Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Taking the First Step

When I started this blog last year, one of the areas where I tried toffocus was apologetics. Although my previous series that been devoted to this topic, me and some friends a chance to do some practical work outside the realm of the Church and the internet. 

We have started an apologetics class locally in one of our friend's house. Our focus is taking the participants of the class on a systematic course that deals with learning the roots of and answering the objections to the core teachings of Christianity. 

Till now we have covered topics like "What is Apologetics?" and "What is Christianity?" Come tomorrow, I will be speaking on the internal evidence to the truth of the Bible, followed by other speakers who will deal with the historical and archaeological evidence. 

Currently, this project is taking its baby steps. Hopefully in the near future, I will be able to reproduce the material here so that the body of Christ benefits. Most of my material revolves around what we have been discussing in the Bible series

(Next in this series: Internal Evidence of the Bible)

Join this blog to get free updates by email. Also join my Facebook page to get all the latest blog posts on your social media.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

My Christian Faith #4 The Evidence of Prophecy

The evidence of prophecy is a classic argument in Christian apologetics. Jesus and His Apostles frequently alluded to the fact of fulfilled prophecy to prove the genuineness of their ministry. In fact, God puts His Deity on the line when He claims to foretell both the past and the future (Isaiah 41:21-24)

Here I will present 2 examples to back up these claims. One is of the prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled in Jesus, and the other is of events in world history. 

Note that while I am a strong advocate of the miraculous nature of the Bible in its ability to predict the future, I have strong reservations about a lot of prophetic stuff circulating around the internet today, specially concerning how the Bible foretells modern world events. Most prophecies mentioned in Bible, I believe, were fulfilled during the course of its writing. The sole exception can be second coming of Jesus and what we call "Judgement Day".

So without further ado, here are some examples of fulfilled prophecy in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures:

The Messianic Footprint

The Bible starts with the story of creation, and how God revealed Himself to a human couple. All was good till they disobeyed God to their own peril, and lost access to their eternal abode forever. But while God was pronouncing His judgement, He said to the serpent (Genesis 3:15):

"And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

Of course, this refers to the ongoing tussle of God and evil, the battle between the forces of darkness and light as long as the world continues. But we also find a reference to someone who is about to come, someone who will crush the head of the serpent for good. 

Another reference along these lines can be found in Genesis 12:3, where God says that all nations in the world will be blessed through Abraham. As time goes on, these prophecies become more specific, and we know that the Promised One will come from:

  • Isaac (Gen 17:18-19)
  • Tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10)
  • Line of David (2 Samuel 7:14)
  • Town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)

When we open the New Testament, the very first words are:

"This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham"

And when we open Matthew 2: the first verse is:

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,....", 

thus fulfilling the identity of the Promised One. I can quote dozens of other prophecies that even related to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but these are enough to substantiate the claim that when we are talking about Bible prophecies, we are not talking about obscure passages, but rather detailed references that do not have vague fulfillment.

The Succession of Kingdoms

When talking about prophecy and apocalyptic imagery, we cannot gloss over the Book of Daniel. In chapter 2, the king of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar sees a vision of great statue made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay (verses 32-33). In chapter 7, his successor Belshazzar also has a dream, but he sees 4 beasts; a lion, a bear, a winged leopard, and one with 10 horns (verses 4-7).

Daniel, the man of the Lord, was given the ability to interpret dreams. He took both these dreams to mean the rise and fall of 4 kingdoms in succession, starting with the existing rule of Babylon. In chapter 8:20-21, we come to know the name of 2 kingdoms that came after Babylon, and we know from history that the 4th superpower was none other than Rome. 

But that is not all, for the visions of the 4 beasts ends with a mystery figure, "one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven" (verse 14).  

This title "son of man", was Jesus' favorite title. NT writers ascribe this title to him more than 80 times. And when Jesus is standing in front of the Sanhedrin, He shocks everyone by saying:

"From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64)

So not only do we find a secular events being successfully in the Book of Daniel, we see how the entire spectrum Old Testament prophecy comes to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ. 

What's the Point?

The point of this ongoing blog series is to show that there are solid reasons for believing in the claims of the Bible. But here specifically, the evidence of fulfilled prophecy serves another, perhaps much more important, purpose.

Christians are basing our eternity (and therefore our present) on the claims of Jesus that He will come back to destroy evil, establish the rule of peace, and take us to our eternal dwelling in heaven. But what's the proof? Well, since God was faithful throughout history in fulfilling His promises, why would He back out now?

        Monday, 18 February 2013

        The Rock of Ages

        Most of us are familiar with Exodus 17, at least the part where God provides water from a rock. When we read the Old Testament, especially the early chapters, we understand two things about God: 

        • One that He is mighty (He performs miracles) 
        • He is full of wrath
        We see a lot of punishments such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the 10 plagues on Egypt. Even in this passage, we see  a battle going on under the command of the Lord. 

        But in the middle of all this wrath, we see a totally different side of God.

        The Israelites are complaining about having no water. This is simply odd, for the greatest miracles performed in the Bible involve water. Water turning into wine and Jesus walking on water. etc.

