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I’m not sure where to begin here. I guess I’ll start by saying that, growing up, I never considered the color of Jesus to ever be an issue. I would see pictures of Jesus on paintings and in illustrated Bibles. I was given some Bible study books when I was a child and would see perhaps most of the depictions of Bible characters looking “European”, except for a few Old Testament characters and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. But then I would see elsewhere, depictions of Black Jesus mainly in Black churches. I was never confused by either image. I guess I just figured for someone who lived 2000 years ago (before life-like paintings and photos), everyone was just guessing what He looked like. No harm, no foul. His color isn’t the most important thing about him anyway. Right? To me a Jew from the ancient Middle East probably looked, well like a modern Middle Eastern man. I was 8 or 9 when Operation Desert Storm happened and I remember thinking that most Bible people, Jesus included, probably looked like the people of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.
Then as I got older I realized that the color of Jesus is a real stumbling block to a LOT of people. Some believe He is White. Some believe He is Black. Some even go to the lengths of giving God the Father one of the two skin tones. I don’t know if this is mainly an American problem. I’ve seen pictures of Asian Jesus as well but I have a feeling its not that much of a divisive issue in Asian countries as it is here in the U.S. I don’t know. It seems that different cultures like to represent Jesus as being like them in appearance. Maybe it makes Him more relatable. Maybe it was done in ignorance.
Some of us feel as though “White Jesus” was forced on to my ancestors in order to see “Master” as being closer to God. Or closer to the image of God. And because of the evil in men’s hearts, I can’t say that some slave owners didn’t do that exact thing. However, physical depictions of Jesus aren’t inspired and infallible. You can’t go to the ancient Greek or Hebrew texts and find a drawing of any person. There are some limited descriptions of certain people. Like David who was handsome and “ruddy” (the same red complexion given to Esau) 1 Samuel 16:12, Genesis 25:25. In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron were upset Moses’ wife was an Ethiopian (what I always assumed was the first fight over an interracial marriage). The point is that no one is really described in great detail how they look.
But, then there are those people who say that we can know Jesus was Black because of the description in Revelation 1:15 “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.” I’ve heard the explanation, “Who else has feet the color of burned brass? Definitely not them White Jews!” However, just one verse before that it says “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” So, is this saying Jesus is white? Well, it said His head and hairs are white, but His feet were like brass. What color is Jesus?
First, I would like to point out that the Book of the Revelation is full of imagery. Symbolic imagery. Four chapters later Jesus is described as a “Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes.” Ok, well that’s obviously symbolic right? Well, I believe His depiction in chapter 1 is obviously symbolic or metaphoric also. Especially given how it describes His eyes and voice. And in verse 16 of chapter 1, He has a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. It’s all imagery.
What does the Bible say about white hair? In Proverbs 16, it says wisdom and old age. Again, I’ve heard the objection, “But it says His hair was like wool. Who has hair like that?” It’s talking about the color, not texture.
In the Torah, bronze was used in the tabernacle for the laver (for cleansing) and the alter (for sacrifice). The Greek words here can be used to describe how bright and shining they are like if the metal is still in the furnace or if it is highly polished.
His eyes are as fire, shining light in the darkness. His face which the scripture says was like sun, as though the intensity is too much to bear. The sword that came out of His mouth pierces and cuts. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.“
There is also a description of who we believe to be the Son of God in the prophetic Book of Daniel. Chapter 10:5-6, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, His face like the appearance of lightning, His eyes like torches of fire, His arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of His words like the voice of a multitude.” Here we see similar descriptions. A face too bright to look at, eyes like fire, a voice so loud, arms and feet like burnished bronze. The “burnished” in the Hebrew means brightened or polished. Now, a simple Google search will show what burnished bronze looks like. And when compared to human skin it is very much non-white. So here, you may have an argument that the man Daniel was describing was a “Black” man. Or a sun kissed Middle Easterner. People didn’t spend a whole lot of time inside.
