Sermon on Mark 8:1-13 – Seeing is Believing

This sermon was delivered by Pastor Chris Duke on 02/10/2016. This article is from notes I made so is not completely in keeping with what Pastor Chris said though I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible.

Today’s passage is Mark 8:1-13, which reads as follows:

8 In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, 2 I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: 3 and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. 4 And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? 5 And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. 6 And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. 7 And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. 8 So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. 9 And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.

10 And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. 11 And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. 13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.

Jesus and His disciples came to Capernaum. As well as being a fishing village, this was an area where the Romans collected taxes from those travelling through that region. And immediately we see the Pharisees come to question Jesus, to test Him.

With the phrase “seeing is believing”, the title of today’s sermon, a high degree of skepticism is implied. Many people who say this and yet see a genuine miracle would still doubt it and find reasons to continue in their unbelief. All the miracles that Jesus had performed, including the feeding of the four thousand that we saw in today’s passage, should have highlighted that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. Yet man’s condition is such that he is often in spiritual blindness, living with no light at all upon the things of God. This is certainly true of all religions apart from Christianity, none can give you spiritual light. Jesus promised in John 8:12:

…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Jesus performed many miracles yet the Pharisees still gave Him a hard time, choosing to walk on in darkness. Matthew 16 parallels today’s scripture reading, stating that the Sadducees were present too, this being the Lord’s final conflict with them. Up until this point, Jesus had always given invitations to both groups to believe in Him. He was to do this no more in the gospels, becoming instead Israel’s rejected leader. In fact we see that the Pharisees were foolish enough to want to kill Him.

What of Jesus’ disciples? Those who were following Him knew that they were making a break with their religion, and with their religious leaders. They were following Jesus because He is the Christ, the Messiah. He had dispelled their darkness and was continuing to do so day by day and even beyond the Cross when He rose again.

Yet now we see Jesus face to face with those who hated Him, those whose major sin was hypocrisy. If you remember Mark 7, Jesus left Galilee and went to Tyre and Sidon, which were Gentile cities. He then went to Decapolis (so named because it consisted of ten cities), which was a Gentile area also. By this Jesus showed His disciples that the gospel was for all mankind, not just the Jewish people.

In Decapolis Jesus fed 4,000 men plus women and children. Then in the tenth verse of today’s passage we see Him enter Jewish territory again. And then in verse 11, the Pharisees were on the attack against Him. They hated the Light, with His message of repentance, faith and grace. What they loved instead was religious ceremony and trying (unsuccessfully) to redeem themselves. In Mark 3:22 they even accused Jesus of being demon possessed:

22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.

They gave no credit at all to Jesus for the miracles they saw Him performing.

Verses 11 to 13 of today’s passage highlight three characteristics of people who are spiritually blind:

  1. They are comfortable with others who are also blind, even if those are enemies to them. They hate the truth, and thereby hate Christianity. All false religions are like this.
  2. They are consigned to deeper blindness.
  3. They are condemned to terminal blindness.

In today’s passage the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign. It’s important to realise that in doing so they were not asking for a miracle but a sign from heaven that would give Godly authority to His message. They believed demons could perform earthly miracles but only God could do heavenly ones (remember the magicians with Pharaoh in Exodus 7-9?). They wanted Jesus to perform acts such as stopping the sun, eclipsing the moon, or starting and stopping a storm. They did this to tempt Him. And yet we know they had seen enough already to believe in Him, as per Nicodemus’s testimony in John 3:2:

2 the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

These people were no different from Pharaoh back in Exodus. He saw miracles too yet hardened his heart, until eventually the Lord passed judgement and hardened it for him:

But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.
(Exodus 8:15)

And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.
(Exodus 8:32)

And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
(Exodus 9:34)

And the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:
(Exodus 10:1)

And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

The more light was shone on Pharaoh, the deeper his spiritual darkness became. Unbelief always finds a way to reject the truth and in verse 12 of today’s passage we see Jesus recognising this with anguish:

And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.

Jesus’ sighing is described as deep and compounded. His heart was breaking over their spiritual blindness. This isn’t the only time we see the Lord grieving. In Luke 19 and John 11 He wept over the fate of Jerusalem, who had rejected Him as Messiah, and over the grave of Lazarus, when He saw the power of sin leading to physical death. He laments those who reject Him due to wilful ignorance, as is highlighted so aptly in Deuteronomy:

And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.
(Deuteronomy 32:20)

In today’s passage, Jesus is strongly resolute: no more signs are to be given. He essentially says, “May I die if I do.” His judgement on the Pharisees is pronounced in other passages such as Matthew 15:14 and Matthew 16:4:

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

So one more sign would be given, the sign of Jonah. We know the story of Jonah. He was three days in the belly of a large fish, a whale, then was released from it.

What happens when Jesus is raised again? Matthew 28:11-15 shows the religious leaders’ reaction:

11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. 12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, 13 saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

So they bribed the soldiers to lie about the resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees were at this stage in fixed darkness spiritually, they were still denying the Lord’s rising even after it had happened. Mark 8:13 gives the Lord’s preceding judgement, where He simply left them to their hardheartedness and error:

13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.

