By Paul Smalley (guest blogger)
People sometimes ask, “When Jesus was tempted, was it possible for him to sin?” All Christians believe that Christ was tempted, and that he did not sin. But could he have sinned? This can be a vexing question.
Some truths are clear in Scripture. God cannot be tempted to sin. James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” God cannot sin. First John 1:5 says, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” He does not change (Mal. 3:6).
Men can be tempted to sin, and are capable of sin (Gen. 3:1-6). God the Son became a man, and was tempted to sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 says, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”
Christ is God and man (John 1:1, 14). I believe that we can therefore say that in his divine nature it was impossible for him to sin, but in his human nature it was possible for him to sin. I am not speaking here of possibilities with respect to God’s decree, but with respect to the inherent characteristics of his humanity.
Where does that leave us on the question of his impeccability? I would make the following tentative conclusions.
First, Christ was not capable of sinning, because he is God. If his human nature sinned, it would act independently from his divine nature, and become alienated from his divine nature, and this is impossible because the two natures are united as one person. How could he be alienated from himself? The unity of the two natures in one person makes Christ impeccable. I believe this statement guards us against the danger of Nestorianism.
Second, Christ did experience temptation in his human nature as a man capable of sin. In other words, since his human nature was subject to temptation and capable of sin (though he never sinned), his experience of temptation was not essentially different than that of other men. He did not “automatically” reject temptation, but suffered and fought against it by the power of the Spirit. This, I believe, guards us against the danger of Docetism. It also offers us a Christ who is fully sympathetic to our temptations.
Paul Smalley is a member of Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. He served as a pastor for twelve years, and presently works as a teaching assistant to Dr. Joel Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, with whom he has written two books, Feasting with Christ and Prepared by Grace, for Grace.
- You can actually see, while you are writing, the progressive development of each part of the sermon and can alternately bolster each one to the highest quality, coherence and effect – regardless of the order of development.
- Any remaining weaker or missing elements will show up distinctly, crying out for corrective attention, in an otherwise completed manuscript.
- You can easily continue improving the sermon – long after initial delivery – by deletion or addition as you become aware of new or better information (e.g. proof-text, winning illustrations, clarifying background).
- The audience’s (or supervisor’s) response, as well as your own self-evaluation, can be incorporated into your delivered manuscript as a basis for continued growth in preaching.
- You can preach the sermon again – in the whole or in the part – in another venue without any loss of content. Making multiple uses of your sermon manuscripts reduces preparation time and elevates the quality of your preaching.
- You can internalize (assimilate) the manuscript content by reading it a few times before you preach it so that the delivery can retain your written wording in an audience-focused presentation. Note: The detriments of being “manuscript bound” in delivery should not be confused with the benefits of manuscript preparation.
- You can assimilate the manuscript and reduce it to a half a page or one page outline that contains all of the essential elements that you will need to recall so that you can leave the manuscript behind and speak more extemporaneously.
- Your manuscript, with all its careful wording, serves to jog the memory in and out of the pulpit about how to best word the Bible’s teaching on that subject.
- You will have a record of illustrations you have already used so that you can avoid repeating them to the same audience.
- The finality and permanence of manuscripts encourages record keeping and calendar planning to avoid duplication and to treat “the whole counsel of God.”
- You may want to publish your sermon manuscripts someday.
- The length of your manuscript will give you a close approximation of how long it will take you to deliver it.
Rev. Dr. Jim Cowman holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. For the past 14 years he has served Lead Pastor at the Wyandotte Alliance Church in Wyandotte, Michigan. This past summer he was honored for his 27 years of service with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, having served in three C&MA churches, including a new church plant near Rugters University, (“Grace Alliance Church”). In addition to being an online adjunct Professor in Crown College’s Christian Ministry department, he has also served 12 years on the Ordaining Counsel of the Great Lakes District located in Ann Arbor, as well as the Ordaining Counsel of Bethesda Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan. He welcomes your emails/comments with regard to his article: “Top Twelve Reasons for Writing Out Your Sermon Manuscript”: email@example.com
Around the globe, countless Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed. This creed includes a line that has discouraged other Christians to read it out loud—“He descended into hell.” Did Jesus descend into hell? There are two major interpretations of this phrase “He descended into hell”—(1) literal and (2) nonliteral.
Proponents of the literal view teach that after his death and before his resurrection, Jesus literally descended into the place called hell. That is, his human spirit went to hell, the place of eternal punishment for the wicked. Note that only his soul went to hell, for his body was buried in the tomb.
