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Celebrating the Empty Tombs of Jesus

Mausoleum_MuhammadThe Empty Tomb(s) of Jesus

Medina, Saudi Arabia is the 2nd holiest city in Islam. It is where Muhammad went during his flight from Mecca, and in this city he received portions of the Quran. In the heart of this city is the Mosque of the Prophet, a place of worship established by Muhammad in 622 CE.

At the Mosque is the Green Dome, which marks the burial tombs of many Islamic leaders. Muhammad is buried there, along with the first two caliphs or leaders of Islam (Abu Bakr and Umar). There is also an empty grave next to Muhammad, which is reserved for Jesus. Yes, even within Islam there is an empty tomb for Jesus.

Significance of the Empty Tombs in Islam and Christianity

Islam rejects the belief that Jesus, an important prophet of God, was killed. Instead, they believe that Jesus will return and be buried next to Muhammad in Medina.

On the other hand, Christianity teaches that Jesus did die on the cross, and he was buried in a borrowed grave. While there might be some debate over the location of that tomb in Jerusalem (either the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden Tomb), the essential truth is that Jesus was buried by his followers after the execution, and Roman centurions guarded the tomb, and early on the third day, the tomb was empty and a risen Jesus began appearing to his followers. For Christians, this isn’t just an interesting story or feel-good ending; it is the fact upon which all our hope and faith is based.

Importance of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a core tenant of Christianity. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes clear how crucial this belief is to the rest of his teachings. We believe that Jesus died for the deliverance of our sins, and that he was buried in a grave (1 Corinthians 15:3–4a). But Jesus did not remain in that grave; on the third day he was raised (v. 4) and appeared to hundreds of his followers and skeptics alike (v. 5–8).

Paul goes out of his way to say that this belief in the death and resurrection of Christ lines up with the ancient prophecies and teachings preserved in the Old Testament, with his frequent refrain “in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 4 & 5).

He also argues in the following verses that the entire trustworthiness of Christianity resides on whether Jesus rose from the dead. In verses 13–17, he explicitly states:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 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. (1 Corinthians 15:13–17, emphasis mine).

In the death of Jesus, the sins of mankind are paid for and the evil forces of this world are put to death. In the resurrection of Jesus, even death and the grave are shown to be no match for God’s love. By raising Jesus, God is reversing the effects of the fallen world and beginning his process of renewing and redeeming Creation, which will eventually result in New Creation.

Celebrating the Empty Tombs of Jesus on Easter

Today, as we celebrate Easter with our church, family, and friends, let us remember that the god that we worship is the one who has conquered death and sin forever. What started with Jesus that Easter morning will continue into New Creation, so we will all taste the glory of resurrected life.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen (Luke 24:5b-6a)

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Amazon Music Unlimited: A Review

For the last few years, my wife and I have become dependent on Amazon and their amazing Prime service. In case you haven’t hear of Prime yet, it’s a pretty simple premise: for $79 a year, you get free 2 day shipping on any order from Amazon.com. That in itself is well worth the price of admission; in fact, we now consider it as important as a utility bill.

Over time, Amazon has added some impressive perks to their Prime Membership to get more people to sign up. Some are brilliant (like Daniel Tiger on Prime Videos) while others are duds (ahem Prime Day). For me, I view them as the icing on the top for the core value of Prime: fast, free shipping.

Last month, Amazon added another service to their Prime offerings: Prime Music Unlimited.

The Landscape of Music Streaming Services in 2016

As a content writer for an internet marketing company in Lancaster, I spend almost 8 hours a day with music piping through my ears. So music is important. And since I can get easily distracted when I’m in the writing groove, I hate ads.

I have tried many of the free and paid music streaming services out there: Spotify Premium, Rdio (RIP), Pandora, and Apple Music. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, with Spotify clearly the best of the bunch. But the price for the service ($10 a month) was just a tad bit too high for my tastes (and budget). So when I got an email last month from Amazon introducing their music service, I was intrigued.

About Amazon Music Unlimited

Like the services mentioned above, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs from most artists. With apps on all my devices (iOS, Windows, and web app, though I haven’t tried it on Roku yet), and offline listening, it allows me to listen to my favorite albums and artists when I’m at work, driving, or in the workshop.