The latter part of Romans 1 speaks of God’s wrath in giving people up to sinful desires:

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
(Romans 1:28-32)

This is a warning for us. When the gospel is preached, we should give our full attention to it. We should feel privileged to hear God’s good news and respond to it. There are the blind who never see the truth: our prayer is for our loved ones, neighbours and friends to be lead out of darkness into His glorious light:

http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0001/0001_01.asp

God bless you all.

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Sermon on Mark 6:30-44

This sermon was delivered by Pastor Chris Duke on 25/09/2016. This article is from notes I made so is not completely in keeping with what Pastor Chris said though I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible.

I’m sure you’ve prepared a large dinner for people. In Jesus’ ministry, people are becoming used to seeing divine power coming from Him. The area we’re dealing with today concerns a miracle Jesus performed near a small village in Galilee. Galilee itself was a very tiny province, covered by water. It had around 200 small villages and towns, being an agricultural area, and was therefore densely populated.

Jesus had earlier multiplied Himself by His disciples in Mark 3:14-15, sending them forth to preach and have power to heal sicknesses and cast out devils. He thus multiplied Himself twelve times. Significantly, eleven of the twelve were from Galilee (Judas Iscariot being the exception to this).

Yet feeding five thousand was way beyond any miracle Jesus did. Matthew says that could have been up to 10,000 people in total, including women and children (see Matthew 14:21). So this was a huge crowd. It was near Passover, in the springtime, as Mark notes the company of people sat down on “green grass” (Mark 6:39). This was Jesus’ final miracle in Galilee. After this, His focus narrowed to smaller crowds as He became concerned with training the twelve more than on public ministry. Jesus is here putting Himself on display in all His glory and magnificence. We are reminded that as you read the Old Testament, it points to Christ. As you read the New Testament, it reveals Christ. And that salvation is being drawn to Christ.

John 6:14-15 describes the aftermath of Jesus’ miracle: people tried to make Him a King. They wanted the ultimate welfare state with free food provided along with demons being cast out, etc. They also wanted freedom of rule from the Roman army. With this miracle we see Jesus as Jehovah-jireh, the Lord who provides, as He did with faithful Abraham:

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.
(Genesis 22:13-14)

Jesus is the incarnation of Jehovah-jireh.

In Mark 6:7-11 we see that Jesus sent the disciples out into the countryside. They were told to preach the Kingdom of God and repentance towards God. In verse 31 Jesus’ first task as Jehovah-jireh, the provider, is revealed, as He says effectively, “Get some rest.” This was the first provision that He made for them. Luke 9:10 mentions that He took them to Bethsaida:

10 And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.

This was a fishing village on the sea of Galilee. They went near the village but not into it as the crowd was too heavily populated and wouldn’t have fitted. The village, incidentally, was where Peter and Andrew both grew up:

44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
(John 1:44)

Christ later had something damning to say about this village after the miracle of the fishes and loaves was performed:

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
(Matthew 11:21)

Sadly, the people of Bethsaida didn’t worship the Lord even after His miracles. We would do well at this stage to remember the old saying, “To whom much is given, much is required”:

48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
(Luke 12:48)

The only rest the disciples got was on the boat with Jesus as the people followed them across the northern part of the lake, on foot. And they arrived earlier than the disciples having completed a walk of approximately ten kilometers. Rest is important but the truth is more important. Why were they following Him? John 6:2 provides the answer: they saw the signs He performed in healing the sick, and they were fascinated by His power:

2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.

Yet Jesus wasn’t irritated by the people’s neediness but “moved with compassion toward them.” Luke 9:11 records that He spoke to them of the Kingdom of God and healed them:

11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.

Jesus called them to repent and believe in Him as the Son of God and their Messiah, so that they could receive the Kingdom of God. He recognized that they were sheep and it is a known fact that sheep without a shepherd will die. They cannot get onto their feet again if they fall on their backs, they must be cleaned up, cared for, provided for. Numbers 27:17b simply states that “the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” Jesus’ teachings, then, would lead them to eternal safety in the fold. Matthew 14:14 shows Jesus healing the sick, being moved because human suffering made Him suffer too:

14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

Yet the Lord was concerned that they had spiritual rest as well as physical rest and healing. Verses 35-44 of today’s passage show the Lord’s provision of food for the disciples and people. This is an example of God’s common grace, where the goodness of God is given without discrimination. Jesus is good to His enemies, even to people who hate and reject Him:

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
(Luke 6:35)

The following day is reported in John 6. Here, Jesus tells the people that He Himself is the bread of life, that they are to “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27).

In verse 37 of today’s passage, Christ says effectively, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus had delegated His power to the disciples earlier but they didn’t yet have the faith to perform this miracle. They had forgotten about the widow and her jar of oil in 1 Kings 17:16:

And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.

Another gospel says that a boy had five loaves and two fishes on his person. Why was this the case? It was clearly his lunch, being the Middle Eastern equivalent of five crackers and a little bit of protein.

In verse 39, Jesus orders the crowd. Verse 41 shows Him distributing the food after giving thanks to the Father. The disciples became the waiters and just kept giving out food. This would have been the only uncursed banquet these people had ever gone to, it was like eating in the garden of Eden. You’d have liked these fish too regardless of whether or not you liked fish.

