Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 30, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Cities and Churches of Refuge)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Acts 2:22-25
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Dear Lord, today we ask that a doubting, sinful world may see the greatness of Your love and the salvation contained in the Savior's life, death, and resurrection. Grant repentance and forgiveness to us all. Amen.
In July of 1945, a short, wiry, Canadian by the name of Louis Alexander Slotin became known as the "chief armorer of the United States." This title was his because he had been the man who had successfully put together the world's first nuclear weapons. Among the other duties Slotin performed was a dangerous one called, "tickling the dragon's tail." That means he had to bring together quantities of nuclear material to see how much was needed before a chain reaction would occur. If he didn't have enough fissionable material, nothing happened; if he had too much, it was "boom."
On May 21, 1946, Slotin was at Los Alamos, NM, tickling the dragon's tail. That day he had to push together two hemispheres of uranium and then, just as the mass became critical, use a screwdriver to pull them apart. It was a test he had done many times before. This time, however, the screwdriver slipped, the room was instantly bathed in a bluish haze. Slotin did not try to save himself; instead he used his hands to tear the two hemispheres apart. Nine days after the accident, Louis Alexander Slotin died of acute radiation poisoning. The official report said his courageous act had cost him his life, but had saved the seven others who were in the room with him as well as others who were located nearby.
2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ, God's Son, put Himself between death and humanity in an action which had never been done before, which could never be done again. Jesus took to Himself the condemnation and the destructive force of sin and died so the rest of humanity might be saved; so all who are given faith in Him might live.
There you have two beautiful stories of selfless sacrifice. The first told of a fellow who offered his life to save seven of his friends and the second contains the account of the Savior Who embraced a terrible death so the citizens of this sin-saturated world might be rescued from everlasting punishment. These are beautiful stories, but as is often the case, some people prefer to believe an alternative ending, another 'rest of the story.' In regard to Mr. Slotin, I told you the official, the approved position of that day's tragic events. What I didn't share is that some of the men in that room also died from illnesses which are linked to radiation poisoning. Nor did I speak about the fact that, in the years to come, some of those men tossed aside the "official account" of the accident and criticized Louis for having avoided safety protocols and in his use of unsafe shortcuts... shortcuts like trusting an unsafe screwdriver to separate those lethal hemispheres rather than using the supplied and safer shims.
And if we think Mr. Slotin's story has other endings, what can we say about the story of Jesus of Nazareth? The spectrum in regard to His story is almost endless. Some say He was rich; others maintain He was poor. Some say He was white, others hold He was black. One group of supporters say He was the Son of God Who told divine truth and others maintain He was a self-appointed plagiarist of other men's philosophies. I can take you to some who will tell you He was born of a virgin and others who adopt an ancient criticism which said His mother was little more than a tramp. The alternative stories to Jesus, His mission and purpose are many. The Bible says He rose from the dead, but many follow an alternative thread which says He was never crucified, and if He was, He survived and ended up living happily ever after with His girlfriend. Our age, which enjoys nothing as much as criticizing a man's good reputation and ripping apart his good name, have had a field day with Jesus. The end result is there is an ongoing battle between those who would say the Gospel narrative is filled with facts telling how God's Son was sent to give His life as a sacrifice to save us and others who mockingly maintain the Bible is a fiction, having been written and rewritten until it is impossible to say anything about Jesus with any degree of accuracy.
Now it would be possible for us to merely ignore these alternative threads of thought and go on without any type of critique, criticism, or challenge. Why not? Ours is a world which hates black and white and embraces the gray; ours is a time which believes one truth is as good as another. Ours is an age where nobody dare say, "These are the facts which can be absolutely trusted. Any alternative point of view is a deplorable and damnable lie."
So, in regard to Jesus, is there anything, anything at all, of which we can be sure? Truly, there are. For example, nobody can contest that the turning point of the human race is the cross of Christ. Try as you will, you will be unable to find any event in all of history which is as universally powerful and compelling as the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. You know, there was a time when the calendars of western civilization centered on the year 753 B.C. No one could imagine a more important event than 753 B.C., the year the city of Rome was founded. But Rome, grand and historical city that she is, has had her birth set aside for a considerably more important event: the coming of the Christ to save us.