A well-known prosperity gospel preacher by the name of Frederick K.C. Price (b. 1932) holds this view:
Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves [criminals] could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God… Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence.
Three observations from this quote:
- Christ’s death on the cross was not enough to pay the punishment of our sin.
- Jesus had to go into hell in order to pay fully the penalty of our sin.
- The penalty of our sin was to descend into hell.
Let me refute Prince’s literal view of the phrase “He descended into hell.”
1. The atoning death of Jesus was sufficient to pay the penalty of our sin.
For this reason the Bible tells us repeatedly—“Christ died for our sins” and not, “He descended into hell for our sins.” Take 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 for instance:
1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Notice the 3 important elements of the gospel in this passage: death, burial, and resurrection. Descent into hell is not an element of the gospel.
2. Jesus did not have to go to hell in order to pay the penalty of our sin.
John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” What is finished? Answer: Everything that is required for our redemption. Going into hell is not a part of the requirement for our salvation.
In Greek that sentence “It is finished” is only one word Tetelestai, and this Greek word is perfect tense and is translated “It [the work of redemption] has been finished.” Jesus fulfilled all the requirements for our salvation.
3. Remember the very last words of Jesus recorded for us in Luke 24:46, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.”
His human spirit went to his Father, and his Father received his spirit. Further in Luke 23:43 Jesus promises the believing criminal, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise [heaven].” That is, the moment you die you will go with me to heaven in my Father’s house, not to hell.
4. Remember also that Jesus did not just pay the punishment of our sin, he also satisfied God’s perfect demand. Jesus kept the law perfectly. Frederick K.C. Price argues, “Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price.” Well, these thieves could not have paid our price, because they were not perfect; and therefore, could not have satisfied God’s perfect demand.
I therefore conclude that Jesus did not literally go to hell. In my next post I will present my view.
Definition of Heaven
- The sky. Isaiah 55:10 reads, “[T]he rain and the snow come down from heaven [that is, from the sky] and do not return there but water the earth.”
- The space where we have the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Take Genesis 1:14-16, for instance, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens [that is, of the space] to separate the day from the night….’ And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.”
- The dwelling place of God. In Kings 8:30 Solomon speaks to God, “…listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place [the temple]. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” Paul calls this dwelling place “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:23), perhaps to distinguish it from the sky (the first heaven) and from the space (the second heaven).
Description of Heaven
In Isaiah 65:17-25 we have a pictorial description of heaven. Here Isaiah, as it were, is painting a picture of heaven. By poetically describing the new heaven and new earth, he is telling us what heaven looks like. Here are four descriptions of heaven from Isaiah 65:17-25:
- A place of indescribable joy (vv. 17-19). Verse 17 says, “[T]he former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” In heaven we cannot and will not remember the sins that we committed that brought sorrow to us in this present world. Verse 19 adds, “[N]o more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” This verse echoes Revelation 21:4, “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” While we can cry because of joy, most of the time we cry because of pain, problems, persecution, affliction, and death. We will not need to cry in heaven in the latter sense, for suffering and separation will be absent.
- A place of everlasting life (v. 20). In heaven we will not grow old, get weak, and die. Death exists because sin does, “[f]or the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Since sin does not exist in heaven, death cannot and will not exist also in heaven. We can therefore sing with the hymn writer Ira Forest Stanphill (1914-1993): “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop/ In that bright land where we’ll never grow old/ And some day yonder we will never more wander/ But walk the streets that are purest gold.”
- A place of perfect justice (v. 22). Note verse 22: “They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.” This verse simply tells us that in heaven crimes, cheating, and injustice will end. Thus, heaven does not need jails, prisons, soldiers, policemen, and judges. Likewise, in heaven there will be no more national or denominational divisions, for we will be under one King—the Lord Jesus Christ.
- A place of absolute peace (v. 25). Bombing, shooting, violence, and war will cease in heaven, for we will be with Christ—the Prince of Peace. And to be with him is what makes heaven the most wonderful place.
- Remember that only those who have the righteousness of Jesus Christ can live in heaven (2 Pet. 3:13). Do you have his righteousness?
- If you are a believer in Christ, remember that this present world is not your home. As one hymn states,
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
That you can’t feel at home in this world anymore simply shows that you don’t belong here, for your citizenship is in heaven. Therefore, set your mind “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “[L]ay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:20-21).
To read part 1 of this post, click here.
