Tour of Israel #7, Mount of Beatitudes

View from Possible Location of the Sermon on the Mount

View from Possible Location of the Sermon on the Mount

While we cannot be sure where the Lord Jesus delivered His famous Sermon on the Mount, we do know that His teaching astonished people for its authority (Matt. 7:28). Christ called people to a way of life radically different than the religion popularized by the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20).

Matthew had summarized Christ’s preaching with the words, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). In the Beatitudes, Christ gave us eight pithy sayings that capture what repentance looks like. They are the Beatitudes, or declarations of the kind of person God has blessed with membership in His kingdom, both now and forever (Matt. 5:3–10). Rather than looking at each Beatitude distinctly, let’s use them like eight colors to paint a picture of what our Lord calls us to in discipleship, and what He promises.

Who are the people who have truly repented? They are a broken and humbled people in their relationships with God and man. They are not rich in their own estimation, but poor; not boasters, but mourners over their sins; not graspers and controllers, but meek and gentle. They long to be holy and to do the Father’s will. They do not simply clean up their external morality, but their hearts are cleansed by faith in Christ so that they sincerely love God and people. This love shows itself in mercy when they encounter people in misery and trouble. They have been reconciled to God, and so they seek to make peace among men. Yet their lives are so different from the world, especially the world of religious hypocrites, that they suffer hostility, slander, and all kinds of persecution. They are heavenly pilgrims in this world.

What blessing does the Lord promise them? It is the kingdom of heaven, where Christ will reign in His glory and His people will shine like the sun. No longer will they sorrow over sin, for all their sins will be gone, and they will be filled like golden cups with the wine of holiness. God will not give them what they deserve, but will show them mercy and openly declare them to be His beloved children in Christ. Though they were the most humble and gentle of men and women, they will rule as conquering kings and queens over the new creation. Best of all, they will directly see the glory of God shining in Jesus Christ, in each other, and in the new heavens and earth. Therefore, Christ says to them, “Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed!” If you are a Beatitude person, then you are blessed indeed.

Israel, Family near Road from Jericho to Jerusalem

Tour of Israel #6: The City of Dan

Elders Sitting on the Elders' Seats in the Gates of the City of Dan

Elders Sitting on the Elders’ Seats in the Gates of the City of Dan

The city of Dan was the northern extreme of the kingdom of Israel, and so the entire land could be described as “from Dan even to Beersheba” (Judg. 20:1; 1 Kings 4:25). Originally known by its Canaanite name “Laish,” the tribe of Dan conquered and renamed the city. Tragically, idol-worship and false religion characterized the city of Dan throughout its history.

When the children of Dan marched on the city of Laish to take it, along the way they obtained the idols and priest of a man named Micah. Though God’s law strictly prohibits divine images and requires us to worship only in the way God commands, these Israelites did not hesitate to set up their own form of worship, man-made idols served by a man-made priesthood (Judg. 18:29–31). Apostasy like this moved the author of Judges to write, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Let us learn never to base our worship of God upon the ideas and preferences of man, but always upon the Word of God.

Many years later, when King Jeroboam set up his own religion of the gold calves for the breakaway kingdom of the ten northern tribes of Israel, he placed one idol in Bethel, and another in Dan (1 Kings 12:29–31). This man-made religion clung so closely to the people that even when King Jehu brought religious reform and removed Baal worship from the land, he still did not get rid of the horrible idols of Bethel and Dan (2 Kings 10:29). They led Israel into sin, and provoked the Lord to send the nation into exile and captivity (1 Kings 14:16).

Let us never forget that we worship a holy God. Many churches have a careless attitude toward worship. They replace the pure worship revealed in the Bible with human traditions, human innovations, and human images. Like the sons of Aaron, they bring God worship He has not authorized, and dishonor His holiness (Lev. 10).

However, let us remember as well that the Lord is a God who saves sinners from their idols. The genealogies of Chronicles and the list of tribes in Revelation 7 omit the tribe of Dan, perhaps as a testimony against its wicked departure from true worship. Yet Ezekiel’s symbolic vision of the future of God’s people includes Dan in the land and the holy city (Ezek. 48:1–2, 32). Perhaps Ezekiel is reminding us here that Christ has redeemed worshipers from false religion just as surely as He redeemed sinners from moral corruption. If Christ can save Dan, then He can save anyone from false worship. Let us therefore repent and have hope.