But what does it mean that His body was like beryl? Beryl can come in many different color variations: red, pink, aquamarine, emerald green, golden. But, it’s always translucent. The book of Daniel is full of imagery like the Book of Revelation, like his vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 and the king’s vision of the statue that represented four kingdoms in chapter 2. Remember that biblical visions and dreams usually are symbolic in nature.
It’s also important to note that even those who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry didn’t recognize Him after His resurrection (John 20:14-15; Luke 24:16).
The point is I don’t believe either depiction of Jesus describes His color. And if it does, I don’t believe that we should get so hung up on it that it distracts and divides us. No matter what, any physical depiction you’ve seen that is supposed to be Jesus is inaccurate. No one really knows what He looked like. At this point I’m almost willing to side with my Reformed brothers and say that all depictions of Jesus are violations of the 2nd Commandment. So much emphasis is being placed on what He looked like instead of what He did, it’s becoming idolatry.
I don’t need Jesus to look like me. The goal is to look like Him.
As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. – Psalm 17:15
While listening to Philip de Courcy on his radio program yesterday, I listened to him talk about the resurrection of man. He briefly mentioned cremation and it reminded me of something that I’ve thought of many times throughout my life. Can a Christian get cremated? And by “can” I mean does Christian doctrine teach against it? And since I don’t want to commit the argumentum ex silentio fallacy, I don’t seek to argue that if scripture is silent on it then it is permissible.
So let’s start by asking if scripture does in fact explicitly permit or condemn cremation. The answer to that is no. Nowhere in the Bible is cremation prohibited or permitted. The only instance where cremation seems to be mentioned is in 1 Samuel 31: All the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.(verses 12-13) However, in modern forms of cremation the body is burned and the bones are ground into powder. This powder is what we call the “ashes”. So King Saul and his sons weren’t really cremated, per se.
Growing up, I always thought cremation was a bit of a taboo or just flat out wrong in Christianity. I’m not sure if it actually was taboo or if it was just my own perception. Especially as a child, the idea seemed a bit “hellish”. But, with the many articles on Christianity and cremation circling around the internet, I don’t suppose I was the only one thinking this.
One reason I thought it was wrong is because of the resurrection of the saints during the end times. I thought that good Christians should be buried as long as it is feasible to do so. But as I grew and learned in knowledge a few things came to mind.
1. If God can create man from dust then He can resurrect man from dust. He did say in Genesis that we would return to dust.
2. Many Christians haven’t had the opportunity to be buried. Some have been persecuted and torn apart by lions. Some have been lost at sea decaying in water and the marine life eating their remains. Some have been burned at the stake for their beliefs. John Huss, a Czech theologian, was burned at the stake and his ashes scattered in the Rhine river to prevent his followers from burying him. John Wycliffe (whose early English translation of the New Testament paved way for William Tyndale’s first full English Bible) had his remains exhumed from his grave, his bones burned to ashes and thrown into the river all because his writings were considered heretical. What about these people at the resurrection? The particles that made up their bodies are now so far separated that it would seem impossible that they could get pulled back together. But we must remember what Jesus said in Matthew 19:26,”…with God nothing is impossible.”
3. There’s also the fact that the Bible doesn’t just say that the saved will be resurrected. Acts 24:15, “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” And even that the seas themselves will give up their dead (Revelation 20:13).
Therefore, my reasoning was false as to why I thought Christians shouldn’t be cremated. A God that spoke the world into existence can easily form new resurrected bodies. No matter what state the remains of the believer (and nonbeliever) are in, God will assemble.
Does this mean that cremation is a viable option for believers? Well, where scripture is silent, we let the Holy Spirit guide our conscience. Sometimes it would be a better financial choice since the average cremation can be around 90% cheaper than the average funeral. It’s something that should be discussed with loved ones and prayed about earnestly.
“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” John 1:1
During the early church, there was a dispute about the ontology of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus the same essence as God or is he of a similar essence? These two schools of thought divided those who wished to be faithful to what was revealed in scripture about the Redeemer. They used the Greek words ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) and ὁμοιοούσιος (homoiusios) to describe thier respective views.
