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Food For Your Soul
The Expository Teaching Ministry of Dr. D. Richard Ferguson 

Spreading & deepening delight in Christ

Q&A Episode 4                                  Next Episode  ...


Question 1: Why was John the Baptist so weird?

Was there a reason for John to have a lifestyle of living in the desert and eating locusts and honey? If you say you follow a weird guy in the desert with that lifestyle, it makes him seem kind of kooky, and people might wonder if you're following someone who has his head screwed on straight. Was there another purpose to that lifestyle?

They did more than call him kooky. They said he had a demon because of his austere lifestyle (Mt.11:18).

Whenever the Bible tells you about someone’s clothes, it’s not just to add color to your imagination like in a novel. It’s always to tell you something about that person’s character or identity. And in this case, there can be no mistaking what the reference is. He’s dressed like Elijah.

The opening chapter of 2 Kings gives the account of Elijah sending a message to the king to let him know he was going to die.

2 Kings 1:7 The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?” 8 They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”

That’s how distinctive Elijah’s outfit was. It’s like Daniel Boone’s coonskin cap or Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat and beard. As soon as you see it, a very specific person comes to mind. On Halloween, if you put a garment of hair and a leather belt on your kid and sent him out trick-or-treating, everyone would immediately say, “Oh cute! Look at the little Elijah.”

The OT ends with the promise that someday God would send a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah. Then God went silent for 400 years—no prophets. Then, after 400 years of waiting for the Elijah-type prophet to appear, along comes John the Baptist dressing just like Elijah.

So, was John the fulfillment of the promise in the book of Malachi? Jesus says yes, but only for those willing to accept it. He fulfilled the promise of ushering in the promises of the end of the age for those who believed. But not everyone had ears to hear that.

Matthew 11:11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear.

16 "To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 17 " 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

They were like children who came to John and said, “Hey John, let’s play wedding!” But he wouldn’t go along with it because he was a serious man with a serious message.

Then Jesus came, and he came in celebration mode because he was the bridegroom of God’s people. So his arrival was a time to celebrate, but the people were like children saying, “Hey Jesus, let’s play funeral.”

When people claimed they rejected John’s message because he was so austere—they proved themselves disingenuous when they rejected Jesus also, because Jesus came eating and drinking.

So to answer the question, if people claim they are rejecting John’s message because of his wardrobe or his quirky, vegan diet—those people are kidding themselves. They are rejecting him because they don’t like his message—just like the people who reject Jesus.

Question 2: What was the purpose of baptism prior to Christ's death and resurrection? 

What did it mean to people before Christ? What did it represent, and is it connected to an Old Testament prophecy? Did it exist in the Old Testament? How/when did baptism start?

In OT times, the Jews had various washings and cleansing rituals, but nothing like John’s baptism. His was a baptism of repentance. We know that later on in history the Jews required Gentiles to be baptized if they were converted to Judaism because Gentiles were considered unclean, but Jews didn’t undergo any conversion ritual.

So it would have raised more than a few eyebrows when John called Jews to a baptism that was a conversion-type event, because it implied the Jews were just as unclean as the Gentiles and needed to be cleansed before God.
And yet, Jews came out in droves to be baptized by John.

1 Corinthians 10:2 speaks of being baptized into Moses. It’s hard to say for sure exactly what that means, but I get the feeling it means something like becoming a follower of Moses. And that would give insight into the meaning of John’s baptism.

As I study the gospels, the feeling I get is this: In the OT, the way you showed loyalty to God was through the law (circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, etc.). In the NT, the way to show loyalty to God is by faith in Jesus Christ.

But what about in between—during the earthly life of Jesus but before his death and resurrection? I believe during that period, the way you could show your loyalty to the true God was by being baptized by John—being one of his followers. So when Jesus was baptized by John, he was showing by example that John spoke for God and the people were to follow his teaching.

Question 3: Cancellation of debts

Deuteronomy 15 called for the cancelation of debts every seven years. With regard to releasing debts and giving generously, where do we draw the line so that it doesn't become like socialism?

First, the cancelation of debts was part of the ancient Jewish economic system, so that is not binding on us today. It can only work if the rest of that economic system were in place.

Much of our economic system is based on long-term loans. In Israel, they didn’t have that. Everyone knew about this standard, so they operated accordingly and it was a workable system.

As for the question about socialism, that’s an important question because many have suggested that the book of Acts was essentially a communist system.
Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
Is that an endorsement of communism?

Definitely not. If fact, just the opposite. The verse is a description of how much the people in the church loved one another. Communion has nothing to do with love. In pure Communism, there is no private ownership. Government officials seize wealth by force and distribute it as they please (always taking a substantial commission for their trouble—they are the only ones who end up rich).

