Without Excuse

My salvation experience was fortified in 1973 upon hearing a lecture by Dr. Henry Morris on “the Genesis flood.” It was in the early days of the Institute for Creation Research out of San Diego, California. It’s likely that some believers paid for him to come to my hometown to speak. I recall he spoke in a high school theater. When he told of the undeniable physical evidence of a worldwide catastrophic deluge, it was quite easy to correlate God’s power to judge with his power to save.

Romans 1:20 says,

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Logically, and this seems backward, if he could create a tree, he could send his Son to die for me. That night I banked irrefutable evidence of the existence of God, and rock-solid support for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, of course, all this information flew and continues to fly in the face of modern science and was laughable when compared to the geologist’s fervent adherence to paleontology. But one flyover of the Rockies was enough for me to confirm, yes, there is a God. These majestic mountains in particular looked like my childhood backyard sandbox creations after pouring a bucket of water on them from above; there were easily discernible patterns of erosion that could have only been caused by voluminous amounts of receding water, as indicated in Genesis 7:19-20.

The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.

Since then, I’ve made a number of such inviolable truth deposits into my storehouse of scientific evidence of God’s creation. But these, as Paul put it, are in the “clearly seen” category. You can quickly get into the weeds with all of this, as Satan has had his minions, Darwin, et al, develop counter arguments for absolutely everything, but I still hang on God’s word and believe him when he says the proof can be clearly witnessed with one’s own eyes to the point we all are without excuse.

My most recent deposit came after listening to one of my favorite “internet” Bible teachers, now passed on to glory, Chuck Missler, who taught a weekly class at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa under Chuck Smith for twenty years, and went on to found Koinonia House now based in New Zealand. He was talking about Job 38:31, and pointing out that the constellations Pleiades and Orion were not stars that only appeared associated from our viewpoint on earth, but were actually gravitationally connected. His proof, which is supported by astronomers, is here.

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Job 38:31

Job was written most likely in the ancient days of Abraham and yet it was spot on. More important is the teaching of this verse: Who is powerful enough to break the bonds of these stars? Only God, if he was so inclined, because he connected them in the first place!

It’s astounding and amazing to me to see confirmation of the Creator every which way we look!

Back in those early days of college I was so excited about these findings and the proofs in the fossil records that after I ended my brief attempt at pre-medical studies in the sciences, I switched over to pre-law. In the public speaking and debate classes I had the nerve to “take on” the now well ensconced evolutionary theory. I was shouted down of course. One student was particularly vocal. I remember him as he was fully bearded, blending easily into the hippie culture. Weeks later I attended a lecture by Dr. Morris’ partner, Dr. Duane T. Gish, an expert in the fossil record. I looked in the back row and there was the bearded guy. There could only be one reason he was there.

His word does not return void!

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Got to Get Away

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Mark 1:35

For more than 40 years, I’ve made it a habit to arise early while it’s still dark, to read the Bible and pray. I can’t imagine not doing this. I look forward to it. And if I can manage it, I try to get up even earlier to buy more time. It has been in these times I’ve done business with God, rather he’s done his business with me, meaning I’ve been still enough to listen to him.

While scripture reading and study has occupied most of this time, prayer in all of its aspects, from praising to pleading, has been a consistent agenda item, sometimes taken out of order.

And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. Mark 1:33-34

Here in Capernaum, ministry central, Jesus was beset with a constant stream of desperate people at his door in need of healing. In a human sense, with the constant activity, he had depleted both physical and mental energy, not to mention engaging in the spiritual toil of confronting evil. He needed to get away.

So he slipped out to his mountain retreat. Not only did he commune with his Father there, but he received his next assignment, to branch out into other villages.

“Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Mark 1:38

It’s vital to put ourselves into our heavenly Father’s boardroom (rather “throne room,” to which we have ‘bold and confident access,” Ephesians 3:18) to assess our progress and to seek out his will. The Greek word used in Mark 1:35 for praying, proseuchomai, is always used for praying a prayer to God, for example Jesus’ gut wrenching prayer in the garden before his arrest.

I remember my godly grandmother who was living with us for a time when I was young. I heard a commotion in the family room one night and I wandered out and witnessed her in her chair in a rather agitated state, crying and calling out, pleading with God.

It is in these restless moments that he transfers his energy to us, his wisdom to us, his courage to us, his resolve to us, his peace to us, his mission to us, and his love to us and for us.