Homo-ousios – that the Father and the Son are of the same essence. “Homo” meaning same. “Usia” meaning essence, or being.
Homoi-usious – that the Father and the Son are of similar essense. “Homoi” meaning similar.
Now at first glance it may seem that the difference in the two is nonessential banter. Why would there be division about such a seemingly trivial concept? Well, those that accepted the homoousian christology believed that the other camp was downplaying or outright denying the divinity of Christ. That the Theos and Logos described in John 1 are of the same essence and to describe them as anything else would be to describe someone else other than the Christ of Scripture.
Arius, a third century Lybian theologian believed in similar-substance-christology. Arius did not believe, however, that his view went against the teachings of scripture. Nor did his christology start with him. He learned from Lucian of Antioch. In a letter to another theologian known as Alexander, he called Jesus “a creature of God.” Making God the Father the creator of everything else including the Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, according to those of the homoousion christology, God does not save but one of His creations does. Making Arianism seem to be too close to donetism, that Jesus is only a man.
Now this seems to coinside with John 3:16 that says Jesus is the “only begotten son.” The Greek here is μονογενής (monogenēs) meaning basically the single of its kind. This is important because if Jesus was of similar essence then He would not be of the same kind as His Father.
Arius, in his letter to Eusibius of Nicomedia, says of Jesus, “…the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect as God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not. For he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning but that God is without beginning.”
The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten but not made…” Now I am not placing any creed above Scripture. However, those in the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) thought it vital to settle this debate. That Scripture made it plain that Jesus and God are one (John 10:30).
Tradition has it that one member that attended the council was even so impassioned that he slaps an Arian, perhpas even Arius himself. This attendee was none other than Saint Nicholas of Myra, the same St. Nicholas we see around Christmas time.
Now, I’ve heard the argument, “what about Colossians 1:15 that states that Jesus is the first born of all creation? How can He be of the same essence as the Father?” I believe that instead of using the word “of” here, “over” would have been better as used in the New King James Version, NIV, and the CSB.
Colossians 1:15-18 states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
” (NASB). We see here that He has made EVERYTHING. All that was created has been created by Jesus Christ. As John 1:3 says, “…apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Making Jesus outside of creation and not a thing created.
While I can’t say that the New Living Translation is the best or even my favorite translation, I think it excellently words Colossians 1:5 this way, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In other words it’s Christ’s preeminence over creation that this verse is talking about.
In conclusion, I believe homoousia better describes our Lord as revealed in the Bible. Not homoi-.
Further reading: John 5:18, John 8:24, John 8:58, John 10:30-33, John 20:28, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:8
Often times in our day to day interactions we hear someone say something that sounds like it’s from the Bible or even hear something we’ve read or heard in church knowing it’s from the Bible. Therefore, we don’t put much thought into the validity of the quote and we’ll affirm it with a hearty “Amen.”
And, too often, I’ll hear something and I think to myself “that’s not what that means.” Usually, the person speaking isn’t trying to be careless or malicious with their use of scripture. It’s usually just being spoken from ignorance. So, I’ve decided to write about one of the often quoted yet misused scripture quotes that we hear thrown about. One that I’ve even misused in the past:
Philippians 4:13 ” I can do all things through Christ “
We see this verse used on athletic clothing and sports banners. We say it before big tests. We say it when beginning our work week at a place we’d rather not work. We use it as a self affirmation when going to job interviews. It has become a Christian mantra for completing any daunting task.
At first the verse seems pretty upfront and plain. However, there’s a simple principle one can remember when using Bible verses, “Never read a Bible verse.” This means that all verses are surrounded by other verses and chapters and all verses should be read and used in context with the complete message in which it was stated.
So what does this verse really mean? Let’s look at the immediate context.
Philippians 4:10-14 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.“
Paul, the writer of Philippians had been through great distress during his travels proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles. But these times were full of beatings, stonings, prison, and shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:25). It is likely that Paul during his earlier days came from a place of affluence. Paul knew what it was like to have and to have not.
