Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reasoning from Scripture

My wife came into the room where I was reading and asked, "did you hear what your son just said to your daughter? He said, 'don't be drinking the hate-eraide!'" I don't know where he gets his material. Really, I don't.

The mantra of the day is “don’t be hatin’” and “be informed.” How wonderfully these go together! Perhaps with a tool like the internets we are a bit too over-informed. Actually, that is not quite right because being informed requires a little research (as opposed to sitting in front of the computer like a virtual salmon trying to swim upstream through a tidal wave of disconnected information). What better way to understand than to seriously, intentionally look into a matter. One might say, “be open-minded.”

We already considered the Apostle Paul’s visit to Mars Hill in Athens and the conversation that took place over many, many days as recorded in Acts. We can learn that before Paul ever arrived in Athens how Paul set about bringing the biblical worldview in the context of, well, the non-biblical worldview. We read in Acts 17:2-3 that it was his custom to go into the synagogues and reason from the scriptures. Here the people there were already familiar (to some degree) with the scriptures, so his conversation was the kind that involved dialogue, discussion. Next, we must understand that the subject of his discussion was not merely “the scriptures” (as if it were a merely nice subject for conversation) but rather the necessity that Jesus the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead. Through the discussion of text (and remember, they only had most of what we refer to as “The Old Testament” during this time), Paul set about to “explain and prove” this teaching from the scriptures. The result of his discussing and explaining and proving was the persuasion of some and the jealousy of others.

The language of the text is simply this: Paul used irrefutable proof from the authoritative Word of God to prove that King Jesus, the Christ, died and rose again. Luke was only inspired to give us a summary of Paul’s method and message, and we don’t have the actual conversation on record; however, among all that is written by Moses in the Torah, in Prophets and Writings we may remember that the prophet David in Psalm 2 and 110 speak of the Davidic lineage of the Messiah hundreds of years before his birth; Psalm 22 describes His death in detail long before crucifixion was ever put into practice; Psalm 16 looks forward to resurrection.

This is a time-consuming ministry. Did you notice that Paul and company did this over the course of three Sabbaths? Paul does not just swoop in, drop a “gospel bomb” and clear out; rather, he stayed and invested time to the explanation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should learn a lesson of consistency here for our own ministry. Even if it is on the street. We need to invest in the spiritual lives of others by taking the time to ensure they understand. Too many reject the faith on the basis of unfounded presuppositions (like Langston Hughes).

God’s unchanging Word remains astounding: while we have so many incredible tangible evidences in the historical and archaeological records of everything from Genesis forward, they only confirm what scripture already records—especially regarding Jesus. Namely regarding Jesus. Evidential apologetics is like an underscore of what is already in bold italics. Paul had none of science we do, yet presented overwhelming evidence of Jesus from the scriptures every time he stopped in a city.

Acts 17:6-7 highlights one of the negative responses to the irrefutable proofs: "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." First, the world is not right-side up. Sin has reversed the world over on its head, so when the gospel comes into the world, what looks upside to the world is really right-side up. Followers of Jesus are considered upstarts because our message threatens the love-life of the world for itself. Second, there is no other king BUT Jesus. If being a follower of Jesus meant that one make a “decision,” then why are these people so upset? Repentance from sin includes bowing to Him in full allegiance--He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see Psalm 2 and 110, then John 18:36 and Matthew 28:18, to name of few). These Jews were under the wrong idea that the Caesar’s decrees were being violated. The laws of the land were being undermined by the gospel! Well, the gospel has that effect, but that is not what the gospel is about. The gospel includes a return to obeying the first commandment: there is no other god in God’s face. He is to have total love and the world does not want to give it.

The people in Berea responded differently to Paul’s reasoning, explaining and proving Acts 17:11): “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Formerly, we saw how people are determined not to be changed no matter how much evidence is presented. Now, these people are collectively searching the scriptures to see if what Paul’s teaching was true. This was no easy consent to believe, but one of careful searching and education. The issue was so important that the Bereans studied daily until they saw the truth in Paul’s ministry. Recall from John’s gospel, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

Let us recall that Paul’s audiences in these contexts have a grasp of scripture. Strongest opposition will come from those who do know now scripture or have been deceived concerning the authority and nature of it. Sometimes it is helpful to know if a person has a religious background by simply asking. Others will not have this knowledge or background, so a more general approach is necessary. When we see Paul talking with the Stoics and Epicureans on Mars Hill, he did not begin with scripture, but by preparing them in conversation, was able to take them there.

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