Tour of Israel #5: Capernaum

Dr. Halvor Ronning at Ancient Synagogue in Capernaum

Dr. Halvor Ronning at Ancient Synagogue in Capernaum

Capernaum, which means “village of Nahum” (with no apparent connection to the prophet by that name) was chosen by the Lord Jesus as the strategic center of His ministry in Galilee (Matt. 4:13). This made Capernaum a privileged place indeed. Christ may have had some family connections there (John 2:12). Simon Peter’s home was in Capernaum, and there Christ healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a severe fever, and many others (Luke 4:31–41).

It was in Capernaum that Christ was teaching in a house when four men brought a paralyzed man to Him by cutting a whole in the roof and lowering the man down. Christ used this is an opportunity to declare His authority to forgive sins, which shows that Christ is God (Mark 2:1–12).

Christ taught in Capernaum’s synagogue and cast an evil spirit out of a demonized man (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31–37; John 6:59). The synagogue building had been constructed through the generosity of a Gentile centurion who proved to be a man of great humility and faith in Christ (Luke 7:1–10). However, Christ refused to settle His ministry in Capernaum, but traveled as an itinerant preacher throughout Galilee (Luke 4:42–44).

God blessed Capernaum with great gospel privileges, and from its people the Lord drew men like Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be Christ’s disciples (Mark 1:16–21). Yet sadly, most of its people did not repent of their sins, though they heard Jesus Christ’s preaching and saw His miracles (Matt. 11:20). Later in Christ’s ministry, He pronounced this curse upon them: “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell… it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Matt. 11:23–24).

Capernaum should sober us. Great gospel privileges bring great gospel responsibilities. Every sermon we hear, if we are not believers, heats hell’s fires hotter for us. How hard is the heart of mankind, that the very presence of the living Jesus was not enough to turn us back to God! Whenever the Lord gives someone us a new heart that is humble and contrite at His Word, then we should profusely thank Him. We should join Jesus in saying, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11:25–26). Thank God for saving grace!

Tour of Israel #4, Christ’s Ministry at Tabgha

Fish Dinner in Israel

Fish Dinner in Israel

Tabgha is an Arabic name derived from the Greek word for “seven springs” (heptapegon). Christians have traditionally associated this location with two events in the life of Jesus Christ: the feeding of the five thousand and the threefold re-commissioning of Peter to feed Christ’s sheep after the Lord rose from the dead. Both of these events remind us of the insufficiency of man and the sufficiency of Christ.

One wonders what kind of expression was on the apostles’ faces after Jesus told them, “Give ye them [something] to eat” (Mark 6:37). Five thousand men plus women and children—a veritable army—surrounded them. In their hands were five loaves and two fish, a mere snack for the twelve apostles, much less for the crowds milling around them. They blurted out, “Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread?” (Mark 6:37). Translated into modern terms, “Should we spend over eight months of wages to give this crowd a single meal?” Surely Jesus was asking them to do the impossible. They were inadequate for the job.

Fast-forward past Christ’s resurrection, when He appeared to seven of his disciples as they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John 21). The disciples fished all night, and caught nothing. Once again, they were confronted by their inadequacy, here even to provide for their own needs. Later they met Christ on the shore, and three times He asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” (John 21:15–17). Like a doctor debriding a wound, his three questions painfully cleansed Simon Peter of his three denials of Christ. How utterly humbled he must have felt, totally unworthy to serve the Lord as one of His apostles.

However, at each point, just as Christ uncovers our insufficiency He reveals His all-sufficiency. In the hands of Jesus, the five loaves and two fish multiply to feed the thousands, with baskets left to spare. At the command of Jesus, the fisherman cast the net on the right side of the boat, and hauled in 153 large fish. And each time Peter answered Christ’s probing questions with a humble, “Thou knowest that I love thee,” Jesus answered not with a rebuke or accusation, but with a fresh calling to ministry: “Feed my sheep.” Our insufficiency opens the door for the entrance of Christ’s sufficiency so that we can serve Him with confident faith.