We’ve got to get away to our lonely place,

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Coming to Light

12 “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 “It is changed like clay under the seal;
And they stand forth like a garment.
15 “From the wicked their light is withheld,
And the uplifted arm is broken. Job 38:12-15

You get the distinct impression that the power brokers of the world really believe they can hold sway over the masses, and that their influence extends to nature itself.

The sun rises each morning based on a calculus of the earth’s orbit around the sun and the spinning of the globe on its tilted axis. The precise distance away from the sun, the speed of the rotation, and the selection of the angle of the tilt were all set by an omniscient God. We study this and marvel at his design. Working backward we can see the disastrous effects of any miscalculation. (verse 12)

Accordingly, we all must constantly deal with things coming to light with the dawning of a new day. Each morning it is as if God almighty takes hold of the ends of the earthly rug, steps outside into the sunlight, and mightily snaps it in the wind. (verse 13) The evil plans and schemes of the wicked who occupy the world are therefore flung into the brightness, unless, of course, the omnipotent God wishes for them to dig their own graves.

No, indeed, the wicked will never gain the upper hand, nor will humankind ever control nature, because they didn’t design it or implement it in the first place. When God put his seal on creation, the malleable clay was displaced, reaching its limits and hardening there, never to be trifled with, and the impression left behind was for all eternity. (verse 14)

The wicked can never get quite enough darkness to do what they intend to do before the dawn. It must be frustrating. Let us never think all is lost, especially when we see the sun rising yet again in the east.

In the meantime, it is disheartening to see all those uplifted tight-fisted arms “raised up against the knowledge of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:5). But be heartened! God says and will see to it that “the uplifted arm is broken,” and that the light they need to hatch their diabolical plans is withheld. (verse 15)

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Called on the Carpet

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Job 38:1–2

Oh, to have the world receive counsel directly from God “out of the whirlwind”right now, so beset we are with “darkened counsel” from all corners, that is, “words without knowledge!” We need a stern lecture from the Almighty.

Job gets such a lecture on our behalf, aimed at the faulty preceding advice and counsel of his three “friends,” but also, as one commentator put it, at his earlier poetic rage in God’s direction.

What if God intervened with audible and booming indictments from above regarding the insanity of this age? How dare we think that we can live in contradiction to his word and deny his sovereign power! For instance, who planned out and built the world anyway?

4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
5Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
6“On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone. Job 38:4-6

Or who brought back and permanently restrains the seas?

8“Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
9When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
10And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
11And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’? Job 38:8-11

But count on us to “fact check” even these undeniable truths in an instant with plausible denials. In answer to this, God says,

36“Who has put wisdom in the innermost being
Or given understanding to the mind? Job 38:36

We think we know it all, but our supposed knowledge, is it not rationed out by God himself? Are not the answers to all questions found in the questions he poses here in the Book of Job?

Beware, when lectures fail, punishment begins. We will learn to regret our insubordination and recalcitrance when we begin to suffer the consequences of our words and deeds.

3 “If one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him once in a thousand times. 4 Wise in heart and mighty in strength, who has defied Him without harm?” Job 9:3–4

Actually, such punishment appears to have started.

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The End of the Beginning

50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God. Luke 24:50–53

The longer version of Luke’s account of the ascension of Jesus appears in his The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:9-11), delivered also to the most excellent Theophilus. The writer would appear in cameo roles in this account and elsewhere as Paul’s physician (Colossians 4:14), faithful companion (2 Timothy 4:11), and fellow laborer (Philemon 24).

Here in Acts 1:1-11, we find that Jesus will return to earth in the same manner in which he left, coming down from amongst the clouds, an occasion for which we all eagerly wait.

“This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11

What strikes me in Luke’s sequel is this statement about Jesus’ last days with his disciples, especially the “convincing proofs” part.

“To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3

In other words, in a colloquial sense, “they were loaded for bear,” to take the gospel even to the “remotest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) All that was left was to be imbued with the power of Holy Spirit, which would happen in a few short days at Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-4)

It was Luke’s purpose in his first account to diligently draw together and investigate all the stories of Jesus’ accomplishments on earth, not only to encourage and enlighten Theophilus, but to arm all of us with the truth of The Acts of the Son of Man.

If Luke could write one more book, it’d be the The Acts of the Christians. Perhaps someday in his idle time in heaven he will, when the Book of Life is closed. (Revelation 20:12)

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Our Calling—Luke 24:44-49

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Does this not describe the Holy Scriptures? Are they not comprised of Jesus’ words, plus what was written about him in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms?

45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Do we not need the Lord to enable us to understand them? To open our minds? Pray for this each time you sit down with the Word! Oh, God! Illumine me!

