The Pursuit of Truth

O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent (Jeremiah 5:3, ESV).

These ancient words are profoundly contemporary.

We live in a world where expediency is more desired than truth. Americans (especially) have always had a pragmatic bent to them. We like to use phrases like “like a well-oiled machine,” “We’re clicking on all cylinders,” and “now we’re cooking with gas” to describe the aspects of our lives that are going well and progressing. When things aren’t going so well, we assume that the machinery is somehow wrong.

This mindset is wonderful for overcoming obstacles that are physical in nature — we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and figure out where the machinery is deficient. But not all problems are physical in nature; sometimes things don’t go well because we have failed to pursue the truth that the Lord is trying to communicate to us. He is — at least according to Christian orthodoxy — continually revealing His will to men.

Such was the case in Jeremiah’s day. God brought judgment because the people resorted to idolatry. They didn’t listen to His Word or His prophets or the Laws that their ancestors adopted. Instead, they chose to worship false gods and were surprised when they were “struck down” and “consumed.” They didn’t need better mechanics — they needed to repent.

Repentance is not preached much from America’s pulpits any more — to our detriment. Repentance is how we get right with the God that created us and how we stay in a right relationship. We usually define repentance as an act of turning from sin to Christ, and this is a proper definition. It implies, though, that this is a one time action. Contrition is a related word, but implies that the repentance is a “state,” an ongoing expression of repentance.

The price of repentance/contrition is often too high for us as Americans. Like the proverbial “average” student in school we assess what is the minimum amount of work to get by and we do that. For many of us it’s enough that we put on a show of repentance even if we have not really done so in the integrity of our hearts. Repentance involves real sorrow for sin; it involves the true admission guilt; it involves a lifestyle change that begins in our thoughts and carries through to our actions. It doesn’t mean perfection; but it does mean honesty. When David repented, he stated, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being (Psalm 51:6, ESV).

The people of our day are much like the people to whom Jeremiah was preaching in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of his prophecy. They are harder than rocks; they refuse to repent (5:3) because they have ignored the truth for expedience.

Intellectual Honesty

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV).

I first read this passage shortly after I put my faith in Christ. I was a student at a theologically liberal, liberal arts college affiliated with a mainline Christian denomination. The Religion/Philosophy department at that college had a disdain for those of us who held an evangelical faith, who believed that the Bible was indeed the revelation of the Living God. In their minds we were not “intellectually honest”; we were silly enough as to believe that Moses did part the Red Sea, Noah did preserve the human race on an ark, and Jesus did rise from the grave.

On the day that I first read this passage, something unusual happened that I have trouble explaining. I was captivated by the text; it filled all of my thoughts for a period of time; I sensed that God Himself had met me in that hour. Since that day the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have had a special place in my thinking.

I knew that what I had experienced was just the opposite of what I was being taught at my college. I also knew that I didn’t have the intellectual and academic background to take on the professors and students that scoffed at what they would call “psychological or religious experiences.” They would dismiss my experience as the result of the previous meal’s pepperoni pizza, even though I knew it was not. I held on to this tension and the question of “intellectual honesty” for several years until I discovered the writings of an evangelical author — Dr. Francis Schaeffer — who had himself wrestled with these same issues.

As is often the case, the open disdain these students and professors had for the Scripture drove me to consider it more deeply. I wanted to know the truth. Is there a God that is outside the realm of humanity, that created men, before Whom we would give an account? Is He still active in this world? How can I know Him? This was the time that I discovered the reality of God’s words to Jeremiah, “you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (29:13, NASB).

Is it “intellectually honest” to believe the Bible? The answer is an unqualified, “YES!” The lack of intellectual honesty is really on the part of those professors and clergy who deny the Bible. They are the ones who draw their salaries from the gifts of people in the pews of these mainline churches who still hold to the authority of the Bible, at least to some degree. The people often have not yet discovered that these professors don’t believe that the God described in the Bible even exists.

Anchored By Scripture

See to it that no one misleads you (Matthew 24:4).

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).

