defiled. He will go away into everlasting fire, and so will everyone that listens to him (Ephesians 16)…But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer, then for what reason am I now in bonds, and long to be exposed to the wild beasts? In such a case, I die in vain, and am guilty of falsehood against the cross of the Lord. (Trallians 10)

Irenaeus c.180
How the Valentinians pervert the Scriptures to support their own pious opinions…This, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered. However, they boast that they have a perfect knowledge, beyond all others. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures. (Against Heresies 1.8)

Irenaeus c.180
These things being so, all who destroy the form of the Gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious; those, [I mean, ] who represent the aspects of the Gospel as being either more in number than as aforesaid, or, on the other
hand, fewer. The former class [do so], that they may seem to have discovered more than is of the truth; the latter, that they may set the dispensations of God aside. (Against Heresies 3.9)

Irenaeus c.180
On the other hand, those who are from Valentinus are altogether reckless. They create their own Scriptures, boasting that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have gone to such a degree of audacity, as to entitle their comparatively recent writing the Gospel of Truth though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the Apostles so that they have really no gospel which is not full of blasphemy. (Against Heresies 3.9)

Irenaeus c.180
“Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.” (Against Heresies 1.31)

Origen c.254
“I know a certain gospel which is called “The Gospel according to Thomas” and a “Gospel according to Matthias” and many others have we read – lest we should in any way be considered ignorant of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only four gospels should be accepted.” (Homily on Luke 1:1)

7. The early church stated that the four NT gospels refute the Gnostic Gospels.

Irenaeus c.180
The Ebionites, who use only Matthew’s Gospel, are refuted out of this very same work, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating the Gospel according to Luke, is still proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those passages which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, prefer the Gospel by Mark. However, if they read it with a love of truth, they would have their errors rectified. Those persons, moreover, who follow Valentinus, make copious use of the Gospel according to John to illustrate their conjunctions. However, they, too, will be proved to be totally in error. (Against Heresies 3.7)

9. The Gnostic Gospels were written more than 125 years after Jesus’ death when all the eyewitnesses were gone. The four Gospels were written within 50 years of Jesus’ death by eyewitnesses or their close associates while other eyewitnesses were still living.

Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary
“Before we turn to these documents, it is important to state a crucial principle of historical study: It is always more likely that those sources that come from eyewitnesses or those who were in contact with eyewitnesses will provide us with the best data about an ancient person than documents that were composed several centuries later, as were the Gnostic Gospels. There would need to be clear and compelling evidence corroborated by several later sources for us to take the word of later documents that Jesus was married. There is no such evidence, even in the Gnostic Gospels.” (The Gospel Code, p.32)

“The essential question is, ‘What were the earliest documents (and what do they say)?’ The answer is the New Testament itself. We have no documents earlier than these, and as any good historian knows, the documents closest to the source of a movement are likely to be most revealing about its origins. The documents written by eyewitnesses or those in contact with eyewitnesses are our primary sources, and these documents happen to be in the New Testament, plus a few other likely first-century documents, such as the Didache and 1 Clement.” (The Gospel Code, p.118)

Lent 2009 (1) – Made from dirt

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:47-49

We are made from the same stuff as the rest of creation. We are earthy creatures. Like Adam, the first man, we are created out of the earth. One day, we will return to the earth. In the face of that ubiquitous fact, we have no future except in Jesus Christ.

Dirt is also soil. It is organic and fruitful. In it things can grow and live. It isn’t just ‘dirt’. Earth can bring forth glory.

Jesus is the man from heaven. He too was like us, made of earth. But Jesus the man is also Jesus our God. In Jesus we see that we are not just earthy. By his grace we become than creatures of dust. We bear his image and become like him. Let’s turn to him in sorrow for all the times that we have turned our faces away from him and concentrated only on earthly stuff.

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