46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Is not the Scriptures’ core the glorious gospel message? Do we carry it with us wherever we go?

48 “You are witnesses of these things.

This time, Jesus was speaking of his mission in the past tense, and was pointing to the calling of his followers going forward to be his witnesses.

49 “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

But how would they accomplish this mission without him? They were to wait in the city for his empowerment to be put or hoisted upon them, to literally “clothe them” for the days ahead. This would be their one and only cloak necessary!

So then, our calling is to understand the scriptures and to teach Jesus, particularly the gospel, to all. We begin by believing in his bodily resurrection, and then ours. In the meantime, we continue on in this world living by his Word in the power of his Spirit until we meet him in the air or are summoned home.

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Stop the Presses!

33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon. 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. 36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. Luke 24:33-40

I want to have Cleopas and his friend huffing and puffing in the midst of the disciples, excitedly telling them of their encounter with Jesus, and, lo and behold, he appears to all of them! Yet their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus was early on, likely later on Resurrection Day, and verse 33 says “the eleven and others” were there in the room when they came back.

My problem is how to fit Thomas’ eight day period of doubt and separation (John 20:24, 26) into all the post-resurrection Jesus sightings (especially this one), since Thomas was clearly one of “the eleven” as stated in verse 33, and he’d still have to doubt Jesus had risen after seeing for himself convincing proof (verses 39-40) that very night.

Since the commentators I read didn’t bother to resolve this chronological problem, so that I could get on with writing, I’ve chosen to place this account later on the timeline, since Jesus chides the group for their demonstrated unbelief, and the issue of a brooding and doubting Thomas can be resolved in the context of verse 39, when he says, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Mark’s account also seems to provide more wiggle room, saying,

12 After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. 13 They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either. 14 Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. Mark 16:12–14

Even with this apparent “out,” I’m reminded of the historic debate about the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. To this, my settled opinion is that God has decreed that these verses stay in the Canon, no matter what, and that they are available for use on occasions like these. I was taught early on not to “build a doctrine on them,” which now appears extreme. Bottomline, Mark’s final verses are consistent with the rest of scripture.

So, my parenthetical comments here highlight the importance of careful Bible study, and a teacher’s need to know. We who might put ourselves “out there” proclaiming “the truth,” will have to give an account for our diligence and accuracy (James 3:1). I’m sure in the interest of time I’ve not always foreclosed all the “rabbit trails,” but when I hear in my head that what I’m writing may not square, I stop the presses, lick my finger, and hit the books.

And now for the rest of story…

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Burning Hearts

28 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. 29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. Luke 24:28–29

Who wouldn’t want even more of Jesus’ teaching if the opportunity presented itself? But he apparently had places to be in their eyes, just as he came strolling by the struggling disciples rowing against a great wind on the sea. In that case, “he intended to pass them by.” (Mark 6:48)

When we intentionally sit down with the Word, we invite Jesus in, to spend more time with him, to teach us. He can’t refuse our hospitality! My mother read the morning paper from cover to cover every day. She looked forward to it. In the same way, we should anticipate with excitement hearing more of God’s word each day.

30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. Luke 24:30–31

And they sat down after their long walk together to break bread, but interestingly, Jesus took the role of the host to bless the meal. When he took the bread and broke it, the men observed the nail prints on his wrists, and he was revealed to them, and he “vanished.” Contrary to my understanding of many years, they did not find the manner in which he broke the bread a dead giveaway, since the two men were not a part of the twelve, and were not present in the Upper Room (but they could have observed Jesus feed the five thousand, Matthew 14:19).

They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us.” Luke 24:32

Before sprinting back to the apostles, the men savored the enlightenment from their conversation with the risen Christ for a moment. The Greek word kaio for “burning” here means to bring to “spiritual light.”

When they finally made it back to Jerusalem, they found the eleven apostles together with the others. By that time, Peter had seen Jesus. Given the supernatural capabilities of Jesus’ new body, that encounter could have been anytime between the apostle’s visit to the tomb and his return to the fold.

Despite the preponderance of the evidence, some of the men, Thomas most assuredly, still doubted. (Mark 16:13) It’s important to note that Thomas did finally have his face-to-face encounter with the risen Lord. (John 20:26-28) Actually, what we hold in our hands, bound in leather or a tablet accessing zeros and ones, is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

We should purpose each day to be enlightened. Jesus wants to join us and shed light on so many things if we’ll let him.

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The Road to Understanding

13 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. Luke 24:13–16

The two men were followers of Christ, visiting Jerusalem with many others for the Passover. They are assumed to reside in Emmaus, but were familiar enough with the disciples to have been with them in what was a time of crisis. One was named Cleopas. They left the eleven and others huddled together, perhaps in the Upper Room, to return home to their families.