Verse 43 is significant because it shows that Jesus ordered the meal with perfect precision. Twelve baskets of broken pieces of meat and bread were taken up, one for each of the disciples. This was divinely controlled with no waste. Was there a real spiritual awakening after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand? No, not really. The crowds were waiting the next day for food again but Jesus said simply, “No, you need spiritual meat.” John 6:66 then records that at this point even some of His disciples left Him:

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

But the twelve stayed faithful, Peter simply stating, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Today’s health, wealth and prosperity gospel echoes the attitudes of the faithless disciples and the people of Bethsaida. Sadly, those who have known the way of righteousness yet have turned from it will come under severer judgement:

For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
(2 Peter 2:21)

If you don’t yet know the Lord Jesus as your personal Saviour, may I encourage you to read the following article:

http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0001/0001_01.asp

May the Lord Jesus bless you always.

A philosophical perspective on miracles – part 4

This is the final in a series of 4 articles on miracles, based upon a podcast I listened to, and was inspired by, by Tim McGrew. The articles are really handy for defending the faith and they take a look at miracles from a philosophical perspective.

Links to all 4 articles are given below:

https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-1/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-2/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-3/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-4/

Listen to the interview here: http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

Following is the final article:

Frank Turek:
Tim, quite frequently you hear this objection: “Well, if God does miracles, why doesn’t He heal amputees?” How would you respond to that?

Tim McGrew:
There’s a couple of different ways to respond to that. The first one is, didn’t He do that in the New Testament? Right? Didn’t Peter cut somebody’s ear off and Jesus healed it with a touch, in Luke 22:51? So we’ve got one record of that but I think the question is not usually brought forward to say, “Why doesn’t He do that in the New Testament?” But I think it’s brought forward to insinuate that things that are called miracles today are really just not the sorts of things where we could be sure they were a miracle at all, right? It’s oh, I think my toothache feels somewhat better…was it a miracle?

Frank Turek:
Right.

Tim McGrew:
And who knows? You can’t really tell from something like that. So I think that’s the insinuation. And if that’s the insinuation I would say, first of all, let’s have a look at Craig Keener’s books because he talks about people who were certified as dead and he’s close up to some of these. In one case I heard him talk on a conference at Oxford and he said, “And I know a lot about this case because the person who is dead is my sister-in-law.”

Frank Turek:
Mmm hmm…

Tim McGrew:
That is pretty close up to the facts. So I think we should look at stuff like that. But the other thing that I want to say is, suppose that in our time no miracles ever happened. What does that tell us about the adequacy of the evidence that we do have for the resurrection of Jesus? Because that’s the central event, right? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that this is the thing without which our faith is in vain. This is the hinge of Christianity. If it doesn’t turn, we’re done for. So what if it turned out there are no contemporary miracles, what would that mean about the resurrection? And the answer is, not much. It’s an attempt to distract us from looking at the evidence we do have by talking about the kind of evidence some people wish we had, which maybe we do and maybe we don’t, and I’m not going to try to pass judgement on that…I’m going to refer people to Craig Keener or Robert Larmer, who’s a Canadian philosopher who does work on these things. There are people out there who are prepared to talk very specifically about contemporary miracle claims.

Frank Turek:
Yeah I’m not sure amputees aren’t healed because I’m not everywhere so there may be instances. I can’t recall if Craig had any in his book…he may have had certain physical deformities healed…instantaneously…like a club foot. In fact Gary Habermas talks about a club foot spontaneously healing, not over a period of time but over seconds…but I can’t recall if a person had a finger grow back or an arm grow back, something like that.

But even if that doesn’t occur, as you said, that doesn’t affect the testimony we do have about the greatest miracle after the first verse of the Bible and that is the resurrection of Christ. We’ve got good evidence for that…so, it’s just an interesting question because you always hear atheists bringing it up. I’ve never seen a miracle – like you, Tim – but there’s a lot of things I haven’t seen that I believe in. I believe in George Washington…I’ve never seen him. I believe in my mind…I’ve never seen that. I believe in gravity…I’ve never seen gravity though I’ve seen the effects…There’s a lot of things I believe in that I haven’t seen.

Tim McGrew:
Reminds me of a line from an old Woody Allen movie, if only God would give me a clear sign like making a large deposit in a Swiss bank account…sorry, God’s not in it for the parlour tricks! Let’s talk about more important things than that.

Frank Turek:
I recall Lawrence Krauss saying, “If you were to write in the stars, I am here, then it would be worth thinking about” yet He’s written a genome that’s 3.5 billion letters long, a unique genome in Lawrence Krauss’s cells that only he has and somehow that’s not enough for Krauss. He needs “I am here” in the stars but a 3.5 billion letter message you know of DNA just doesn’t quite do it for Krauss. So ok, I think it goes back partially to what you said earlier Tim and that is, some people just don’t want to believe.

You know it’s interesting too that scientists believe in many singular non-repeatable events, Tim. They believe in the origin of the universe…that’s not a repeatable event. They believe in the origin of first life…not a repeatable event. They believe in the origin of new life forms, they believe in archaeological discoveries which are not repeatable. They believe in say a famous murder, the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. You can’t go back and recreate those OJ Simpson murders…and yeah, he did it. You can’t go back and recreate those, they’re not repeatable events, they’re singular events just like miracles are singular events. Yet they’ll believe these singular events, the scientists will, but they won’t believe a singular event like a miracle so I think it’s kind of special pleading, they’re ruling out what they don’t want to believe and they’re only believing what they do want to believe.