Are there any other facts upon which the critics of the Christ and the Savior's supporters can agree? I believe there is. I would point you to the Lord's church. The day Jesus rose from the dead, there were but a few dozen believers. That handful of faith grew to 120 in the weeks before Jesus ascended into heaven. A little over a week later, on Pentecost, the number of Jesus' followers increased to over 3,000. By the time the last of the Apostles died, right around the end of the 1st century, there were an estimated half-million people who were committed to the Christ. Remember, this is in an age when witnessing was done face to face and without a microphone; this was a time devoid of jet and supertrains, a time when a man had to walk to the mission field if Jesus' story was to be shared. By the end of the third century, many of the temples of the ancient gods had been deserted and were unused. Today the estimate of the experts say there are over two billion souls who acknowledge the Savior as Lord; which makes Christianity the greatest success story in the history of the world.
So, is there anything we can know about Jesus which has not been clouded by the filters of the centuries; is there any way we can find truth? Once more may I suggest there is? In history, there is one unique moment, one place in time where we can see a simple presentation of the facts concerning the Christ. That time was Pentecost and the place was Jerusalem when Peter spoke to a crowd who had spontaneously been brought together. But this crowd was special and unlike any other in history. You see this crowd had the facts. These people had known Jesus; they had seen or heard of how He had, only a short time before, raised Lazarus from the dead. They had shouted a welcome to the Christ when He entered Jerusalem in triumph and watched as He cleansed the temple for a second time.
The crowd before Peter and the other Apostles that day had heard of Jesus' arrest; His trials with their trumped-up-and-ever-changing-charges, and the death sentence which the fearful Procurator, Pontius Pilate, had pronounced. No doubt some had gone outside the city walls to see Jesus as He hung upon a cross, placed between two common criminals. It is more than possible that a few of these citizens of Jerusalem may have joined in on the mockery which had been directed at the crucified Christ. For this unique audience, there could be no debate about whether Jesus had survived His crucifixion. They had seen the Roman death squad finish Him off with a thrust of a spear to His heart.
Yes, the crowd listening to Peter and his fellow preachers had already heard the news of Jesus' resurrection which, only a few weeks before, had swept through the city. In the days which followed, a few may have believed the eyewitnesses who kept coming forward saying, "I saw Jesus. I talked with Jesus. I ate with Jesus. I touched Jesus." In all probability, most had dismissed all of those reports as being unsubstantiated rumors. Quite likely the majority had found it easier to believe the explanations put out by the High Priests and members of the Jewish Supreme Court known as the Sanhedrin. If there was ever a group which was able to refute any lies, contest any exaggerations, and challenge false propaganda swirling around the story of the Savior's sacrifice to save us, it was this one.
To this crowd, Peter offers two pieces of information, two things they can understand, two things which remove any and all doubt about the truth. And, since doubt is not confined to the ancient past, I would like to share those same two things with you. Peter begins with reason #1, the Savior's superhuman works; that is, His miracles. This is what Peter said, "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, (is) a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst ..." Works, wonders, and signs; that describes the miracles Jesus did. The word work refers to Jesus' action which set aside the normal laws which govern this world. The term wonder is the reaction which should have been felt by anyone who saw any of the humanly impossible things which were quite possible for Jesus. Finally, Peter speaks of the sign. The sign of the miracle is what that incredible action was trying to accomplish, the result God wanted to bring about. Peter's point was simple: every miracle, every sign which Jesus had performed unerringly showed Him to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Now I would like to stop and point out something which may never have occurred to you. You will note that nobody in that great crowd of thousands interrupted and said, "What are you talking about, man? Jesus never did anything special, certainly nothing which can't be explained away." Do you know why nobody said that? They didn't say it because saying something like that never occurred to them. It didn't occur to them because they knew, EVERYBODY knew about Jesus' miraculous works. Go back and take a look at the ancient references to Jesus, including those not in the Bible. If you do, you will find that every Christian writer; every Jewish writer, every pagan writer, admitted Jesus had done some unbelievable, unexplainable things. Where they disagree is when they answer the question: "Where did Jesus get His authority?" While the Savior's opponents held that Jesus had been empowered by the forces of evil and darkness, Christians believed Jesus' power was God's power. Speaking for all believers, Nicodemus, a publican and a member of the Jewish Supreme Court, came to Jesus and said, (John 3:2) "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." These miracles are the first of Peter's proofs which identify Jesus as the Savior.
