Faith’s Joy Depends on the Historical Incarnation of Jesus

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—

2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—

3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

Nelson, Thomas (2009-02-18). Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV) (p. 1178). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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John wanted to assure his readers that the historical incarnation of Jesus was historical truth. Historicity is the bulwark of faith. In history, real knowledge exists. Someone lived, accomplished certain things, and then died. It is knowledge that can be verified. There were eye witnesses, and they spoke of what they saw. Faith draws upon knowledge, for there cannot be faith in non-existence. Genuine faith could not be placed in that which does not exists, because that which does not exists could not be brought to mind toward which one would claim, “I believe.”

From the outset, John established that faith pointed to what he saw, heard, and handled. He heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus move among the people, healing some and speaking to others. John touched Jesus and knew He was real. He was witness not only to Jesus’ life but also to His death and resurrection. His writing showed that he trusted what he saw and heard. One might argue, “Isn’t faith that which is in the unseen.” Yes, but it is also in evidence of what one sees. The writer of the Hebrews letter writes,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The world around us stands out visible to our eyes. Why then do we need faith? Observation is one thing, but understanding is quite a different matter. Both lend to faith. However, the understanding receives enlightenment through faith. That which one observes supplies evidence just as much as that which one does not see. We do not see words, and a deaf person does not hear them, nor can a blind person read them. However, their lack of hearing, reading, or touching does not at all discount their existence. How then does one know such words exists? Another brings the evidence of the reality of those words. It is valid for one to introduce evidence to another.

The hope, joy, and faith of John’s audience of his letter depended on the historical fact of Jesus and His death and resurrection. All that Jesus did and spoke was as true as the most recent events of the past. It was just as certain the accounts of the US presidential lines, the various wars in which the US fought, and yesterday’s news.

John gave witness that they [the apostles and others who knew and followed Jesus] heard, saw, and touched the living Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh, lived among fallen humanity, suffered persecution and opposition, was executed, and rose again from the dead. John had earlier written of these events in his gospel.  Now he sets this very truth out as foundational when he writes to his audience. Since Jesus was who he said he was, that claim and historical fact makes all the difference for all who believe Him. That belief acts as an anchor of allegiance to Him as Lord of all.

There are different types and levels of allegiances. Many pledge allegiance to a political party, and that causes them to rally for that party through time and money regardless sometimes of the candidate. For many, the platform for that party are simply benchmarks for society as a whole and are the drawing card for allegiance. Nothing calls individuals to absolute obedience to them. They simply hold them as what the party stands for and can be changed for the next election cycle. They may not be burned into the minds and hearts of all who pledge allegiance to the party. It is allegiance to a non-personal. People can hold differing opinions and interpretations of the elements of this non-personal platform and still give allegiance to it.

Many pledge allegiance to a nation and the flag that represents that nation. The Constitution also stands as a standard for that nation. Yet, the Constitution’s interpreters can read into or skew the meaning of this Constitution to mean other than what the original writer meant until this document becomes meaningless. The pledge to the Constitution becomes a pledge to a generalized form in which the content becomes lost or changed over time as people go about living their lives as though it does not exist until the rights the Constitution bestows are removed. Then people get up in arms that a group or person stands in their way between them and that form. Their complaint is about the form and not so much their commitment to its contents.

The interesting thing about giving allegiance to a nation or a document as the Constitution is that a ruthless dictator can rule the nation while spewing out propaganda for gaining allegiance of the people. Germany was a good example during World War II. The document could also contain lies lacking any attachment to reality. Giving allegiance to such a national leader or document is giving allegiance to that which is false. Yes, people can give allegiance to something false or false knowledge, something not grounded in truth or evidence. Such an allegiance has occurred numerous times in history. Consider the false Greek and Roman gods without history or reality. Deceit undergirds this allegiance. The proprietors of the temple of Diana in Ephesus is a stellar example of profitable deceit. People deceive without giving evidence or verification of their claims.

However, John carries allegiance well beyond a party or document. Rather, he points to a living person and not some impersonal entity like a political party or document. Since an allegiance is to a person, it takes on a far different dimension. It is true that people give allegiance to other people. However, such an allegiance frequently takes on an external commitment. They give up their material goods and time to become involved in some sort of membership or group the person to whom they give allegiance represents. Jesus calls for an allegiance that is greater and deeper than the external. It is one that involves internal motives, thoughts and intents, feeling and desire, and behaviors untouched by a mere man. Following Jesus calls for an allegiance that renders internal change of all we are for expressing a new way of life.

Let us return to the Hebrews passage a moment. Observations of the world about us gives evidence that it came about some time in the past. How one understands what one observes depends on one’s interpretation of what one observes and how that interpretation agrees with reality. Since we are far removed from the origins of existence, all we can do is attempt to propose hypotheses and try our best to test them with the best tools available, which are better than those 200 years ago but probably inferior to those in 200 years from now. Nobody saw existence come about. That eliminates observation. Even then, much about origins is speculation and requires some sort of faith that whatever first thrust the elements of what exists also existed. Many scientists simply claim they do not know the origins of existence. The writer of Hebrews offers a starting point. All that we see did not come about from that which is visible. That is, all that began to exist did not give rise to that which began to exist. Rather, that invisible God created all that began to exist. Faith is required for both views of how things began to exist. However, the Hebrew writer claims that the invisible God as Creator is far more credible than the starting point of the visible giving rise to the visible or eternal matter.