Tim McGrew:
I’m afraid with many people that’s the case. On the other hand, there are some people who would say I’ve never seen a good argument for any miracle, what kind of evidence do you have? And when I run into those people I don’t assume that they’re all dishonest and unwilling to look at the evidence…let’s see, let’s give them the evidence. And here’s somewhere where Christians could do better. If we were more proactive in putting forward the evidential case that we have there would be fewer people out there who have heard very little about what Christians believe. And so in part we have to take some of the responsibility if our contemporaries aren’t hearing it. Maybe it’s because not enough of us are saying it clearly.

Frank Turek:
Well that’s for sure and that’s why I love having you on the program because you say it clearly. And you’re clearly well qualified in this area. In fact tell our listeners about the websites. One of them you already have up that they can access right nowTim, and then there’s one that’s coming down the road…that’s going to be a tour de force around this issue of David Hume and miracles.

Tim McGrew:
The site that’s available now is called the Library of Historical Apologetics (historicalapologetics.org). There are dozens of works you can download in pdf form, all these are public domain works, there’s no copyright infringement. There’s also links to various talks I’ve given where I make use of some of these works.

If you’re interested in seeing this on a wider stage, if you want to see not dozens but thousands of works put together, cross-indexed and searchable (with graphic displays on who was provoked by this work, who was inspired by that work), then keep an eye out for the Special Divine Action Database that we have, that is coming out. I think we’re at fifteen hundred, seventeen hundred works, cross-indexing these, they’re all in English and we’re showing you who the influences were and you can trace those conversations and surf through them graphically. It should be live this November. This is a really good scholarly tool, you can use it to write papers. It’s open to anybody whatsoever. Churches could even use it to form study groups as it shows the influences between authors.

Frank Turek:
Outstanding Tim, thanks for being on the show, great stuff today.

A philosophical perspective on miracles – part 3

This is the third in a series of 4 articles on miracles, based upon a podcast I listened to, and was inspired by, by Tim McGrew. The articles are really handy for defending the faith and they take a look at miracles from a philosophical perspective.

Links to all 4 articles are given below:

https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-1/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-2/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-3/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-4/

Listen to the interview here: http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

Following is the third article:

Frank Turek:
Why is there such a strong anti-supernatural bias, particularly in the academic world?

Tim McGrew:
Well there’s lots of reasons for that. One of them has to do with academic fashion, the kind of culture of following along in the footsteps of people around you, and the people who trained you. We see this in an almost comical way when it comes to clothing fads and fashions, but it really comes home to you when you look at the way people drift towards certain perspectives. In the humanities we are particularly subject to this phenomenon, to the extent that even a passing familiarity with Christianity is considered to be non-essential for an education.

Frank Turek:
Hmmm…

Tim McGrew:
For example, I had a colleague once, a truly brilliant guy, degree from a fine school, promising career ahead of him, and he asked me what I was reading. I held it up and said, “It’s a book of the four gospels.” And he looked at me…”Four gospels?” He’d never heard of them. That is part of the explanation.

Another part of the explanation is something Thomas Nagel brings out in his book “The Last Word.” He says he disbelieves in God not just because the arguments he has are better than those of the other side but also because he doesn’t want to believe in God, he doesn’t want the universe to be like that. He says, I think his line is, “I have a cosmic authority problem.” And that’s a remarkably candid admission but I do think that many people if they were asked would be reluctant to take seriously the idea that this is the way the universe is because that would upset a whole lot of other things that they hold and it’s always hard to make large scale changes in your beliefs. And that’s something Christians are subject to as well, I don’t mean to say that only skeptics have a hard time changing lots of their beliefs, Christians do as well, but also there’s an academic culture of just not taking them seriously at all.

Frank Turek:
I’m reminded also of the famous admission by Richard Lewontin who basically said we cannot believe in miracles because we cannot allow a divine foot in the door. And when you fast forward to Thomas Nagal whom you brought up who wrote the book “The Last Word” in 1997…well, as you know his more recent book “Mind and Cosmos” he’s really struggling with this issue now. Because he realises that naturalism can’t explain so many aspects of reality. And his atheistic colleagues are getting real worried, that he’s making too much sense. You notice that Tim?

Tim McGrew:
Yeah I think they have a death watch out for him, “Oh, when’s he going to jump the shark here?”

Frank Turek:
I know (laughs). I always say to folks, the greatest miracle in the Bible is the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If that verse is true every other verse is at least believable because if God can create the universe out of nothing then He can do whatever He wants that’s not logically impossible inside the universe. He can walk on water, He can part water, He can raise Jesus from the dead, He can make axe-heads float, He can do all this. And everything seems to indicate that the first verse of the Bible is true so lesser miracles are much easier to believe if the greater miracle of all has already to occurred…so to have this anti-supernatural bias is in my view to close your mind off and to do so dogmatically. And that’s why I like your very reasoned approach that you take in the new book coming out, the Four Views book, which again is called?

Tim McGrew:
Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy.

Frank Turek:
OK, it’s coming out in a few weeks friends, or actually in about a month, so you need to get that. Tim is a major contributor to it. And Tim, let’s deal with the question you quite frequently get regarding sort of an objection to this whole idea…the New Testament writers were naive and gullible, you just can’t trust them. How do you respond to that?

