A monthly publication by the Klang Church of Christ, containing articles written by bro. Roger D. Campbell, to help educate, edify, encourage and equip the saints of God.


I S S U E   N U M B E R :


             June 2012



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THE BIRTH OF JESUS: FACTS AND FALLACIES


In order to live and die for sinners, “the Word became flesh” and dwelt among men (John 1:14). The Christ’s birth was a necessary part of the Godhead’s plan to save lost people. If you and I want to learn what God says about the birth of Jesus, then we need to read what the Bible says. When it comes to our Lord’s birth, we must separate fact from fallacy.

Fact: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea” (Matthew 2:1), just as the prophet Micah had prophesied (Micah 5:2).

Fallacy: Jesus was born in Jerusalem. Yet, that is what the Book of Mormon says (Alma 7:10).

Fact: Mary was still a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus (Matthew 1:24,25).

Fallacy: Mary remained a virgin for her entire life. In fact, Jesus was her “firstborn” child (Matthew 1:25; Mark 6:3).

Fact: On the night that Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord informed some shepherds in the region of Bethlehem that the Christ had been born. Those shepherds went with haste and found “the Babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).

Fallacy: The wise men who visited the infant Jesus came to the manger at the same time the shepherds did. Modern-day “manger scenes” portray Joseph, Mary, shepherds, and wise men all together around baby Jesus in a manger. In truth, when the wise men/magi arrived where Jesus was, they went “into the house” (Matthew 2:11). Again, when the shepherds visited Him, He was in a manger; by the time that the wise men came, He was in a house.

Fact: Wise men came from the East to see Jesus, bringing Him gifts. They gave Him three types of gifts: “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

Fallacy: The Bible says that there were three wise men who visited Jesus after He was born. In truth, the Bible does not tell us how many wise men there were. “But, I have always been told that there were three, and even in some of our songs, we sing that there were three.” The Bible does not say so. “But, every picture that you see or every movie about Jesus’ birth always shows three wise men.” That may be the case, yet the Bible does not tell us that there were three. The Bible says that wise “men” came – “men” is plural, meaning that there were at least two. It is possible that there were three, but it is also possible that there were two or ten. Since the Bible does not say, no human has the right to declare, “The Bible says there were three wise men.” People need to stop saying things that they cannot prove. “But there were three gifts.” Which proves what? It certainly does not prove how many gift-givers there were. A loving son might give his mother two different gifts on her birthday – that would be two gifts from only one giver, right? Here is a Bible example to compare: Jacob sent 10 sons to carry 6 or 7 different types of presents to Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 43:11). So, the number of givers is not always the same as the number of gifts given.

Fact: Jesus was born “in the days of Herod the king” (Matthew 2:1) and when Augustus was emperor of the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1). Biblically speaking, it is also true that He was born “when the fullness of the time had come” (Galatians 4:4).

Fallacy: The Bible gives the specific month and day of Jesus’ birth. What a surprise it is for some people when they learn the truth that nowhere does the Bible record in which month our Lord was born. “Come on, everyone knows that Jesus was born on the 25th of December.” No, my friend, not everyone knows that. In fact, no one knows such a thing – it cannot be proven. There is not a single Bible verse which records either the month or the day of the month when Jesus was born. Thus, men ought to stop speculating and misleading people by declaring the 25th of December to be “Jesus’ birthday.” God’s word says no such thing.

Fact: The first-century Christians worshipped on the first day of every week, and in the process took the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to the death of Jesus (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). There is no Bible record, however, of any early saints carrying out a celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Fallacy: The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus should celebrate Christmas. The word “Christmas” is not in the Bible. The idea of God’s children designating a special day to celebrate the birth of His Son is not in the Bible. It is a man-made idea, making worship and service to God in vain (Mark 7:7). The New Testament does not authorize a religious feast called “Christmas,” so those who respect the authority of the Bible will refrain from engaging in such (Matthew 28:20; Colossians 3:17).

We must discern between fact and fallacy. Let us be content to stick with what the word of God says.