Two differentiating features of Amazon Music Unlimited: Alexa support and the price. If you have an Alexa-compatable device, like an Echo or Dot, your Music account works seamlessly with your devices. And if you only want to play music through a single device, a subscription only costs $4 per month.

Cost is the other way Amazon sets its service apart from the rest. If you are a Prime Member, a subscription only costs $7.99 month or $79 per year. So for as little as $6.58 per month, you can enjoy millions of songs anywhere you are.

Amazon Music Unlimited: Well Worth The Price

While it doesn’t come with some features found on Spotify (like Discover Weekly), the lower price of Amazon’s music service is great for anyone looking for a more-affordable music streaming service. Over the last month, I haven’t found any music that I’ve wanted to play that is not on the service. And I’ve found the different apps easy to use.

If you’d like to try out Amazon Music Unlimited service for yourself, Amazon gives you a 30-day trial of the service for free.

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Purchase a Pastoral Library

Are you a seminary student, young pastor, or Christian book collector? How would you like to buy a complete pastoral library for just a fraction of what it’s worth?

I am selling most of my physical pastoral library. In bulk.

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The Details

  • 757 books in 28 file boxes
  • Including commentaries on every book of the Bible, study Bibles, theological works, journals, and ministry books.
  • Buy for pennies on the dollar

If you want to grow your pastoral or theological library in one fell swoop, this is the deal for you.

The Backstory

After 10 years in full-time ministry, I am currently working in the online marketing world. Without the weekly demands for writing or preaching, I am finding the burden of these books to be too great and want them to be better used.

Also, in past ministry contexts I lived hours away from the closest seminary or theological library, so I created my own selection of research resources for whenever I needed them. But now that I live a few minutes from a decent theological library, I don’t need all these resources in my library.

Finally, while I was building this library I was also building my Logos and Kindle libraries. I’ve now come to prefer the ebook format over physical and am downsizing the physical library as a result.

The Collection

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This library features 757 books, journals, and commentaries covering every aspect of pastoral ministry. Since I come from a slightly reformed background, you’ll find books by many of the popular authors, including Beale, Packer, Piper, Schreiner, Grudem, Calvin, Carson, Keller, Bavinck, Berkhof, Tozer, Owen, and more. Plus, there is a large selection of popular evangelical commentaries. I don’t have time to list out every book, but here are some highlights of the collection:

Theology

Collection of systematic, biblical, and specific-topic theological books. Most from a Reformed or Baptist perspective.

Includes books by Wright, Packer, Grudem, von Rad, Brueggemann, Beale, Piper, Berkhof, Tozer, Warfield, Bavinck, Bird

NT Wright’s entire Christian Origins and the Question of God series in paperback (New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, Resurrection of the Son of God, Paul and the Faithfulness of God).

Several volumes of the helpful theological series, including Four Views, Counterpoints, and the New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology (NACSBT). There are also some journals from the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) and Bibliotheca Sacra.

Study Bible

  • ESV Study Bible
  • ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
  • NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Commentaries

Individual commentaries for every book of the Bible. Includes volumes from top evangelical commentaries, including:

  • New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)
  • New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT)
  • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC)
  • Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (TNTC)
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC – whole series)
  • NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC)
  • Exploring the Old Testament
  • Preaching the Word
  • Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (ZIBBC – whole series)

Church Ministry

This set includes a large selection of ministry books covering a variety of topics, including:

  • Youth Ministry
  • Preaching
  • Missions
  • Counseling
  • Leadership
  • Church Governance (9Marks books)

Condition

This was a working pastoral library, so the books are in various states of wear. Some are practically brand new, while others have writing and markings in the text. Due to the size of the collection I can’t go through each book and determine the condition.

How Much Will It Cost

I’ve thought long and hard about this, as these books reflect a significant investment on my part. I know I can recoup more of the investment by selling the books individually on Amazon, but I don’t have the time or the energy to do that.

