Category Archives: Teachings

“Family Idolatry”

Matthew, a Jew in writing to Jews who greatly valued their families, mentioned that one of Jesus’ early disciples asked of Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father(Mt 8:21). In societies as the Jews that greatly valued the family, what Jesus said to this son would seem almost inexcusably harsh: Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead(Mt 8:22).

We believe that Jesus assumed that the disciple should have understood that the “spiritually dead” must bury their own “spiritually dead.” But still, it was the young man’s own father. Does discipleship at times call on us to commit to Jesus more than burying one’s own father?

The historical context of the above incident could have been that the father was not yet dead. The son simply wanted to hang around home close to his father until the aged father died. Matthew stated that the son was a disciple. But even at this time in the ministry of Jesus, the young disciple realized that the gospel message that Jesus was introducing would eventually demand of him as a disciple to go far beyond Judea, Samaria, but into the uttermost parts of the world. Peter, James, John and the other disciples had made this commitment to allow Jesus to move them beyond their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, even their own lands, which to the Jews was a sacred heritage (Consider At 4:32-37).   Even if one could not go into all the world, he or she could, as Gaius, financially support those who could (See 3 Jn 5-7). One is a disciple of Jesus by either going personally to preach the gospel, or going through the sending of others (See Rm 10:14,15). One is not truly a disciple if he or she is doing neither.

Many years ago we were in the coastal city of Malindi, Kenya. We were about to teach a seminar for area religious leaders.   Before the meeting began, one young leader showed up just before the seminar started. While he was introducing himself, he said to all of us, “My wife and I were on our way to the burial of a relative and I heard about the seminar on the way.”

The committed disciple then informed us, “I said to my wife to go on to the burial of the relative. The seminar on Bible study was more important. I will go to the seminar.”

If a possible conflict arises that calls for a decision to be made between Jesus and funerals, does Jesus really call on us to commit to Him above the burial of relatives?

On the occasion of the introductory incident during the ministry of Jesus, Jesus was passing through the area of the young disciple. The opportunity to follow Jesus was brief. Our preceding Kenyan friend knew that the seminar was only for two days. The opportunity would pass by the time he returned from the burial of his relative in a far village.   He made a decision, and that decision was to seek first kingdom business. He seized the opportunity to follow when the opportunity presented itself.   He obeyed that command of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4:27: “Do not give opportunity to the devil.”

Jesus was not teaching that everyone must forsake their families in order to be His disciple. But it does mean that we must have our priorities correct in reference to putting Him first before all human relationships of this world.

We never cease to be amazed at the cleverness of Satan. If Christians could only be as clever as Satan in reference to committing themselves to preaching the gospel, then we would have long ago preached the gospel to the entire world, and then called on Jesus to come and end it all.   But Satan is clever. He would convince good-hearted Christians to consume all their financial resources on good things, but things that do not involve the saving of the lost.

We recently heard a new phrase that expressed a thought that we had read in our Bibles and preached for over a half century. But we had never heard the teaching expressed so specifically. We heard the phrase at a local restaurant while enjoying a great cup of coffee with a religious leader of a local fellowship with whom we had recently encountered.

During the conversation, the husband and wife team said, “We have trouble with ‘family idolatry.’”

Did that ever ring a bell of reality in a culture where family, as in the Jewish culture, is often prized above faith. When relatives are in town, faith and God’s family is forsaken for family in the flesh.

These two committed disciples further explained that family relations and earthly considerations in their area of work were almost always considered more important than God’s work. Paying for private education, bigger houses, and new cars were always more important than contributing to the preaching of the gospel to the world.

They explained that when relatives were visiting one of the members of their group, the members would shut down their association with the family of God in order to be with the visiting relatives. There was sin beneath the good. The sin to forsake the family of God seemed justified by “burying the dead” of visiting relatives. This is nothing new in Satan’s bag of clever tricks to divert the attention of Christians from the prime objective of our Founder who said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Mt 6:33). “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10).

It is certainly right to bury one’s father. But when Jesus called a disciple from burying his own father in order to go into all the world, there would have been sin beneath the good if the disciple had forsaken Jesus for a funeral service. Was Jesus simply teaching a hyperbole of discipleship? Or, was He teaching a principle that family, lands and things, should never be exalted over commitment to preach His gospel message to the world?