This is a lesson that must be experienced: I am weak, but Thou art everything. Only when we have learned the lesson of the fish are we prepared to serve Christ by His grace alone.

Israel, Fish Dinner on Plate

Tour of Israel #3, The Sea of Galilee

With My Family on the Sea of Galilee

With My Family on the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee will always be a favorite place for Christians touring Israel, for it was here that so much of our Lord’s ministry took place. Here He taught the people from a boat just offshore. Here He walked on the water. Here He calmed the raging storm.

The region of Galilee was the place where our Lord began His ministry of public teaching and preaching. It was here that His teaching dawned upon the world like the rising of a sun after a night that lasted millennia. Galilee is rarely mentioned in the Old Testament, and generally only as a point of geography, but there is one beautiful promise made about Galilee in the prophecy of Isaiah 9. We find it quoted in the Gospel of Matthew:

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt. 4:14–17).

When Isaiah spoke that prophecy, the nation of Assyria was poised to seize the northern kingdom of Israel (Isa. 7:16–17; 8:3–4). God fulfilled His words in 733–732 BC, when King Tiglathpileser of Assyria conquered Galilee and the surrounding regions and carried their people into captivity (2 Kings 15:29). A decade later the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed. The darkness of Israel’s idolatry had overwhelmed the land. As E. J. Young said, “Darkness without and darkness within, ignorance, distress, misery, and sin.”

What a picture this is of our natural condition since the fall: darkness. The Bible not only says that we live in darkness, but that darkness is inside of us, yes, that we are darkness until God saves us (Eph. 4:18; 5:8). Unconverted sinners love the darkness and hate the light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).

Over seven centuries after Isaiah died, the Roman Empire ruled a mixture of Jews and Gentiles in Galilee through its appointed tetrarch, Herod Antipas. In the midst of the darkness, a brilliant light began to shine. Jesus, the Light of the world, had come (John 8:12). His coming as light into darkness reminds us of God’s word spoken into the primeval darkness, “Let there be light.” Christ’s preaching heralded the beginning of a new creation. Has the light of Christ shone into your heart? If so, then you are a new creation too.

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Tour of Israel #2: Nazareth

Touring Nazareth

Touring Nazareth

Dr. Beeke is presently in Israel with a tour group. Here are some devotional thoughts about locations he is visiting.

Though the name of the town Nazareth is well known to us today as the hometown of Jesus, it was an obscure village in the ancient world. It was located a few miles off the main road to the south, and a few miles from Sepphoris, a Roman city, to the north. When Philip told Nathanael that the promised Christ came from Nazareth, Nathanael exclaimed, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). It did not have much of a reputation.

Yet it was in Nazareth that the angel Gabriel appeared to a young woman named Mary to announce the conception and coming birth of Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God (Luke 1:26). After their registration in Bethlehem and sojourn in Egypt, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth and raised their family here (Matt. 2:23). This little village, of perhaps a hundred people, was the hometown of our Lord until He began his public ministry (Mark 1:9; Luke 2:51). Thus to His dying day (and beyond), Christ was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 18:37; Acts 2:22), and even called Himself such when He appeared to Saul of Tarsus as the Lord of glory (Acts 22:8). Early Christians were even sometimes mockingly called “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

It is exceedingly precious to us to know that the King of kings and Lord of Lords would become Jesus of Nazareth. He could have chosen to live anywhere. His hometown of choice speaks of His humiliation for our sins. Paul wrote, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The God of all the earth decided to live most of His life in a poor village that few knew, and that those who did know despised. What amazing mercy!

Man’s pride does not welcome such mercy. Ironically, the very people of Jesus’ hometown rejected Him when He announced in their synagogue that Isaiah’s ancient prophecies were fulfilled in Him (Luke 4:16–30). People do not want a humble Savior who ministers to those who are broken over their sins. We are too committed to our pride and righteousness.

Are we willing to become Nazarenes in order to follow Christ? Will we lower ourselves, yes, admit that we deserve to be lower than the lowest on earth? If we will follow Jesus, we must follow Him on the path downward in humility. We must accept rejection by this world, sometimes by our own families. Yet if we do so, then we may glory in the name, Jesus of Nazareth.