I’m willing to entertain offers on this collection. I know what I’m looking to get out of it, which would be pennies on the dollar for what it’s worth. If you are seriously interested in learning more about the collection, fill out the form and we can talk price.

Conditions of the Sale

I’m looking to sell these books before the end of October. That’s because we bought a house and are moving. I know this might be a tight deadline for some, but that is my reality.

Second, I’m not looking to piecemeal this collection out to several people. I’m moving and don’t have the time or capacity to sell individual books. If you buy the collection you can do with it what you want, including selling copies on eBay or Amazon.

Third, you’ll need to pick the books up yourself. For obvious reasons, shipping this entire collection is out of the question. I live near Lancaster, PA, which is a short drive from Philadelphia. The collection will need to be picked up by the end of October.

Finally, payment can be done via Paypal or cash. I’ll need the payment to process on or before you come to pick it up.

Interested? Contact me today

Are you interested in this collection? The best way to find out more or to schedule a visit is to fill out the form below. It will go directly to my inbox and I’ll be in touch within the day. You can also send me a DM on Twitter (@brandonschmidt)

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The Church is Not a Social Club

Most cities in America have social clubs: an official location where a group of homogenous people can gather together. Sometimes these people share the same economic class or recreational activity (country club). Other times it is a shared life experience (VFW) or a desire to spend time with friends (Elks Lodge).

Millions of men and women find value in these social clubs. Sometimes it is the friendships they value, meeting people that share their perspective. For others it is the business or political connections; with apologies to Michael Scott, the golf course is where business happens. However, some of these same people view the church in the same light; it has become nothing more than a church social club.

Attributes of a Social Club

church social clubMost social clubs share the same three attributes:

  1. It is designed for insiders
  2. Members pay dues
  3. Membership receives benefits

Sound like some people in the church?

For some, the church will be nothing more than a social club. They will give their offerings (dues), expect ministries catering to their every (insider) need, and look to hold power by serving in leadership positions (benefits). These views give the church a false identity, harmful to the body of Christ.

Alternative to the Church Social Club

Here are three alternative attributes of a church that challenge the social club mentality:

1. Designed for Outsiders

The church cannot be a sealed-off club, only allowing members through the doors. It cannot be exclusivist, because Jesus Christ was not exclusivist! He dined with and died for sinners. God’s grace does not work differently for members in a church and the stranger outside; his love covers all.

In fact, the church exists to reach out to the outsiders! If we take Jesus’ commands seriously, then believers are charged to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are not optional; Christians in the church are to seek, love, and disciple those far away from Christ.

2. Free-will Offerings

God is our everything; He created us, continues to sustain us, and has poured out His grace and mercy upon us. He alone controls and owns all, including the contents of our bank account. As believers, our response to all God has lavished upon us is not dues paid to an organization; it is a natural overflow of our worship to Him.

In the early church, people were selling possessions and bringing what they had to the apostles. They weren’t giving with strings attached, nor expecting a tax-deductible receipt or a plaque on the wall; they gave willingly for the betterment of the body of believers.

3. Covenant Membership

The term membership carries too much baggage in our consumer-centric society. Membership implies something is due to the member, benefits flowing one way from the organization to the member.

Instead, I love using the term covenant to describe membership in a church. Drawing from the rich covenantal images in the Bible, this concept signifies that both parties make promises to the other. To the covenant member, the church promises to protect, equip, and disciple. To the church, the covenant member promises to submit, serve, and be a functioning part of the body.

This view of church membership looks less consumer-centric and more like a marriage commitment. The member is less likely to ask “What is the church doing for me?” and more likely to ask “What can I do for the church?” It also moves the focus away from the preferences of the individual and toward the needs of the community.

Conclusion

The way we view a church’s identity affects our expectations, desired outcomes, and even our theology. The view that the church is a social club promotes the idolatry of self, as seen in the culture of consumerism. This view is wrong and is harmful to the unity of the body of Christ. We need to purge this and other false identities from our congregations. The only way to do that is to preach, teach, and model the biblical roles and purposes of the local church.

