Friday, March 29, 2013

Five Things to Do on Good Friday.

"Good Friday" is the name traditionally given to the day on which Christ died on the cross. For many
churches, Good Friday is marked by a worship service in a solemn and contrite manner in which sermons on the cross of Christ are preached.

However, if your congregation holds Maundy Thursday services instead--or doesn't hold either--here are a few things you might consider for your devotional life as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday. .
  • Listen to a recording the the Gospel accounts of the cross. The entire Bible is free in audio form on the ESV website. Here is the audio of Mark 15. (You may have to click to the "listen" button on the top).
    • Listen to a sermon on the cross of Christ. Here is mine from Matthew 27:15-23, detailing the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus, entitled "The Exchange." 
    Hope you find some of these resources helpful!

    Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

    Monday, March 25, 2013

    Book Review: Spurgeon: A New Biography, by Arnold Dallimore

    As a pastor, I have an incredibly high admiration for the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon. His preaching, writing, and leadership stand out among the all-time greats of Christian history. Were I to be granted a "double portion" of any one man's spirit, as Elisha sought from Elijah, I might just choose C.H. Spurgeon.

    This biography by Arnold Dallimore is an excellent introduction to the life and ministry of the "Prince of Preachers." Reading through this brief work will give the reader a swift but sufficient introduction to the primary life events, theological moorings, and major accomplishments of this stalwart Christian hero.

    As Dallimore traces the incomparable Spurgeon from his progenic childhood, beyond his meteoric rise as a young Baptist pastor, and through his grueling sufferings of both body and soul (the Downgrade Controversy was especially wearing on the London Calvinist), the reader gets the impression that Spurgeon was nearly apostolic.

    In fact, the reason that I gave this work four stars instead of five is that it verges on hagiography. Throughout, nearly the only "weakness" that Dallimore can detect in the life of C.H. Spurgeon is that he smoked cigars and had an alcoholic beverage from time to time! Certainly, this work is an attempt, however admirable, to cast Spurgeon in the purest of lights and to give him his due among the venerable men of Christian history.

    I too love much about Spurgeon: his pleading for souls, his resistance to the creeping influence of liberal theology, and his ardent defense of Calvinism and the doctrines of our Puritan forefathers. But as a pastor myself, I might have been even MORE encouraged (if that were possible) to hear about a single time that Spurgeon had failed at something--even if just once in his life!

    Instead, Dallimore casts Spurgeon as almost impeccable in both life and character. "The man who lived in CONSTANT fellowship with God manifested in his daily life ALL the fruits of the Spirit. Here love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were EVER present, and with them there was a hatred of their opposites--a loathing of EVERY form of sin" (p. 179, emphasis added). Wow.

    I left the book wondering: did Spurgeon have any Achilles heal at all? Did he succeed as a father and husband as he did as an author and mega-church pastor? (Notably, almost nothing is said of Spurgeon raising his sons in the home). Did the unfaltering success of his publications and preaching success ever cause him to need to repent of pride?

    Dallimore's work was thorough, interesting, and compelling throughout. Overall, I would highly recommend this work as a good introduction to C.H. Spurgeon, but I would caution all who read it to not compare themselves too rigorously to Dallimore's protagonist. None of us will be able to stand next to him.

    Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Was the Resurrection of Jesus Really an Historical Event?

    The Objection

    For many, the Christian teaching of the resurrection of the dead is an intellectual stumbling block that is difficult to surmount. That a body could rise again seems to fly in the face of our every experience with death: corpses do not typically reanimate before our very eyes! Many skeptics would attempt to attack the Christian faith in its entirety by endeavoring to show that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was impossible. In this article, I will consider the following objection: That Christianity is founded upon the impossible premise that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, actually rose from the dead some time around the year 33AD.

    Of course, the entirely of the Christian faith does rest largely upon the doctrine of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The skeptic is right to suppose that, if it could be shown that Jesus did not rise, most of our doctrine would crumble, as would the spiritual authority of the New Testament. Nevertheless, we take this Scriptural teaching to be an historic fact—Jesus Christ literally rose from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion. For this reason, we do not understand the Gospel accounts to be any kind of fanciful or mythological account. Rather, we, like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, rest the whole of our faith on the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

    First Reply: The Gospel Accounts

    Let us first consider that the oldest and most reliable documents pertaining to these events are the Gospels themselves. Far from being “removed” from the actual events, the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are indeed the most reliable accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. All of the Gospels were written by either eye-witnesses to the ministry of Jesus (Matthew and John were His disciples) or by the direct protégés of such (Mark and Luke were students of Peter and Paul respectively).

    That these Gospels are chalked full of specific names and hometowns of dozens of eyewitnesses  to these events (Joseph of Arimathea, Simon of Cyrene, Mary of Magdala, Lazarus and Martha of Bethany, Pontius Pilate etc.) further underscores that these documents are verifiable source material, and not later reconstructions. Many of these eyewitnesses were still alive at the time of composition, as each of the Gospels was written within the first and second generations of those who lived with Christ. So many eyewitnesses to the resurrection still lived during the time of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that he can state without blinking an eye:
    "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living" (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, emphasis added).
    While many ancient works have very few copies and manuscripts, the Gospels contain by far more manuscript evidence than any other ancient document. For instance, there are over 20,000 extant manuscripts (or fragments) of the NT, as compared to only 9 of Homer’s Illiad. This makes the NT by far the most copied and transcribed document of the ancient world.