I remember that in my world ministry of preaching the gospel, I personally never had the opportunity to bury my own father or mother who at the time lived on the other side of the world. I was somewhere in the world when both passed away. Fellow brothers and sisters at home who had partnered with me in world evangelism carried out the burial necessities without my presence.   If I had left my mission to bury either father or mother, my faithful mother would have “rolled over in her grave” if I dared leave the mission of preaching the gospel in order to throw dirt on her grave. She understood precisely what Jesus meant when He called His disciples to exalt Him above family. Our memory of her commitment to Jesus throughout her life echoed in our hearts to stay the course of preaching the gospel of Jesus to the world. While she was living, both of us were willing to exchange “good bye’s” for “hello’s” in heaven. Both my wife and I determined long ago not to involve ourselves in “family idolatry.”

Jesus calls for total commitment, the level of commitment that calls on us to refrain from making our families the god of our lives. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me (Mt 10:37). According to the meaning of this statement, those who are involved in “family idolatry” have judged themselves to be unworthy of Jesus. Jesus continued, “And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Mt 10:37).

We know fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who would consider family business above kingdom business. Peter, and the other eleven disciples of Jesus, were willing to make the sacrifice of family for faith.

“Then Peter began to say to Him [Jesus], “Behold, we have left all and have followed You.” And Jesus answered and said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel’s, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life(Mk 10:28,29).

Peter and the other disciples were not “family idolaters.” Peter was a good husband and providing son (See Mt 8:14,15). The Holy Spirit instructed that one must provide food and shelter for his own family, though he does not need to stay at home in order to do this (1 Tm 5:8). When providing beyond food and shelter, one must be careful not to forsake his or her commitment as a disciple of Jesus by focusing on things of this world that will pass away. Seeking first the kingdom of God may involve allowing someone else to bury our fathers.

Love, Law, Freedom & Drug Abuse

The Bible records the words of Jesus concerning the most important commandment (law) of all commandments in reference to our relationship with our Creator: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). And then the Holy Spirit defined the love of God: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments [laws]” (1 John 5:3). There is no loving of God unless one obeys the laws of God.

Now apply this definition to what Jesus said was the second greatest law: “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving one’s neighbor as himself is to obey civil laws in reference to one’s relationship with his fellow citizen. God ordained that societies establish civil government and law for themselves in order that the citizens have law and order among themselves as a nation. Without civil order, there is no freedom. “Therefore, whoever resists authority [of the government], resists the ordinance of God. And those who resist will receive judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:2).

The problem with drug addiction is that the addiction works against the second greatest law that must exist among the citizens of a nation, that is, that citizens love their neighbors as themselves. Citizens of a nation establish civil laws against substance abuse for the purpose of maintaining civil order and freedom. Drug abuse is almost always the problem of those citizens of society who have no financial basis by which they can support their addiction. The addicted, therefore, must resort to the unloving practice of fitting into a drug-distribution network, or stealing from their neighbors to support their habit, or both.

Crime rates escalate in those communities where drug addiction prevails. The drug-addicted citizen cannot maintain any love of his neighbor when he persists in stealing from his neighbor in order to continue his selfish addiction. In his addiction, he does not love himself, for he is destroying his body. And in his self-destruction, he has no consideration for his neighbor, for the addicted must steal in order to continue their addiction. It is for this reason that law and order in a drug-addicted society is diminished. And when law and order are diminished, so also is the freedom of the innocent.

If a government for and by the people would maintain law and order in a society where substance abuse is running rampant, then it has no option but to crack down on drug abuse in order to reclaim freedom. In a drug-infested society, the citizens must make a decision: Either they as a government of and for the people, can be lenient with substance abuse, and thus limit of the freedom of society because of theft, or they can rise up against all forms of drug abuse in order to restore their freedom?

There can be no freedom that is guaranteed by law in a society where drug abuse denies the citizens the right to love one’s neighbor as himself. A society of drug abuse locks up the citizens in their own homes, but allows the drug-addicted thieves to run free.
Suggested reading: Book 21
Biblical Research Library

The A.D. 30 Pentecost

Acts 2 marks a paradigm shift from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era. All history of God’s people that took place before the Pentecost of Acts 2 would be judged by their living under the Old Testament law. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are records of Jesus’ ministry under the Old Testament law in order to prepare Israel for His ascension to the right hand of God to assume all authority from throne of David.

