The Dawn Of Christianity (book review)

Sometimes when people are reading the Gospels and the Book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible they forget what an accurate history is presented at a pivotal time in world events. In The Dawn Of Christianity, Robert J. Hutchinson makes the history behind, surrounding, and after the biblical accounts come to life in a fresh way.

The Dawn Of Christianity tells the history surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and His followers almost in a novel-like format. Hutchinson masterfully puts together the four Gospel accounts and Luke’s history of the early church in chronological order, and then brings in archaeological, geographic, and anthropological resources like a supporting cast to the biblical account. Along the way, we are introduced to extra-biblical characters, places, and customs that add a new depth of understanding to the history presented in Scripture.

Hutchinson notes, “Recent archaeological discoveries are showing that the New Testament in general, and the Gospels in particular, are far more reliable historical sources than previous generations of New Testament experts realized.” Indeed, he makes good use of as many pertinent finds as possible to enhance his storytelling.

The Dawn Of Christianity spans the time from just before the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and then tracks the spread of Christianity for about 20 years following Christ’s ascension into heaven. It’s a fascinating and enlightening story for both Bible aficionados and skeptics alike.

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer.

Don’t Settle For Low Expectations

isaac-newtonSome of the greatest discoveries and revelations came about because people were curious. They refused to just go along with what they had always been told, what they grew up believing, or what the conventional wisdom told them was impossible.

Archimedes had his “Eureka!” moment because he refused to believe that it was impossible to measure the volume of an irregularly-shaped object.

Isaac Newton formulated the laws of gravitation because he curiously wondered about why apples fell perpendicular and at the same velocity.

The Apostle Peter saw a vision from God with animals, but didn’t stop there. His openness helped him realize that God didn’t have “favorites.”

Far too many people live their lives cursed with low expectations. They say, “That’s all there is.” and they put a period on it.

God wants us to soar above those low expectations! He tells us things like:

  • Come now, let us reason together… (Isaiah 1:18).
  • Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3).
  • Are you listening to this? Really listening? … The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you… (Matthew 13:9, 11)

great-expectationsBut we are trapped in the curse of low expectations when we put a period on things, when we refuse to learn more, see more, hear more.

  • Most people—“That’s all there is.” (period)
  • What if we changed it up—“Is this all there is?” (question mark)
  • Perhaps you might get—“There is so much more!” (exclamation point)

For example, Paul uses the word “mystery” multiple times in his letter to the Ephesians. He explains that a mystery is something hidden from those who have it all figured out (the “period” people), but is revealed to those who will ask God (the “question mark” people). Only the “question mark” people get to see the “exclamation points” God has for them. Things like…

  • God has a plan, and it is His pleasure to reveal it to me (Ephesians 1:9-10; 2:10).
  • God’s revelation is fully revealed to me in His Word (3:3-5).
  • Faith in Jesus makes Christians co-heirs and sharers in all God’s promises (3:6).
  • I have access to God’s inexhaustible riches, His immense wisdom, and I may approach Him with freedom and confidence (3:8-12).

Don’t stop with “.” but go on to “?” and experience “!

With great expectation, read God’s Word, approach His throne, dig into His riches, wrestle with the difficult things, learn more of God’s purpose for your life. He wants to give you so much more “!” 

4 Ways To Evaluate Biblical Evidence

Reliability of the GospelsTo be honest, if someone hasn’t heard the biblical account of the life of Jesus Christ before, it can sound quite fantastic! Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, performed miracles no one had seen before, died a horrific martyr’s death, was raised back to life three days later, and then ascended back into heaven until He returns to Earth again.

But as fantastic as this sounds, there is still enough evidence to reasonably believe it’s all true. An unreasonable faith believes in something in spite of the evidence; a blind faith believes in something without any evidence; and reasonable faith believes in something because of the evidence.

The Bible gives us eyewitness testimony about the life of Jesus which we can matter-of-factly evaluate. 

In a modern-day court of law, eyewitness testimony is evaluated on…

  • …the determination that the witnesses were actually present.
  • …the ability to corroborate their testimony.
  • …the consistency of their testimony over time.
  • …any biases they have that would cause them to exaggerate or misrepresent their testimony.

Let’s consider the testimony of the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

(1) Were The Eyewitnesses Present?

