Monday, 26 April 2010

Who are the saints?

Church tradition:

Beatification is when the church recognises that a dead person is in heaven and able to intercede with God on behalf of people on earth

Canonization is when the church admits the dead person’s name into the ‘canon’ (list) of saints.

The first saint was canonized around 1000 AD, so it’s a relatively recent tradition.

The church believes that its decisions on canonization are infallible (although there are instances where it has reversed these decisions).

Church tradition conflicts with the Bible:

 Church tradition says that saints intercede with God on behalf of people on earth. There are many instances where people intercede with God on behalf of others, but they are always living people on earth (e.g. Genesis 20:17, Job 42:10, Deuteronomy 9:26, Jeremiah 7:16, Nehemiah 1:6). The Bible says nothing about dead believers interceding for living believers. The Bible insists that the only intercessor in heaven is Jesus Christ (e.g. Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25, 1 Timothy 2:5).
 Church tradition says that the saints are in heaven. According to the Bible, dead people don’t go to heaven! This is another subject.

Saints in the Bible:

The word is used of:
 Aaron the first High Priest (Psalm 106:16) – the only time in the Bible that an individual is specifically called a saint
 faithful people in Israel (1 Samuel 2:9, Psalm 132:9, Psalm 34:9);
 followers of Jesus (Philippians 4:21, Acts 9:10, 13, 40, Romans 1:7, 12:13, 15:25).

The word is used of faithful believers who have separated themselves to serve God – living, not dead.

Attributes of saints:

Romans 1:7 – people are called to be saints
1 Corinthians 1:2 – saints are sanctified (made holy, separated to God)
1 Corinthians 6:2 – the saints will judge the world
Ephesians 1:18 – the saints are promised an inheritance
Ephesians 2:19 – they are members of the household of God
2 Thessalonians 1:20 – Jesus will be glorified in the saints when he returns
Revelation 19:8 – they are called righteous.


 The popular church tradition, that the saints are specially godly people who died and are now in heaven interceding for people on earth, is without any Bible basis.
 We have only one intercessor in heaven – Jesus Christ.
 ‘Saints’ is a name given to all believers. They are obedient to God, they try to lead lives that are separate to God, and they have an essential part to plan in God’s future plan for the world.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Life after death – facing the facts

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 18th April 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Genesis 2:7 – God made man out of dust, and breathed the breath of life into him, and he became a living soul (the word ‘soul’ means ‘creature’).

Dust + breath of life = living creature

Psalm 146:4 – “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish.”

Living creature – breath of life = dust

Genesis 3 is the account of the fall of Adam and Eve. Death is punishment for sin, not a reward. It is simply ceasing to exist, it is not a gateway to another existence.

As a result of their fall, Adam and Eve became mortal (dying). Their offspring inherit this mortality. (This does not mean their offspring are being punished for Adam & Eve’s sin – it means they are sinners and mortal.)

The tree of life could have made Adam and Eve live for ever (Genesis 3:22), but God could not allow them to eat of it and live for ever once they were sinners. So he sent them away from it and placed cherubim with a flaming sword to keep them away. From then on, to try to get to the tree of life would have meant death.

This is an indication of how the human race will find its way back to the tree of life – by dying!

“As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) This is the Bible’s teaching about life after death. God gave his son Jesus Christ to die to reopen the way back to him. Those who share in Christ’s life and death (by baptism and a life of obedience) will be allowed to ‘eat of the tree of life’ (Revelation 2:7).

In the Bible, people believed in the resurrection of the dead, not in heaven-going – e.g. Job 19:26, Psalm 16:10, John 11:25, Hebrews 11:17-19.

Death for the disciple is like sleep – 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

The true Bible hope of everlasting life is in the Kingdom of God – Revelation 21:3-4.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Jews are God’s witnesses

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 11th April 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Christadelphians believe that
 the Jews were and are still God’s chosen people
 the Jews are God’s witnesses

We believe that it’s essential to take the Bible as a whole (see Romans 15 v 4, Galatians 3 v 24 and 2 Timothy 3 v 16) and we started off by looking at the Old Testament, which chronicles the early history of the Jews.

Going back to the beginning of the Jewish nation, Abraham was called out by God (Genesis 12 vv 1-3) who made a covenant with him. In Genesis 17 we read that God promised to make Abraham a father of nations and that he was promised a land ‘for an everlasting possession’ – the land then called Canaan.

The covenant – and duty of obedience - fell in turn onto Isaac, Abraham’s son, then Jacob and the twelve tribes and their descendants. After their slavery in Egypt, the now numerous people were freed and were led into the wilderness where their relationship was reaffirmed. (They are referred to as the children of Israel – the name God gave to Jacob).

Exodus 19 vv 4-6 tells us that they were to be God’s ‘treasured possession…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. Deuteronomy 7 vv 6-8 reinforces this. God was faithful to the original promises to Abraham.

However this privilege brought responsibility: Obedience would result in blessings on the nation, disobedience in cursing. Deuteronomy chapter 28 sets this out in detail – see for example verses 64-6, which prophesy that the nation would be scattered and persecuted.

Before the children of Israel entered the promised land of Canaan for this first time, their then leader, Joshua set before them an ultimatum, summing up the care that God had shown for them and asking them to commit themselves to serving Him. As a nation the people choose to serve God. (Joshua 23 and 24 especially verse 24).