It is difficult to determine the year for the crucifixion of Jesus, and thus, the year for the establishment of the church in Acts 2 in reference to our calendar today. In order to come to some conclusions concerning the year of the Acts 2 Pentecost and establishment of the church, however, there are some specific historical facts that we should know. These are historical facts that we cannot ignore, neither can we discount them because of any previous assumptions, or mistakes on the part of past scholarship. It is the objective of the biblical scholar to absorb all known facts concerning a proposition. Objective minds seek to base beliefs on facts, regardless of traditional beliefs. Therefore, we are challenged with the following points in order that we draw a conclusion for ourselves concerning the date of the Acts 2 Pentecost and the establishment of the church.

A.  Jesus was crucified during the Passover Feast.

There is little controversy over the fact that Jesus was crucified during the Passover feast of the Jews, though there is some debate over the exact day of the week Jesus ate the Passover feast with the disciples. The Passover lamb was traditionally eaten on the 14th of Nisan, on Friday evening before the Sabbath and the Pentecost that followed the Sabbath. Because the 14th of Nisan was determined by the new moon, it would be very difficult to determine the exact day in reference to our calendar today when Jesus ate His last Passover meal with His disciples. The biblical text is not clear as to when Jesus ate this meal with His disciples.   Because the New Testament writers left us little information on this subject, we would conclude that the Holy Spirit does not want us to ponder the matter in reference to an exact day, even the exact day of the week Jesus ate the Passover feast with the disciples.   Our focus should be on the event, and that He was three days in the tomb as He prophesied (Mt 12:40), with His resurrection early on the first day of the week (Mk 16:9). The important thing to remember is that He was the Passover lamb, and the crucifixion took place during the Passover feast of the Jews.

B.  Jesus visited Jerusalem on possibly three Passovers.

It is not easy to determine how many times Jesus visited Jerusalem during His adult earthly ministry. For this reason, it is difficult to determine the length of His earthly ministry. Estimates for the length of the ministry have been anywhere from two and a half to five and a half years. Since the record of the gospel according to John seems to be the most historical in recording the number of visits Jesus made to the feasts of the Jews, we use his document to establish a possible number of visits Jesus made to Jerusalem during His ministry.

  1. First visit to Jerusalem: During His ministry, Jesus first went up to Jerusalem for the Passover that is mentioned in John 2:13. This visit took place after the first signs of Jesus in Capernaum (Jn 2:11). We are not told how long He was into His ministry when He made this trip, but we could assume that it was about six months.
  1. Second visit to Jerusalem: There is another “feast of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1 when Jesus again went up to Jerusalem. However, the difficulty is to determine whether this was the annual Passover feast or another feast of the Jews. Some have suggested that this “feast of the Jews” could have been the feast of Tabernacles that took place in the month Tishi. If this is true, then regardless of John 5:1 being a specific reference to the Passover, reference would be to a second trip of Jesus to Jerusalem to a feast that was an annual feast of the Jews. It would represent a year in which a second Passover visit took place in His ministry. However, we do not know if Jesus attended any other feast of Tabernacles except the one that is mentioned in John 7:2. We might assume, therefore, that the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 was an annual Passover feast of the Jews. However, some have also suggested that the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 was the feast of Dedication, or even the feast of Purim. It is difficult to determine which specific feast is intended.   Nevertheless, many biblical scholars believe that John 5:1 was a Passover feast, and thus, Jesus’ second visit to Jerusalem.

Another Passover feast is mentioned in John 6:4.   Because of the increased hostility that was mounting against Him, however, Jesus did not attend this Passover.   John simply recorded, “He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews sought to kill him” (Jn 7:1).   Now what complicates the matter is the fact that this may have been the second Passover of Jesus’ ministry, not the “feast of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1. But if the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 was a Passover, then John 6:4 was the third, and the John 13:1 Passover the fourth. This would make Jesus’ ministry the traditional three and a half years in length.

C.  Third visit to Jerusalem: The last feast of Passover that Jesus attended is recorded in John 13:1. This was the feast during which He was crucified. Since John 2:13 was the first Passover visit, and assuming John 5:1 was a Passover, and thus the second Passover visit, with John 6:4 being a Passover that was not attended, then the John 13:1 would be the third Passover visit.

