First-Century Rulers In Palestine

I have frequently made the assertion that God is sovereign over all history, or as I like to say it… All History is His Story

When we are reading the Bible, it is important to keep in mind that these are not “once upon a time” stories, nor are they set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but we are reading the accounts of actual people in actual moments of history.

I hope this chart from The Archeological Study Bible helps you in your reading of the New Testament.

Any of the names listed above in ALL CAPS are people who appear on the pages of the New Testament.

You may also want to check out a previous post where I discuss the historicity of the Gospels, or this post and this post about the resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Basis Of Our Hope

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

The Basis Of Our Hope

     If there is no resurrection, apostolic preaching fails. ‘If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty’ [1 Corinthians 15:12-22]. … If Christ was not raised, the apostles were false witnesses. When a man bears false witness, he usually has a motive for doing so. What motive had these men? What did they gain by bearing false witness to Christ’s resurrection? It was all loss and no profit to them if He had not risen. They declared in Jerusalem that He had risen from the dead, and straightway men began to haul them to prison and to put them to death! Those of them who survived bore the same testimony. They were so full of the conviction of it that they went into distant countries to tell the story of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. … They were brought before Roman emperors again and again, and before the proconsuls, and threatened with the most painful of deaths, but not one of them ever withdrew his testimony concerning Christ’s resurrection! …  

     If Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain. If it is in vain, give it up! Do not hold on to a thing that is not true! I would sooner plunge into the water and swim or wade through the river than I would trust myself to a rotten bridge that would break down in the middle. If Christ did not rise, do not trust Him, for such faith is in vain! But if you believe that He did die for you and did rise again for you, then believe in Him, joyfully confident that such a fact as this affords a solid basis for your belief! …  

     If [Jesus] died for you and rose again for you, that is the groundwork of your confidence, and I pray you keep to it. … Go your way and sing, ‘The Lord is risen indeed,’ and be happy as all the birds in the air, till you are, by and by, as happy as the angels in heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From If There Is No Resurrection 

I shared a series of messages that said, “I know Jesus is A.L.I.V.E. because of…” and each of the letters of ALIVE reminded us of a convincing proof of His resurrection. I would especially direct your attention to two of those letters. 

The “L” stands for lives changed. When someone has a complete about-face life change because of their interaction with Jesus, that is pretty strong proof that their encounter was with a living Savior. 

And the “E” stands for the engagement of Christ’s followers. It’s astounding to see how much of our world’s history has been positively impacted because of the influence of Christians. Their lives had become so radically different because of the life of Jesus in them that they could not help but change the culture around them. 

As I said last in the last Thursdays with Spurgeon installment, always remember that the one with a personal experience is never at the mercy of the one with an argument. If your life has been changed by personal and ongoing interactions with Jesus Christ, don’t keep that good news to yourself. Let that assurance you have be a bright and winsome witness to all who are around you.

Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

This book was a complete and pleasant surprise! I have read so many books about Winston Churchill, including a number of books that Churchill himself wrote, and I never knew about the prime minister’s special group that played such havoc with the Nazi war machine. Giles Milton unpacks the fascinating tale in Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare. 

This book reads like a classic spy novel, but it is the actual historic record of saboteurs, weapons makers, and out-of-the-box plotters who absolutely frustrated Adolph Hitler’s war plans at nearly every turn. The start of World War II caught so many by surprise that they were woefully unprepared to confront what appeared to be the invincible German military. Some in the British government hit upon the idea of fighting a guerrilla-style war to slow down the Germans’ advance. 

Mr. Milton does a marvelous job of following six key gentlemen in the way they created new weapons, new training regimens, and new fighting styles. Everything they did was so unconventional that the traditional leaders in the British government and military hesitated to give their support to this special ministry, and even went out of their way to thwart their efforts. Fortunately, Mr. Churchill was all-in on this group and cleared out the roadblocks for them. 