THREE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES OF JOHN THE BAPTIZER


The Bible says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). Should we consider him as a prophet? Hear the Master’s answer: “Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:7,9). When John was still an infant, his father, Zacharias, was filled with the Spirit and declared to him, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest” (Luke 1:76).

So, this man, identified elsewhere in the New Testament as John the Baptizer, would be a prophet of God. Not only that, but Old Testament prophets actually foretold John’s coming and role. In fact, unless I have forgotten someone, with the exception of Jesus, about Whom there were hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, there are more specific Old Testament prophecies about John than there are for any other New Testament character. Let us take a look at those three Old Testament predictions along with their fulfillment.

       Isaiah 40:3-5 (700 B.C.)
       The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare
       the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a
       highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted
       and every mountain and hill brought low; The
       crooked places shall be made straight and the
       rough places smooth; The glory of the LORD shall
       be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for
       the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

How can we be 100% certain that this message was about John the Baptizer? The message of Matthew 3 proves it: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching . . . For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight” (Matthew 3:1,3). Thus, Isaiah, who lived about 700 years before the birth of John and Jesus, foretold John’s work.

John himself acknowledged that he was not the Christ (John 1:20), and when he was asked, “What do you say about yourself,” his response was, “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the LORD’” (John 1:22,23). John literally preached in the wilderness (Mark 1:4), the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1). In what sense did he prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah foretold? John’s work was one of preparation, helping to get ready the soil, that is, the hearts of the Jewish people, who were waiting and looking for the Messiah. By declaring God’s word to the Jews, John fulfilled what his own father also foretold: “For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76,77).

       Malachi 3:1 (430 B.C.)
       Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare
       the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek,
       will suddenly come to His temple, Even the
       Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.
       Behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.

Again, how can we be sure that this is a reference to John? Jesus said so. “Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John . . . For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You” (Matthew 11:7,10).

So, Malachi, like Isaiah, spoke of John’s role of preparing the way of the Messiah. Notice in the text of Malachi 3:1 that the word “messenger” is used twice. In the first case, it refers to John as Jehovah’s messenger. The second time, it points to “the Messenger of the covenant” – that would be the Christ, Who is the Speaker of the new covenant, which He established with His blood (Matthew 26:28).

John himself was not in the Messiah’s kingdom, but he preached the greatness of the One Who would establish that temple/kingdom (Malachi 3:1). How wonderful that John, despite having the great privilege of being singled out and chosen as the one to prepare the path for the Christ, remained humble and satisfied with his role of being, in his own words, “the friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29).

       Malachi 4:5 (430 B.C.)
       Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the
       coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.

How can it be true that John was Elijah, the great oral prophet of Israel who lived over 800 years before John did? As with the two other Old Testament messages about John which we observed, the New Testament gives us a clear explanation. Jesus said, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:13,14). So, John was Elijah? Yes, but not literally – he was not Elijah reincarnated as some have fantasized.

Luke 1:17 sheds light on John being called “Elijah.” There it is written of John, “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” So, in some way(s) John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Elijah did miracles, but John did not (John 10:41). But, just as Elijah did, John cried out for God’s people to turn from their sins and come back to Jehovah. And, like Elijah, John was a powerful preacher who, in the spirit of Elijah, spoke with great boldness to an evil king (Elijah to Ahab and John to Herod Antipas).

We marvel at the harmony of God’s word. Let us highly esteem John’s role in God’s plan of salvation.




WHAT DO 21ST-CENTURY CHRISTIAN YOUTH NEED?


We thank the God of heaven that there are youth in His church who love Him and make their best effort to live a godly life. It is both refreshing and encouraging to see their youthful zeal. If young folks are in the Christ, then I do not look at them as the church of the future – they are just as much God’s child as I am, and they are the church of the present. True, they may be future leaders in the church, and they may outlive older members and keep the church going strong, but I dare not count them as low-level or inferior members of the body.

What are the spiritual needs of our youth? What do they need in their lives that can help them to bear spiritual fruit and be ready to go to heaven after their earthly journey ends? I do not have a magic wand that can guarantee 100% spiritual success, but here are five fundamental needs of today’s young saints.