The days before the return of Christ will be marked by deception. Jesus predicted it in the verses above; Paul predicted it in II Timothy 4; Peter predicted it in II Peter 2; and though Jude doesn’t use the same language, he confirms the spirit of the age.

Most Bible scholars believe we are living close to the return of Christ; I agree, but not always for the same reasons. I suggest that we are living in the last days because of the deception that is happening around us and sometimes in us.

If we limited our evidence to the political world, there would be enough duplicity to convince the most pollyannaish among us, but the evidence goes far beyond politics. Many are duped today into believing the lies of the cults simply because their lives seem so morally pure; others are taken in with promises of health and wealth; and others imagine that joining a cause will bring fulfillment in this life and sexual ecstasy in the next.

Several years ago I enjoyed fishing with my father-in-law in his old boat on a small lake near his home. To the naked eye the lake didn’t appear to have any current, but I discovered quickly that unless we dropped his homemade anchor (an old coffee can filled with cement and an eye hook), we would soon be a good distance from where we suspected the fish were.

For a variety of reasons, our society is adrift without an anchor, and therefore ripe for the deception that marks the end times. The deception actually has been around since Jesus ascended; what’s different is that we have turned away from the anchor — the Bible.

Some of us have been shamed into disbelieving the Bible. We have listened to the scornful, seemingly superior, “wisdom” of those who have more education than we have. They have spouted objections that we can’t answer, making us think that there are no answers.

Others of us have rejected the Bible because some in our circles seem to have reduced the Scripture to a few disjointed and inconsistent rules in an attempt to preserve the past. We wonder why they believe that the God that created us and gave us the ability to communicate is stuck in the seventeenth century expressions of Shakespeare. We had trouble enough deciphering his meaning in our high school English class. Why do some Christians insist that He still communicates in that way?

Jesus told us that the truth would set us free (John 8:32), so it seems logical that we should pursue the truth. It doesn’t work, though, to pretend to pursue the truth while all we are really wanting to do is find a way to inflate our egos. The God that created us, who is able by His Word to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, can see if we are pursuing the truth in integrity or if we have succumbed to the duplicity of our age.

He Has Spoken

The LORD called Moses and spoke to him… (Leviticus 1:1, ESV).

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

There is no more profound thought in all of the world than the idea that the living God has spoken to His creation. People of previous generations grasped the idea that if He truly has spoken, our job is to listen and obey.

It seems to me that the most important issue facing this generation is the question of whether we will believe that God has spoken, and, if He has, where that communication will be found.

Christian orthodoxy (that is, the teaching of the historic Christian faith) has held that He has spoken through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The Westminster Confession of Faith (written in 1646) declares, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (I. vi.).

In recent years, though, the issue has been confused by those who have suggested that He has offered new revelation which has replaced the old. Our Muslim friends have suggested that Mohammed is a later (and therefore more authoritative) prophet than Jesus. They still claim Jesus was a prophet, but choose not to believe His claims to deity. Our Mormon friends have declared that the historic Christian faith has been trumped by the “new revelations” of an angel (Moroni) in the nineteenth century.

The latest confusion of the idea that God has spoken is the philosophy of Postmodernism which denies absolute truth. If there is no absolute truth, then the historic Christian understanding (at least as expressed above) is wrong. God may have spoken to Moses as recorded in Leviticus but times have changed and therefore His communication is irrelevant. If postmoderns are right, can we ever know anything for sure (including questions of right and wrong)?

Yet the people of this world crave certainty. Primetime TV is weighted with dramas that solve crimes through forensics, logic or law; there is a whole network that does nothing but show stories of the solving of crimes; other programs ask the audience to judge the guilt or innocence of a person after presenting the cases. For these, at least, justice is matter of right and wrong, of black and white.

This craving for certainty is a clear evidence to me that the postmodern philosophy is wrong. There is absolute truth; what God has spoken, He has spoken in space and time. Since He is God, that communication must have implications beyond the space-time moment in which it was uttered. This is one reason (there are several others) why I choose to believe the Scriptures. It is incomprehensible to me that God would give us a sense of justice and a desire to know Him without some certain revelation of Himself.