What Paul wants the reader to know here is that because of the power of Christ he can be content in all situations. No matter what he is facing he knows Who is ultimately in control.
As he said earlier in the chapter, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Does the Bible support slavery? Many have said it does as a moral argument against the Bible. They say, “The Bible says thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not steal. But, nowhere does it say thou shalt not own slaves.” And they are right. Nowhere in scripture is slavery flat out condemned. On the contrary, there are rules regulating it.
So what makes it okay? Why would I, as a Black man, be okay defending this book that doesn’t condemn slavery? What kind of respect am I showing my ancestors who were forced from their homelands and packed into boats in inhumane conditions and treated even more inhumanely as slaves in the Americas? Why?
If you were to do any sort of Google search asking if the Bible supports slavery, I don’t think you would find any articles that give a flat out “no” answer. You see, what we do is look at slavery through the eyes of those who lived after the slave trade implemented in the 17th century. When Africans were stolen from their homes and forced to serve in different countries by Europeans. That’s our modern context of slavery. And in modern years we see the rise of sex trafficking, our newest slave plague.
So, how can we defend the Bible here? There’s a few things we must consider when speaking about slavery in the Bible.
1. Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free.” Slaves in the Bible were required to be freed after six years of servitude. This is not true of the slaves in America. They were born slaves and were forced to die as slaves no matter how old they were or how long they endured it. This is one reason the African slave trade was unbiblical.
2. Exodus 21:16 “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Also Deuteronomy 24:7). This means everyone who forced Africans on boats was deserving of death. That means everyone who owned these Africans as slaves was deserving of death. The Bible did not mince words. The African slave trade of the past several hundred years was indeed wrong and is NOT supported by the Bible.
3. Slavery was often voluntary. Slaves could even remain slaves if they wanted to for a lifetime. But it wasn’t to be forced. Exodus 21:5-6 “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”
4. Slavery was also permitted to work off debts. But as the slave was freed the seventh year, debts were wiped clean after seven years. In chapter 15 of Deuteronomy we read in verse 1, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.” But when they were set free they were not to just be freed empty-handed.“If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Verses 12-15)
And it makes no difference if a person was Hebrew or not. Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” In other words, there was to be equality amongst the races and nationalities. Many slaves were also prisoners of war. (Deuteronomy 20:10-11).
So, we see that the slavery we are familiar with in the West is NOT the slavery that we see in the Bible. When reading the Bible we have to be careful not to insert our modern preconceived notions into scripture (eisegesis). That’s not proper interpretation. What is proper is to read what scripture says and understand what it meant when it was written and then apply it to our lives now.
What then did I mean in the title when I said you probably support slavery too? Maybe you don’t condone any type of slavery for any amount of time for any reason. Well let’s consider Proverbs 22:7b.
“…the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
We see that slavery was permitted to work off debts. But how many off us reading this has become modern slaves because of our debts.
Are you a financial slave because of voluntary debt? Matthew Henry said, “Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.” Some of are working mainly to pay off debts we’ve incurred simply because we wanted to be like other people. As some have said “keeping up with the Joneses”.
Some have even said that any debt we incur make our lenders our masters by default. Meaning if for every debt you have, you have at least one master. Do you pay a mortgage, car note, and credit card bill? Then you have at least three masters. So if you’ve voluntarily agreed to any debt and to pay it back, then you have supported a level of your own liberty being sold. Credit card companies know this. Why do you think your unpaid debt usually stops showing after seven years?
While none of this feels good to say, I believe it’s true. And I’m not throwing stones. I have a mortgage and a couple loans. Some churches go in to debt when building and repairing their buildings. And like the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, it doesn’t condemn debt. Some have used Romans 13:8 to say that we shouldn’t borrow but Jesus permitted borrowing in Matthew 5:42. Yet, we should always seek to pay what we owe and be free from all debts. 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.”
So, yes the Bible supports slavery. There. I said it. Just not the kind we usually think of. Not the kind that my ancestors were emancipated from in 1863 and not the kind the Hebrews were liberated from in the book of Exodus.
