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Our main mission as Christians is evangelism: telling people the good news about Jesus in the context of the bad news of their sin. In the culture of the 1st century Roman empire Christians were experiencing unjust suffering/persecution for the sake of righteousness (Ex: Nero, coliseum). What that society could not understand, what opened the door for believers to share the power of God to save sinners, was that Christians still showed hope in the midst of these terrible circumstances. Peter wrote about this apologetics approach (giving reasons for the fruit of your faith) in his epistle:

1 Peter 3:15 – Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Today’s context is a little bit different. We live in an atmosphere of coordinated chaos and engineered confusion. Ours is a culture consumed with fear and control. You can see it in people’s faces: on the street, in the marketplace, inside people’s homes and cars, and sadly even in our churches. God has called the church to be different, to NOT be dominated by fear. The words of Timothy are so appropriate for our circumstances today:

2 Timothy 1:7-8 – For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

What is missing is JOY - the kind of joy that Paul talks about in Romans that comes from REALLY trusting in God, and not in ourselves, or in the weak efforts of this world.

Romans 15:13 – I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.

The church should see our present circumstances as one of the biggest evangelistic opportunities that we have had in decades. By boldly proclaiming the joy that we have in Christ, the church will stand out in stark contrast to today’s culture of anxiety and despair. People will be asking, begging, to know where this joy springs from. And like the believers in the 1st century Christians today will have an opportunity to share the power of God to save sinners, to explain the reason for their joy that is so unexplainable.

The Ambassadors Forum is excited to fulfill God’s calling in apologetics during this unique season by equipping believers to share the joy we have because we trust in God. We have some exciting new things coming this year that we will explain more about in the coming months, opportunities to partner with us and get more involved. Also, please join us for one of our engaging monthly forums where you can ask your hard questions and be equipped to find good answers:
  • Mar. 19 – “I Never Saw You That Way” (Transgenderism) by KathyGrace Duncan
  • Apr. 16 – “Accurate History as a Christian Apologetic” by Caleb Hilbert
  • May 21 – “Biblical Standards for Justice“ by Herb Grey
  • Jun. 18 – “Public School Indoctrination” by Adrian Toader
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Hard Question Corner

"Why would a good God allow suffering?"

The Bible talks about four different possible causes of suffering:
1. Some suffering can be the natural consequence of people’s free will.
  • An example of this is violence.
2. Some suffering can be a result of God’s judgment.
  • An example of this could be war.
3. Some suffering can be a result of the sinful fall of mankind.
  • An example of this could be disease.
4. Some suffering is impossible to trace back to a root cause.
  • A relevant example from today is COVID-19. The virus and our response to it has caused enormous suffering. It may take years if not decades to realize the full impact on the mental health alone of millions in our country. We still don’t have enough data and information to be able to determine which of these above options best describes the reasons for this suffering. Maybe it’s a combination of several of them. Maybe it’s a combination of all of them.
As opposed to other world religions, such as Buddhism for example, Christianity never seeks the total elimination of suffering as one of its goals. Instead, as Christians we strive to see and accept God’s purposes through the suffering. It’s hard to imagine that suffering is good. But good can come from suffering.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah. He is our merciful Father and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our suffering so that we may be able to comfort others in all their suffering, as we ourselves have been comforted by God.”

Here is an interesting thought experiment you can try yourself:
  • Is God good? [Yes]
  • Is he all-powerful? [Yes]
  • Could God have created a universe in which there was no suffering? [Yes]
  • Did He? [No]
Even God, who is the most capable and most compassionate being in the universe, did not choose to prevent all suffering. Instead, He chose to demonstrate the greatest love of all time by laying down his own life for his enemies. Obviously, this is the story of the cross, where humanity was reconciled to God through the unjust suffering of our Savior Jesus Christ. Paul explains it this way in the book of Acts when he was being questioned by Festus and King Agrippa about this revolutionary new religion called Christianity:

Acts 26:2-3 – “I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike.”

We may not always find easy answers to all of our hard questions about life. But if we commit ourselves to diligent study and consistent logic, we CAN find answers that point us back to the way God sees the world and what He has done to reconcile it back to Himself.
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Personal Application Corner

My 9-year old daughter came to me recently and asked, “You know how in the Bible it says not to surround yourself with unbelievers? But didn’t Jesus surround himself with sinners? Wasn’t he breaking his own commandment?”
At this point I was faced with a decision. I could have rebuked her for daring to say that Jesus might have sinned, and pointed her to all the Bible verses that said Jesus never sinned. Sadly, this is the approach some churches take when their members have sincere doubts or ask questions about the Bible. Or I could have just given her the answer about how these two seemingly contradictory notions can be reconciled. This is the approach many Apologetics ministries take, and while it can be helpful we do not think it is the best option. I chose a 3rd method, using it as a teaching opportunity to help her think it through herself.

I encouraged her to look up the specific Bible verses to get the exact wording so she could think it through accurately. This is what our process looked like:
  1. She knew enough about the general idea she was looking for to enable us to use Google to find dozens of possibly relevant verses.
  2. Then we sifted through them and narrowed it down to likely candidates.
  3. Then she read the context of those candidates to decide which verses were truly relevant.
  4. Then she read multiple translations of those verses to make sure she was getting the right sense.
These were the passages that ended up meaning the most in her search for truth:

Proverbs 22:24-25 – Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.

Proverbs 13:20 – He that walks with the wise shall be wise: but a friend of fools shall become like them.