Whether you enjoy fictional spy novels or non-fictional accounts of historical events, I’m confident you will thoroughly enjoy Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

How Christianity Changed The World (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Alvin Schmidt claims, “No other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation, movement—whatever—has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done.” And I quite believe him. He lays out the evidence to back up this bold claim in his book How Christianity Changed The World. 

A few years ago I presented a series of messages to make the case for the resurrection of Jesus. One of the pieces of evidence I presented was the cultural engagement of Christians whose lives had been transformed by a personal relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ. Alvin Schmidt’s book is like taking this single point of mine and putting it on steroids! 

Using the reports of first-person observers from the first century all the way through present day, Mr. Schmidt shows how there is not a single part of the culture that hasn’t benefitted from the involvement of those who live out the Christian principles they have discovered in the Bible. From the care of the sick and elderly, to the elevation of women and marriage, to art, and architecture, and music, and medicine, and science, and education—every sphere of life has been improved by practicing Christians. 

I would highly recommend reading this book and then keeping it close at hand to share with those ignorant or skeptical of the claims of Christianity. As William Barclay noted, “Anyone who asks the question, ‘What has Christianity done for the world?’ has delivered himself into a Christian debater’s hands. There is nothing in history so unanswerably demonstrable as the transforming power of Christianity and of Christ on the individual life and on the life of society.” To that, I add a hearty Amen! 

Please get a copy of How Christianity Changed The World for your library. 

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The Historicity Of The Gospels

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

I’m intrigued by the way the four Gospel writers have recorded the dying declarations of Jesus:

  • Father, forgive them—only in Luke 
  • Today you will be with Me in paradise—only in Luke 
  • Dear women, behold your son—only in John 
  • My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?—only in Matthew and Mark (and this is the only dying declaration they record) 
  • I thirst—only in John
  • It is finished—only in John
  • Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit—only in Luke 

This is an excellent apologetic for the legitimacy and authenticity of the historical record. 

You know that when your friends are at an important event, not everyone notices the same thing or even to the same extent as the others. 

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace has pointed out that when he’s conducting an investigation, he separates the eyewitnesses from each other exactly so they don’t get their stories to “match.” Detective Wallace is able to get the full story precisely because of the differences in each of the accounts. 

This is why the Gospel writers’ accounts ring true: they tell us the same historical event from their unique perspective. It’s only by reading all of them that we get the full picture. If the death and resurrection of Jesus had been a conspiracy, these writers clearly would have collaborated to “get their story straight” ahead of time, and as a result, we would have four identical stories. 

The historicity of Jesus as told in the Bible is spot-on and completely trustworthy! 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

King And Commoner

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus… (Ezra 1:1). 

Ezra begins as 2 Chronicles ends: with the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. 

The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians, who were then defeated by the Medes, who were themselves defeated by the Persians under Cyrus II. This was a powerful man who claimed “all the kingdoms of the earth” as his possession. (v. 2). 

Yet this conquering king who was called Cyrus the Great had his heart directed by God. 

Among the Israelite exiles that returned to Jerusalem were princes, priests, Levites, servants, and common people of every stripe. These exiles were rulers of nothing. 

Yet these people also had their hearts moved by God (v. 5)—42,360 of them, to be precise. 

The same God who moved the heart of the most powerful king on earth also moved the hearts of common people. God had a plan to fulfill and He knew exactly which hearts to move at the precise time to bring about His purpose. God is sovereignly in control. All of history—including all the people in history—is His story. 

The king is not too powerful and the common citizen is not too small to be used by God. 

Let me make that statement more personal: All of the “great” people on earth today are not too powerful to be used by God, nor are you too small to be used by Him. 

Will you say “yes” when He moves your heart to action?

The Fear And The Comfort Of God’s Judgment

Near the end of the movie The Princess Bride, the grandson learns that Wesley, the hero of the story, has apparently died. He asks his grandfather, “Who kills Prince Humperdink,” the arch-villain in the story. 

His grandfather replies, “No one. He lives.” 

“You mean he wins!?” blurts out the exasperated boy, “Grandpa, why did you read me this story??” 