As I was perusing through my suggested videos on YouTube I came across a once popular pastor who claims he doesn’t believe in hell anymore. He also stated that he believed scripture wasn’t inspired by God but that man was inspired to write about God. “What’s the difference?” You may ask. The purpose of this blog is to answer that question.
In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, he states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,”(CSB). The word “inspired” is also used in the NASB and the NLT, among others. The NKJV and KJV use the phrase “given by inspiration of God”. The Darby translation says “divinely inspired.”
The ESV and NIV say “God-breathed” or “breathed out by God.” These two English versions come the closest to conveying the original meaning in this verse, as I understand it.
The Greek word used here is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which is the combination of theos, meaning God, and pneustos, meaning to blow or breathe. So in the original Greek the term literally means “God-breathed.”
When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the late 4th – early 5th century, he used the term “divinitus inspirata.” Inspirata is where we get the English word inspiration. Nowadays, when we say inspired or inspiration, we usually mean that something or someone was our muse for a musical piece, a book, movie, or any other work of art.
However, that is not what Paul is conveying here in 2 Timothy 3:16. He is not saying that as man thought about God, that God acted as some artistic influence in the way that an artist paints a mountain he sees or in the way love inspires a song. He is saying that scripture is actually breathed out of the mouth of God Himself. As John Macarther says, “The Old Testament is the revelation of God to show men what God is like, who God is, what God tolerates and does not tolerate, how God desires holiness and punishes sin. The New Testament is God revealed by His Son in the life of His Son, in the message of His Son, in the understanding of the work of His Son, and in the culmination and the coming of His Son to establish His eternal kingdom. But in either case, Old Testament, New Testament, God spoke. What we have is, indeed, the Word of God. This is not the word of man. The New Testament writers wrote down the Word of God.”
Scripture is God’s words to us. It is the very Word of the living God. He shows us Himself and how we relate to Him. He shows us how we can get to know Him. He shows us the great lengths He goes so that we may know the love He has for us. Through Scripture God shows us how to love Him and our fellow man. And through Scripture we see how we can live eternally with Him.
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV)
If a group of believers pray’s for someone to be healed of an illness, and that person dies of that illness, then how are we to take Matthew 18:19?
This question was posed to me a couple years ago. My first thought was that person, if a believer, would be immediately healed upon their death when they leave their body. Also in their glorified bodies after their resurrection they will experience no more pain and sickness. This was my first thought. And while true, I didn’t take the context of the verse into consideration. Rather, I didn’t take the time to study the context.
Matthew 18:19 says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”
At first glance this passage seems pretty up front. That whatever two or more believers ask of God, He will do. So if several Christians gather to pray for someone’s physical healing, we can be confident that God will heal them. Some would even say that God is “obligated” to do what’s being prayed for. That’s what many of us hear all the time anyway, especially in America.
This belief seems to be validated when we look at the verse immediately before and the verse immediately after. Verse 18 reads, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
So now we seem to have a good formula for healing in Jesus’ own words. 1) Two or three gather making Christ present, 2) touch and agree, 3) bind and loose [binding sickness or demons and releasing blessing and healing, etc] 4) God will do it.
Sounds pretty cut and dry. But, what about the last part of the question posed at the beginning. “…the person dies…” One could take this sad result several ways:
- Someone praying or the one being prayed for didn’t have enough faith (Jesus did just say in chapter 17 that the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon because of their lack of faith).
- Or, there was unrepentant sin in someone’s life. John 9:31 says that God does not listen to sinners but those that do His will.
- Or, it just wasn’t God’s will at that moment to heal that person (2 Corinthians 12:8). But God is true to His word, so why would there be a promise if God would only keep it sometimes?
So what are we to make of this passage?
In one of my earlier blogs on how to understand the Bible, I mention that we must read scripture in its correct context. Picking a verse out of context can, and often does, lead someone to believe something that was not intended. So let’s apply Matthew 18:18-20 to its proper context.