Tim McGrew:
I think the first thing I would say is that by far the bulk of the New Testament was written by two highly educated people, Paul and Luke. So if we’re going to go all snobbish about educational attainments these two guys were in the upper echelons of education for their time. Paul with rabbinic learning but also with a knowledge of Greek writing, sometimes quoting Greek playwrights and poets. Luke obviously an extremely highly educated person, his vocabulary shows you that, the precision with which he handles the Greek language shows you that and if you put the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts together, then you put together the Pauline epistles, you have got most of the New Testament right there. So the very first thing to say is that’s a misfire.

The second thing to say, and maybe the even more important thing, is just how much sophistication does it take to distinguish a dead man from a living one? Do you need a higher degree to do that? Is it the kind of thing where if we’d had Galen on the spot we would have believed him because he was a Greek physician? But ordinary people, people who lived in an agrarian society, didn’t they see enough death? For example in the lambing season if you’ve got a lamb that’s stillborn can you distinguish it from the ones that get up and start gamboling around? These people saw a lot of death, they were probably a lot closer to it than most of us unless we’re undertakers. So I think that’s kind of an odd objection. We’re not talking here about some nuance of quantum mechanics, you don’t need to be a physicist to say, that’s what we should expect. We’re talking about dead bodies and living men. It’s not that hard.

Frank Turek:
And the issue of the virgin birth, or the virgin conception I should say, I think you point this out elsewhere, is that they didn’t have any problem knowing where babies come from. In fact Joseph was ready to break it off with Mary not because he didn’t know where babies come from but precisely because he did know where they came from.

Tim McGrew:
Exactly. So it’s not that this came as news to the first century Jews. In fact CS Lewis had a friend Austin Farrer who got so frustrated with this stupid chronological snobbery that he actually put a question on the Triposts, the exams at Oxford that said, “Just how ignorant was the first century Jew?”

Frank Turek:
Hmmm…And?

Tim McGrew:
Really they didn’t know where babies came from? And students had to write their reasoned responses to that question. I would have loved to have seen some of the responses.

Frank Turek:
(Laughs)

Tim McGrew:
But that was the question that was put forward…how ignorant? How?

Frank Turek:
And they go from scared, scattered, skeptical disciples because they knew He was dead to the most overwhelming, excited, peaceful missionary force the world has ever known. Twelve people turned the world upside down. And it was precisely because they knew dead men always stayed dead unless, as you said earlier, Someone intervenes. And in this case obviously the Being who created the universe and created the human body of Jesus can resurrect the human body of Jesus if He decides to do so. And He did. Now by the way, Tim, why is a resurrection more plausible on a character like Jesus than say just an average Joe?

Tim McGrew:
Wow, tons of reasons. Can we start with the fact that the entire arc of Old Testament prophecy imbued with the promise of this coming Messiah, leads to Jesus and to nobody else, points to Jesus and to nobody else. To take nothing else, take Isaiah 53. Read it aloud to a skeptical friend of yours. Don’t tell him where it’s from, he’ll see that you probably have a Bible in your hand, and just say, “Who’s this talking about?” And they’ll immediately say, “That’s stupid. Of course it’s Jesus.” And then you tell them, even on the most skeptical dating of this book, it was written centuries before the era of the New Testament and the birth of Jesus. That alone ought to be enough to draw people up short and make them say, “Whoa! Really?”

Then you have the fact that He has a very distinctive message, one that you could not have predicted by trawling through the Old Testament and pulling out passages. Yes, He seems to be the fulfillment of prophecy but also His life, His character and HIs message were not things you and I could just cobble together by reading the Old Testament. There is a very interesting question here. If there were a God and He wanted to act, where would He do it? And the answer is to certify a message of unprecedented religious importance for us, and that’s exactly the kind of thing that Jesus is offering. Now that doesn’t by itself prove that His message is true but that’s the kind of place you’d expect a miracle if God worked a miracle at all.

Frank Turek:
That’s right. You quote the Roman poet Horace who said this, “Let not a god intervene unless there be a knot worthy of a god’s untying.”

Tim McGrew:
Right.

Frank Turek:
That’s just very well said. God is not going to do a miracle for no good reason.

Tim McGrew:
Right. Don’t bring him in because you can. Or just to do some kind of circus trick. If it’s really something important, something worthy, then OK. That’s where God should come in if God comes in at all.

Frank Turek:
And God I think has come in, and we’re going to talk more with my friend Timothy McGrew of Western Michigan University…after the break.

A philosophical perspective on miracles – part 2

This is the second in a series of 4 articles on miracles, based upon a podcast I listened to, and was inspired by, by Tim McGrew. The articles are really handy for defending the faith and they take a look at miracles from a philosophical perspective.

Links to all 4 articles are given below:

https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-1/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-2/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-3/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-4/

Listen to the interview here: http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

Following is the second article:

Frank Turek:
Tim you have written a pithy little article on the interaction between miracles and science. Can you give the article name from Slate Magazine?

Tim McGrew:
This came about as part of a symposium, with a lot of different people chiming in, some pro, some con. My essay was called, “Do miracles really violate the laws of science?” You can do a Google search for this with my name, which should pop up with the Slate article. It’s a short article, I had to write it under some wording constraints but that was ok, it was a fun article to write.