The Sinless Savior

“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, ” GOD WITH US” (Matthew 1:23).

In my last blog I wrote of the importance of this prophecy to the demonstration that Jesus was the Messiah for Matthew’s audience. Certainly that was an important reason for Matthew’s inclusion of this in his Gospel. But he had another reason: Only a sinless Savior could satisfy the wrath of God for our sins.

The holiness of God is largely misrepresented in our day. We understand that a God who is holy is not stained by sin or any form of impurity, but we ourselves are conceived in sin and surrounded by sin, so our understanding of purity is conditioned by it.

When Jesus was “transfigured” — when Peter, James, and John followed Him up the mountain and He was met by Moses and Elijah — Mark described His garments as being “radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3). There was a degree of “whiteness” that exceeded what could be accomplished by human effort.

The comparison of character with clothing is not exact, to be sure, but it illustrates that we live in an imperfect world — a world which sin affects more than we are usually conscious of. The Lord, however, is not stained in this way. His is a perfect purity, a purity that would be marred by the slightest suggestion of sin. Any sacrifice for sin, then, could not be stained with sin itself; it too would have to be pure.

So the virgin birth of Jesus is more than a fulfilled Messianic prophecy; it is a necessary condition for the atonement that Messiah was to have accomplished. Paul said it this way, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Paul’s statement leads to another important reason for the virgin birth of Jesus: the restoration of righteousness. When Adam fell in the Garden of Eden, he could never be restored to his righteous standing. There would never be a time when he could go back to the same sinless purity that he and Eve enjoyed then. He could be forgiven, but he could never have the same relationship with God as he had before he was estranged from him. It is like a man who is forgiven by his wife after an extramarital affair; the memory of his waywardness never leaves their relationship.

 But because of the sinless character of our Savior, we who trust Him (including Adam and Eve, if they looked forward to the atonement of Christ) can be restored to that original righteousness. Our sins were imputed to Him when He died for us; His righteousness was imputed to us. Our relationship now is just as if we had never sinned. That is only possible if Jesus is born sinless, of a virgin.

Signs of the Messiah

Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, ” GOD WITH US.” And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:22-25).

When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy prior to the consummation of their marriage, his first thought was to “divorce” her privately. (In that society an engagement was as binding as a marriage, so the term “divorce” is appropriate.) Much has been made, properly, about Joseph’s integrity in that he did not desire to damage her reputation any more than it already had been or would be damaged through the pregnancy prior to their consummation. So the angel had to meet him in a dream to prevent this.

Matthew included this incident in his Gospel to demonstrate the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah concerning the virgin birth of the Messiah. It was a well-known prophecy and needed to be documented if the Jewish people were to believe that Jesus really was Messiah.

Prognosticators in various fields — meteorology, economics, as well as religion — look for signs to determine the validity of a phenomenon. The National Weather Service has studied the weather conditions just prior to significant weather events so they can warn us when similar conditions exist. In the aftermath of a storm they will dispatch analysts to determine if a fallen tree or structure was the result of straight-line winds or the twisting of a tornado. Investment counselors observe the political and economic conditions when the stock market rises and falls to make the wisest decisions concerning our retirement funds. The religious prognosticators tend to be less accurate because the Scripture they consult was written in cultures and languages far different from our own.

Matthew is doing the same in this context. The phenomenon of Jesus’ ministry, especially His death and Resurrection begged the question, “Is/Was He the predicted Messiah?” Accuracy in assessing this was vital because the hope of the Jewish nation was at stake. If He were not the Messiah, they must continue to watch for someone else to fulfill the prophecies; if he were the Messiah, He was the King and needed to be obeyed.

Although the Messiah was predicted to come through Jewish ethnicity, He was not a Savior only to the Jews. Prophecies are abundant that describe His desire that ALL nations come to Him. Still, the evidence that Matthew drew together in his Gospel for his Jewish audience makes it clear that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah predicted by the ancient prophets of Israel. Therefore if a man rejects Him as Messiah, he must reject the Scriptures (or at least Matthew’s Gospel) as having any authority.