The words of Jesus beginning with verse 12:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Here we have Jesus speaking of what we call “church discipline”. He begins first by speaking about a lost sheep which is, in this case, a brother in sin. Another brother should try to correct the wayward believer in private. If he doesn’t listen then one or two more should try. The reference Jesus gives comes from Deuteronomy 19:15, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” To call a brother out on his sinning there needed to be at least 2 witnesses. And these witnesses would work to restore their brother. If that doesn’t work, then the brother is to be brought before the assembly for the sole purpose of restoration from his sin. If after all that, he refuses to give up his sin then he is to be treated as though he is no brother at all. This is also referenced in 1 Timothy 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:4-5.
So what does the “binding and loosing” mean and what does Jesus mean when He says He is “there in the midst of them”?
A couple chapters before, Jesus tells Peter, ” ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.‘ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Here we see Jesus establishing His church. His corporate body of believers which at that time consisted of Jews.
Another step of interpreting a text is understanding how the original hearers or readers would have understood the words. For example, in John 3 when Jesus told Nicodemus that he should have understood what being born again meant because he was a teacher of the law, we should ask ourselves where in the Old Testament would he have understood being “born again” to be referenced. The answer is Ezekiel 36:25-27.
So how would the Jews have understood “binding and loosing”? Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 18 states, “…these, in the common speech of the Jews, at that time, signified to prohibit and permit; to teach or declare a thing to be unlawful was to bind; to be lawful, was to loose.” So once again we see a certain judicial understanding to what this passage in Matthew means.
Henry continues, “When ministers preach pardon and peace to the penitent, wrath and the curse to the impenitent, in Christ’s name, they act then pursuant to this authority of binding and loosing. The key of discipline,which is but the application of the former to particular persons, upon a right estimate of their characters and actions. It is not legislative power that is hereby conferred, but judicial; the judge doth not make the law, but only declares what is law, and upon an impartial enquiry into the merits of the cause, gives sentence accordingly.”
One reference for binding and loosing is found in the Gospel of John. After Jesus resurrection, He reminds His apostles of their authority. In chapter 20, verse 23, we read, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Sound doctrine and strict disciple are the two ways church leaders remit and retain sin:
So we see from reading in context what Matthew 18:19 is really about.
So am I saying that we shouldn’t pray for healing or anything else? Not at all. I’m also not saying that gathering together to pray for someone is unbiblical. What I am saying is that whether one lonely believer is praying or 100 are praying together, God hears. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Jesus even mentions how someone was healed through faith of just one person (Mark 5:34, Luke 17:19).
On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes God chooses not to heal. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The context here is Paul telling the Corinthians how he could boast because of his visions of heaven but he chooses not to be a “fool.” Rather, He thanks God for his infirmaries because they keep him humble. Therefore, his boasting will only ever be in Christ. Even though he prayed three times for God resolve this issue, God chose not to. In choosing to say no to Paul’s prayer, God granted Paul the greater benefit of understanding the greater depth of the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Then why should we pray? First, because we are commanded to do so. Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:1 are among the many commands that we have from God to pray.
We should also pray because it works. When we pray according to God’s will He hears us. The Bible is full of examples when God’s people prayed and God answered. In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah was in deep, emotional prayer by herself. She was praying for a child. God listened and blessed her with the son that would become the great prophet Samuel. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison and the church is praying for him. An angel appeared and freed Peter from his chains. Afterwards, Peter went to the house where the saints had gathered and were praying. There they were still praying when he shows up. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much. (James 5:16)
For more information on prayer, check out Focus on the Family‘s articles on the subject here.
We must also remember that sometimes we don’t see the results of our praying. As stated in Hebrews 11, some people pass on to glory before they see the results of the fruit of their faith.
Lastly, as I stated at the beginning of this blog that healing actually will come to those who place their faith in Christ. That is a promise. By His stripes we are healed. Whether in this life or in the next.
P.S.: All that being said, there is a power in Christian unity. We are the body and when the body joins together, we become a more complete picture of Jesus. All of us as different parts working and praying together, and building each other up.