Series on False Church Self-Identity:

 

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My Reflection on Pastors and Science Conference

This past week I attended a conference on science for pastors. Held at Gordon College, this small-scale conference featured tons of reading, even more lectures, and plenty of learning around the intersection of science and faith. We learned from professors and scientists who work for NASA, Oak Ridge Labs, and MIT. And we even got to try things out, using microscopes to look at shale and experimenting with DNA and bacteria.

 

After a few days of decompression—both for my body and my brain—here are a few big-picture ideas I took away from the pastors and science conference.

Science is not scary

In some Christian circles, there is this apprehension towards science, almost as if science is scary. But after I learned from several research scientists this week, that is far from the truth.

From the unfathomable scale of the universe to the utterly complex nature of DNA and genetics, science is big, bold, and incredibly intricate. The scientists making these discoveries are ordinary people: they work hard, think deep, and try to better understand their area of research. But boy are they passionate! One presenter has studied DNA, specifically of bacteria, for most of his career. To hear him talk about e coli you would think it was the most exciting topic ever! And as he explained the intricacies and capabilities of this small bacteria, I even started getting a little excited!

After spending a week learning from scientists sharing glimpses from their field, I left with an amazement at this magnificent creation we are a part of. Even more, I left with a greater wonder and awe of the Creator behind it all.

Science raises plenty of theological questions

One topic that I have been reflecting on after the conference is the limitations of science—specifically in answering theological or ethical questions. Research in genetics and bioengineering are presenting plenty of things that mankind can now do; it is the realm of theology and ethics that speaks to whether we should do them. These are important conversations that we should be having in the greater culture as well as within the church.

We need to become science-literate

Of course, we cannot have helpful conversations about science and its theological implications if we are ignorant of the science behind it. And as the scientific advances continue at a rapid pace, we need to stay as informed as we can. But we also need to retain what we learned in high school so many years ago.

There are two books that I have been relying on to increase my scientific literacy. The first one is Science Matters, which was assigned reading for this conference; it provides a clear and concise summary of core areas of science. Another book, called Physics for Future Presidents, translates the findings of science into popular political or cultural debates—like biological terrorism, nuclear weapons, and renewable energy. The goal of both books—and perhaps a greater goal for all of us—is to combat scientific ignorance within discussions.

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Tabernacle as Reflecting the Garden of Eden

When studying the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament, it is hard to miss the allusions to the Garden of Eden. Many commentators and scholars have noted all the different references and callbacks to the Garden and to mankind’s relationship with God in that Garden.

One argument for this association is because the Garden can be viewed as the first temple on earth. Eden served functionally as a proto-temple, as well as a pattern for all future temples and the tabernacle in the Bible.

Eden as a Functional Temple

As we noted in a previous post, the purpose of a temple is to be a meeting place between God and mankind. This is readily seen in the Genesis account, where God walked and spoke with man.

Temples also served as locations of partitioned holiness, with inner and outer courts, gardens, and holy places that required special permission and purification ceremonies to enter. In the Wilderness Tabernacle, there was the courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. Specific regulations limited who was allowed in each area. In Eden, we can see a similar threefold division: the world, Eden, and the Garden of Eden. The Garden, comparable to the tabernacle’s Most Holy Place, was where God’s presence dwelled. It was also where the man and woman were placed to serve (Genesis 2:8, 15). After the fall, mankind is banned from the Garden (Genesis 3:23).

Finally, a temple in the Ancient Near East was where a deity would place his image-bearer, typically an idol of stone, wood, or metal. In the Genesis account, we see that God’s image-bearer is not a statue of stone or wood, but a man and woman made from dust. They are created in God’s image and placed in the Garden.

Temple Items in the Garden

Mankind is in the Garden to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15); similar wording is used to describe the job of the priests in the tabernacle (“keep guard” Numbers 3:7–8).

Later, after the fall guardian cherubim are placed at the entrance to keep mankind away from the Garden and from the Tree of Life. In the tabernacle, there is a dividing curtain between the two rooms. On that curtain there are several cherubim, serving as a warning and protector for the Most Holy Place.

Inside the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle is a lamp stand (Exodus 25:31–40). This lamp stand, made of gold and consisting of branches and blossoms, is likely referring to the Tree of Life, which mankind had access to in the Garden.

