“Back To The Bible”

There are some moments in history that seem to stand out among the rest. We set aside particular days to remember various historical events. Holidays such as Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day are intended to focus our attention on those past events that have shaped our present reality. A day that has become increasingly significant to me as I view the vast scope of world history is October 31st, 1517, a day we now refer to as Reformation Day. Last week I gave a brief historical sketch of Martin Luther and his contribution to this time in history.

            As a Christian, I find the time period of the Protestant Reformation to be particularly intriguing. Not because I believe the Reformers came up with new ideas or forged new territory, making progressive leaps into the unknown. Rather, the strength of the Reformation was in pointing people back, not to a time or system, but to Jesus Christ. The Reformers’ desire was not to start a new church or type of religious insurrection, but to see the church and her leaders move back to the Bible, back to what God has said, not what men and their traditions have said.

As we take a closer look at some of the issues that the Reformers were dealing with, we will see that they were not simply matters of church politics but were issues that touched to the very heart of the Gospel. “How can a sinful person be made right with a holy God?” Reformers struggled with questions like these, to which they found no satisfying answers within the traditions of the Roman church.

However, when the Reformers, guided by the Holy Spirit, opened their Bibles, everything began to change. The truth of the Word of God that had been kept from the average person, that had been locked up in Latin and forbidden to be translated into the common tongue, began to burst forth into the hearts and minds of the Reformers and overflow into society as a whole. The impetus, then, for the Protestant Reformation, was not political or economical, but Biblical.

The dark times of Biblical ignorance were coming to an end, as the Reformers diligently taught the Bible, translated the Bible, and made sure the average person understood the Bible. Post Tenebras Lux — after darkness, light! This brief Latin phrase became their battle cry as John Calvin and other Reformers saw the glorious Word of God shine forth, breaking the darkness of the false Gospel and doctrines of Romanism. The chains of religious bondage that held people down, the rule of the papacy that contradicted the authority of Jesus Christ, and the selling of indulgences that cheapened the Gospel of grace were all seen for what they were in the light of God’s holy, inspired Word, the Bible.

We are now separated from the beginnings of the Reformation by over 500 years. However, that does not mean the Reformation is over. In fact, the cause of the Reformers, and the need for the light of God’s Word to go forth, is stronger than ever. We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to truth; a world of spiritual apathy, where religious bondage increases, sin is glorified, and hope is elusive. What is the answer? While many may jump into a political, social, or economical tirade, the answer is that we need “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) to break out into the dark corners of our world. We need the Bible to be heralded as the banner of truth. We need to pray that God’s grace would extend to the hearts of those who are trapped in religious bondage, cultic systems, and New Age spiritualism. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit would draw to Himself those stuck in addiction and sinful life patterns that they may be convicted of their sin and see their need of the Savior.

No, the Reformation is NOT over. In fact, the Reformation will not end until Christ comes again. Until that day, we must be constantly reforming every aspect of our lives to the revealed Word of God, the Bible. So open your Bible today and hear the Words of your Creator. If you find yourself in darkness, open the words that bring light. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Get a FREE download of my E-booklet on the 5 Solas of the Reformation by visiting www.CrossHopeBible.com/5-solas.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Finding Meaning In Ecclesiastes”

The book of Ecclesiastes is considered one of the most difficult books to understand by scholars, yet remains a favorite Bible book among younger Christians. Why is this? What is the discrepancy? Filled with passages that are admittedly hard to unravel, Ecclesiastes offers a fresh, modern-feeling insight into the deepest longings of the human spirit. As any young student begins to grow up and leave home, he or she will end up wrestling with the questions, “What is the point of my life? How can I find purpose in all of it all?” It is here that the book of Ecclesiastes shines as a light into the soul which longs for answers. The author of Ecclesiastes is not afraid to ask hard questions and to face the reality of the world in which he finds himself. Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman explains, “[The author of Ecclesiastes] expressed the uncertainty and anxieties of our own age… This issue is the fundamental one that all sensitive human beings must address.” 