Tour of Israel #1: Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima on the Coast of Israel

Caesarea Maritima on the Coast of Israel

Dr. Beeke is presently in Israel with a tour group. Here are some devotional thoughts about locations he is visiting.

At Caesarea Maritima once stood the magnificent man-made harbor that Herod the Great had constructed. We must remember to distinguish this Caesarea on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea from the inland Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Maritima, or Caesarea by the sea, was once a center for trade and the Roman army and administration of Palestine. However, for Christians, we remember Caesarea especially for its connection to the great mission of the gospel.

It was here that Philip the Evangelist settled after the Lord sent him to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch, using the prophecy of Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:40; 21:8). Thus Caesarea reminds us that faithful evangelism is done by the preaching of the Scriptures.

It was here in Caesarea that the apostle Peter, directed by the Spirit of God, preached the gospel of salvation to the household of Cornelius, a devout centurion of the Roman army (Acts 10). Thus Caesarea reminds us that the gospel is not for any one nation, but under the new covenant overflowed all national boundaries to reach people of all kinds and colors.

It was here that the apostle Paul was imprisoned after being attacked by a mob in Jerusalem (Acts 23:23, 33). On the one hand, this reminds us that the gospel will only advance through the suffering of God’s people. On the other hand, we see here how God’s providence uses even wicked men to extend the gospel mission. For in taking Paul to Caesarea, the Romans saved his life. And while here, Paul preached the gospel to Festus, King Agrippa, Bernice, Felix, and the officials attending them (Acts 24:24—26:32).

As we think of the ruins of Caesarea Maritima, and the vast expanse of the Mediterranean Sea, let us consider the great call of gospel missions that God has placed upon His people. Philip, Peter, and Paul were faithful servants to spread the gospel. Likewise, we must serve the cause of the gospel today. People must hear the preaching of Christ from the Scriptures in order to be saved. The gospel is God’s message of hope for people who are very different in color, culture, and location. The gospel will reach people who have never heard of the Savior only at great cost to faithful Christians. May God use our time here to impress us all with the fact that the great construction projects of men will crumble into ruins, but the kingdom of Christ will triumph and remain, as Christ works mightily through faithful men and women.

Update on the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible

kjv-coverThe first press run of 20,000 copies of the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible has sold remarkably well. Our present stock is nearing depletion after only six months. We are very encouraged to hear from so many of you how useful you have found the Bible to be. The most common responses have been how grateful you are to finally have a KJV Study Bible whose notes are thoroughly Reformed and to have a Study Bible that provides helps for daily family worship. We are particularly encouraged by the families who have written to tell us that they have bought copies for everyone in their family and use it diligently in their daily family worship.

In the next few weeks, we hope to sign a contract for a second printing of 13,000 copies in a variety of editions. We anticipate that 2000 copies in this second printing will be an edition enlarged by 33% which will allow those of you who felt the first edition’s print size was too small to be able to read the Study Bible more easily. We are trusting that this will particularly assist the elderly. The second printing should be available by November; we will keep you posted as to the exact date of publication.

We also wish to thank those of you who read through the Study Bible already and sent in any typographical errors you found. Thankfully, they weren’t many considering that the material printed consists of well over a million words! These corrections have already been made on the electronic version (here) and will be incorporated in the second printing. Only two of them impinge on doctrinal issues and are worthy of mention here. First, the note for Romans 6:1–4 should read, “Justification is not the change of man’s moral nature, but every justified man is a changed man (Titus 3:4–7).” An editor in the outside firm that did the final proofing for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakenly deleted the word not! She has written to us wishing to express her “deepest apologies for any confusion that this error has caused.” Happily, in the introduction to Romans as well as in several other places in the notes to Romans and throughout the Bible, we made abundantly clear that we strongly affirm justification by faith alone. Second, we regret that the wording in the note on Matthew 16:18 was not as clear as it should have been. Hence we have changed this to read as follows: “Peter means ‘a stone’; rock is a different word referring to bedrock (7:24–25). Christ, reflecting on Peter’s name, affirmed that the confession of Him by Peter and the other apostles is the bedrock on which He builds His church (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14). Nothing here implies that Peter is the first in any apostolic or papal succession. True apostolic succession lies in the confession of the gospel through the ages.” We appreciate your alerting us to these things.