The God of Details

“…and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon…and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:6,16).

Like any other authors, the Gospel writers had a particular audience in mind when they wrote. John wanted skeptics to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [they] may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Luke wanted his Greek audience (“Theolphilus,” see Luke 1:1-4) to know the exact truth concerning Jesus. Mark wrote to a Roman audience, so was less concerned about the things that a Jewish culture would consider important. But Matthew intended his Gospel to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

It was for this reason that he began with the genealogy that traced the heirs to the throne of Israel to Jesus. The promise to David was that Messiah would sit upon his throne, and God cannot lie. Somehow, despite the Babylonian Captivity, despite the intermarriage of the Jewish people with the pagan residents of Palestine when they returned from Babylon (see Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 13), and despite more than 500 years of not having an actual king on the throne of Israel, the genealogical records of the day showed that the rightful heir was a man in Nazareth named Joseph whose (adoptive) Son would be the subsequent King.

Until the lineage of Jesus could be traced to David, there could be no acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah. But now that this could be established, some other Messianic prophecies would have to be seen as having been fulfilled (the subject matter for a future blog).

Our society doesn’t value our heritage the way that the Jewish society did and, perhaps, still does. We allowed the obstruction of the birth records of President Obama so that his heritage could not be traced. Those legal records were of less importance to us than the political agenda that he espoused so we ignored them. But this blog is not about political matters.

We in this society are not concerned about Truth in many venues. The Supreme Court ignores the plain sense of the text of the Constitution to legislate from the Bench; video and eyewitness evidence is disparaged if it doesn’t fit the politically correct template. We conveniently ignore what we don’t agree with in moral and ethical arenas.

Matthew convincingly shows Jesus to be Messiah in his Gospel, but that doesn’t matter if there is no objective Truth. As long as we can decide for ourselves what Truth is, we will allow the general society to dictate what we will choose to believe. Let us enjoy this freedom while it lasts, because no society has ever survived with this spirit, and it will not be tolerated when we face the God who so very carefully arranged the circumstances so that we would recognize His Son when He appeared.

Truth Matters

…the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4).

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9).

Many people begin their walk with Jesus by asking, “What can I do to get rid of this guilt?”; I began my walk with Christ by asking, “What is the Truth?” That, in itself, makes me weird. Over the years I have habitually capitalized Truth in my writings to distinguish between those principles we call “truths” and the objective, unchangeable Truth of Scripture against which everyone one of us will be judged.

Admittedly, when we pursue the Truth, we must come face to face with our true moral guilt before the God that created us. He revealed Himself finally and completely in Jesus who declared unequivocally, “I am…the Truth…” (John 14:6) and died to remove our true moral guilt.

Beyond this declaration of Jesus, both Paul (in I Timothy) and John (in 3 John) recognized the importance of Truth in their writings.

But Truth is under assault in our modern world. Postmodern philosophy has capitalized upon the relativism that had been slowly becoming more pervasive since the end of WWII. Our world has received a steady diet of challenges to our moral absolutes as television shows and movies create scenarios in our minds where those who have been traditionally “bad” are suddenly shown to be the morally “good” and sympathetic characters. In the past few years this has played out in real life on the streets of some of our major cities.

We are not going to solve the problems of race relations, police brutality and government overreach until we return to the Truth. One hundred and fifty years ago, churches believed and taught the Bible; today major denominations stand against the explicit teachings in it. Isaiah warned us, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (5:20). One author has entitled his book, No Place for Truth, lamenting that modern churches have become bastions of pop psychology and “feel good” homilies, rather than places where Truth is declared.

Of course, these things should not be a surprise to anyone who truly does believe the Truth. The enemy of our souls has been called, “the father of lies,” (John 8:44) and “the one who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). He was the one whose first recorded words were, “Indeed, has God said…?”

The purpose of the Christian should be to align himself/herself with the Truth (and, yes, that begins with an admission of our true moral guilt and a confession of Christ); the purpose of the Church should be to strengthen and support that alignment through teaching the objective Truth, revealed in Jesus and the Scriptures — whether or not the crowds follow.