We love to see bad guys get what’s coming to them, don’t we? Some of the baddest bad guys—perhaps in all of history—are the kings of Assyria. When the Assyrians in Nineveh repented and God’s judgment didn’t fall on them, Jonah’s response was much like the grandson in The Princess Bride, “God, why did You send me here?!” 

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria who was threatening Judah. Nahum writes a short, scathing prophecy about the destruction that is headed Assyria’s way. This is fulfilled in a small part when God defeats Sennacherib’s army, which leads to Sennacherib then being assassinated by two of his sons.

For Judah, this is a short-lived victory because the two kings which follow Sennacherib turn out to be two of the evilest and ruthless kings of Assyria. Yet Nahum’s prophecy still stands: an ultimate destruction is coming. In 605 BC Assyria was defeated by the Babylonians, and the destruction was so complete that Nineveh’s very existence was questioned until archeological discoveries were made in the 19th century. 

Why is this prophecy given to us? What are we New Testament Christians supposed to do with this promise of judgment? 

Nahum’s name means comfort, so it seems like God’s justice should comfort us. But, interestingly, the root word of his name means to regret or to feel sorry

Why is this? Think about it: You cannot really know what peace is unless you have been through a period of turmoil. Likewise, you cannot truly understand the relief of being spared God’s judgment unless you fully understand the weight and totality of God’s judgment that should fall on you.  

Nahum reminds us that God will never let the guilty go unpunished, and yet in the very next breath he tells us that the Lord is a refuge for those who trust in Him.

God is Just. This is a cause for…

  • …BOTH fear of God’s anger AND rejoicing that He is good 
  • …BOTH humility for our sin AND confidence that He forgives our sin 
  • …BOTH regret that we fall short of God’s righteous standard AND relief that Christ’s blood makes us righteous in God’s sight 

It’s amazing to think that it was MY sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross, but it was HIS love that allowed that to happen so that I could be forgiven! 

God is not willing that any should be separated from Him, but we do have to choose to receive the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us. 

Assyria’s utter destruction is less than a drop in the bucket compared to eternal separation from God. As C.S. Lewis commented about the end of time: 

“For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.” 

Today (and every day) is the day for heart-searching, acutely feeling the regret of our sin, and then knowing that our forgiven sins are forgotten sins! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here.

The Lingering Effects Of Poor Leadership

Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command… (2 Kings 24:3). 

I am intrigued by the succession of the last kings of Judah just before Jerusalem falls in 586 BC. The leadership authority has been completely undermined by the downward spiral of sin in the previous leaders. As a result, the kings of Judah are now just an “empty suit,” with someone else exerting the real influence.

King Josiah was the last God-fearing king Judah had. After Josiah died, “the people of the land” made Jehoahaz king of Judah. He only reigned three months. 

After Jehoahaz died, “Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king” after Egypt subdued Judah. Pharaoh changed his name to Jehoiakim, took all of Judah’s treasures, and imposed a tribute on Judah, forcing Jehoiakim to tax all the citizens. 

Later on, Jehoiakim became a vassal king of Nebuchadnezzar. After Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin only reigned as king for three months before he was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar. 

Nebuchadnezzar then “made Mattaniah” king. He also imposed tribute and changed the king’s name to Zedekiah. 

King Zedekiah rebelled and was executed, after which Nebuchadnezzar “appointed Gedaliah as governor.” Gedaliah was assassinated shortly thereafter, completing the collapse of Judah and sending the people into exile in Babylon for the next 70 years. 

[Check out all of the biblical references for these sad events by clicking here]

Oh, what misery for the people of Judah for this last 20-year span under these final kings! The consequences of the leaders’ continual rebellion against God brought such uncertainty and heartache for the citizens. 

A mark of a godless leader is the wake of misery that follows him for generations afterward. 

Lord God, help me to see that my actions today have consequences for tomorrow. I want to leave an empowering, God-honoring legacy for the next generations, but this can only happen as I remain obedient to You! 