On August 24, 2013 Rev. Alvin Korvemaker, my fellow URC minister, died suddenly at the age of 49. When he passed away, two things happened: first, he departed from this world; and second, he arrived in heaven. His departure brings sorrow. His arrival brings joy. So, I grieve because of his departure and yet at the same time I rejoice because of his arrival in heaven.
In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul says that “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord.” Then in Philippians 1:23 Paul adds that “to depart and be with Christ…is far better.” When a believer in Christ dies, his soul departs from his body to be present with God. The believer’s soul is now away from his body and at home with his Lord and Savior. His soul is now in heaven—in a far better place, while his body is buried awaiting the glorious resurrection of the redeemed.
Why is heaven a far better place than any part of the world? What is heaven? What does it look like? In light of Isaiah 65:17-25 I will consider these questions. But, before giving you four descriptions of heaven, I will first look at four reasons why some Christians are not interested in the subject of heaven, despite the fact that heaven is the most wonderful place of all the places that God has created.
Four reasons why some Christians are not interested in the study of heaven:
- We have become too attached to the things of this present world—too attached to our house, car, job, money, and other material things. We become too close to this world that we lose sight of heaven.
- We have become too comfortable in this present world. Beautiful homes. Nice cars. Wonderful jobs. Good health. Our prosperity makes us world focused. In the meantime, those who are poor and sick become less interested in staying in this world and more interested in going to heaven.
- We think that heaven is only for old people. Since we associate heaven with death and since we associate death with old people, we think that heaven is only for the old. Some say, “Well, I’m too young to think about heaven. I don’t want to go there yet. Let me first finish my education and get married, and then have children. Once I’m old, I will start thinking about heaven.”
- We feel intimidated to think of the unthinkable subject of heaven. Because heaven is a very difficult doctrine to study, we simply avoid this doctrine. Especially when we study this doctrine we encounter many questions to which the Bible does not give clear answers. I think our problem is that we focus on what the Bible does not say about heaven, rather than on what it says.
Someone narrates a story about the Scottish doctor who visited his dying close friend:
“Tell me, you are a believer of sorts. What will it be like after I die?” There was a moment of silence. Suddenly there was a scratching at the bedroom door. The doctor turned to his friend and said, “Did you hear that? It’s my dog. He’s been waiting patiently for me downstairs and has become impatient. He has never been in this room. He has no idea what it is like. He knows only one thing about it and that is that I am here. That’s all I know about the future….He’s there.”
How true! There are many things that we do not know about heaven. But we know one thing for sure—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is there. The Puritan Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) says, “Heaven and Christ are the same thing.” Rutherford continues, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.”
What makes heaven heaven is Christ’s presence; and what makes hell hell is His absence. Is it because of Jesus Christ that you desire to go to heaven?
May our knowledge that Rev. Korvemaker is now with Christ in heaven sweeten our sorrow.
Did you have a bad day? As a believer in Christ, how can you remain thankful to God when you had a bad day—when, for example, people have wronged you? Well, learn from the Puritan Matthew Henry (1662–1714) who once had a bad experience in which he was robbed, and the thieves took everything of value from him. But later that evening he wrote these words in his diary:
I am thankful that during these years I have never been robbed before. Also, even though they took my money, they did not take my life. Although they took all I had, it was not much. Finally, I am grateful that it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
Sometimes when we are surrounded with many problems, we tend to overlook God’s providential blessings to us. We focus too much on our problem, and lose sight of God’s providence. Do we still see the sovereign hand of God working in us in the midst of our difficulties? Are we still aware that God causes all things to work together for our good—for our sanctification—in order for us to be more conformed to the image of His Son? As Paul says in Romans 8:28-30,
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Let us learn to sing with the hymn writer Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922):
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Remember that even in our bad experience, we can still find reasons to give thanks to God: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Our child Anna has already taught me and my wife many lessons. A few of them are:
- To marvel more at God’s creative power. Watching Anna grow in the womb, and even now as she develops by leaps and bounds each month, makes us stand in awe of the miracle of life.
- To be more dependent on God. Realizing the great responsibility that God has entrusted to us as well as recognizing our weakness has made us more prayerful.
- To love each other more. My wife and I fall more in love with each other as we care for Anna together.
- To be less selfish. We’ll never forget holding Anna in our arms the very first time. An overwhelming love swept over us, and this little girl’s needs became the priority over our own, her comfort more important than ours.
- To see beauty in and to appreciate the “little” things in life. Anna finds such joy in a simple game of peek-a-boo, or in taking a walk to look at Daddy’s garden. Anna teaches us not to lose amazement of things that we see daily such as trees, birds, clouds, and other things that point us to our wonderful God.