The Bible records not just the covenants that were made but the times that the nation of Israel were disobedient throughout their history. For example in Isaiah 43 God says to Israel ‘you are my witnesses’ (vv 10-12). At this time, the northern part of the kingdom of Israel was in captivity in Assyria and the southern part – called Judah – under attack from the Babylonians. There are consequences for their national disobedience (vv 22-24) but God showed great patience telling them through the prophet Jeremiah that He would bring them back to their own land, which happened as prophesied.

Jesus Christ prophesied to the Jews in his day that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Today we can see the Arch of Titus in Rome, depicting the ransacking of the treasures from the temple when the Romans overturned Jerusalem a few years later in AD70, when it is said that over a million Jews were killed.

Over the centuries and throughout the world there have been many persecutions of Jews. They have been scattered and ‘moved on’ only to become the focus of persecution elsewhere. And yet they have always retained their identity in circumstances where other nations have disappeared.

Mark Twain, noting that they were less than 1% of the world’s population anyway and looking at this remarkable history asked “what is the secret of their immortality?” (The Immortal Jew, 1899).

The Jews indeed witness to the existence of God by the fact of their own existence!

A homeland was being sought and in 1917, an answer to ‘the Jewish question’ was suggested by the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour: In a letter now known as the Balfour Declaration he proposed that Palestine be a home to the Jews. Palestine was their original homeland!

The Nazi persecution accelerated the numbers returning to Palestine and we are again reminded of the detail of Deuteronomy 28 which prophesied so clearly the experiences of the Jews in the early part of the twentieth century!

However, God had said of the nation through his prophet Jeremiah “of you I will not make a full end” (vv10-11).

There were calls for the UN to partition the land of Palestine. Leaders such as Churchill said that ‘it is right that the Jews should have a national centre’.
Eventually, on May 14th 1948, David Ben Gurion was able to declare the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine to be called Israel.

God remembers His promises. He is working in the world to maintain His covenant.

What about now? We see decades of conflict and unrest in the Middle East – the Gaza conflict, the threats against Israel. The BBC ran the headline ‘Jerusalem – Crucible of Conflict’ in 2001. God had told us that this would be the case through the prophet Zechariah (12 v 3). There is still huge disagreement about land and rights to places of religious significance.

In the book of Romans we find that Israel – whatever their faults and disobedience or disregard of God’s law – are still God’s chosen people (Romans 11 vv 1-2) and will be saved (vv25-7). God’s covenant still stands. Zechariah’s prophecy about the time of Christ’s return makes it clear that the Jews will accept Christ (12v10) and be saved.

God’s covenant with Abraham and the nation of Israel is also relevant to us. We read in Galatians 3 v 7-9 that we can share in those promises too – everlasting life in God’s kingdom. Abraham didn’t receive the fulfilment of the promises in his lifetime (Acts 7 v 5) but will do so when Christ returns and when we can also receive the same blessings (Hebrews 11 v 13).

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The true meaning of forgiveness

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 4th April 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

The need for forgiveness
Sin is any act or thought that is against the will of God. (It’s defined as ‘transgression of the law’, 1 John 3:4). We are all sinners. The process of sin is described in James 1:14-15: "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." We are tempted to do something that is against the will of God; we give in to the temptation and do it, that is sin.

This process of temptation leading to sin is seen time and again in the Bible, for example Eve (Genesis 3:1-6) and David (2 Samuel 11:2-4).

God’s sentence for sin is death (Ezekiel 18:4). Because we are sinners, we need forgiveness.

Forgiveness and God
God is merciful and longsuffering – he doesn’t want to condemn, he wants to forgive (e.g. Exodus 33:5-7. Psalm 78:38-39).

The process of forgiveness is described for us. The following two psalms were written by David after his sin in 2 Samuel 11.

  • Psalm 32 – God forgives and covers sin (verses 1-2); unforgiven sin causes misery (verses 3-4); forgiveness is not automatic but requires the sinner to acknowledge and confess it (verses 5-6).
  • Psalm 51 – David wanted to be forgiven (verses 1-2); he acknowledged his sin and was forgiven (verses 3-4); his sin was not a one-off act, but was inherent (verses 5-6); he repented (verses 10-11); his forgiveness resulted in a desire to spread the news of God’s love (verses 13-17).

What we have seen so far – we all sin, but if we acknowledge our sins and turn away from them (this is what the Bible means by ‘repentance’), God will forgive us.

We not only sin, we are inherently sinful – we live under the sentence of death. But God doesn’t want it to be like this …

Forgiveness and Jesus
God gave his son Jesus so that we can escape our death sentence (John 3:16).

Jesus was a human just like us, and tempted just like us (Hebrews 4:15). See for example his temptations in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, and Gethsemane at the end. He was tempted, but he never gave in to sin. His lust never ‘conceived’ (see James 1:15).

"The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Because Jesus never sinned, "the grave could not hold him" (Acts 2:24), so God raised him from the dead.

Romans chapter 6 describes how we sinners can share in his victory over sin and death, if we give ourselves to him (it’s all about baptism – which is another subject).

So what?
God wants to forgive our sins, but he will not forgive us if we do not forgive each other (Matthew 6:12-15, Mark 11:25-26).

God is infinitely longsuffering and forgiving towards us, and so must we be towards each other (Matthew 18:21-35).

Jesus gave us the supreme example of forgiveness – Luke 23:34.