Frank Turek:
It was, and why don’t we address that right now. Do miracles somehow violate the laws of science? What would you say to that?

Tim McGrew:
The first thing I would say is no. Let’s talk about our definitions here. David Hume saddled the world with a false dilemma when he pitted miracles against the laws of nature. Basically, science tells us, and formulates in its laws, statements about what happens when nature is left to itself. Miracles, if they occur at all, occur because nature is NOT left to itself. So really, to say that a miracle is ruled out by the laws of nature is just to make a mistake about what the laws of nature tell us. When you consider the natural world as a closed system with no inputs from the outside we have sets of regularities and rules and we can do wonderful things with that…and I think everybody ought to be very excited about the successes of science in that way. But if something is intervening from the outside then the whole picture changes and you have to ask yourself what grounds do we have for believing that someone is intervening from outside of the system?

Frank Turek:
And you write in a longer piece as well, in a four views book…has that four views book come out yet Tim, the one you sent me an article on?

Tim McGrew:
It’s due on September 13th.

Frank Turek:
What’s it called, so our listeners can get it?

Tim McGrew:
I believe it’s called “Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy.”

Frank Turek:
You sent me an advanced copy and you write in it, science tells us what nature does when it’s left to itself…miracles, if they occur at all, occur precisely because nature is not left to itself and you go on to say this. Believers and skeptics agree that there is a stable causal order, a normal course of events in which virgins are not pregnant and dead men stay dead and precisely because they are agreed on this point it cannot be a significant piece of evidence against the occurrence of miracles. Some conception of the ordinary course of nature is required for us to even make sense of the notion of a miracle which otherwise could not be recognised for what it is. I think that’s a brilliant point, Tim. There’s no way for us to identify what a miracle is unless we have the background of regular, repeatable natural events. Miracles by definition would have to be rare events if they’re going to get our attention. If they were occurring regularly we would think they were some sort of natural phenomenon. But the very idea that they occur rarely and they’re against the backdrop of nature is what has them stand out so we can recognise them. Now with that in mind, what is the purpose of a miracle from a biblical perspective?

Tim McGrew:
Ok, the very first thing I want to say is I wish I could take credit for that point but the old books win again. That’s a point made vividly by one of Hume’s critics who wrote while he was alive…William Adams. Much as I would like to say that that’s my own brilliant idea, actually I’m just getting it from reading old books. Now as to the biblical purpose of miracles, they come out very clearly in a little interchange Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3. You’ll remember that Nicodemus comes to Jesus BY NIGHT because he’s a little bit afraid and he says to him, “Rabbi, we know you’re a teacher sent from God because no man can do the works that you do unless God be with him.” These are signs of divine authority and they are to function to help us identify divine teachings and messages. After all, if there’s something we need to know, that God wants to communicate to us, we need to be able to separate it out from a fine-sounding philosophy or a brilliantly-written novel or play or poem. We need to rise above the level of human inspiration. How can we tell that? Because the messages are accompanied by signs that cannot be done by people working without the authority of God.

Frank Turek:
Hmmm….So the sign confirms the sermon, the miracle confirms the message or the messenger…and friends, that’s why often you see in the Bible that miracles are bunched around certain people like Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. These miracles aren’t done for entertainment purposes, they’re done to confirm that these individuals are presenting new revelation from God and the people should take it as new revelation from God because miracles are poured out through these people. Now Tim, a lot of people will say, Well maybe miracles have occurred but why don’t we see more of them today? They seem to be occurring throughout the Bible, some will say, but we don’t seem to see them today. What do you say to that?

Tim McGrew:
Ok, there are a couple of different issues entangled here. One of the things that I would want to say is we don’t see them scattered evenly throughout the Bible. As you said, they tend to bunch or to use CS Lewis’s phrase, we find them at the “great ganglia of history” where things are coming together. So if you were to use the scriptures as your sort of rule of thumb in what you should expect, you should not expect them to be salted evenly through all of history from biblical times onward.

The second thing I want to say is there’s a distinction between saying the special gift of working miracles is current today and saying miracles happen today. Many Christians believe in prayer and believe God can work miracles in answer to prayer who would not believe that somebody like Benny Hinn is specially commissioned to work miracles.

Frank Turek:
Hmmm…

Tim McGrew:
So that’s a distinction that some people slide over, I think that needs to be recognised.

The third thing that I would say is that if miracles were to happen we would expect them to happen only in places where they were really most needed…and curiously enough there is a rather substantial amount of contemporary testimonial evidence to the occurrence of miracles particularly in places where the church is under persecution, or where you might think that they’d be in the greatest need of some kind of a sign. Now I’m no expert in that and speaking candidly, I’ve never witnessed a miracle, but when I read a work like my good friend Craig Keener’s two volume work on miracles and I read all of the documentation he’s amassed, it makes me wonder if I need to get out more.

(NOTE FROM NAOMI:
While in the John Cade Unit, where I was placed because my faith in Christ was defined as mental illness, I experienced intense persecution and two miracles in quick succession. The miracles occurred after I had been fasting for two weeks, as part of seeking God with all my heart. The situation was that a nurse wanted to take blood samples and urine from me while I was very dehydrated and could produce neither naturally. I prayed to Jesus to help the lady with her samples. At that point, suddenly, blood flowed into the test tube and dilute urine was soon copiously produced into the bottle the nurse had given me. I was astonished and comforted as I knew Christ was honouring my fast and protecting me under great duress.)