R.L. Schultz explains that the author “sets out to analyze and assess the activities of life ‘under the sun’ in order to discover what has lasting value in such a world.” If the intention of the author is to show how a life of self-fulfillment and pleasure apart from God is impossible and ultimately meaningless, then one can understand why a pessimistic view seems to be taken. Thebookis giving readers an honest assessment of life. 

What the author discovers is that life is complicated. However, his purpose is to illumine the complications of life in order that the reader would seek a God-centered approach to life instead of a man-centered approach. Theauthors desire was to, as Gleason Archer explains, “convince men of the uselessness of any worldview which does not rise above the horizon of man himself.” Archer goes on to state that viewing personal happiness as the highest good is foolishness in light of the glory of God and His creation. The purpose set forth in Ecclesiastes can be seen in tracing three primary themes of the text; 1) The quest for meaning in life, 2) The fear of God, and 3) Enjoying life as a blessing from God.

Meaning In Life

Ecclesiastes opens with the well-known refrain “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (1:2).” Likewise, the book closes with this refrain (12:8); the body of the book, then, is intended to explain why this slogan is important to the author. The slogan is not slowly introduced after a series of arguments, but acts as a shake-up, a wake-up call for the reader, as he is thrust into the midst of thisquest for meaning in life. Meaning that, so far, has eluded theauthor. He explains how he desired to find true meaning in seeking after wisdom (1:13), hedonistic pleasures (2:1), and wealth (2:8), yet in these pursuits, he finds meaning to be lacking. Therefore, he concludes that life is vain, life is futile. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (2:11).” Thomas Schreiner explains how the author’sexperience had the opposite effect than what he had hoped for; pleasure did not remove the feeling of emptiness in life. In fact, Schreiner explains, “The absurdity of life was even more evident, for, after satisfying every desire of the heart, it was plain to him that pleasure does not remove the ennui of life.” Instead of finding all of life’s meaning and fulfillment in the natural world, thewriter slowly learns to be content in life with God at the center. 

The Fear of God

  Throughout biblical wisdom literature, the themes of evil people triumphing and good people suffering is often contemplated. This is most clearly seen in the retribution principle. The retribution principle stated simply is, “If a person is righteous, he will prosper; if a person is wicked, he will suffer.” Although this principle does find biblical warrant, as in Deuteronomy 28, problems arise when one makes the principal a cut and dry, black and white rule that must always be held to. Ecclesiastes gives readers hope that while the wicked may prosper in life, they will give account before God. “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God (8:12-13).”

Therefore thebookencourages readers to remain faithful to God, to fear God, and to trust God. In doing so, the people can be sure that, as Schreiner explains, “Ultimately, one’s fear of God will be rewarded, even though one cannot see how this is so during this futile life under the sun.”

Enjoyment of Life’s Blessings

Throughout Ecclesiastes, the reader is encouraged to take delight in the good things of life. “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil (2:24; cf. 3:12-13; 5:18; 7:14).” This has caused some to believe that thebook’sphilosophy of life is too similar to Epicurean ideals. However, upon closer examination, thewriter is not raising up joy and pleasure as the end goals or some type of divine fulfillment. Rather, in the middle of toil and trouble, heis encouraging God-fearing people to find joy in good things as blessings from God. As James writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1:17).” As he encourages enjoyment, he reminds the reader “for apart from [God] who can eat or who can have enjoyment (2:25)?” Therefore, the book’sadmonition to enjoy life cannot be misconstrued as a materialistic, hedonistic worldview. Instead, it must be recognized that, as John Walton affirms, “Enjoyment of life comes not in the quest for personal fulfillment, but in the recognition that everything comes from the hand of God.”    

Life lived apart from God is meaningless and is cause for a pessimistic outlook. However, when one submits to the truth of God, when one remembers Ecclesiastes admonition that “God is the one you must fear (5:7)”, even the drudgery of life has purpose. 