Further Callbacks to Eden

The narrative describing the construction of the tabernacle is in seven segments (Exodus 25:1; 30:11, 17, 34; 31:1, 12). The sixth segment—Exodus 31:1—describes the Spirit of God fills men to create and craft the objects for the tabernacle. And the seventh segment—Exodus 31:12—reminds the nation of keeping the sabbath. These two segments both correspond nicely with the sixth and seventh days of Creation in Genesis 1.

The tabernacle used gold and onyx stones as decorating material for the tent, the objects inside, and even the priest’s outfits. These materials were known to come from the pre-flood region of Havilah, likely were Eden was located (Genesis 2:12)

Summary

God instructed Moses on how to build the tabernacle in the wilderness, so it could serve the purpose of a meeting place between mankind and God. Within these plans are many allusions and callbacks to the first temple in the Garden of Eden. When viewing the tabernacle, priests and worshippers are to be reminded of that hallowed meeting place, and how the sins of the fall ruined it. But they are also reminded of the mercy of God, who, in the construction of the tabernacle, is now allowing mankind a new access point to God.

Further Reading

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TEMPLE AND THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Temple and the Presence of God

In the Old Testament, there are two key buildings that, for Israel, shelter the presence of God. The Tabernacle and the several iterations of the Temple are both viewed by Israel as the location where God’s presence remains. It is also where mankind can meet with God.

By taking a look at how God met with people in the Old Testament, we can see the important role the Temple had concerning God’s presence.

Before the Tabernacle

Before the Tabernacle, God could and would meet with individuals. These locations—like the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18), Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), and Bethel (Genesis 28)—were temporary sites, though they became viewed as holy sanctuaries because God had been there. The only seemingly permanent location where God would meet mankind was on Sinai; Moses met God there in Exodus 3, and he later returned with the nation in Exodus 19.

The Tabernacle

While at Sinai, God gives Moses the plans to build a Tabernacle. This is to become a portable sanctuary and worship center for Israel, where they can go and perform their newly-prescribed sacrifices. More importantly, the Tabernacle exists to serve as a dwelling place for God in the midst of Israel’s camp (Exodus 25:8).

In Exodus 25–31, God gives Moses specific instructions on how to build every aspect of the Tabernacle. When looked at a whole, these building plans describe a tent filled with opulence—thanks to the gold of Egypt—and dedicated to the worship of God. Another role of the Tabernacle is to serve as a reminder to Israel: a reminder of God’s deliverance (through the Ark of the Covenant), a reminder of God’s holiness (through the Holy of Holies), and a reminder of man’s sinfulness (through the altar in the outer court).

Solomon’s Temple

Years later, after David had conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel, his son Solomon constructed a permanent Temple to the Lord. This replaced the aging Tabernacle, but still continued the primary purposes and activities of the tent. Described in 1 Kings 5–8, Solomon’s Temple was massive and ornate. At the dedication to the Temple, Solomon acknowledge the futile thinking that this Temple could ever house the entirety of God’s presence (1 Kings 8:27). Yet God did keep His presence in the Temple (1 Kings 8:10–11) so that He could dwell in the midst of Israel.

But God’s presence in the Temple was short-lived. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes a vision of the glory of God leaving the Temple. God’s presence, which had brilliantly appeared in the Temple in 1 Kings 8, was now leaving. This was a result of the nation and her leaders flirting with idolatry and following the gods of other nations. This also foretold the destruction of the Temple by Babylon in 587 BC.

After the Exile in Babylon, some of those returning under the leadership of Ezra sought to rebuild the Temple. This reconstruction was designed to restore the altar and to commence celebrating the Jewish festivals. Curiously, there is no mention of the presence of God returning to Ezra’s rebuilt Temple. This new Temple existed to reestablish the sacrificial system, but not for God do dwell in the midst of the people.

Summary

In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle/Temple was the location where mankind would meet with God. While these locations would be sacred, God had plenty of regulations in place in order to atone for and cover mankind’s sins. Still, these regulations limited the amount of interaction man could have with God. This, of course, would all change in the New Testament with a small-town teacher begins speaking at the Temple.

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Celebration of Salvation in the Jewish Calendar

In Leviticus 23, God gives Israel a blueprint for the calendar year, featuring all the holy days and times of celebration. Similar to other agrarian societies of the day, Israel’s celebration calendar revolved around the harvest.

But what is unique about Israel’s calendar is that several of the feasts God institutes in Leviticus 23 also correspond to historical events of deliverance by God. So Israel’s feasts not only celebrate the new harvest, the commemorate the salvation God provided to his people.

Moreover, the New Testament authors make either direct correlations or allusions to each of these festivals. As Christian readers, then, we can see each festival pointing to two acts of deliverance: one in the Old Testament and another in the New.

Passover

The feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, mentioned in Leviticus 23:4-8, occurs at the start of the barley harvest (Leviticus 23:9-10). It also serves as a historical reminder of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, while God struck down the firstborn of all Egypt (Exodus 12). From a Christian perspective, this feast is reflected in the Last Supper and in the death of Christ.

Weeks

The feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22) celebrates the start of the wheat harvest (Leviticus 23:16). This feast may have also served to commemorate the arrival of Israel at Sinai after fleeing Egypt (Exodus 19:1). In the New Testament, this feast—which was also known as Pentecost—marks the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).

Tabernacles

The feast of Tabernacles—also known as the feast of Booths—is first described in Leviticus 23:34-43. This festival, lasting eight days, occurs at the start of the grape harvest, marking the last harvest in the season. The feast of Booths commemorates the years Israel survived in the wilderness, living in booths (Leviticus 23:42-43).

There are several New Testament allusions to the feast of booths. First, in John’s Gospel account Jesus appears in Jerusalem to celebrate this feast; he begins to teach, stirring up the religious leaders and he almost gets arrested (John 7). Second, during the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13), Peter offers to build three tents (or booths). He does this because he thinks the Day of the Lord is coming, which is connected with this festival (see Zechariah 14:16-19). Finally, during the Triumphal Entry the people bring palm branches before Jesus, calling to mind the primary building material required for the booths (Leviticus 23:40).

Conclusion

In the three festivals marking the harvest times on Israel’s calendar, each also commemorates an event of deliverance by God for his people. And for Christians, we seen the New Testament authors using each of these festivals to point to Christ as well.

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A Summary of God’s Redemption Plan: From Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill

In Paul’s missionary journeys, as described in the book of Acts, Paul seemed to have a certain routine when he visited a new city. Paul would go into a synagogue and preach how Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Some Jews would respond, while others would get angry and try to force him out of the city. Those that responded would grow in number, eventually becoming the core group of a new church in that city.

Paul in Athens

Paul’s method of operation was modified when he first visited Athens. After preaching in the synagogue, Paul was invited to the Areopagus—also known as Mars Hill—where philosophers would debate.

Paul’s sermon to the philosophers at Mars Hill—found in Acts 17:22-31—is unique for several reasons. Paul gears his sermon toward an exclusively Gentile audience, going so far as to quote Gentile poets. Since his audience likely did not have familiarity with the story of Israel in the Old Testament, Paul provides them with this background information. In this sermon, we can see how Paul summarizes the entirety of God’s redemption plan (creation, fall, redemption, restoration).

Creation

Paul describes the God of Israel as a god who created and continues to sustain everything. He is a god who does not need humans to survive, nor a god that needs a physical dwelling place.

God is described further as the one who made mankind, creating all the nations as descendants from one man. God does not depend on mankind; rather, mankind depends on God for our very breath. This is not a foreign concept for the Gentiles; Paul quotes their poets to drive this point home—we owe everything to the creator.

Fall

Paul’s description of the fall is found in his critique of idolatry. Having established that we depend on the creator God—and even quoting a Greek poet that we are children of the divine—Paul then explains how manmade idolatry is worthless. Idols are made from the best materials and skills that mankind has to offer, but it pales in comparison to the craftsmanship of God.