Frank Turek:
Hahaha, yes. If we look at Craig Keener’s two-volume, hernia-inducing work…it’s very voluminous, these two volumes. If just half of what he says in there….ten percent of what he says in there is really true and I have no reason to doubt any of it, miracles are occurring today. But as you pointed out Tim, I don’t think there are people out there with the gift of miracles, I think miracles occur when God wants to do them for particular reasons. You say in particular areas where they’re more needed today. I think another insight that you were probably about to get to as well is the almost counter-intuitive impact of miracles on some people in the New Testament, particularly Caiaphas and others. Can you comment on that a little bit?

Tim McGrew:
Yes…so, I think it’s a really important distinction to make between the evidence FOR a miracle and the willingness of someone to respond in a reasonable way to that evidence. People have vested interests. They have their way of seeing things, they have their system of belief and maybe they have their way their life is going and they’re pretty happy with it. And then along comes a miracle and it RUINS things. If you want to see a really vivid, dramatic portrayal of that, there’s a novel by Graham Greene, a mid-20th Century author, called, “The End of the Affair.” The main character is a skeptic and he disbelieves in God but is angry at Him. But he deliberately slams the phone down before he can hear someone that he knows telling him that a miracle has occurred because he doesn’t want to hear that word. People are resistant to things, and they’re irrationally resistant. We know this is a matter of general truth but it really comes home when you read the New Testament and you see people say in John 12 who, once a notable miracle has occurred with Lazarus being raised and there’s no denying it, what do they do? Well they start making plans to kill Lazarus again!

Frank Turek:
(Laughs)

Tim McGrew:
Wow! Really? It’s no wonder Gamaliel had to tell them in Acts 5, you’ll end up fighting against God (see Acts 5:34-40).

Frank Turek:
(Laughs). It’s true, they don’t want to hear. I’m reminded of a quote from GK Chesterton, who said this, he said, “The believers in miracles accept them, rightly or wrongly, because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them, rightly or wrongly, because they have a doctrine against them.” In other words, they’re dogmatists.

Tim McGrew:
Yeah, that’s a quotation from “Orthodoxy” by Chesterton I think. It’s near the end.

Frank Turek:
Yes, yes. And it seems so many people out here have an anti-supernatural bias that regardless of what evidence you put in front of them they are not going to believe that any kind of intelligence or any kind of miracle worker was involved. And in fact we’re going to pick this up after the break. And when we come back we’re going to get into the issue of anti-supernatural bias, we’ll talk a little bit about science disproving the possibility of miracles, we’ll also get into amputees – why doesn’t God heal amputees – and some other questions as well. So don’t go away.

I hope you enjoyed part 2 of the five part series on miracles. Part 3 to follow within the next few days. May the Lord Jesus bless you now and always.

A philosophical perspective on miracles – part 1

I am going to write a series of 4 articles on miracles, based upon a podcast I listened to, and was inspired by, by Tim McGrew. The articles are really handy for defending the faith and they take a look at miracles from a philosophical perspective.
Links to all 4 articles are given below:

https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-1/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-2/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-3/
https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/a-philosophical-perspective-on-miracles-part-4/

Listen to the interview here: http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

Following is the first article:

Dr Frank Turek:
In an age of scientific enlightenment, can we really believe in miracles? Particularly miracles of the bible, in particular the New Testament. Many atheists say miracles are impossible, some even claim they are anti-scientific. Some may even claim that science can disprove miracles. And isn’t the evidence always better to say that a miracle has NOT occurred than to say that a miracle has occurred? We may also cover the objection many atheists bring up: if your God can do miracles why doesn’t He heal amputees? And didn’t the New Testament writers just make up the resurrection story? These are all questions we’re going to try to get to today if we get time. Tim McGrew is currently looking at miracles from a philosophical perspective, it’s a very intense area of research for him. He teaches at Western Michigan University. And recently he has been doing a lot of research into the dialogue David Hume and his opponents and supporters had back in the 1700’s on this issue of miracles.

Tim McGrew:
All this began by my doing a piece on miracles for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. One thing that came out as I was doing the research to write that piece is that although David Hume is important in the conversation, he neither started nor ended it. Many of the points he raises have already been raised by other people in the debate and they have been responded to. So there are many different voices in the debate, up to the present time.

Some three years ago the John Templeton Foundation decided to fund a grant doing research on this perspective and my task has been to create an online database which will contain all perspectives, all voices and, more importantly, it will link them up to see who was responding to whom. You can then trace the controversy and read their works there on the website. We will be putting that online soon: it’s a great research tool, for laypersons and scholars alike.

Dr Frank Turek:
What was Hume’s main argument against miracles, Tim?

Tim McGrew:
There are two parts to this:

  1. There’s some interpretive dispute about this but it seems he is saying that the idea of a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. So if a miracle occurred the laws of nature are false. But the evidence we have for the laws of nature is the best evidence we can have for any kind of empirical claim. And since it’s the best we can imagine having and the testimony to a miracle is at best a weaker kind of argument, science wins, miracles lose, and it can never be reasonable to believe in a reported miracle. That, in a nutshell, is the way most people read the first part of Hume’s argument against miracles.
  2. After that he gets into subsidiary arguments in the second section. In that section he talks of things like: were the people who testified to a miracle highly educated, did they do it in a notable “theatre of the world” (so other eyes could be watching them and catching them out if they were falsifying things), were they men of wealth, prestige and power so they had a lot to lose if they were shown to be misrepresenting the facts, aren’t there miracles from many religions thereby cross-cancelling each other and leaving us back where we started?