This is part 51 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here

They Came For Freedom (book review)

I was first introduced to Jay Milbrandt through his book The Daring Heart Of David Livingston. I was so captivated by Jay’s writing style that I had to seek out more of his books. They Came For Freedom is the story of the first pilgrims that came to this land we now call the United States of America. 

Jay uses his training as an attorney to sift through the voluminous historical documentation that was available for him to use in the writing of this book. Just as an attorney is trained to evaluate the evidence to be presented in court in light of the biases of a witness, Jay does the same thing with the many people who documented the story of the pilgrims. 

What Jay really wanted to try to capture in this history was the reasons why people wanted to come to this new world. Were there religious motivations? Were there commercial considerations? Were they just adventurers or maybe malcontents? So Jay goes back further into history to set the stage and give us some of the motivations that went into the decision to make such an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. 

In reading this book, undoubtedly you will hear some names of people and places that sound familiar to you. But I’ll bet you are going to see these people and places in a way that your school history books never presented. I found this book absolutely fascinating! I felt about They Came For Freedom the same way I did about Jay’s book on Dr. David Livingston: This is history that reads like a novel. 

You may think the story of the first pilgrims coming to these shores is so well known that this book isn’t going to be worth your time, but I can assure you that you are guaranteed to learn something you never knew before. Well done, Jay! 

The Role Of Prophecy

Micah may be classified as a minor prophet, but the prophecies in his book are fulfilled in a major way in as little as 20 years and as far out as 2700+ years! 

Here’s a question for us to consider: What exactly is the role of prophecy in the life of a Christian? 

Micah introduces himself in the opening verse. He was ministering in the country while Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at the same time. Micah’s ministry spans three kings of Judah in the south, and he overlaps the defeat of Israel in the north.  

Check out some of Micah’s most notable prophecies: 

  1. Judgment is coming to Samaria/Israel (1:6-7). This was fulfilled about 20 years later when the Assyrians defeated Samaria and took the Israelites into exile. 
  2. Judgment is coming on southern Judah (1:9-16). This was fulfilled about 30 years later when Sennacherib attacked Philistia and southern Judah, coming “even to the gate of Jerusalem” (v. 12). At the gate of Jerusalem was the miraculous deliverance God gave during Hezekiah’s reign (see 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 37). 
  3. Judgment is coming on Jerusalem (3:12). Micah even prophesied the Babylonians would defeat them (4:10). This is noteworthy because Assyria was the dominant world power at this time; it would be another 100 years before Babylon would even begin to rise to power. This prophecy was fulfilled about 160 years later, and this prophecy actually saved Jeremiah’s life around that same time (Jeremiah 26:7-19). 
  4. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (5:2). This prophecy was fulfilled about 700 years later when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:5-6). 
  5. How people will respond to the Messiah’s Advent (7:4-6). This prophecy was partially fulfilled 700 years later in a direct quotation from Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36). 
  6. The coming of the final Kingdom of God (4:1-3). This prophecy will be fulfilled at Christ’s second Advent. 

[you can read all of these prophecies yourself by clicking here

So what is the role of prophecy? 

First of all, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that God is sovereignly in control of everything (Isaiah 46:10). But right on the heels of that, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that there is still more prophecy left to be fulfilled (2 Peter 1:20-2:3). 

The Bible tells me that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. In a similar fashion, the prophecies of coming judgment on sinners are intended to show us the incredible mercy of God in the forgiveness of sin that He made available (Micah 7:18-20). 

Prophecy is never, never to be used as a club to beat people into submission to God. When Micah prophesied the destruction of Israel and Judah, he wept (Micah 1:8). 

So did Jesus (Matthew 23:37). 

And so should we! 

We live in an age today—as Micah experienced and as the apostle Peter said would be coming—where people won’t want to hear the news that unforgiven sin brings God’s judgment. Our response to this should be brokenhearted grief, tears, and a steadfast commitment to speak the truth in love that Jesus has provided the only means to be rescued from that judgment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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