Peter continued with his second proof as he said, "Do you folks remember Jesus of Nazareth? Of course, you do! How could you not? You and your unscrupulous leaders put Him to death. Well, that same Jesus has now been raised from the dead. The grave couldn't hold Him. He's alive and, in spite of all which was done to Him; He's also well." That's what Peter said. If you listen closely, you will notice that Peter didn't pull his punches. Peter didn't say, "Jesus was crucified by some bad leaders." He didn't let the people off the hook. They had been involved with the crucifixion, the murder of an innocent Man and God's Divine Son. Now it was time for repentance over the past. You see, that day Peter's first job wasn't to make them feel good about themselves. His job was to bring them to that point where they would say, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner." Then, when they had acknowledged their guilt, as many of them did, Peter and the others could assure them that Jesus had suffered, died, and risen so that they might be forgiven and granted eternal life. That, my friends, is the unadulterated truth, the facts you can believe. You are a sinner and Jesus has carried your sin, died your death, so you might be saved.
But I said there were two things not said. What was the other? My friends you will notice nobody in the crowd said, "Hey, I went down to Jesus' tomb and He's still there." Nobody said, "Hold on a second, I was just up at the High Priest's house and they showed me Jesus' body." For the Christian church to be stopped cold in its tracks, that day all anybody had to do was produce Jesus' corpse. But nobody did that...nor did Jesus' enemies produce an explanation which that knowledgeable crowd could accept.
And that is why, that day, the multitude which had the facts, who were eyewitnesses of what had been going on, were deeply moved and they asked, "Where do we go from here? How can this all be fixed?" To which Peter replied, as the church has always replied to those who have seen the wrong they had done and the forgiveness Jesus has won, (Acts 2:38b) "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." That day, 3,000 of the crowd who knew the facts were baptized and were saved.
Now you also know the unfiltered, unadulterated facts. Jesus Christ has carried your sins, and was killed to save you, and has been raised to life so you might know death has been defeated. Today the Lord extends God's invitation: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." To that end, if we can be of help, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Action in Ministry for April 30, 2017
Guest: Dr. Anthony Cook The Bible: What? When? Why?
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action In Ministry; a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Pastor Gregory Seltz joins us now.
SELTZ: Thanks, Mark. It's good to be here. Today, we're talking about that Pentecost event and the Pentecost crowd; they knew about the facts about Jesus because they had heard and seen Him. Those facts are recorded for us in the pages of God's Word, the Bible. Yet today, some believe none of it ever happened; that it was all just made-up stories.
ANNOUNCER: The big question is why believe what the Bible tells us and to help answer that question, we've prepared a little resource for you titled: The Bible: What? When? Why? and here to tell us more about that today is our colleague, Dr. Tony Cook.
SELTZ: Tony, great to have you here today.
COOK: Glad to be here. Thanks.
SELTZ: Throughout history, and even today, in other parts of the world, people have given their lives to share these words that are in the Scripture. What is it about this book?
COOK: The Bible is the place where we go to hear God speak directly to us and to learn the story about how He loves us so much that He would overcome all obstacles that we've placed in His way in order to reconcile the world to Himself. So, for me, it's the place I turn to hear God speak.
ANNOUNCER: What should we know about the way the Bible is organized and arranged?
COOK: It's interesting. The Bible is actually arranged predominantly into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the Old Testament leads us up to the time of Jesus. We have the prophesies, the promises that God has given to His people and to the world about the coming of Christ from the beginning of Genesis, with the fall, there is also a promise and that promise is that one day a Messiah will come. The Old Testament walks us through that history of God and His people Israel and their expectation of that coming of that Messiah. In the New Testament, we see that Messiah appear in the person of Jesus. Jesus is born and you see His life and His ministry and His faithfulness. You see the beginning of His disciples following Him, of the teachings of the early church, and then all the way at the end you have the book of Revelation, which is kind of a postcard, a snapshot, from eternity. I always tell people that if you ever want to know if you're going to be in heaven, that when you read the book of Revelation, it's like a Polaroid of you already there. It's this great moment of certainty, this capstone, to this whole story, this narrative, about the redemptive work of God in the world.
SELTZ: How is the Bible breathed by God, yet penned by men?
COOK: I think that is where this booklet comes in very handy. It talks about God's inspiration of Scripture. It helps us understand the fact that God works through His people and that God, through His Holy Spirit, spoke through those authors; and that, even though it was written by a large group of people, that we know that what we're actually hearing then is the Holy Word of God. And so, it's much more than a collection of books written by random people as much as it is a testimony of how God works through His people to make sure that His message is consistent and faithful and there throughout the generations.
SELTZ: Clear too, right?