  • Luke is considered a credible historian, even by modern standards. He wrote the book of Acts following the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Because he did not mention three major events in Jewish history (the Jewish uprising, the Roman siege of Jerusalem in response to that uprising, and the Roman destruction of the temple), we can determine that Acts was written before 61 AD.
  • Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name before he wrote Acts. The Apostle Paul referenced portions of Luke’s Gospel in letters we can date by Paul’s Roman imprisonment, which means Luke was written prior to 53-57 AD.
  • Luke uses the Gospel of Mark as one of his references, which means Mark was probably written in 45-50 AD, just 10-15 years after the events of Christ’s life.
  • Mark was closely associated with the Apostle Peter, who was most assuredly Mark’s “source” in writing his Gospel, and Peter was one of the original twelve apostles called by Jesus.
  • Matthew and John were both apostles of Jesus, living and working closely with Jesus for over three years.

(2) Is Their Testimony Corroborated?

  • Archeological finds continually demonstrate the accuracy of the people, titles, places and details the Gospel writers mention.
  • Outside—or extra-biblical—sources like Josephus (a Jewish historian who wanted to preserve the purity of Judaism), Tacitus (a Roman historian), and Mara Bar-Serapion (a Syrian historian)—all who wrote between 40-70 AD—affirm things like where Jesus lived, the miracles He performed, the manner of His death, His resurrection, and the changed lives of people who believed in Jesus Christ.
  • In addition, Paul wrote of the “five hundred of the brothers” who were also eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

(3) Has Their Testimony Remain Unchanged Over Time?

  • The history and accuracy of the scribes had already been demonstrated in the preservation and transmission of the Old Testament over a period of 1400 years.
  • These same scribal techniques were not only used in the transmission of the New Testament, but in subsequent years the Masoretic scribes became even more meticulous in the techniques they used.
  • The “chain of custody” of evidence can be absolutely traced from the Gospel authors, to their students, and to the writings of the Church Fathers.
  • In fact into the third-century AD, the writings of the Church Fathers contain so many direct quotations from the New Testament, that we can almost completely reconstruct the New Testament from their writings.

(4) Is Their Testimony Unbiased?

  • These eyewitnesses didn’t gain anything financially by their testimony. In fact, many of them lost or gave up all their possessions to tell others about Jesus.
  • They didn’t gain political power or influence that could save their own lives. All of the original apostles (except John) died a gruesome martyrs’ death.
  • In short, they had nothing to gain by making up and reporting a false story about Jesus.

All of these points make it reasonable to believe the evidence presented in the Bible about Jesus Christ is true. Check out this video where I elaborate a little more on each of these points—

If you live in the Cedar Springs area and don’t have a home church, I would love for you to visit with us Easter Sunday morning at 10:30am. We’ll be examining the evidence for Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Click here to get more details.

Asyougo

AsyougoA little habit started for me as a kid. I’d put things on the bottom steps of the stairway, so I’d be sure to see them and grab them as I went upstairs to my bedroom. After awhile, everyone in our family had his or her own “step.” I called these asyougos: as you go upstairs, please take these with you. The principle was pretty simple, as I would naturally see these things going about my regular route.

Jesus had a similar idea for His followers: Go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation (Mark 16:15). The verb tense and definition of the word go literally means that Jesus said, “Asyougo into all the world, preach the Good News.

In fact this is exactly how Jesus lived His life. As He went about His normal life, His life intersected with people who needed Good News (check out Mark 10:17, 46; Luke 8:4, 42; 17:11; and John 9:1 as examples).

Peter summed up all of Christ’s life like this: God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him (Acts 10:38).

Jesus lived an asyougo lifestyle, He called us to do the same, and He empowered us to live our asyougo lifestyle with the same power He had (Matthew 28:18-19; Acts 1:8).

Here’s the big idea—We don’t need to go anywhere special to find people who need Good News…

  • asyougo to school, you will attend class with them
  • asyougo to work, you will work alongside them
  • asyougo to the grocery store, you will interact with them
  • asyougo to do yard work, you will talk over the backyard fence with them
  • asyougo out to eat, you will sit next to them

People who need the life-changing, disease-healing, sin-forgiving power of Jesus are all around you. ASYOUGO share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them!

Misbehaving Government

Misbehaving governmentChristians are to have an “alien” response to earthly governments. Simply stated: the Bible says we should not rail against governing authorities the way Earthlings do. Christians should respond with proper submission (check this out).

But what if those earthly governors are misbehaving? What then?

We can still be in God-honoring submission to them in the way we call out their misbehavior. 