We regret that we have not been able to respond to all the encouraging letters, emails, and Facebook notes you have sent us in appreciation for the Study Bible. Please receive this blog as a personal token of gratitude, and continue to spread the word about this Study Bible. Pray with us that God may use this Bible to promote solid biblical, Reformed truth in a doctrinal, experiential, and practical way by the power of His Spirit to thousands of people throughout the world.

To purchase the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, go here.

Quest for the Historical Adam

With Bill VanDoodewaard on the Arrival of His BookWas there a real person named Adam who ate the forbidden fruit of Paradise? Is the Book of Genesis a collection of myths, or an account of history? Dr. William VanDoodewaard, my colleague at PRTS, has traced the beliefs of Christians through the ages on these important questions in his new book, The Quest for the Historical Adam. I am pleased to say that the book has arrived from the printer and is now available for purchase. Ligon Duncan called it “a must read on the subject of Adam and Genesis.”

Adam has long had his skeptics. When Martin Luther commented on the creation of Adam in Genesis 2, he said, “If Aristotle [the Greek philosopher] heard this, he would burst into laughter and conclude that although this is not an unlovely yarn, it is nevertheless a most absurd one.” Luther said that the mind of fallen men “shows in this way that it knows practically nothing about God, who merely by a thought,” made the first man out of the soil of the earth.

Presently there are a number of people who confess themselves to be Christians and yet believe that the human race descended from “a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago,”  and that first cohort of early humans had evolved from other primates similar to apes.  In this view, Genesis 2 is understood to refer not to the literal creation of Adam and Eve, but as “a symbolic allegory of the entrance of the human soul into a previously soulless animal kingdom,” as one author said.

What are the pressures moving some professing Christians to deny the existence of Adam? One is the theory of macro-evolution. Some theologians claim that science “has shown beyond any reasonable scientific doubt that humans and primates share common ancestry.”  Some Bible scholars have declared that the church must accept evolution.  Even some who believe in an historical Adam try to fit him together with the evolution of hominids.

A second pressure is the comparison of Genesis to the myths and creation stories of other ancient near eastern religions. Since these pagan myths have some similarities to the creation and flood stories, we are told that we must also view Genesis as a book that does not claim to tell us historical truth, but only religious parables or myths.

However, if we deny the existence of the historical Adam, not only do we lose the literal meaning of Genesis and of the genealogies of Scripture, but we overthrow the foundation for our trust in Christ’s words (Mark 10:6–8) and His saving work (Rom. 5:12–19). We also lose the theological basis to say that human beings are not mere animals, but God’s representatives to rule over the animals (Gen. 1:26–28). We are stripped of one of our best weapons to fight ethnic division and prejudice (Acts 17:26). It is not an exaggeration to say that without a real Adam, we have no real Christianity. (See my article, “The Case for Adam,” in God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied, ed. Richard D. Phillips.)

Christians have discussed the interpretation of Genesis long before these particular pressures against Adam existed. Centuries before Darwin was born, believers in Christ had to respond to criticism from philosophies which had a different view of creation than that presented by a literal reading of Genesis. How have Christians such as Tertullian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, understood creation and Adam? How did people respond after the rise of the Enlightenment? How has the debate continued in the modern era? This is not a new discussion. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, we can learn much from the past.

HistoricalAdam5__70127.1421354609.315.315Dr. VanDoodewaard’s book traces the discussion about Adam from ancient times to the present, and in so doing it allows us to listen to wise voices from the past about how to properly interpret the Bible. Since the question of Adam is particularly controversial today, The Quest for the Historical Adam is a crucial book for pastors, theologians, and the church as a whole. Ian Duguid, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, says that the book is “an essential entry point to understand contemporary debate.” I heartily commend it to you.

For more information, see www.thequestforadam.com.

Interview on the Works of Perkins (Part 2)

Books at a Glance

Are you interested in learning why the Works of William Perkins were more popular than the writings of John Calvin in early modern England? Part 2 of the interview of Stephen Yuille and me by Books at a Glance is available to read here.