Paul also describes the effects of the fall, using the imagery of ignorance. The Athenians are guilty of not knowing the God of the cosmos and instead worshipping idols created by humans. Their worship is two steps removed from the true object of our worship; instead of worshipping God, they worship something created by humans, whom God created!

Redemption

Because of ignorance and misplaced worship, mankind is far from God. But that relationship does not need to stay broken; Paul says that God is not that far off (verse 27). The god that they do not know (verse 23) is knowable, and Paul tell them how. The God of everything is giving mankind an opportunity to repent—to turn away from their idols and turn toward God.

Paul adds a sense of urgency for this repentance by mentioning a future day of judgment for mankind. For these philosophers, who were used to discussing and debating the merits of ideas, the idea of an ultimate judge who would evaluate them must have made them sweat just a little.

Restoration

God’s plan of restoration, as Paul describes to the Athenian philosophers, hinges on the resurrection of the dead. Jesus—whom Paul never refers to by name in this sermon—is the first-fruit of the resurrection from the dead (verse 31), thus providing hope to the rest of mankind.

This final point—the resurrection of the dead—seems to have been a divisive one for the Athenians. Some rejected Paul’s message because of it, while others were drawn in, hoping to hear more about it (verse 32).

Summary

In this brief sermon, which only lasts 9 verses, Paul gives a decent summary of God’s redemption plan. While it is not exhaustive, it meets the Gentile philosophers on their level. Moreover, it stirred them to respond, with several becoming followers of Jesus (verse 34). While we might see it as lacking—it doesn’t even mention Jesus by name!—Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill is a good example of contextualizing your sermon to your audience, as well as summarizing God’s redemption plan.

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22 Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Bible Reading for the Rest of Your Life

Regularly and consistently reading the Bible is a discipline vital for all Christians new and mature alike. It should become a life-long pursuit, so that we can gain a deeper understanding of who God is and how He works in history. As D.A. Carson writes,

The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.

The discipline of reading the Bible is also a skill that you can develop over time. If you are a new or young believer in Christ, the habits and skills you pick up now will benefit your Bible reading for years to come.

Here are 22 steps that should help you as you start honing your Bible reading skills:

Discovery

1. Find a reading bible.

Not all Bibles are created equal. Pick a Bible that will limit distractions and help you read more. A reading Bible removes cross references, titles, and verse numbers, leaving you with just the biblical text.

2. Find a reading plan.

A Bible reading plan provides structure to your reading; it also helps you work systematically through the entire Bible. Currently I am using the canonical plan tied in with Jim Hamilton’s book; in the past I have greatly benefited from Professor Horner’s plan (PDF).

3. Pick your translation.

There seems to be an unending number of English Bible translations available; for a new believer, it can be overwhelming. Rather than using several translations, make a long-term commitment to one translation. That way, you will learn the particularities of that translation. One way to pick a translation: find what translation your pastor uses. It always helps if the words he is reading on Sunday match the words in the Bible in front of you.

4. Vary your translation.

While it is important to focus on one translation, it can also help to occasionally read from other translations. By dipping your toes into a less formal version (say The Message or NLT), you can read larger passages at a time. Likewise, by trying out a more formal translation (like KJV or NASB) you might be challenged to concentrate on each word of a verse.

5. Journey down the rabbit’s hole of cross references.

If you have a Bible with cross references, take some time to follow them. These cross references, placed there by the translators and publishers, serve to connect themes, images, quotations, and allusions throughout the text. Pick a cross reference from the passage you are reading, follow it to another verse, and continue tracing these references throughout the Bible. You might be surprised where it will lead.

6. Read an entire book in one sitting.

The books of the Bible are each a literary whole—we can do them a disservice by breaking them into chunks. By reading an entire book, you can get the big picture, the author’s argument, or the narrative flow—all of which are harder to see in individual verses. You might think that you don’t have the time to read an entire book in one sitting, but many can be read in under an hour. (ht Desiring God)

Understanding

7. Learn the order of the books.

The Bible contains 66 books and can be a nightmare to navigate if you don’t remember the order of the books. I remember back when tabs were all the rage; nowadays you can just memorize the order of the books in the English Bible so you don’t have to depend on the Table of Contents.