(1) To see good examples from adult Christians – Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). We who are older owe it to our younger brothers and sisters to set the same kind of example that Paul did. As the same apostle instructed Titus, “in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7), so our lives ought to be an exemplary model for our youth. As we teach them God’s truth, we must also live it in our own lives (Romans 2:21-23).

(2) To be loved – That is a basic human need at each stage and age of life. Our youth may never directly say to us, “Please love me,” but, in fact, they have a tremendous need to be on the receiving end of agape love – the kind of love that wants what is best for them. They need to know that we really care for them, yes, that we “will very gladly spend and be spent” for them (2 Corinthians 12:15). They deserve to be encouraged and complimented for good efforts. Because our heart truly longs for them to have the most fruitful life in Jesus (Colossians 1:10), we must be committed to telling them what they need to hear for their personal and spiritual development. That includes discipline in two phases: first, education about proper conduct in God’s sight, and second, when needed, a word or action that warns or rebukes. Jesus rebukes and chastens those whom He loves (Rev. 3:19). There are times when our youth need “tough love,” but let us always approach them with respect and compassion.

(3) To be given opportunities to use and develop their talents – Servants of the Lord, at every age level, have abilities. As the Parable of the Talents shows us (Matthew 25:14-30), our Lord wants us to use for His glory the abilities and blessings which He has placed in our hands. Yes, He wants us to be faithful stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1). Like those of us whose youthful days are a distant memory, young saints need to use and develop their talents. That takes time. It also takes experience, but one cannot gain experience unless he/she is granted opportunities. Let us make our greatest effort to get our youth involved in the work of the local church – involved in visiting widows, performing tasks around the church building, reaching out to members who have left their first love, distributing literature, leading in worship (if brothers), helping teach kids, and many other aspects of the Kingdom. Let us take time to work with them and train them. It will pay great dividends both now and in the future.

(4) To develop close friendships with other faithful members of the Lord’s church – Studies indicate that when young disciples of Jesus have a close friendship with not just one, but several other young saints, they have a much higher probability of remaining faithful to the Lord through the trials of life that inevitably will come their way. While “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33), it is equally true that close camaraderie with those of “like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1) can be a wonderful leavening factor, provide encouragement, and even supply “positive peer pressure” to keep a person from making foolish choices. Parents, you are making an invaluable investment in your child’s future when you provide him and his close Christian friends with opportunities to spend time together.

(5) To develop their own personal faith – This is the key, brethren. It is not simply of major importance, it is the key! The Bible says that what overcomes the world is our faith (1 John 5:4). The just/righteous live and please God by faith (Hebrews 10:38,39). Since faith is produced by hearing God’s word (John 17:20; Romans 10:17), then this must be the focus of our efforts! We must get our youth into God’s Book – teach them, indoctrinate them, ground them in the truth. The four matters that I have already mentioned above will be of no value unless a young sister or brother develops her/his own faith; not an inherited faith, but a personal faith that is a blend of conviction and trust that leads to obedience.

Do you know what? As I look over the above list of five things that I scribbled down today, I realize that even though I am closer to sixty years of age than I am to fifty, I have a lot in common with my youthful sisters and brothers – my spiritual needs are basically the same as theirs. That is correct. While I may have to face somewhat different challenges at this stage of my life, in reality, if I am going to serve my Lord faithfully, then my spiritual needs must be met – the very same needs that our youth have. Hmm, I must be special, too! Let us pray for our youth and support their efforts to live for the living God.




Galatians 5:7 – “YOU RAN WELL. WHO HINDERED YOU FROM OBEYING THE TRUTH?”


In the first century, Christians that lived in the region of Galatia were being hindered from faithfully serving the Lord. Someone was “bewitching” them (Galatians 3:1), troubling them (5:12; 1:7), and having a bad leavening influence on them (5:8,9). Who were these troublers? They were Judaizers – men that were trying to bind the teaching of the Law of Moses, in particular, the necessity of being circumcised (Acts 15:1,5). How were these Judaizers disrupting the churches of Galatia? By perverting the gospel (Galatians 1:7).