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Jonah: Fact or Fiction”

“Dude, you’ll never believe the fish I caught on my last trip to the lake…” We’ve all heard stories that began something like this. However, we’ve learned to listen to fishing stories with somewhat of a skeptical eye because we realize that every time the story is told, the fish seems to get bigger and bigger. Recently at Maranatha Baptist Church, we began a study through the book of Jonah during our Sunday Night service. While Jonah is one of the most familiar Bible stories, I have a feeling that many people consider it to be another “fish story”; something that is too fantastical to be true. While Jonah is a fish story, in fact the biggest fish story ever told, I think readers of this ancient book must take into account all of the evidence before you make a decision.    

While the book of Jonah has been the subject of much debate as to its historical and literal validity, some are willing to conclude that the question of Jonah’s historicity is not important because the lessons of the text can be understood and taught apart from a historical background. Therefore, some would claim, Jonah can be read as an allegorical or mythological text that is intended to relay truths about God; however, the events themselves never truly happened in time. Unfortunately, this is not a tenable position for Bible-believing Christians. Either Jonah happened or it didn’t. And if it didn’t, then we have a big issue on our hands because the Bible presents Jonah, not as a fairy tale, but as true history. So how can we come to any conclusion on this book?  

While the amount of space given in this article does not allow for an in-depth discussion, an overview of the issue will suffice. First, the question must be asked, “Why do people assume Jonah cannot be a true historical record?” The reasoning behind these assumptions are: 1) the events of the “great fish” seem far too fantastical and unrealistic, 2) our contemporary understanding of Nineveh doesn’t match with Jonah’s account, and 3) there seems to be no historical verification of Nineveh’s repentance. 

First, is has been debated as to whether a whale (a likely candidate for the “great fish”) could actually swallow a human whole. Once in the belly of the animal, how could Jonah have survived for three days? Yes, these questions are valid; however, they miss an important part of the narrative, namely, that God is involved in all of these circumstances. An argument based on the whale/fish is merely a denial of the supernatural. The God who created this world and all living things in it can certainly make them do things that would normally be impossible; that’s the very definition of a miracle (cf. Matt. 19:26). So while things beyond human understanding occur at times in Biblical events, that does not, in and of itself, prove the record false.  

Secondly, through excavations and other archeological work, information has been gathered about ancient Nineveh and its surrounding walls. It has been concluded that the city was not as “an exceedingly great/large city” as Jonah makes it out to be (3:3). However, the possibility of Jonah referring to the territory around the city, as some expositors conclude, or the fact that Jonah may have seen more than is available to archeologists today both make this a weak claim on the historicity of the text. 

Finally, the claim that no extra-biblical text contains a record of the repentance of Nineveh as proof of its lack of historicity is found wanting. For example, the repentance of Nineveh only lasted for a short time, as later God brings judgment upon the nation for its continued sin and corruption and how the nation leads people astray (cf. Nahum 2:8, 3:7). With this in mind, it is understandable why there would be no record of the repentance of the people.

The primary reason, however, to trust the book of Jonah as historical fact is because that is the way the Lord Jesus Christ treated the book. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).” In this text Jesus compares His own death and resurrection, truly historical events, with that of the Jonah’s time spent in the great fish. Therefore, if one is going to doubt the historical validity of Jonah, one may be dangerously close to doubting the historical validity of the resurrection of Christ.  

Instead of coming to the book of Jonah with suspicion, it is better to regard the book just as it claims to be: a true and historical record of a prophet raised up by God for a particular reason in a particular time in history. While many people work tirelessly in order to somehow disprove the Bible or cause you to question its validity, the Bible can be trusted. The Bible is true. The Bible is the Word of God. Likewise, the record of the prophet Jonah is not merely a “fish story”, rather, it is the true Word of God.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Ruth and the Providence of God”

The Bible shows the world as it truly is and at times, it’s not a pretty picture. Reading through the book of Judges proves to be disconcerting as one encounters the outworking of sinful man. Whether we are referring to graphic violence (cf. Judg. 3:21-22, 4:21), human sacrifice (cf. Judg. 11:29-40), or rape (cf. Judg. 19:22-30), it is clear that the book of Judges is not for children. The closing line sums up the essence of the book, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25) This is one of the reasons the brief book of Ruth is a breath of fresh air as we move forward in our Bibles.