        And who can forget when God miraculously parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could pass through?

        What did they say next? Our children and livestock would die. Didn't they remember the 3rd plague? God killed all the livestock in Egypt, but not a single animal in the possession of the Israelites was even hurt. The same goes for their children, but now they are saying that God will kill their animals and children. Talk about being ungrateful!

        To make matters worse, they try to court marshal Moses (Exodus 17:4) So now God has to do something. What does He do? 

        He asks Moses to take his staff (v.5). Before moving on, let's see how the word "staff" (מַטֶּה) has been used in the Old Testament: 

        Psalm 2:9 "You will break them with a rod (can be translated 'staff') of iron;  you will dash them to pieces like pottery"

        Psalm 23:4 "Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil,    for you are with me;your rod and your staff,    they comfort me."

        Proverbs 13:24 "Whoever spares the rod hates their children,    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."
        It's obvious that the Bible speaks of "rod" or "staff" as a sign of punishment. What's next? 

        God tells Moses to bring the elders of Israel with him (v.5), which implying a trial-like atmosphere. But who's getting punished? 

        Moses? The Israelites?

        God Himself!

        I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”
        Moses has said elsewhere that God "is the Rock, his works are perfect,and all his ways are just" (Deuteronomy 32:4) God is the Rock, and He took the punishment of the people on Himself.

        When the Israelites cried our "Water!" "Water!", the Rock of Israel was struck and water flowed out.

        And when their descendants shouted "Crucify!" "Crucify!", the desire of nations was struck and blood and water flowed out (John 19:34).

        And this is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:4, that the rock that the Israelites drank from was Christ Himself.

        I believe that this is where Christianity stands apart from other religions. Religions show a way, Jesus Himself is the way. Leaders promise bread and water, Jesus is the bread and water.

        The answers to all the personal problems of humanity are solved by the person of Christ. It is because of Christ that we can share at the Lord's Table. He had to die to give us these blessings, taking the punishment that we deserved.

        Our needs are physical, but God provides the spiritual as well. The Israelites were thirsty, but God didn't just give them water. He gave them Himself. 

        Sunday, 17 February 2013

        What's So Unique About Jesus?

        Recently I read a motivational book, where the author used experiences from his own life to draw inspirational lessons for the readers. Themes of the book including being stress-free, living in the present, forgetting the past, and forgiving others. 

        All this without any clear mention of religion or God. Even though I am a Christian and an advocate of orthodoxy (to a certain extent), I wholeheartedly believe that books like these can actually help people without using religion.

        And indeed, we know for sure that there are thousands of people in the world who overcome toil, suffering, and everything that life has to offer without having Christ in their lives.

        So then, what makes’s Jesus so unique? How does He help me any better than a philanthropist, psychologist, ethical teacher, or motivational coach? To answer the question, let me turn to one of the most spectacular utterances of Christ:

        “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

        In the backdrop was the ceremonial law that the religious leaders of the time had imposed on the masses. The same happened in medieval Christianity and is now happening in nations under Islam, especially in Pakistan.

        I think this is one aspect that differentiates all the ideologies and codes of living with what Jesus has to offer, i.e. freedom from the burden of religious obligations. Some people call religion the opium of the masses, while others refer to it as a totalitarian system for keeping people under bondage.

        But with Jesus, there is freedom. But what is this freedom anyway?

        "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!" Galatians 4

        A lot of times, religion takes its toll on us. We are unable to observe the scriptural statutes when cultural values and historic traditions come and dance on our heads. St.Paul says that Jesus came to set us free from all this.

        Sometimes people can only think of atheism or pluralism as the way in which humanity can free itself from the shackles of religious rituals. But this is really short-sighted. Jesus gave us a solution 2000 years ago:

        You can believe in God and accept His law in your life and do your best to live a holy life. And if you fall down, the crucified Messiah is right there with you to get you back on track (1 John 1:8-10, 2:1). This, in short, is what I think makes Jesus truly unique.

        Sunday, 20 January 2013

        He suffered under the Pontius Pilate

        Have you ever wondered why instead of Abraham, David, or Peter, only one person is mentioned in this document alongside Jesus and Mary? Was he exceptional in any way? Let start with discussing who he was.

        The evangelist-historian Luke tells us that Pilate was the governor of Judea in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1). However, it is not only the New Testament that talks about Pilate, for we also find references to his existence in the writings of Philo and Josephus (for instance, see Antiquities 18.32f, 35, 39).

        Not to mention, a stone was discovered in 1961 that had the name and designation of Pilate. The question is, was Pilate really a bad guy, a villain as the Church remembers him? 

        Before proceeding with a discussion of Biblical texts, let me mention that even going through the secular references to the Prefect show us that he was not a good official, especially when it came to Roman-Jewish relations. 

        He provoked the Jews more than once. On one occasion, he brought in idols of Roman emperors into Jerusalem, and it is also said that he once took money from the Temple to complete his administrative projects. 