What was the consequence of those false teachers’ efforts? Note the message of Galatians 5:7: “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth.” Some among the Galatian saints had ceased obeying the truth. Thus, they were in a state of spiritual death. That is how serious the situation had become. What instruction does the message of Galatians 5:7 provide for us today?

The Christian life is compared to a race. The Christians in Galatian are portrayed as “running,” and Paul elsewhere urges saints to “run in such a way” that they can obtain the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). We are exhorted to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). From the time of our baptism into the Christ to the time that we leave this world – this is the time of our “Christian race.” It is not a race of speed to see who can beat others to a given point. Rather, it is a race of endurance. It is a race in which all who enter it can be successful and receive the crown of life. Like other races, this race has an end or finish line. Like other races, this race has a goal. Like other races, this race has rules/regulations by which the runners must run. Unlike other races, though, in the Christian race we are not in competition with other runners.

It is not enough to have run well in the past. God cares about how we are running at the present. The Galatian saints had run well in the past (“you ran well”). But what about right now, when Paul is writing to them? They were off course. How do we know? They no longer were obeying the truth. Let us not give in to the temptation to boast about our past service to the Lord and tell of how faithful we used to be. Let us not be deceived into thinking that if we were faithful at one time, then surely God will accept us no matter what we do now or in the future. If we ran with the Lord in the past, that is wonderful. Are we still walking in the light as He is in the light? (1 John 1:7). If not, then our past faithfulness counts as nothing.

Judas Iscariot “ran well” at one time, but later betrayed the Lord. At one point, Demas “ran” as a faithful co-worker of the apostle Paul (Philemon 24), but later forsook him and the Lord’s Cause (2 Timothy 4:10). The church at Ephesus had once flourished in good works as part of its faithful service to the Christ. There came a time, though, when He rebuked it for leaving its first love and called on the saints there to remember from where they had fallen, repent, and return to their former works (Revelation 2:2-5). We must not rest on past accomplishments, but keep our eye on the goal and strive to run well today!

In our race, sometimes there are people or things that hinder us. That is precisely what happened in Galatia in the first century. Notice the question: “Who hindered you . . .?” We know that in their case it was the Judaizers. What about today? Do you know someone in the church who at one time was “so faithful,” but now is not running well? Most of us know of such people. Maybe some of us are even in the category of “did run well, but no longer doing so.”

Who in our time hinders the children of God from obeying the truth? In some cases it may be friends, the kind that apply intense pressure to conform to their worldly ways and mock those that refuse to bend. It may be a boyfriend or girlfriend that entices a servant of the Lord to be involved in immorality. It may be a false teacher that deceives a struggling disciple by promising miraculous healing for all physical ailments. It may be a husband or wife that begs and convinces a child of God to go with him/her to a denomination. Many have been snatched into that trap, never to return. Sadly, sometimes the hinderer is a loose brother or sister in the Lord that just wants to get away from being bound to the New Testament pattern.

You and I must be wise enough to recognize those people or things in our lives that might be working to hinder us from walking faithfully with our Lord. Then, we must be strong enough to deal with those hindering things or people. Our souls are at stake. We must not allow anything or anyone to pull us away from our first love. We must be prepared to echo the words of Jesus: “Get behind Me, Satan” (Luke 4:8).

When all is said and done, if I do not obey the truth, then I must take full responsibility for my actions. As God’s children, we must keep on obeying His truth. Yes, it is an ongoing process. If I ever stop obeying the truth, it will be for one reason and one reason only. Others can hinder me. Others can influence me. Yet, in the end, it all comes down to my own personal choice. Will I, or will I not, choose to continue to obey the truth? It really is a matter of choice! On judgment day, it will do me no good to point an accusing finger at others, because we all will be judged according to what we personally have done.

Brothers and sisters, let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another. Right now, at this very hour, how are you and I running the race? May the Lord help us to take and use His whole armor that we might be able to stand against all the wiles of the devil.


~ Roger D. Campbell ~


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