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TEXT: Psalm 34:19
SUBJECT: Easter, 2009
Suppose you took it into your head to disprove the Bible. How would you do it? Where would you start?
A man did this to me some years ago, and after listening to him for a very long time, I felt more confidence in the Bible than I ever had before. He was an intelligent man who read the Scripture closely and had a passion to find its errors and point out its contradictions.
Some of his objections were just plain silly. He focused on names and numbers that did not match, forgetting, of course, that people in the Bible often went by more than one name and that numbers were usually rounded-off, sometimes included women and children and sometimes didn't.
Others were more serious. Some verses say God does not change His mind, but then we have problem of Nineveh. Because of its great wickedness, the city must be destroyed in forty days. That was the Word of God through His prophet, Jonah. When the city heard the awful news, it repented in sackcloth and ashes with fasting and prayer. And then, much to the prophet's displeasure-
God relented of the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
'If God doesn't change His mind-my friend said-'Why did He say He would destroy Nineveh in a few weeks, and then not do it?' That's an easy one: The announced judgments of God are not predictions, they are warnings, which like other warnings, are given ahead of time to effect change in the people who hear them and to prevent the judgment from falling. There is no change of mind, for the Lord never intended to destroy a people sorry for their sins, but only a people who weren't.
The most serious thing he brought up was the conflicting reports of the Resurrection. All four Gospel say Mary Magdalene and her friends were the first to see the empty tomb. But just what was it they saw?
Matthew says they saw an angel; Mark said they saw a young man; Luke says it was two men they saw; and John says they saw two angels. So, which is it? Angels or men, one or two?
If you read the Bible and apply common sense, you see no conflict at all. Since angels are spirits and spirits are invisible, angels cannot appear to us in their true form, for if they did, we could not see them! Most of the time, therefore, they spoke to humans in a human form. As to the difference in number, it seems only one of the angel/men spoke, and he's the only one Matthew and Mark mention-not because the other one's not there, but because the other one had nothing to say.
We speak this way all the time. My wife and I invite a family to dinner. We both come up to them, and I say, 'If you're free for dinner on Saturday, come over at six'. The husband might say, 'Michael asked us to dinner'; the wife, 'Michael and Gladys asked us to dinner'; the son would say, 'Gladys invited to dinner'. Who's lying? Where's the contradiction? Nobody would find fault in these discrepancies-unless he wanted to.
Can I straighten out every crooked place in the Bible? Of course not; nobody can do that. But, maybe the problem is with me and not the Bible. Maybe some parts of the Bible are too high for me to reach, too closely argued for me to follow; and maybe there are parts of the Bible, I don't want to follow, so I leave them alone or, when I have to read them, make them say what I wish they said instead of what they really say.
As a young skeptic, B. H. Carroll found thousands of contradictions in the Bible. As an old Christian he had solved all but a handful of them. Though he still puzzled over them, their existence didn't bother him in the least. Why would his ignorance discredit God's truth?
THE HARD OBJECTION
Back to the original question: If you took it into your head to disprove the Bible, how would you do it? Where would you start?
I would start at Psalm 34:19. If any verse in the Bible rings untrue it has got to be this one-
Many are the afflictions of the
But the Lord delivers him
Out of them all.
If you've read the Bible and lived a while, you know the first part is true: 'Many are the afflictions of the righteous'.
Job comes to mind. God's most loyal servant in the world, he lost his great wealth and ten children; his wife turned against him; he contracted leprosy; and his friends tortured him to confess the sins he had not committed.
David is a second example. A man after God's own heart, he is despised by his family, scorned by his wife, and hunted by his king; he lives in the wilderness where he feels hunger and thirst, and his own men talk about killing him. At times, things got so bad for him that he wondered why God had forsaken him.
No list of righteous men suffering is complete without the Apostle Paul. If it weren't so serious, his catalogue of woes would strike you as funny-
In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Like Job and David and others before and later, Paul could affirm Psalm 34:19a. In fact, he did. The echo is not hard to hear-
Yes, all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
No sensible person will argue with the first part of our verse. It's the second part we have a hard time believing-
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers them out of them all.
We have no objection to the words, 'The Lord delivers them'; of course He does! He has answered our prayers and gotten us out of so many jams-and a lot of them of our own making.
It's the word, all that shakes us. If the Psalmist were young, naïve, and a bit too enthusiastic for his own good, we'd smile and pat him on the head, realizing that some day he'll know better.
The Bible teaches and our experience confirms: Not all of our prayers are answered, and some of the jams we get into, we don't get out of!