        This is what history tells us. But what about scripture? Let's go through some verses:

        Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”  

        10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, (John 19) 
        In all this, we actually see Pilate, a Roman governor going to the limit in order to save a Jewish carpenter from the invisible town of Nazareth. To please the Jews, he had Jesus flogged and even tried to let a Jewish criminal (Barabbas) free. Why then do we call him evil? Where did it all go wrong? The passage continues:

        but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
        “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

        The man who tried to show justice killed his conscious when his authority came under danger. In fear of losing his position, he let a man be crucified, someone he and his wife knew to be completely innocent. 

        Only in one moment a man becomes the hero or the villain. This holds an important lesson for all of us. It is not sometimes the sum total of our lives that history will count us righteous or evil, it may only be a single critical moment. 

        This brings us to our original question. Why do we remember Pilate while reciting the Creed? The answer is Jesus and not Pilate himself.

        Anyone who came in contact with Jesus became immortal, whether it was a young villager who had 2 fish, or the donkey who received a king's welcome the original Palm Sunday. 

        Monday, 14 January 2013

        The Voice of the Shepherd

        Christians do not have one authorized version of the Bible. One of my Muslim friends actually said that 'every Church has its own Bible'. 

        Of course, these claims are far-fetched, but sometimes mature and intelligent non-Christians raise some arguments on the same grounds.

        Why was the complete New Testament canonized after hundreds of years? And considering that Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Churches follow different canons, isn't this proof that Bible is not the word of God but rather an invention of the Church itself?

        To begin with, let me state from the onset that Church at large has failed to address these issues. We have no reply because most of us are not even aware of how the Bible was written, compiled, and came to us. Churches in Pakistan do not address these topics in seminars and Bible studies, even though Islamic polemicists frequently bring up these charges. 

        I am trying humbly to discuss these issues in this blog. So here is a simple, biblical reply for those who are looking to take a position in this debate.

        Before beginning, let me spell out what the Bible means for the Christian:

        16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.(2 Timothy 3)
        See the words 'all', 'thoroughly', and 'every'. Everything that comes in the religious sphere has to be based on the Bible.But how do we know which books should be in the Bible?

        The answer is simple. It is the word of God itself that defines the canon. Consider a few examples.

        Jesus Christ said:

        For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 17)

        Jesus is talking about the Law and the Prophets. Later on the road to Emmaus, He refers to the "Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44).

        This is internal evidence that Jesus declared the Old Testament to be the word of God. But can we say the same thing about the New Testament? 

        In relation to his own words, Jesus once said "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away", making them equal to the OT.

        Moving on, the Apostle Peter has to say this about the writings of St.Paul:

        1Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3)

        Paul, in turn, calls Matthew and Luke "scripture" in 1 Timothy 5:18. 

        These examples only show that even during the lifetime of the Apostles, there was some concrete consensus on which books constituted the word of God. For instance, the 4 Gospel accounts were readily accepted from the earliest times.

        Yes, its true that some books like Revelation were earlier rejected by some circles but were later accepted as scripture, whereas the opposite happened with other writings like the Shepherd of Hermas.

        But this does not mean our final NT is simply the product of random picking and choosing.  Is today the Church unanimous on the books of the Bible? No, but the vast majority of the books are agreed upon by all. The most important canon, however, is Jesus Himself:

         I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me" (John 10:14)
         Those who know Him can hear His voice in the Scriptures. Ask yourself, do you hear the Voice of the Shepherd when you read the Bible?

        And considering the order of the Trinitarian blessing (2 Corinthian 13:14), it is Jesus that is the basis of our faith, the foundation on which everything rests.

        Monday, 7 January 2013

        Can Christians Use Islamic Terminology?

        If you don't know me already, chances are you will not be able to figure out that I am Christian. I have a thick beard most of the time (because I hate shaving), and frequently use Arabic phrases like "Asalam Alaikum" (Peace be upon you) and "Inshallah"(If God wills").

        As a young Christian, I was zealous, having nothing to do with anything 'unbiblical', Islamic in particular. This involved being loud and clear, despite the occasion, about the 'fact' that Allah is not the God of the Bible. Such statements still come to haunt me time and again. 

        But as much as people lovingly (or mockingly) call me "Maulvi", some people tend to scold me off. "Don't say Inshallah" or even ""Don't talk like them!" 

        Is this attitude justified practically, and more important, biblically? 

        In Genesis 12, we have that promise, the covenant that was to change the world, where God will bless all people on earth. And then we know the story how Abraham went to show his faith in God despite all odds. Here is one such encounter:

        When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty (אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י); walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers (Genesis 17)

        Here is God Almighty revealing His plan to Abraham. But note the introduction He gives, "I am God Almighty". The Hebrew "El Sheddai".

        If you are a serious student of the Bible, you will know that El has Canaanite origins. But this is the name God used to introduce Himself to Abraham.

        This is simply because Abraham previously was born in a pagan household, unaware of the one true God. But God used a name that he could relate to. It was 400 years later that God revealed His name by which we know Him today to Israel's greatest prophet, Moses (Exodus 3:14). 

        For me this is a profound reality. If the Bible can contextualize the name of God, why do we have a problem with the name 'Allah'?