Often in our lives we come upon difficult situations. We pray that God will handle these issues. We have faith that He will. We hope that He will. We wait on Him. But He seems to take His time. In the meantime we’re left waiting on progress or healing. We’re left waiting on a word from God or a display of His power and love. Often that is the plight of the believer. To wait on God.
It can get frustrating. We pray and pray and wait and wait. Sometimes it seems as though He is not there. Yet, we know in our minds and hearts that He is. We have seen Him work in our lives before. We have seen Him deliver us. We have seen Him heal us. We have seen His wonder working power in our lives and in the lives of others around us. But, when God seems silent we get impatient and faith can seem to dwindle. However, every new obstacle comes with a new lesson to learn.
Such was the case with the Israelites after they were freed from Egypt. Their leader Moses went before the LORD on Mount Sinai to receive instruction for the newly liberated Hebrews. They had just seen God’s power through 10 different plagues against the Egyptians. They had just seen God’s power as He parted the waters and they walked through the Red Sea. Afterwards they were waiting on Moses to come back with a word from God so they could make their way to the land promised them by God. They waited. And they continued to wait. I believe knowing that the promised land lay before them made them anxious and impatient. Their impatience with God caused them to commit a heinous sin, idolatry. They created a golden calf and began to revel and party. Why would they do this? Didn’t they know that a golden calf had no power? I think they knew this but since they didn’t hear from God when they wanted to they chose to make a god that they could see. They couldn’t see what they wanted to see when they wanted to see it so they created something they could see. So when they felt abandoned by God they turned to the ways of the land they had just come from. The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years. They saw the idols of the Egyptians, some may have even dabbled in the Egyptian idolatry. But when they were freed from Egypt they still had some of Egypt left in them.
We can be guilty of the same thing. In God’s “silence” we turn to those things that we remember satisfied our flesh before we were delivered. But the Bible says it’s like a dog returning to its vomit. God delivers us from sins because only He can truly and wholly satisfy us. His provisions are more than anything we can ever imagine.
The same was true for Abraham and Sarah. God had promised that they would have a child. But the years went by and God had not moved yet. So they created their own answer by committing another heinous sin, adultery. They couldn’t see the child promised to them by God so they took the wrong path to make one they could see. 25 years went by between the time of the promise to the fulfullment of the promise.
Before the Israelites went into Egypt, Joseph was a picture of what to do when God seems distant. His brothers sold him into slavery when he was 17. As he worked as a slave he was falsely accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison. But the Bible tells us four times (Genesis 39:2,3,21,23) that all this time “the LORD was with Joseph”. Knowing that, Joseph remained faithful in whatever he did. He was ultimately taken from prison and made an official to the Pharaoh…13 years after being sold by his brothers. Joseph endured a lot but he continued to patiently wait on God. How many of us would have given up way before then?
In our human experience, we have only a limited finite grasp of eternity. We can’t see what God sees. God sees the beginning and the end of all situations. Someone has said they were are like characters in a very extravagant painting. We can only see the spot that we are in but God sees the entire painting all at once. As scripture says “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
God is always working while we are waiting. The Hebrews were waiting on Moses because he was talking to God. Neither he nor God had abandoned his people. God was doing a work and His people should have been patiently waiting on what He was doing. It’s the same with us. While it may seem God has not moved in whatever situation we are in, we can be confident that He is working all things together for our good. The worst thing we can do is try to get ahead of God and make things happen that He hasn’t condoned or that He just plain hates. We then take our faith away from God and put it on ourselves. And anyone who has ever made one mistake (that’s all of us) knows that we cannot compare anywhere close to a perfect God.
Further reading: Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 27:14, 37:4, 46:10, 90:4, Proverbs 3:5-6, Ecclesiastes 3:1,11, Lamentations 3:25-26, Isaiah 40:31, 55:8-9, Habakkuk 2:3, Micah 7:7, Romans 8:28, Galatians 6:9
The virgin birth of Jesus is one the main tenets of the Christian faith. This miraculous event is recorded in Scripture. Had Jesus not been born of the virgin Mary, He wouldn’t have been the proper sacrifice for our sins. He would have been born into sin and therefore would have sinned. According to the Old Testament, the sacrifice for sin had to be spotless and without blemish. Regarding Jesus, this doesn’t mean spotless physically. This means that He was without sin. His blood did not carry the sin trait that was borne to the rest of us from Adam.