Proven Relationships

19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself also shall be coming shortly. 25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:19-27)

Friendship within the family of God is often deeper than friendship outside. In fact, many (myself included) find that the bonds we have in Christ are more trustworthy than even familial ones. Paul’s comment that Epaphroditus was a “fellow soldier” is a key to this phenomenon. Soldiers have to trust their lives to fellow soldiers. In that close, often intensely stressful, situation, a new definition of brotherhood is often experienced.
The two men Paul mentioned in this passage had a deep bond with the Apostle. Timothy is described as having a genuine concern for the welfare of the Philippians. Even among some of Paul’s other ministry companions, self interest reigned rather than Christian concern and integrity. Timothy was the only one who was on the same page — ministry-wise — with Paul. I wonder what the real motivation for accompanying Paul was among the others in his circle, but I will never know this side of heaven (and then I won’t be concerned about it).

Epaphroditus was also concerned about the Philippians, only in a different way. Biblical history suggests that he was one of them. He didn’t want his friends there to worry about him — even though he risked his life for the cause of Christ.

I count friendships in the Body of Christ as genuine in much the same way that Paul did. Some people are closer to me personally (as Paul was to Timothy) and I know their genuine service to Christ because we have laughed, cried, and prayed together. I have depended on them and they have not let me down. They have been a source of great encouragement to me, and I will always revel in their friendship.

There are others that I know from their service. Many of my missionary friends are among these. I know the risks they have taken for the cause of Christ. I know what sacrifices they have made materially and of their families. The writer to the Hebrews calls them, “men of whom the world is not worthy” (11:38).

May God grant that they will have the same opinion of me.

Our Prayer

Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have? You say (but they are only empty words), ‘I have counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?  Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master’s servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Have I now come up without the LORD’S approval against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.'”‘” (2 Kings 18:19-25).

Remarkably the descendants of these ancient Assyrians are the ones who are currently oppressing God’s people (Christians, this time) in Syria and Iraq. World politics have changed enough that Egypt is no longer the hope for rescue, but the same ultimatum is being given – submit to us or die. They even justify their destruction by declaring that it is the command of their god.

As Hezekiah prayed for his people, so we need to be praying for the Christians in Iraq and Syria today. Earnest prayer for them will lead to earnest prayer for ourselves.

“Father, You are the Sovereign Lord Whose plans for this world will ultimately be fulfilled. As You revealed Your glorious power when Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem were threatened, so we ask You to reveal Your power in this time.

“These infidels have scoffed at Your power no less than their ancestors did nearly 3000 years ago. They are intent upon establishing their rule and displaying their god as the supreme deity in this world. But You make it clear that You had/have no rival (then or now), that all who dare to exalt themselves to Your position will be cast down. In ancient times You destroyed their army by killing 185,000 in a single night so that they limped back to their home where their leader was assassinated. How You choose to protect Your reputation and show Your glory this time is Your own decision. We simply cry out that You will do it soon.

“We grieve the martyrdom of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the persecution others are enduring for Your Name. Sustain the families of the martyrs by the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit. One of the early Church Fathers observed that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and so we ask that this would be true in this day as well, that the persecution of Your Church will be a blessing to Your Kingdom.

“Open the eyes of many in our world who have shown no interest in Your Truth so that they may see the assured confidence of those who die with Your name on their lips. Make clear to them that the persecutors are the deceived and the cowardly while those who stand with Jesus to the death will receive the ultimate reward.

“Open the eyes of those for whom the Christian faith is merely a form without substance. Don’t let them straddle the fence; bring them to the point that they must decide to reject You or follow You wholeheartedly.

“Finally, Father, renew in each of us who bears Your name the resolve to follow You to the death, if it is Your will. We recognize that in this world the name of Jesus is increasingly being denounced, and the pressures to turn from Him are growing stronger. Diminish the attraction of this world; magnify the world to come in our hearts.

“We ask this for Jesus’ glory and with His authority. Amen.”