It had been three days since the crucifixion and things had suddenly become chaotic amongst the followers, with some of the women saying his body wasn’t in the tomb when they went there earlier in the morning to add spices, also excitedly claiming they’d seen angels there pronouncing he had risen.

Two of the apostles (Peter and John) had run quickly to the tomb to see for themselves, and what the women said was true, but they saw no angels. Peter, who had gone home from there (Luke 24:12), perhaps to tell his wife the news, may have seen the risen Christ himself on the way (Luke 24:34), but some of the disciples were still doubting (Luke 24:38).

Emmaus was some seven miles away from Jerusalem, reachable in a little over two hours walking at a normal pace. The two men were engrossed in animated conversation. The text says “talking and discussing.” The Greek word for “discussing” alludes to a bit of a debate or dispute between them when Jesus slipped in unrecognized. Hearing the back-and-forth, he finally said,

“What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” Luke 24:17

They stopped dead in their tracks and stared at him with bewilderment. Christ, on the other hand, noted that they looked saddened and emotionally drained. The Greek word for “sad” is translated here as “sullen” and “gloomy.”

Then Cleopas lectured Jesus, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” Luke 24:18

And Jesus replied, “What things?” Luke 24:19

This response is comical to us, but strategic. It was designed to elicit a response from which he could teach the good news. It was his version of the Socratic method boiled down to a two-word question.

And then both the men chimed in (“And they said to Him”), taking turns, stepping on each other’s sentences, recounting all that had happened in the past three days.

“The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” Luke 24:19-24

Jesus’ response is unexpected. We might tend to want him to go easy on these men, given the emotional rollercoaster they’d been on.

25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Luke 24:25–26

It’s not hard to pick up a tinge of frustration in the Lord’s words. What would he have to do or say for all this to sink in? The Greek word anoetos translated “foolish” here means to not apply your mind, to be unintelligent! But he quickly took yet another run at it, starting from the very beginning with his now captive audience. Depending on when the Lord joined them on the road, this was going to be one moving sermon on the road to understanding!

27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. Luke 24:27

At the very least, like these men, we need to begin to be aware of all the prophecies in scripture, connect these prophecies with their past fulfillments, and know what has yet to be fulfilled (2 Peter 3:2). We can no longer be ignorant and unaware, especially in these trying days. And like me, just as Jesus walked along with these two men without being recognized, you can read a story all your life and miss its key points. We all need to wise up!

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Seeing is Not Believing

A book could be written, and most assuredly has (an understatement), attempting to composite the gospel accounts of the resurrection into one, Paul’s teachings on this pivotal event in Christianity and what it means to us (1 Corinthians 15), and how the Lord’s adversaries reacted to the news (Matthew 28:11-15).

Luke, the historian, matter-of-factly tells the story simply in a few verses (Luke 24:1-12), without a lot of histrionics. Again, the women get the first look, and the body is not there. Seeing this, they were not described as terrified, but perplexed, or at a loss. The word is used elsewhere with the enhancement “very,” but not here.

Suddenly two men appeared in dazzling clothing. The word could also mean frocks that were gleaming or luminous. Now the women were affrighted, or in modern language, terrified! One commentator pointed out that two angels were sent to deliver the news to serve as the necessary number of collaborating eye witnesses. They told the now astonished women this,

“Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 6 He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7 saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words. Luke 24:5-8

In Luke 9:44-45, indeed Jesus’ issued a warning to the disciples,

“Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.”

But the women were listening in at the time and took notes, and likely, or certainly, talked about it amongst themselves. So, at the very moment the angels made their announcement, the women “remembered his words.”

They then hurried back to the apostles and all the rest and told them what they saw and didn’t see, what they heard, and of course, the men found what they were reporting “nonsense,” and they did not believe them.

12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. Luke 24:12

Peter had to see for himself, and the Lord was indeed not there, and Luke says he went home marveling, or in wonder, perhaps to tell his wife. But we all know, from other scriptures, that he was likely intercepted by Jesus for some unfinished business. (see 1 Corinthians 15:5)

It seems to me that even if the women, the disciples, and Peter didn’t see the actual risen Jesus, what they did see, did not see, and heard was enough. And guess what, all we get today is the Word of God.

Thankfully, God was gracious enough to give these who had the most exposure to Him (and us), in the hours and days to come, tangible evidence of his resurrection. But…

29 Jesus said to him [Thomas], “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29

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