What about His mother? Wasn’t she human born into sin? The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was born without sin in order for her to conceive a sinless Christ. However, there is no biblical proof of the Immaculate Conception (which begs the question; wouldn’t the same logic require Mary’s mother to have been born without sin to conceive a sinless Mary, and her mother before her, and so on and so forth?). Mary needed saving from her sins like we all do. It was believed in the past that the baby in the womb shared his mother’s blood. What we know today, however, is that the baby when in the womb makes his own blood. His blood is unique to himself. That’s why Jesus’ blood, and Jesus’ blood only, has the power to wash away sins. “The fetal blood and maternal blood do not mix. In fact, if this were to be the case, there would be such immunological protest from the mother that she would soon make enough antibodies to the baby’s blood to destroy the pregnancy.” (https://www.babble.com/pregnancy/anatomy-fetus-placenta/)
Jesus was unique in that His father was God. Although the Bible calls the nation of Israel the child of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy. 14:1) and those that place their faith in Jesus are His children (Romans 8:16-17) under the New Covenant, only Jesus is called the “only begotten”. Jesus is God’s only son in the same way God called Isaac Abraham’s only son (Genesis 22:2) even though Abraham had another son (Ishmael) prior to Isaac. The Greek word for “only begotten” is monogenēs (μονογενής) which literally means “one of a kind” or “the only of its kind.” In the ancient near East, a person’s lineage was based on who their father was, not their mother. Jesus was, therefore, of His father and not of His mother. This also has scientific bearing today. As this article from Discover magazine puts it “You may have inherited your mother’s eyes, but, genetically speaking, you use more DNA passed down from your father.” If Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary, He could not have been the only begotten son.
One of the main arguments against the virgin birth is that the word for virgin in the Book of Isaiah means “young girl” or “maiden”. Thus the prophecy only means that the Messiah would be born to a young girl.
This argument, however, fails to take a few facts into consideration. In Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, the prophet foretells of the future Messiah being born of a virgin. The Hebrew word for virgin here is עַלְמָה or “almah”. Almah literally means “a virgin, maiden, a young woman of marrying age.” People dismiss that almah can mean virgin and say that it just means a young woman. And that Mary was just a young “betrothed” woman, not a virgin when she conceived Jesus. However, nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures does “almah” denote a young woman who is not a virgin.
An important part of understanding scripture is to understand what other scriptures say concerning the same topic. Let’s just say that we can’t tell whether Isaiah 7:14 is speaking of a virgin or just a young woman. Well we look to see how the authors of the New Testament would have read it. Matthew 1:22 is proof that the Jews of the time knew Isaiah 7:14 was speaking of a literal virgin and Matthew shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child, she said “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” If she were just a young and married woman, it would not have come as such a surprise to her. Gabriel also would not have had to say that the child would be conceived of the Holy Spirit. No other place in scripture describes a birth in this fashion. The prophet Samuel was a “miracle child” but scriptures plainly tells us that his parents “knew” each other before he was born (1 Samuel 1:19). Samson was a “miracle child” but He was not conceived of the Holy Spirit or born of a virgin. Isaac was a miracle born to Abraham and Sarah, not because Sarah was a virgin, but because she was too old too conceive.
The whole purpose for the virgin birth, the whole purpose for the incarnation, was the cross. Actually, it was love that led to the cross. The cross is of much importance because of Who was hung on the cross. It was God who became a man. Born of a virgin. Laid aside heavenly pleasure for the likes of earthly pain. Only God could do this. Only He could be the sacrifice for our sins.
As C.S Lewis says, “Now if we had not fallen, that would all be plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all – to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.
But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.”
Further reading: Hebrews 7:26, Romans 5:12,17,19