The same thing holds true with John’s message. He wrote his opening statement based on living testimony (evidence), “That which was from the beginning” (1:1). If Jesus was from the beginning, as John claims from the mouth of Jesus Himself, would such first-hand evidence be more credible than drawing conclusions from lack of observation?

If all Jesus said was true, and John recorded what He said, would it not make sense to give allegiance to such personal first-hand knowledge, especially when Jesus supported this knowledge through His resurrection from the dead? The opening paragraph of John lays the foundation for this new way of life by setting forth the person to whom all allegiances are rendered. With this foundation established on a person, John can then set forth the argument that true allegiance assumes the same depth of personal allegiance as Jesus had with His Father, which John illustrates specifically as he works out throughout his entire letter of 1 John the substance of this allegiance to Jesus.

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Nothing but the Gospel: What is it?

When you hear the word gospel, what comes to mind?  It is a word somewhat alien to our postmodern world as so many other biblical terms.  Why is this?  We are 2,000 years removed from the writers of the Gospels found in the Bible.  We are also centuries removed from the origination of the word itself.  Therefore, it would be helpful to trace the roots of the word, not only of its origination but also its original meaning found in the language of the original writers.

The word itself derives from early Anglo-Saxon “God-spell” or God’s story.  The early Englishman, William Tyndale noted the gospel as “joyfull tydinge” or the good news.  It is actually the English translation of euangelion from which we receive our English word “evangel” and its derivatives “evangelism” and “evangelist.”  Later it became associated with the Gospels or the first four books of the New Testament.

The Apostle Paul took it up as he received it as the commission from Jesus Himself to preach to the entire world.  Paul makes it clear that the gospel pointed to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus.  He also emphasized that not believing in the historical significance of Christ resurrection amounts to vanity.  As historical reality, He was God incarnate piercing the created order, growing up from infancy, declaring Himself to the world, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead as promised (1 Timothy 3:16).  Then Paul declared the fundamental basis for this gospel of which Christ is the center: the righteousness of God (Romans 1:16-17).  In His letter to the Church in Rome, Paul employees this phrase as one of his favorites.  At the beginning of this letter, Paul declares,

For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Paul sets out that Jesus is the expression of God’s righteousness. As stated in the upcoming book, Nothing but the Gospel,

…God is righteous in all His works and judgments, because it surfaces from His very nature.  Additionally, because He is righteous, His grace reaches into all humanity through the mediation of the Incarnation of Christ and provides redemption to those who by faith believe the proclaimed gospel” [Nothing but the Gospel by Floyd Talbot, Action Faith Books Press, 2014, 20 (to be released September 20140].

Elsewhere the book highlights the association of the righteousness of God with the specifics of the gospel,

The claim that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God carries the highest weight because it reveals the core character of God – His faithfulness to all generations. That righteousness, according to Paul finds its way to the cross as the righteous died for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) that we might stand as righteous before God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). (p. 68).

Jesus is the center and complete revelation of God’s righteousness.  No other message from any other source than the gospel reveals God’s righteousness.  Pluralism (many ways to God) believes that a person can receive salvation through other means.  However, these means have their source in the created order (for example, idols crafted from creation, human philosophy and wisdom, humanity itself, or some sort of self-oriented mystical experience).  The gospel is the only revelation from God.  It finds its source from God alone through Christ alone, and by faith alone in His sacrifice on the cross.  Christ is the center of the gospel and the expression of God’s righteousness.  By faith in the historical reality of the incarnation, we find the only source of our hope in being with God.  Christ died for the sins that separate humanity from God and reconciles us to Him.  Have you believed in Him?

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

Nothing but the Gospel: Our Only Hope

Nothing but the gospel gives us hope.  Upon reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, that hope stands strong, because it resides in Jesus.  Here is what Paul writes,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as the grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.  2 Corinthians 4:13-15

Notice several truths Paul highlights in this very compact declaration of the gospel:

  1. His faith rests on the word of God.  He notes, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what is written…”  Nothing but the gospel offers hope because that hope finds its source in the One who revealed Himself to us in Jesus.  Faith looks to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and nowhere else.  Many claim that faith can claim presence with God with other means (pluralism).  However, that claim surfaces from and rests with man and not with God.  As such, it offers not hope.
  2. Faith gives motivation to boldly declare the gospel of hope.  Paul says, “I believed and so I spoke…”  Spoke what?  The gospel of salvation!  Our faith rests in historical reality.  That is, God actually did come in the form of the man Jesus as God promised.  We trust in a righteous God who keeps His promises, and this gives us assurance and boldness to speak the gospel.
  3. Not only did Jesus come in the form of a baby and interacted with His fellow men and women, but He died, was buried, and rose from the death.  Overwhelming testimony shows this to be historical fact.  Some try to separate history from faith by claiming that truth does not need to rely on fact.  This is post-modern wishful thinking.  Truth not supported by fact is faith in a lie and fiction.  Since Jesus really did rise from the dead, our faith gives us the hope of being with God when we also die.

Such wonderful truths enable us to live confidently and hopefully in the return of Jesus.  Review 4:14 again.  Paul declares that God will keep His promise of a resurrection for us, also.  He says Jesus will “bring us with you in His presence.”  Our faith rests in real hope and not in one that aspirates, “I hope so.”  That is not hope but wishful thinking.  Stand firm.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.