            Taking place during “the days when the judges ruled,” (Ruth 1:1) the book of Ruth reassures the reader that faithfulness to God remains even in the darkest of times. Drs. Hill and Walton explain: “Rather than Israelites abandoning their loyalty and deserting the worship of Yahweh for other gods, the story portrays Ruth acting out of loyalty and embracing Yahweh, denouncing other gods, even as that which becomes the Davidic line hovers on the brink of extinction.”

            Being a fairly short book at only four chapters in our modern Bibles, Ruth is a beautifully constructed narrative that covers multiple emotional scenes within a brief amount of space. Kennedy writes, “The story as a whole in amazing brevity, [achieves] superb balance between the absence of details and the presence of all essentials.” It is the mixture of the engaging love story, covenant loyalty and faithfulness, and God’s gracious providence that has made the book of Ruth much beloved among the people of God.

            As the story opens, we are introduced to a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi. Together they are driven to the country of Moab by a famine in Judah. This Ephrathite family from Bethlehem remains in the land long enough for their two sons to marry woman of Moab. After a span of some time, Elimelech and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion die, leaving the women as widows.

            Recognizing that her only hope is to return to her homeland, Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to stay behind in Moab and remarry.  One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, responds, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

            It is when the women make it back to Bethlehem that the story really begins to move forward. At first, Naomi, in her bitterness, seems as if she wants to give up all hope for life even as Ruth hopefully stays by her side. Again, this is not a story that is intended to simply teach a moral. but to show how real people deal with hardship and how God is faithful to them when it seems like all is lost. However, the question remains, “How will God provide for Naomi and Ruth?”

            Question 15 of the Baptist Catechism of 1693 asks: “What are God’s works of providence?” to which the answer given is: “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.” Meaning, God is not a distant, derelict Father, but is intimately involved in daily care over His creation. God governs and preserves His creatures through ordinary, daily means. His activity in events and circumstances may not be explicitly seen or understood, however it is certain. An example of God’s continuous providential care can be seen within the circumstances found in the book of Ruth.

            Ruth and Naomi’s problems begin with the basic need of food; yet ultimately the need is for family. How will the family line of Elimelech continue? When they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth decides she will go to the fields to enact the gleaning laws, which seems like a very normal choice, given the woman’s destitute state. As she heads out to the fields, the narrator comments that “[Ruth] happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” (Ruth 2:3) The text literally states “as chance chanced” Ruth came to this particular field to glean. Did Ruth come to this field simply by an act of luck? Iain M. Duguid explains: “Only, as the narrator is inviting us to see, there was no such luck driving this chain of events. This was all part of a higher plan. It was nothing less than a divine appointment that brought Ruth to the fields of Boaz.” The hand of God leading this situation in order to bring about His purposes in the lives of these individuals.

            The book of Ruth is a lovely and inspired story that shows us God’s daily provision and care of His people. Even when the people of God fall into times of calamity, He is there and His care is never ending. The beauty of Ruth is found in its simplicity and fullness. The story is simple, yet the richness of its teaching and purpose has great depth. Ruth teaches God’s people how to trust the Lord through suffering, it teaches how to believe in God’s providential care even in the  midst of life’s greatest storms. Finally, Ruth is a piece of God’s great plan of redemption in action. Through these brief events, we see a glimpse of Christ, God’s promises made flesh. Ruth will continue to be comfort and joy for the people of God until we all see our Kinsman Redeemer face-to-face.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe