Sunday, December 04, 2016


Healing A Withered Hand

The second story involves another event that happened on the Sabbath. In fact, it happened in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was teaching again. He saw a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees and scribes were watching him, wondering if he would heal the man on the Sabbath.

Jesus “knew their thoughts”. That was probably not difficult. They were likely whispering to each other and exchanging glances. So, Jesus put them on the spot. He had the man stand in front of the congregation. Then, he asked them if it was lawful on the Sabbath to do good?

Jesus knew their answer would be “no” because it would be work. The Pharisees believed you could only heal on the Sabbath if it was a matter of life or death. Any lesser condition had to wait until the Sabbath ended. They would rather the man would be left disabled than to violate of their Sabbath rules.

However, the Pharisees knew that if they said it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath, they would reveal their lack of compassion for the disabled man who stood before the whole congregation. If they said it was lawful, they would have nothing for which to criticize Jesus. So they said nothing.

Jesus had masterfully turned their trap back on them.

Jesus chose compassion over legalism. He healed the man. (10) As Lord of the Sabbath, he had the authority to define the way to observe it. He attested to his authority by his power to heal.

You would hope that, witnessing a healing, the Pharisees would rejoice with the man who was healed and praise God for the miracle. But they did not. They were angry, “filled with fury”. (10) Jesus had “showed them up”. He had revealed the weakness in their theological position and their lack of compassion.

Their anger led them to discuss what they might do to Jesus. (11) That is a chilling statement. The Pharisees would plot to destroy Jesus.

It is important that we do not create rules that prevent us from ministering to people. For example, I once saw an usher at my church tell a young man he could not come into the worship service because he wore shorts. Most people in my church dress up more. Most men wear a dress shirt and slacks and many wear suits.

But this young man decided to come to church that day to see if he could find God. He was not aware of a dress code. So which is more important, the dress code or the chance for a man to hear to gospel and be saved? Fortunately, I was able to get the young man into the service and he did indeed hear the gospel.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

“True repentance is displeasure at sin, arising out of fear and reverence for God, and producing, at the same time, a love and desire of righteousness.” 

John Calvin

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

All Sins Will Be Forgiven


Sometimes, when we read scripture, we pass over some parts because we know the famous part that is coming. Mark 3:28-29 is one of those passages. Here is what it says:

Truly,  I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” - for they were saying “He has an unclean spirit.”

Almost everyone reads this passage and immediately thinks, talks and writes about the “unpardonable sin”. But, let us slow down and thing about the first part of the passage.

“…all sins will be forgiven the children of man…” That is a breathtaking sentence. Do not focus on the exception without considering the main point: all sins will be forgiven.

When you receive Christ as savior and Lord, believing in him as the Son of God who died for your sins and rose again, repenting of those sins and trusting him for eternal life, all your sins are forgiven.

That means all the sins you committed before you received Christ and all the sins you commit after you receive Christ. God forgives you because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for you sins when he died on the cross.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


The Fasting Question

The next challenge from the Pharisees involved a comparison between the disciples of John and the Pharisees, and the disciples of Jesus. John’s disciples, and the disciples of the Pharisees, often fasted. (33) Jesus’ disciples ate and drank. No doubt, the Pharisees nodded toward the lavish table set by Matthew with plenty of food and wine.

First the Pharisees had complained that Jesus at with sinners, now they complain that Jesus’s disciples ate rather than fasted. (33)

Jesus answered them with an explanation and two parables.

The explanation was that his disciples would not fast while he was with them. But when he was taken away from them, they would fast. (35) He compared himself to a bridegroom. The wedding guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them. This is an interesting comparison, for God, in the Old Testament, referred to himself as the husband or groom of Israel. Isaiah 54:5 says “For Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name.” Jeremiah 31:32 says “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord”.

Jesus told  parables that represented himself as the bride groom, as with the parable of the 10 virgins. Later, the apostle Paul would make the same allusion to Christ and the church.

When Jesus spoke of being taken away from them, he was talking about his death and, ultimately his resurrection. After he was gone, his disciples would fast. Similarly, we may fast now, but the invitation of eternity is the wedding feast of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9)

The second explanation involved two parables. In the first, Jesus said one does not put a piece from a new garment as a patch on an old garment. It will not match the old garment and it tears the new one.

When I was a young boy, my mother patched my  blue jeans when I tore them, usually at the knee. She kept old pants I had outgrown and cut the material from them to make a patch. She did not cut a piece from new jeans. My old jeans would be faded from washing and the old patch would also. So, they would match. But, material from new jeans would have been darker. We did not have pre-faded jeans in those days. The new ones were always dark blue. so the patch would not match. Plus, she would have ruined the new pair of jeans by cutting the patch from them.

Jesus applied the same truth to wine skins. He said you do not put new wine in old skins because they will burst. That is because, as the wine ages and ferments, it gives off gas, causing the skins to expand. Old skins that were brittle and dry would burst. But new skins could be stretched.

Both of these parables make the point that Jesus brought a new covenant. The old rules, especially the rules made up by the Pharisees, did not apply. There is an implied criticism of the Pharisees here as well, as they opposed the coming of a new covenant and the kingdom of God with Jesus as the messiah and savior. Jesus said, having drunk the old wine, they did not want the new. (39)

It is easy to point our fingers at the Pharisees and look down on them for their theology. But, that is not the point for us. The point is to see what they did and then examine ourselves. Human beings always want to add something to the gospel. For conservative believers, it is often legalism. That is, wanting to add rules to the gospel to make people conform their behavior to the cultural norm, even if that culture is your church.

I grew up moving from town to town. We always joined a small church in the new town. Each church had its own legal code. It just varied from town to town, church to church. One church banned drinking, dancing, card playing, mixed “bathing” or swimming together, shunned the abandoned children and wife of an unfaithful man and so on. None of those rules are mentioned in the Bible. But they were rigidly enforced. Those people were Pharisees.

Jesus’s point is further made by the next two stories. These stories tell of Jesus’s actions on the Sabbath.

The Lord of the Sabbath

The first story involves Jesus and the disciples walking through a grain field. Most grains, including wheat, have a head that contains seeds. That is the edible part of the grain. Wheat seeds, for example, can be eaten raw, ground into flower, or cooked. The disciples were evidently hungry, so as they walked, they plucked the seed heads, rubbed them in their hands to separate the seeds from the chaff, and ate the seeds.

The Pharisees saw this and asked Jesus why they were doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath. It was legal for the Jews to pluck grain and eat it as they passed through a field. It was only illegal to use a knife or sickle to harvest it. That would only be done if you planned to take more than needed to satisfy your immediate hunger. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

So the issue for the Pharisees was not the taking of grain to eat, it was doing so on the Sabbath.   The Pharisees believed that observance of the Sabbath was the most important thing in their religion. This was one of the sins the Lord condemned when he sent Israel into exile. To make sure they observed the Sabbath and did not violate the law, they created many rules about what you could not do on the Sabbath. These rules were not in the law. Again, we see their legalism in practice. They added to the law of God.

The law clearly prohibited work on the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8-11) Work included harvesting and threshing grain. The Pharisees believed the action of the disciples in eating the grain involved harvesting and threshing. In this context, it would be like them accusing you of threshing because you unwrapped a candy bar on Sunday.

But the accusation was serious. Jesus had to keep the Sabbath to be righteous. If the disciples did not keep the Sabbath, they and Jesus would be discredited to many Jews.

Jesus responded to them with an example from the Old Testament that demonstrated their error. He reminded them that David and his men, as he fled from Saul, convinced a priest to give him the shewbread because he and his men had no food. (1 Samuel 21:1-6) The law said only priests could eat the shewbread. (Leviticus 24:5-9) David broke the law, but he did it on his authority as God’s anointed, who believed it more important to keep his men from starving than to strictly observe the law. The men were more important than the rules in this case.

In addition, Jesus said he, the “Son of Man” is “lord of the Sabbath”. (5) You might read that one sentence too quickly to realize how important Jesus’ statement is. When Jesus said he was “Son of Man”, he used the title for the Messiah in Daniel’s prophecies (Daniel 7:9-14) Jesus was a man and he was the Messiah.

Jesus also said he was “lord of the Sabbath”. Who is the lord of the Sabbath in the Old Testament? It is God. He created it. When Jesus claimed this title, he claimed to be God.

He has the right to interpret the law pertaining to the Sabbath as lord. (5) He interpreted it as better to feed the hungry men than worry about a technical violation of the Sabbath rules, not of the Law, but of the rules of the Pharisees.

Jesus was not saying  the Sabbath was not important. He was saying it was important to observe it as the Lord intended. As Lord of the Sabbath, he knew what that intent was.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

God Works In Mysterious Ways - Part 1

God Works In Mysterious Ways - Part 1

God is always working. (John 5:17) We do not always see it at the time, but we can often trace his work in retrospect. Here is an example.

In the early 1500s, there was a Dutch scholar named Desiderius Erasmus. He was a Catholic monk, but managed to persuade the Pope to release him from his vows to become a full time scholar with a living allowance. He was interested in studying the New Testament in its original language, Greek. In 1516, 500 years ago this year, he produced the first Greek New Testament in book form and published it.

At that time, the only version of the Bible known in Europe was the Latin Vulgate. It was the only version approved by the Roman Catholic Church. Knowledge of Greek had dwindled to near extinction. But the fall of Constantinople, the last vestige of the Roman Empire, caused many monks and scholars to flee Asia for Europe, bringing with them many manuscripts of the scriptures in Greek. Scholars, including Erasmus, revived the study of Greek. He set about to study these manuscripts and produce a Greek manuscript of the New Testament.

The very next year, Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press. That made the production of books much faster, easier and more economical.

Around 300,000 copies of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament were printed and sold. One of those copies fell into the hands of a German, and former Catholic monk, named Martin Luther. Although Luther had left the Catholic church and was a theological opponent of Erasmus, he recognized the value of the Greek New Testament. He translated it into German so that Germans could read it. Luther’s New Testament was published in 1522.

Another copy of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament came to an Englishman named William Tyndale. Tyndale translated it into English and published it in 1526.

The translators of both the Geneva Bible and the King James Bible consulted Erasmus’ work. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Erasmus’ Greek New Testament fueled the Reformation even though Erasmus was Catholic.  One of the tenets of the Reformation was “ad fontes”. It means ‘back to the original”. They wanted to know what they Bible meant in the original language with no gloss added by the Catholic church.

The Catholic church of that was opposed to translations of the Bible into common languages. Despite this, God worked to bring his word to the world through Erasmus and the Catholic Church.

God works in mysterious ways. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) says:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 


These two verses give us advice on how to live our lives in God’s will. It tells us to do something and then tells us the result of doing it.


What is the thing we are to do? We are to place ourselves completely in God’s hands, submitted to his direction. Solomon says it three ways. First, trust in the Lord with all your heart. We place our trust in God. In other words, we place our faith in him to take care us. We have no reservations. We hold nothing back. Our whole heart is given over to him. We submit ourselves to him and his will, committed to go where he sends, do what he commands and even suffer what he ordains.


We can do this because we believe that God will do what is best for us. We believe what Romans 8:28 says, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. We trust him. We trust him to give us eternal life, so surely we can trust him to do the best for us in this life. Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” In other words, if he was willing to sacrifice his son for us, he will surely give us all the things we need.


Second, we do not lean on our own understanding. Sometimes, God tells us to do something we think is counter intuitive, or against human logic. We read a command in the Bible, for example, and think “I cannot do that. If I do that, I will go broke, or lose all my friends, or make people think I am a fanatic.” But this verse tells us to do what God says, trusting him to make it right.


I am not saying here that we are never to think. God gave us minds to think and gives us wisdom to discern the right thing to do. But, too often our thinking is selfish and not Biblical. It is worldly rather than spiritual. That is why Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Your mind is renewed by the Holy Spirit, especially through the study of God’s word. 


A few years ago, I began trying to read the Scripture without filters. It is hard to do. But it is necessary. I tried not to read the Bible as an American, a Republican, a Texan, an affluent Westerner or any of those things. I wanted to know what the Scripture said and what God meant. It was disturbing to see that many times I had thought and even been taught a spin on the Word, usually explaining why we did not need to do it as God said to do it. Don’t spin. Give in.


Third, “in all your ways acknowledge him”. In this context, it particularly means to acknowledge that God keeps us and directs us in his will. We do not steal his glory or presume upon his grace. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar tried to steal God’s glory. He took credit for his accomplishments, claiming power, glory and majesty for himself. (Daniel 4:28-30). The Lord struck him with madness until he acknowledged God. He said “Then I praised the Most High; I honored him who lives forever.” (Daniel 4:34) Only then did God restore him. 


James warns us not to presume upon God’s grace. He wrote “Now listen, you who say ‘today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…instead, you out to say ‘if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16) We prosper only as he allows in his grace. Acknowledge that. You really can say “God graciously allowed us to succeed and we are grateful” instead of “look at what I have done, I’m so great”. 


If we do what God says to do, trust him with our lives, what will he do? He will make our paths straight. When you had to walk everywhere, having a straight path was a big deal. If I can walk to the next town “as the crow flies” and it is 5 miles, I am grateful I did not have to walk the long way around and walk 10 miles.


When we visited our daughter in West Virginia once, I found myself frustrated that we could not go directly where we wanted to go because the roads all went around the hills. I could see the place I wanted to go, but had to go a long way around to get there. 


So, when God says he will make our paths straight, he means he will watch over us, direct us in the way we should go and make sure we get there. This is all conditioned on our placing our trust completely in him and not in ourselves. 


Are you worried about where you are going to go, how you will get there or if you will get there “in one piece”? Place your trust in God, ask him to direct your paths. Then relax and walk with him in peace.





Sunday, November 20, 2016


Jesus Forgives Sins

If you have been in church long, you have heard several sermons on this passage. But you have likely heard them preached as a model of evangelism, telling you to be persistent in bringing your friends to Jesus. But that is not the point of the story. The point is what Jesus does and who he is.

Verse 17 tells us that Jesus had grown so well known and popular as a teacher, that people came from all over Israel to hear him. Although he had confined his ministry to Galilee, in the north of the country, we see that people came from Judea and all the way from Jerusalem. In fact, Luke says they came from every village.

Also in this crowd were Pharisees and teachers of the law. The Pharisees were an influential group of Jews dedicated to the preservation of and obedience to the law. They had also added many rules and regulations to the law.

The teachers of the law are sometimes called scribes or lawyers. They were dedicated to copying the scriptures and to public teaching. They belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.

These men came to hear this new preacher’s message so they could decide if he was a legitimate teacher. There is nothing wrong with that. Every preacher and teacher should be subject to examination by the church, represented by those who are qualified to teach.

Jesus was also healing. Verse 17 also says the “power of the Lord was with him to heal”. “The Lord” here means the Father. I do not think this means sometimes Jesus had the power to heal and sometimes he did not, but just that he had the power and was using it.

Jesus was evidently teaching in a house or building. Some men brought their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. They could not get in the door, so they went in through the roof, removing tiles until they could drop their friend at the feet of Jesus.

The faith and persistence of the friends is laudable (praiseworthy). Jesus saw their faith. It appears that the friends and the paralyzed man believed Jesus had the power to heal.

Jesus, however, does not do what we expect. We have read of him healing many people, including a leper. But Jesus did not say “be healed” he said “Man, your sins are forgiven you”. (20)

This may mean that the man’s sins were the cause of his paralysis. That would be a common view of the Jews in the audience. But it could also be that Jesus simply chose this man to demonstrate his deity. Remember the story of the blind man Jesus healed. (John 9:1-12) The disciples asked who sinned to cause the blindness. Jesus answered that it was no one, it was not a matter of sin, but it was so Jesus could demonstrate his glory.  Jesus said it was “that the works of God might be displayed in him”.

Jesus’s words regarding forgiveness caused a problem for the Pharisees in attendance. They accused him of blasphemy because only God can forgive sins. (21) They were correct in their second point: only God can forgive sins. That is exactly the point Jesus intended to make. If he forgave sins, he implied that he had the authority to forgive sins. If he had that authority, he was God.

The Pharisees were wrong, of course, to accuse him of blasphemy. One way to commit blasphemy is to claim to be God. If Jesus were only a man, his statement would have been blasphemy. But as deity, as the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, he indeed had the power and authority he claimed. He could forgive sins.

Jesus confronted the Pharisees on this point. He first asked them a question: is it easier to your sins or forgiven or rise up and walk? Either takes the authority of God, but one creates no visible action and one does. So, Jesus said, I will give you the visible proof so you will know I have this authority. Then he told the man to get up and go home and the man did.

This healing again proves that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus had the power of God to heal, as Luke pointed out in verse 17. He also had the power and authority to forgive sinners.

The healed man went home glorifying God. The crowd glorified God. (26) But subsequent events will show us the Pharisees did not believe and did not glorify God for what Jesus did.

We should glorify God when we see him work. We clap to do this often in these days, which if fine, but we glorify God when we see a saved sinner baptized. This same Jesus forgave that sinner based on this faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. As the man and the crowd in the story glorified God, so should we whenever we see a person baptized.

Jesus Calls Levi (Matthew) To Be A Follower

Levi was a tax collector. (27) Jesus went to his tax booth to call him. This is similar to his going to the boats to call Simon, James and John. He went to their place of business.

Jesus simply said “follow me”. In this context, this is a call for Levi to leave his job, his wealth and his ambitions to follow Jesus, learn from him and obey him. Levi did just that. (28) We will later come to know Levi as Matthew.

But Levi did more than that. Levi gave a great feast at his house. (29) He invited his fellow tax collectors and others. He wanted them to meet Jesus, for whom he had given up everything. You can just picture them reclining at a table, eating and drinking, having a great time. Tax collectors did not get invited to many homes for dinner.

They also would get introduced to Jesus by Levi. Jesus would converse with them during the meal, laugh with them and make friends. Levi would probably have asked Jesus to say a few words. He would have presented the gospel.

The Pharisees were unhappy with this because Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. (30) Tax collectors were despised because they represented the Roman government and often over-charged in order to make more money. They were considered traitors and thieves. “Sinners” were anyone not living up to the standards of the Pharisees. It also included despised tradesmen such as herdsmen, peddlers and tanners. It included the physically deformed. They shunned Samaritans and Gentiles.

For the Jews, eating a meal with someone was an honor. It was fellowship with another person. These who were unclean were not worthy of fellowship for Pharisees. They were not worthy. The Pharisees believed they would be unclean if they did so, and it was important to them never to be ceremonially unclean

The Pharisees did not complain directly to Jesus, but to his disciples. They may have been outside the area where the feast occurred, looking in along with the disciples.

But Jesus answered them directly. He may have been reclining at table, heard them and turned around to address them. It is a dramatic confrontation with an audience of tax collectors and sinners, disciples and Pharisees all witness to Jesus’s words.

Jesus compared himself to a physician, who goes to tend the sick, not those who are well.(Luke, a physician, must have loved discovering this story.) Likewise, Jesus said he came to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. And that is why he was eating with them.

Of course, no one was righteous unless they had come to Jesus in faith for forgiveness. But the Pharisees thought they were righteous and not in  need of forgiveness. Because of that, they missed the opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life.

The Pharisees also saw tax collectors as beyond redemption, as beyond God’s love. We make similar assumptions. We decide not to share the gospel with someone because they are too mean, or too rich or too unlike us. But it is not for us to decide whom God will save. It is for us to share the gospel with everyone.

We must also take care in how we treat believers who are different from us, whether of different race or nationality, or social class, or in appearance or wealth. People tend to get close to people like themselves. My mother used to say “birds of a feather flock together”. There are books that advise not trying to cross social or class lines, but to only seek those like your core group.

But that is not what Jesus wanted in evangelism or church fellowship. He wants us to take the gospel to the whole world and he wants us to accept every person he saves into our fellowship.

So be careful. Do not avoid the person who comes in who is different than you. Do not avoid the poor, or the unlovely or the uneducated, or the rich, or the cultured or anyone. Sometimes the best way to avoid this is to seek out the person you feel uncomfortable with and make friends. Do not be the Pharisees.