Look at some examples—

  • Daniel asked permission to go against the king’s wishes (Daniel 1:8), proposed an alternative plan (v. 12), but ultimately agreed to submit to the authority’s decision (v. 13).
  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t argue with King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:16-18), but respectfully took their stance for God (notice the use of the phrase “O king” as a title of respect).
  • Peter and John simply stated, “We must obey God rather than human authority” (Acts 5:29).

This is exactly what Jesus told us to do when He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). Jesus said something very similar to Pilate, when that governor said, “Don’t you realize I have the power to set You free?” Jesus said, “You would have no authority over Me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11).

So how do we respond to misbehaving governors?

[1] With respect to their office.

[2] With reverent fear of God (see 1 Peter 2:17). “Because we reverence God as the Lord of history, we see beyond the fear and intimidation of the moment.” —James W. Thompson

[3] Leaving the results to GodDaniel 3:26-29, 6:16-27; Acts 5:40-42.

[4] With lots of prayer1 Timothy 2:1-4.

Throughout history, Christians have always had the opportunity to confront ungodly governors. HOW they did it is what set them apart from the Earthling response, and what brought glory to God.

Here’s the video of my full message on this topic—

Next Sunday, November 8, is a day of prayer for those facing persecution for their Christian faith around the world. Join us in a time of prayer for them.

Aliens and Strangers

Aliens and StrangersChristians are not citizens of Planet Earth. Our citizenship is in a place called Heaven, and yet we are traveling on Earth during our present lifetime. So the question is: How is a citizen of Heaven supposed to act while visiting Earth?

The Apostle Peter was one of the most active disciples of Jesus. During Christ’s first visit to Earth, Peter is recorded as speaking more than all of the other disciples combined. And not surprisingly, Jesus speaks more words directly to Peter than He does to all of the other 11 disciples combined. Peter got a lot of training!

With that background, Peter gives us invaluable instructions in his first letter to the church. He calls Christians things like: strangers in the world, chosen people, peculiar people, and aliens and strangers in the world. He tells us travelers not only how to behave while traveling on Earth, but why we should travel in a God-honoring way.

We will be working our way through these fascinating themes of Peter’s instructions for aliens and strangers beginning this Sunday. If you don’t have a home church in the Cedar Springs area, I would love to have you join us in our new location. If you cannot join us in person, we will be broadcasting each message live on Periscope at 10:30am Sunday (search for @craigtowens), and then we will make the video available later in the week.

I am excited to take this journey of discovery with you!

Mobile, Messy & Meaningful

21st-century Americans in Christ's timeI think we have made the Church and Christianity something different than what the New Testament shows us. We’ve created far too many “things” which simply aren’t in the Bible. That’s not to say these things are wrong, but they may become stumbling blocks to us if we make secondary things the primary thing.

So what is the primary thing about church?

It might surprise you to know that the word church is only used twice by Jesus (Matthew 16:18, 18:17). He used a Greek word ekklesia, which meant a gathering of people called out from their homes into some public place. This word originally had more of a “town hall” meaning to it, but Jesus used this as a starting point to show us true church.

In Christ’s time the church for Him was…

Mobile—wherever He was, church was. Look at the extensive traveling He did. He held as many “church services” in people’s dining rooms as He did in the synagogues.

Messy—often as Jesus was speaking…

  • People constantly coming and going
  • Pharisees yapping and interrupting
  • Kids playing
  • Women sitting at His feet, anointing Him, crying over Him
  • Food and drink were usually involved
  • Foot washing was taking place
  • When He was outdoors: wind, waves, farmers, passers-by…
  • When He was indoors: food being served and eaten, roofs being ripped off…
  • People constantly interrupted His sermons: “Blessed is Your mother…”; “Tell my brother to give me my inheritance…”; “My daughter is dying!…”

Meaningful

  • “I must go through Samaria.”
  • “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
  • “Zaccheus, today I’m eating dinner at your house.”
  • “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the captive, sight to the blind, favor to the oppressed.”

Jesus asked His disciples Who they thought He was (see Matthew 16:13-18). The correct answer was Peter’s declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus said, “You’re right, and on that declaration I will build My church.”

Our job is to make Jesus known as the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16).

Christ’s job is to build His Church (v. 18).

He didn’t tell us to build a building and invite people to come on Sundays.

He didn’t tell us to start a Sunday School or a feeding program or a youth group.

There’s nothing wrong with these things, but they are not the main thing. 

The main thing is Jesus being seen as the Son of the living God. Where we are gathered together in that confession and purpose—even just two or three of us—that’s where His church is (see Matthew 18:20).

We must be mobile, taking a meaningful message into people’s messy lives. That is true church.

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