Matthew 9:10 – While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.

Luke 5:32 – [Jesus speaking] I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

In the end she concluded that the Bible was warning that deep close friendships with unbelievers can lead to compromise if we’re not careful. But Jesus used his relationships with sinners to bring them closer to God. It was a beautiful conversation. And in the end she left feeling encouraged to continue asking her hard questions, and with an increased confidence in her ability to find good answers.

Legal Corner

What should churches and people of faith think about the Equality Act and Fairness for All?

The House of Representatives recently passed the Equality Act (H.R. 5), now in the U.S. Senate for a vote.
lady justice
There has been less fanfare about re-introduction of Fairness for All (“FFA”), a proposed balance of protections for both LGBT and religious communities.

As widely reported, the Equality Act adds sexual orientation and gender identity protections in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and largely eviscerates religious freedom. John Stonestreet from the Colson Center recently shared this perspective:
  • To be clear, you should only care about the Equality Act if you are a Christian, or a person of faith, or a woman, or own a business, or run a non-profit, or go to school, or teach at a school, or are a medical or mental-health professional, or (especially) are a female athlete, or under the age of 18, or ever use a public restroom.
Ryan Anderson of the Ethics & Public Policy Center observed:
  • … the Equality Act would bring with it three broad, sweeping changes. First, specific conscience protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which have long been legal priorities, would be circumvented in cases deemed discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Effectively, conscience rights considered religiously-based would be tossed aside. Second, anyone who affirms the biological reality of the sexes would be, in law, relegated to the same status as the racists whose oppression of African Americans made the 1964 Civil Rights Act necessary. Finally, The Equality Act would have a dramatic impact on education, public or private.
Fairness for All, advanced in Utah with the support of the Mormon Church and now in Congress, is a compromise that exchanges legal protection based on sexual orientation for limited protection of religious liberty for churches and religious organizations. While FFA is a well-intentioned attempt to secure “half a loaf” for people of faith, it remains controversial in religious circles and is unlikely to appease LGBT advocates.

If there ever was a time for God’s people to “count the cost” and humbly unite in fervent prayer, this is that time. It is also time for robust support for Christian legal organizations who will challenge the Equality Act as the undisguised attack on religious belief and practice it is, with dire consequences also for the alien, widow, orphan and families protected in God’s Word.
Disclaimer: The above column should not be regarded or relied upon as legal advice. The reader should consult legal counsel for specific guidance in particular circumstances.
crucifixion

Evidence for the Resurrection

Last month, we discussed the following five minimal facts associated with the resurrection, noting that these same facts are attested to by a majority of scholars, whether Christian or secular. (ref. Feb. newsletter Part 2: Minimal Facts)
  • Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion.
  • Fact 2: Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.
  • Fact 3: Paul, the church persecutor, was suddenly changed.
  • Fact 4: Jesus’ brother James, a known skeptic, suddenly changed.
  • Fact 5: The tomb was empty.
The first fact we will deal with is that Jesus died by crucifixion.

Biblical Attestation
The first, oldest, most complete, and most familiar attestation is that which is found in the four Gospels where the crucifixion is described in great detail. Of course, Biblical attestation is considered the most reliable by the believer who accepts God’s word as inspired by Him, and without error in what it teaches. Bolstering the credibility of the Bible’s account is the fact that the ancient writings of the Old Testament predicted the crucifixion (and the resurrection) in numerous passages (see Isaiah 53 for example.)

Of further interest is that others during the 1st and 2nd century, Christian and non-Christian alike, wrote of Jesus’ crucifixion...

Extra-Biblical Ancient Commentary
Mara Bar Serapion was a philosopher from Syria who wrote a letter to his son sometime after AD74. There is no Christian content in the letter, nor is the author known to be Jewish or Christian. In his letter, he addressed unjust treatment of Pythagoras, Socrates, and “the wise king of the Jews.”

Josephus, a 1st century historian with both Jewish and Roman identity was a very prolific writer of Jewish historical accounts. In his Antiquities of the Jews, written late in the 1st century, he wrote the following… “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles… And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross…

Tacitus, a non-Christian, considered to be one of the greatest 1st century Roman historians wrote in his final work, Annals… “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”. In the expanded statement, Tacitus validates specific facts about Rome, including the presence of many Christians there in the 1st century, the origin of Christianity in Roman-Judea, the great fire in Rome, etc.

The Babylonian Talmud states...”On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged (on a cross). For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

This is of particular interest because the Talmud is a Jewish document. Here, we have Jews, the most hostile people to Jesus on earth at that time, testifying that he was crucified (hanged) on the evening of the Passover. Note that although they attest to His miracles which they apparently witnessed, they ironically attribute them to sorcery.

Modern Commentary
Bart Ehrman, one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time is no longer a believer. Today, he is a prolific writer of books and articles debunking Christianity. Nonetheless, Ehrman writes... “the crucifixion of Jesus on the orders of Pontius Pilate is the most certain element about him.

Craig Blomberg, professor emeritus at Denver Seminary sums it up well... “...most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable.

Christopher M. Tuckett of Oxford University states much the same thing.

The foregoing is an example of multiple attestation. Referencing multiple attestation is a primary tactic in discussing the case for Jesus’ crucifixion. Further investigation will reveal many more scholarly individuals, both historical and present, Christian and non, who attest to this truth.

Next month, we will address the 2nd minimal fact: Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.

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