    Among the eyewitness documents themselves, there is no discrepancy of fact. Without any hesitation, we can say that ALL of the Gospel accounts invariably testify that the resurrection of Jesus is an historic fact. NT writers took great pains to ensure the accuracy of their renderings. Luke for instance writes,
    “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
    Second Reply: The Faithful Martyrs

    Secondly, we must consider that, if Jesus did not literally rise from the dead, we have no explanation as to why most of his followers were willing to pay such a great price for their faith, nor do we have an explanation for the rapid growth of Christianity in the first three centuries.

    Eleven of the original twelve disciples (excluding Judas) suffered for their testimony of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Of those eleven, ten died a martyr’s death, while John was merely banished. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we would have to assume that these disciples were willing to suffer brutal deaths at the hands of their murders for what they knew to be a lie.

    Not only does the Bible tell us many of the stories of those who suffered for the fact of the resurrection, but extra-biblical literature supports these historic events. Without any doubt, Christians suffered tremendously under the regime of Emperor Nero (and others). While given the chance to preserve their own lives by simply acknowledging “Caesar is Lord,” thousands of Christians preferred to meet their fate at the burning stake or in the arena because they could not deny what they knew to be true.

    Secular sociologist Rodney Stark acknowledged that it was the Early Christians’ adamant belief in the resurrection that allowed for their meteoric rise in growth in the first three centuries. Writing about the plagues of 165 AD, he states, “Once death lost its power over life, life itself took on new meaning for believers." Stark states, “The Romans threw people out into the street at the first symptoms of disease, because they knew it was contagious and they were afraid of dying," says Stark. "But the Christians stayed and nursed the sick. You could only do that if you thought, 'So what if I die? I have life eternal'." (1) 

    The Apostle Paul, himself once a great opponent of Christianity, was overcome by the reality of Jesus raised from the dead (See Acts 9). Nevertheless, because of his experience of the risen Christ, he was willing to endure tremendous suffering for the event on which he based the rest of his life. Standing before Governor Felix, Paul, radically changed by the Gospel could proclaim, “It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today” (Acts 24:21). How else can we explain such a dramatic change in his life and character?

    Third Reply: Opponents' Testimony

    Finally, we can conclude our case by consulting the early opponents of Christianity. We might expect, of course, that the data left by followers of Jesus Christ would support our conclusions, but what of the writings of those who persisted in opposing the Gospel? If we can find that the writings of early opponents actually support the evidence of the resurrection, we can begin to rest our case.

    Indeed this is exactly what we find. Josephus is widely regarded to be an authoritative historian of the ancient Jewish people. He was by no means a believer in Christ. Yet his writings actually confirm the Gospel accounts. The most ancient version of Josephus’ history (the Arabic version) states,
    “At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.”

    Governor Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan further underscoring the Christian narrative,
    “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god… I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms.”
    Finally, the Babylonian Talmud, written in AD 217 states,
    “On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! - Ulla retorted: Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a “Mesith” [enticer].”
    What is interesting about each of these three hostile accounts is that they do NOT seem to conflict with the Christian gospels as regards the basic elements of the Christian story. On the contrary, they seem to actually support that chronology of the Gospel accounts: viz. that Jesus Christ was a miracle worker (Talmud: “practiced sorcery”), claimed to be God (Pliny: “as to a god”), exhibited Messianic credentials (Josephus: “perhaps the Messiah”), was crucified (Talmud: “On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged”) and rose again (Josephus: “But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion”).

    In other words, the early opponents of Christianity objected to the convictions of early Christians but not to their facts. So, then the most vigorous opponents of Christianity do not dispute the narrative of chronological events but rather corroborate them, though them predictably arrive at other conclusions.


    In conclusion, then, I would submit that the burden of proof lies not upon the shoulders of the Christian who asserts that Jesus rose, but upon the shoulders of any who would deny the historicity of the most ancient and authoritative accounts (i.e. the Gospels). We leave the skeptic with the following questions with which to grapple:
    • If Jesus did not rise, how does one explain the tremendous growth of Christianity in the first three centuries?
    • If Jesus did not rise, how does one reckon with the documentary evidence that says He did?
    • If Jesus did not rise, how does one explain the dramatic conversion of the Apostle Paul who hated the Church and sought to destroy it?
    • If Jesus did not rise, how does one explain the willingness of so many early Christians to suffer for their convictions?
    • If Jesus did not rise, how does one explain the absence of any physical corpse?

    Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Beautiful Oil; Beautiful Blood: A Meditation on Matthew 26:6-13

    Jesus is worthy of our greatest sacrifice. There is no cost of which He is not worthy.