All of the above arguments Hume brought up in part 2. But all of these arguments had been canvassed before he wrote. His main contribution therefore to the debate was in part 1.

Dr Frank Turek:
Would it be fair to say Tim that Hume’s argument against miracles was more epistemological than ontological? In other words, he was making the point that we can’t really know if we have a miracle. He wasn’t saying miracles are impossible ontologically, that there’s no way they can happen. The argument against a miracle claim (epistomologically) is always better, in his view, than the evidence for it.

You hear this quite frequently when I go to campus colleges, the atheists will say, “Well…extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Miracles are extraordinary claims and you have to have extraordinary evidence for that. What would you say in response to that?

Tim McGrew:
Well I guess the first thing I would ask is: what do you mean by extraordinary evidence? Do you mean one gigantic piece of evidence or – as in many other areas of life – can we build a very strong case by a bunch of ordinary pieces of evidence that all point in the same direction? There are claims that are improbable, for example, that my cousin will win the lottery with a ticket he has bought is an improbable claim. And yet, if he sees the winning number announced on television and phones me up and says, “I’ve got it! I’ve got the winning ticket!” I have plenty of reasons to believe him. We believe in the improbable all the time and are perfectly reasonable in so doing so we shouldn’t use “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” as a stick to beat people with who might sometimes be justified in believing the improbable.

Dr Frank Turek:
It’s an interesting example you give. That your friend’s won the lottery is an improbable event. But the ordinary evidence, that he has the winning ticket, is enough for you to say, “He DID win the lottery, as improbable as that is.”

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of the five part series on miracles. Part 2 to follow tomorrow. May the Lord Jesus bless you now and always.

Read, receive, believe – in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God

Lately I have been impressed by the Holy Spirit of Truth to witness to my family. Some background on this. I’ve always been a sincere follower of Jesus Christ, though my walk has been far from consistent over the years. During one of my walks, and due to this inconsistency, my family did not believe that I was speaking the truth when I witnessed their need to be saved by Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God. Instead they called the mental health services, who then followed up with me like bulldogs – to my great consternation – for the next few weeks. I have had issues ever since trying to prove that my faith is genuine to close family members.

Interestingly, I have read that sometimes the last people saved Christians witness to is indeed close family members. I wonder why this is so. Why do we feel it is easier and perhaps less burdensome to open our hearts to strangers, risking ridicule and rejection, than to stand in the gap for unsaved souls we share genetics and a long history with (see Ezekiel 13:5 and 22:30)? Surely it should be easiest for us to reach out to people we have loved since childhood as we are more likely to know the paths to their hearts? Yet so often we fail to do so, and I have been guilty myself of shrinking back when faced with God’s clear edict to “teach all nations” (Matthew 8:19), beginning with my family.

In the last week or so I have been impressed by God to overcome my reluctance to reach out to family with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve responded by sending each household a King James bible, with a Chick gospel tract inserted neatly where Psalm 119 (extolling the virtues of the Word of God as our basis for faith) is located. I’ve also made an effort to extend myself in becoming more a part of my family’s lives on an ongoing basis, which I previously neglected to do as many of them live quite far away. I have yet to develop the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9) that God calls us to exhibit but I hope that when I do my family might one day see Christ in me and be encouraged.

Yesterday, however, I struck an issue. I could not for the life of me remember my aunt’s home address and when I searched the White Pages online, I found her phone number was not listed. Then, to my astonishment and delight, a wonderful thing happened. Her street name and number were quite clearly and authoritatively impressed upon my mind…when I checked later with my sister, I found that what I had been given spiritually was utterly true and correct. This gave me incredible encouragement to keep going with my commitment to witness to my aunt and her friend, as I’d previously felt a strange, fleshly reluctance to do so. It was clear that God was 100% behind my efforts to spread the gospel to all my family members, particularly my aunt’s household.

The above was the first little miracle and “assistance from above” that I received yesterday. More was to follow. After I mailed out bibles to three separate family households I spent some time in our front garden, painstakingly pulling up weeds. As I did so, the following three words were impressed on my mind concerning bringing people to faith: read, receive, believe. When I pondered these words in my heart over the next day or so, I found – again, to my delight and wonder – that they dovetailed neatly with three phrases God gave me when writing the article “Fighting demons with God’s love” on this site (see https://aeon01.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/fighting-demons-with-gods-love/). The two categories of words formed an interesting spiritual pattern which I will explain here for your edification.

1. Read – the Word of God…which is true (fits with “God is true”).
2. Receive – the Spirit of Truth…which is given in love (fits with “God is love”).
3. Believe – in Jesus of Nazareth…who is the Son of God (fits with “God is faith”).

I hope the above encourages you in your faith walk with the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. It certainly did me, as, like all Christians, I have moments of doubt and discouragement. May we all come to the realization today that we are true children of God, that we are really saved and going to heaven, where we will see God and those we have loved (and witnessed to) on earth.

God bless you.
Naomi