Hebrews 11 is the roll fall of faith. After telling us briefly what faith is, the writer goes on to show us what it does. Faith gave men and women the power to-
Subdue kingdoms, work righteousness, obtain promises, stop the mouths of lions, quench the violence of fire, escape the edge of the sword, become valiant in battle, turn to flight the armies of the aliens, and receive their dead to life again.
Our verse is wonderfully fulfilled in these victorious lives. No weapon that was formed against these people of faith prospered.
This is not all the chapter says about people who trust God and His promises-
Others were tortured, had trials of mocking and scourgings, of chains and imprisonments; they were tempted, sawn in two, slain by the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented.
Why weren't they delivered? Why did God let them down? How come Psalm 34:19 applied to everybody but them? Daniel faced the lions-and came out alive. Stephen faced the Sanhedren, and was carried out dead.
We can invoke the words, 'mystery' and 'God's will' and we would be right in doing so. But they don't provide much of an answer, do they? Nor do they strengthen us when afflictions come our way. What we want to know is-
Will the Lord deliver us from all our afflictions-
Or won't He?
The answer is: He will. He will rescue you from every last one of your problems-whether its an illness of the body or of the mind; whether it's a husband who ignores you, a wife who browbeats you, a son who is on drugs, or a daughter who's sleeping around; He will rescue you from the uncle who is molesting you. He will deliver you from unemployment, from poverty, from shame, from fear, from boredom, from loneliness, and from bereavement.
Psalm 34:19 is not a fuzzy promise made by a fuzzy God to fuzzy people at fuzzy times and places. The promise is crystal clear and applies to all of God's People without exception.
How, then, do we explain not being delivered from all our afflictions? Some say we are, but don't know it. Baloney! We're not and we all know we're not.
But we will be.at the Resurrection. Don't confuse the Resurrection with a vague, airy life after death floating on the clouds, and so on. It isn't that! The Resurrection is LIFE with capital letters. It is the Christian's body raised from the dead and changed from what it is now-weak, ugly, sick, aging, and mortal-to what it was meant to be: bodies like the body of the Risen Christ.
EASTER AND BEFORE
Our Lord was A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. No one ever had the afflictions He did-not in number or severity. He was misunderstood by His family and mistreated; He was made fun of by His neighbors and often showed up in the profane songs of drunk men; He lived His whole life in poverty, and as a Jew, in slavery to the hated Romans. He nearly starved in the wilderness while being pummeled by Satan. His first sermon at home was greeted with a riot that tried to push Him off a cliff. His friends disappointed Him and one of the best of them denied Him three times. The Ruling Council convicted Him of blasphemy, and the Roman Governor sent Him to the cross where He died a death of unspeakable pain and humiliation.
Many were the afflictions of this Righteous Man. And, for a time, the Lord did not seem to deliver Him from any of them-no less all of them!
Then He did. At sunrise on the Sunday after Passover, ladies went to the tomb that once belonged to Joseph of Arimethea. They loved the Lord and wanted to do Him one final service, load up His body with spices in hope of the resurrection that would occur-they firmly believed-at the end of the world.
They didn't do what they wanted to that day because, The End of the World had come into the middle of history. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead-and not as others had been, only to live as they had before and die a second time-He rose to Eternal Life, to the very Life of God!
Is He a Man of Sorrows now? No! He is anointed with the oil of gladness above all His fellows. Is He still in the manger, still in the wilderness, still on the cross, still in the grave? No! He is on the throne, exalted to a glory and honor and majesty for which human words are altogether inadequate!
Our Lord Jesus Christ was delivered from all His afflictions. As our King, He once shared in all our afflictions, and as His people we will one day share in all His Deliverance!
This does not deny or eliminate our problems, but it makes them possible to live with. The worst problems of health or family or work or poverty are temporary problems. One day all these things will be behind us and for good!
This gives us hope. Problems can no more ruin us than they ruined our Savior. Look at Him now-Does He look like a beaten Man? Or a Man Victorious? What He is, we will be! Jesus Christ, Paul said, is the firstborn from the dead. No father of one son only ever called him, 'My firstborn'. To be 'the firstborn' means there are others in the family-and this is who we are: Younger brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, and certain to share in the Family Fortune.
The Resurrection of Jesus was a real thing and capable of being falsified. Had the body been stolen away, it would have been found-that's all the Ruling Council had to do-produce a body and make a laughingstock of the Church. But they didn't produce a dead body because there wasn't one. Oh, there was for three days and three nights, but then the Promise Came True-The Lord rescued the Righteous from all His Afflictions.
And not only Him, but us with Him!
The Lord is risen.
The Lord is risen, indeed.
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