ANNOUNCER: Now maybe you're a longtime student of God's Word, maybe you've never cracked open the pages of the book; either way, this booklet, this resource we're offering today, is a great resource to answer questions like: where did the Bible come from, when was it written, and why was it written. And, Dr. Cook, why do those questions ultimately matter?
COOK: I think they matter for a couple of reasons. One is, if you're not familiar with the Bible, it helps you understand the historical nature of the Bible; it just didn't fall out of heaven, but that it has a history; it's embedded within culture, and within conflict, and within actual world events; so, it sets a context for the writing of the various books that are contained within Scripture. As a Christian, it not only brings me the narrative of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit works through that to impart faith, but it also strengthens my faith so the facts that are contained in this book, I read them in light of the faith that I have in God and it begins to fill in and to give insight and stability to my belief.
SELTZ: Dr. Cook, thank you so much for being here with us to tell us all about that today.
COOK: Hey, thanks for having me.
SELTZ: And that's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: And for your free copy of this resource titled: The Bible: What? When? Why? go to lutheranhour.org; click on Action In Ministry. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 30, 2017
Topic: Cities and Churches of Refuge
ANNOUNCER: We are back once again with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. What is the topic of discussion for today?
ANNOUNCER: The topic is cities of refuge. As you know, various mayors and city councils have come out and declared their cities to be places of refuge for people who have entered the country illegally. Now the Bible mentions places of refuge as well. Is that anything like what we hear about nowadays?
KLAUS: Well, there are similarities. The most obvious similarity is that these cities are places to which a person might flee for protection and safety from the law; that being said, there are many more differences between the two.
ANNOUNCER: Such as?
KLAUS: Such as the Bible names six cities of refuge. They are: Kedesh, Shechem, Hebron, Bezer, Romath, and Golan. Three were on the east side of the Jordan and three were on the west side. The first difference between then and now is this: the ancient cities of refuge were selected by the Lord and not by a mayor or a city council.
ANNOUNCER: I also believe there were some differences when it came to the type of individuals a city of refuge might shield.
KLAUS: Absolutely. The Biblical city of refuge was designed to provide protection for an individual who had accidentally killed someone. That was important because, back then, murderers were often hunted down by avenging families. The city of refuge kept such a person safe until he could be tried. If he was found innocent, that the death really was accidental, the accused could live in the city of refuge without suffering any harm. If he was found guilty, he was turned over for punishment.
ANNOUNCER: Did a person have to live in that city of refuge the rest of his life?
KLAUS: No, he was allowed to return home after the nation's High Priest died. You will note, Mark, we have a few more differences here. First, there is protection for only one kind of crime, murder; that protection was only guaranteed until trial and there was a time when a man's crime could be erased.
ANNOUNCER: Today it seems as if cities are offering refuge for any number of reasons. Even more, they are not setting any limits on how long a person might stay under that protection. Now, what about churches that are providing refuge?
KLAUS: Yeah, we have some of those too. Using a church or temple as a safe spot was practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans. During the Middle Ages, a person could seek refuge in a church for just about any crime, and as long as he didn't break the church laws, he could stay in the church almost indefinitely.
ANNOUNCER: I'm wondering, is it still that way today? Could anyone who commits a crime find a safe spot in a church?
KLAUS: Tricky question. First, the laws protecting someone seeking refuge in a church no longer really exist. That being said, there are some churches that will offer safe harbor for people who, it seems, are not getting a fair shake by the law.
ANNOUNCER: But, I'm hearing you say there is no real, guaranteed, legal refuge which could be claimed in a church; so, could the law just come in and bring them out?
KLAUS: Think about it, Mark. How would it look on the evening news for the local SWAT team to bust down the door of a local church? How would it look to see those heavily armed teams come out of neighborhood churches with some helpless looking individual or family? It would be a public relations catastrophe. That's why law enforcement generally just lets these folks alone. After all, the police know where they are and they know these folks are going to behave where they are because if they don't, they're going to be given the boot. One other thing we do need to say here, Mark. That is this: our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit frequently say they are our refuge and strength... an ever-present source of help in time of trouble. What that means for believers is that we have a place to go. We don't have to carry all our sins, our problems, our pains, our hurts; all the things that the world wishes to so us, all by ourselves. We have a shelter, a refuge that we can turn to and know that the Lord hearing us is going to be with us and help us through; help us either carry or eliminate those pains and problems that the world places upon us.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"With High Delight Let Us Unite" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Sing Praise to God, the Highest Good" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)