John specifically records that Jesus attended two mentioned Passover feasts, the one in John 2:13 and the one in 13:1. He did not attend the John 6:4 Passover.   If the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 is another Passover, then He attended three during His ministry, but over a period of four Passovers, one just after the beginning and the last at the time of His crucifixion. If there were four Passovers during Jesus’ ministry, then Jesus’ ministry would have been over three years in length, possibly over four years. Assuming that He was into His ministry several months before the John 2:13 Passover visit, we conclude that His ministry was not shorter than three and a half years.

D.  Jesus began His ministry when He was about thirty years old.

 “Now when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age …” (Lk 3:23). Under Old Testament law, this was the common age when priests began their ministry (Nm 4:1-3,22,23,29,30). The word “about” in Luke 3:23 adds some ambiguity to the matter, but we assume that Jesus was somewhere in His 30th year at the beginning of His earthly ministry. We could assume that the Holy Spirit added the word “about” in order for us not to focus on exactly what we are doing here, that is, trying to determine an exact date for the crucifixion and establishment of the church. Nevertheless, when we add “about” thirty with the time of the earthly ministry of the preceding point, we come up with Jesus’ approximate age at the time of His death. Jesus would have been at least thirty-three years of age when He was crucified.

E.  Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus.

In reference to the Roman Empire, Jesus was born when Augustus was Caesar of Rome. Luke records that a census was taken during this time, which census affected the lives of Joseph and Mary (Lk 2:1-4). It was because of this census that Joseph and Mary made their way to Bethlehem, the prophesied place of the birth of the Messiah (Mc 5:2).

F.  Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.

Jesus was born during the latter years of the reign of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-6). It was Herod who commissioned the slaughter of the Bethlehem babies who were two years of age and under (Mt 2:16). He made this proclamation of genocide in order to make sure that Jesus would be included in the slaughter. However, this does not mean that Jesus was as old as two years by the time of the slaughter. It simply means that Herod was not sure about the time of birth, and thus wanted to make sure that Jesus was included in the slaughter.

In reference to the birth of Jesus, here are some historical facts that must be considered:

  1. The testimony of encyclopedias and dictionaries:   Since Jesus was born during the final days of Herod, then it is imperative that we determine the date of the death of Herod in reference to our calendar today. Now keep in mind that the establishment for the birth of Jesus is dated from our modern-day calendars. We are not judging the date from the Roman calendar, though the Roman calendar must be considered in order to determine the date of Herod’s life history. As will be pointed out later, there was a discrepancy made in affixing the Roman calendar dates with our modern-day calendar, which discrepancy was noted and corrected over a century ago. But in reference to our calendar today, all secular and biblical encyclopedias and dictionaries establish the date of Herod’s death to have occurred in Jericho the last of March in 4 B.C. The World Book Encyclopedia states, “Herod the Great (73? – 4 B.C.) ruled all Palestine from 37 to 4 B.C.” (1976, Vol. 9, p. 198). Other encyclopedias or dictionaries do not contradict this statement. Though first published in 1917, the 1939 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that Herod died in 4 B.C. (1939, Vol. 2, p. 668). The New Bible Dictionary affirms the 4 B.C. date, as well as A. T. Roberston in his renowned Harmony of the Gospels. Historically speaking, therefore, one will not find any encyclopedia or dictionary that will disagree with the 4 B.C. date.
  1. The record of Josephus: Josephus was a Jewish historian whose work transitioned from the latter part of the 1st century into the 2nd century. In his Antiquities, XVII, 6, 4, he alluded to an eclipse of the moon that occurred shortly before the death of Herod.   Thus the birth of Jesus could not have occurred after the death of Herod, or after this eclipse since Jesus was born during Herod’s reign. The eclipse establishes the time of Herod’s death, which eclipse also helps us to determine the time of Jesus’ birth in reference to our calendar today.

Now here are some conclusions to ponder. According to our calendar today, Herod died in 4 B.C. Jesus was about thirty years old when He began His ministry. His ministry was about three and a half years in length, which means that He was about thirty-three years old when He was crucified. We can place the birth of Jesus somewhere in the two-year window of Herod’s slaughter of babies. Add the figures and we come up with the crucifixion and establishment of the church around A.D. 30 according to our calendar today. This is the date that all current Bible resource books use in reference to the events that transpired and were recorded in Acts 2.