There is all the difference in the world between voluntary sharing and forced redistribution.

If all you had to go by was Acts 4:32, you might wonder if maybe the church entered into a voluntary system of communism—like a bunch of hippies living in a commune. But we know that isn’t the case because in the very next chapter you have an account of wealthier Christians selling land so they could give more to the church. You can’t sell land if there is no private ownership. Nor can you give a gift. If nobody owns anything and the government or the commune or the church owns everything, then no one can give anyone a gift. But private ownership in the church existed throughout the New Testament. Even as late as 1 Timothy Paul gives instructions for wealthy Christians. He doesn’t rebuke them for being wealthy or command them to give all their wealth away. He just tells them not to put their hope in their wealth and to be willing to share.

One of the reasons why socialism and communism are opposed to the New Testament ethic is because the important thing isn’t that everyone has the same amount of money. The important thing is kindness and love and generosity, which is only possible if there is private ownership.

And in my opinion, there are other reasons why socialism and communism are cruel to the poor.

First, they remove incentive for people to earn money, so the whole culture becomes less productive, less inventive, and everyone ends up poor. The poor get poorer, the rich get poorer, everyone gets poorer except the government officials who are in charge of the money.

Question 4 Why wasn't David rebuked for polygamy? 

Deut. 17 mentions that kings should not store up excessive wealth or take multiple wives, etc., yet that seems to be exactly what Israelite kings did, like Solomon and David. In this case, were those kings living in sin? I don't remember them repenting of having multiple wives or excessive wealth, yet such a lifestyle didn't seem to be addressed by prophets or confronted in any way. Why?

Yes, I believe David and Solomon were wrong to store up so much wealth and take multiple wives—especially Solomon. It’s possible some prophets rebuked them, but it’s not recorded in Scripture. One reason may be that the prophets who wrote books of the Bible were after the time of David and Solomon, after the divided kingdom. And they didn’t write about every detail of where the kings went wrong. Their main focus was on whether the kings were loyal to Yahweh or got involved in idolatry.

We do have a record of the Prophet Nathan rebuking David for his adultery and murder, because the consequences of that became so significant for the rest of his reign.

And we also have an entire book of Scripture devoted to showing the folly of all those excesses—the book of Ecclesiastes. And given the background of Dt.17, the fact that those things are recorded in the historical books implies that they were in the wrong.

The reality is, all of us have blind spots, mostly in areas where our culture has a strong effect on us. And if God dealt harshly with us for all of those, we’d all spend all our time in the woodshed. We look at David and wonder how such a godly man could take multiple wives. If David could see us he might wonder how godly men of our day could have so little exuberance in worshipping God.

Question 5 Why did God command the slaughter of whole cities in the Old Testament?

Please clarify why God seemed so bloodthirsty in the Old Testament. He often ordered his people to conquer other nations and completely wipe them out, even women, children, and livestock in some cases, which can understandably seem heartless and cruel.

The wages of sin is death. The question isn’t why those people had to die; the question is why is anyone allowed to live after they sin against God? Answer: God’s mercy and patience.

God was patient with those people for a very long time, but all they did was plunge farther into wickedness. If you saw the kinds of horrors those people perpetrated, I doubt anyone would object to their being annihilated.

The children were innocent victims, which is often the case with the children of wicked people. They suffer the consequences that their parents bring upon them.

But it wasn’t just the Canaanites who died. All people die. Every human being dies, and God is sovereign over all of it. He doesn’t take any pleasure in it. But it is the just consequence for sin. It’s what we all deserve at every moment.

If it seems like some people receive punishment for sin that is too harsh, it’s only because we have such a low view of God’s glory that we think a sin against his name is a minor thing.

So it might help to think of a sin that you have the clarity of vision to see really is evil.

Suppose ten different people are guilty of violently raping young girls. And all ten go before a judge, and the judge sends 5 of them to prison and lets the other 5 go free. If that happened, you wouldn’t be asking, “Why is the judge so bloodthirsty with those first 5?” You would be asking, “Why is he so lenient with the other 5? That’s outrageous.”

If we understood how evil it really is to sin against God, we would be asking the second question and not the first. We would be outraged by the people who are allowed to live, not the ones who die.

And what is the answer to that outrage? How can we explain God letting sinners continue to live? We would hate a judge who let the 5 rapists go; how can God be justified in giving mercy to millions who are guilty of a crime worse than rape—cosmic treason?

Romans 3:23 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  25 God presented him as a sacrifice …

Why? Why did God kill his own Son?

25 ... He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his patience he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just
God is justified in showing us mercy because his Son took our punishment in our place.

ley of the Shadow of Darkness