8. Learn the genres of the Bible.

The books of the Bible are written in certain genres, each of which demand reading a certain way. Learn what those genres are, how to identify them, and how to read them properly. Leland Ryken has written some great guides to this—start with Ryken’s Bible Handbook.

9. Learn the storyline of the Bible.

There is a overarching narrative storyline to the Bible—a story that starts in Genesis 1 and concludes in Revelation 22. In between are all the narrative books, containing stories of nations, people, and even a talking donkey! Knowing the flow and major points in this storyline helps you better understand how each story fits. There are plenty of resources that can help you navigate the narrative of the Bible. What’s in the Bible? is some of the best biblical teaching I have heard—and it’s done by puppets! D.A. Carson’s The God Who Is There is a great book tracing the story of God’s work in the Bible. And if a Walk Thru the Bible event is ever in your area, I encourage you to attend.

10. Find a one volume commentary.

There will be times where you can’t figure out what a Bible passage is saying. It is at those times you might want to turn to a commentary—a book written by pastors or scholars that help explain what the text is saying. The NIV Compact Bible Commentary and the New Bible Commentary are two helpful commentaries in this category.

11. Learn the cultural background of the Bible.

The events of the Bible took place thousands of years ago in cultures vastly different than ours today. At times the meaning behind the text can only be gleaned if you know something about the culture in which the text was written. A good background commentary will explain some of the cultural issues and meanings behind the text. Grab one each for the Old Testament and New Testament.

12. Grab a Bible atlas.

Many of the biblical narratives include towns and locations unfamiliar to us today. And if you are merely reading the words on the page, the names can blend into the background. But if you read with a Bible atlas open, the stories can become even more tangible. With a Bible atlas, you can see distances, geological features, and even political entities that might be at play in the story.

Retention

13. Write down your thoughts.

God may be using your Bible reading time to show you some amazing stuff. Don’t lose it, be sure to write it down! Grab a journal or a Bible with wide margins and write down what God is showing you. You can also keep track of prayer requests, praises, and how God is working in your life.

14. Memorize Scripture.

In order to have Scripture truly impact your everyday, you need to have it impressed on your heart. Start memorizing Scripture as soon as possible. It’s like compound interest: the sooner you start, the greater the impact will be later on in life. Use the Fighter Verses website or app (iOS and Android) to memorize one verse per week, or try memorizing extended passages.

15. Remember context is key.

When you stumble upon a verse that is causing you trouble, be sure to look at the verse’s context. Read the paragraph before and after the verse again. Then read the chapter before and after the verse again.

16. Remember who is talking.

Large sections of the Bible are speeches. Many are by God or one of his representatives (prophets). Sometimes they are by God’s people, either to each other or to God. Occassionally they are by the enemies of God. Remember who is the source of the words you are reading, as that will affect how you interpret them.

17. Remember the audience.

In the New Testament, several books are letters to specific churches struggling with specific issues. Keep track of those issues and how the author addresses them.

18. Set up a digital wallpaper.

If you are working on memorizing a passage of Scripture, be sure to put it somewhere you will see it upwards of one hundred times a day: your phone’s lock screen. The Fighter Verses app does a great job of this.

 19. Use a pen.

Be sure to mark up your Bible as you see fit. Circle words. Bracket verses. Underline. Use exclamation points! and even question marks. Note the flow of the argument. All these notes and markings will help you better understand the text.

 20. Listen to the Bible.

There are some great apps that allow you to listen to audio versions of the Bible. This allows you to consume the Bible while in the car, washing dishes, or doing other chores. Pick an audio Bible of your favorite translation; it will help with retention the next time you read that passage.

 21. Get a children’s Bible.

While there are some children’s Bibles that underwhelming in conveying biblical truth, there are a few that provide rich spiritual truth in an accessible manner. The best two that I have found are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible.

22. Talk about what you are reading.

Don’t keep what you are reading and learning to yourself. Join a small group, a Bible study, or grab someone else and talk about what you are reading. This outside support can encourage you when you are struggling, answer questions, and correct you when you are wrong. Plus, they will learn from you just as you are learning from them.

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