    Take Eric Liddell for example. The 1981 Oscar winning movie “Chariots of Fire” tells the story of Scotland’s greatest sprinter and Olympic athlete in the 1920’s. Liddell, the son of Christian missionaries to China, was universally recognized as the leading contender for the gold medal in the 100 yard race (the race) but refused to compete in the 1924 Olympic qualifying heat because it was held on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day. He was mocked both then and now as being “too religious.” The newspapers smeared him as a fool and a traitor. Even the royal family begged him to compete and set aside his views on the Sabbath Day just once. And yet for Liddell, choosing between a simple Sunday morning in church and eternal Olympic glory was no choice at all. 

    He is Worthy of Our Greatest Sacrifice! 

    In Matthew 26:6-13, we see another person who was accused of wasting an opportunity at the expense of extravagant piety—an unnamed woman who literally pours out her “life savings” on Jesus in one act of devotion. John's gospel tells us this was Mary of Bethany.

    Let's briefly look at the costly sacrifice she gave.

    Mary brought…an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment (Matt 26:7).  There are several things about this ointment that show us this was no ordinary act—this was a radical act of complete, personal surrender. It was worship in the highest form she could offer!

    a. It Was Rare. Mark calls it "nard." (Mark 14:3). Tracing the Greek word down, we can learn that it likely came from the nardostychus jatamansi plant in high mountains of India and Nepal, including the Himalayas! Thus, it was a rare import non-native to Israel. The root of the plant must be crushed to obtain just a few drops. A dangerous journey of thousands of miles must be undertaken just to obtain it.  But Jesus is worth any risk, any cost, even our lives.

    b. It Was Pure. Mark's account also tells us it was "pure" (Mark 14:3). It was undiluted, unmixed, highly concentrated. This is always appropriate for acts of worship. The Lord loves things that are pure and despises that which is contaminated (i.e. hearts, hands, prayers, thoughts etc.). Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

    c. It Was Expensive. John tells us that a liter (Gk: litra) was worth 300 denarii, a year's wage (John 12:5). Because it was unmixed, it could have been diluted to 1/10 or 1/20 or more to create a vast supply of perfume. It is possible that Mary of Bethany was greatly rich and this would have been a small token to her. On the other hand, it is more likely that this was her entire life savings.  In the ancient world there was no bank, no 401K, no stock market in which to invest. This could have been her entire financial savings (her nest-egg) poured out in one act of worship.

    d. Irreplaceable. Finally, it was irreplaceable. Mark’s Gospel says “she broke the flask” (Mark 14:3). In those days, some alabaster flasks were made with long thin necks such that it was necessary to break the bottle neck in order to get the contents out. Once it was broken, there was no way to reseal it. It had to be used in one single setting. Thus it seems that she poured out the entire bottle on Jesus, and could not gather it up off the floor even if she wanted to!

    If this passage means anything to us it is that Jesus, our Savior and King is worthy of our greatest sacrifice. You cannot pour out something at Jesus feet--time, service, giving, worship, praise, song, mission, chastity, study—that He does not already deserve! Our richest oil, our most expensive nard is not enough to thank Him for what He has done.

    But Jesus' Sacrifice Was Greater than Mary's

    Yes, Mary's sacrifice was great indeed. It was rare, pure, costly, and irreplaceable.  And yet as great as it was (and as honest as her motives may have been) it was still not enough. 

    Even our greatest acts of service and piety need to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. 

    In Christianity, it is not what we give to Jesus that matters; it is what He has given to us. For this reason, Jesus takes this poignant opportunity to again point to the absolute centrality of His own cross. He says,  In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial (Matt 26:12).

    On the last week of Jesus’ life, a great, pure, infinitely valuable substance was indeed poured out. This liquid offering was passionately spilled, and ran copiously down Jesus’ head, body, and feet. 

    But it wasn’t the oil of the nardostychus jatamansi plant. 

    It was His blood. 

    It was His own infinitely pure blood that washed away our sins. 

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    Great Advice

    Heard this from a dear friend and fellow pastor the other day at lunch concerning how to maintain a devotional life in ministry in particular, or in life in general,

    "Never stop starting again. "

    As I've thought about that advice all week, I'm been struck by how true it is. Never give up returning to God's Word. Never give up returning to family worship and to prayer. Never stop staring over in spiritual discipline. Never stop starting a new or challenging read. No matter if you've tripped over yourself, your schedule, your work, or your own laziness, never stop starting again. And never, ever, stop running to the cross!

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    Piecing Together Bible Prophecy

    I recently read the first book in a series being written by my spiritual father Pastor Don Walton.  He is writing a series on Bible prophecy.  The first book is more explanatory and does not get into the controversial topics so much.  I found it to be informative on several areas I am at odds with, while discussing my position pretty well.  (I will not discuss my position for this post)

    He has now started to supplement the book with a multi-part video series.  You can follow this series on YouTube from Time For Truth Ministries. This is a series about prophecy and how it is understood. Informative and instructional. As I said, I read the book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  I also recommend the video series.
    Here is the first video in the series:

    Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at