J. Gresham Machen
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Sunday, December 18, 2016
These verses lead to the first long discourse given by Jesus that Luke records. Luke wrote that a great multitude came from all over Judea, including Jerusalem. They even came from Tyre and Sidon. Those were probably Gentiles. Tyre and Sidon were north of Israel in what is now Lebanon. They were ancient cities Sidon was the son Canaan, grand son of Ham and great grand son of Noah. (Genesis 10:15)
Before preaching, Jesus ministered to the crowd. He healed all that were brought to him (19) He cast out demons. (18) Certainly Jesus proved his deity with these miracles, but he could have done that with one healing in front of the crowd. But Jesus had compassion on those who suffered illness and who were oppressed by demons.
Jesus also showed what his kingdom will ultimately be like. There will be no suffering from illness and no presence of demons. He will have cured all illness and cast all demons into hell. Life in the kingdom will one day be perfect. John wrote “no longer will there be anything accursed”. (Revelation 22:3) Here, as Luke recorded, Jesus gave them, and now us, a glimpse of it.
The Blessings (Beatitudes)
Jesus’ sermon in this chapter is sometimes called “the sermon on the plain” in comparison to the “sermon on the mount” recorded in Matthew 6. It gets its name from verse 17, where Luke wrote that Jesus came down from the mountain to a level place.
Because the sermons are similar, some critics conclude that Luke made a mistake in saying in happened on “a level place” rather than the side of the mountain. However, anyone who has been in the same church for a period of time knows it is not uncommon for a preacher to preach the same sermon, or parts of it, on different occasions. Certainly it is true if they audience is different. That is likely what happened here.
In this sermon, Jesus referred to four blessings and 4 woes. These blessings were historically called the “beatitudes”. The Latin word translated “beatitude” means “happiness”. But in this context it more than what we call happy, which is an emotion. “Blessed” means to experience the Lord’s favor.
The first blessing is “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”. (20) Luke recorded much concern for the poor on the part of Jesus. Many people in Israel were poor. But Jesus primarily addressed those who were poor because of their faith in him. The poor are less likely to feel self sufficient. They are more likely to know they have a need and are interested in the gospel. Anyone who is poor in the sense of knowing their need for Christ is blessed with the kingdom of God. Those who look to Jesus for salvation are brought into his kingdom. Those who look to themselves are excluded from the kingdom. This is the opposite of the health and wealth “gospel”.
The second blessing is to those who are hungry now. (21) They will be satisfied. All needs will be satisfied in eternity with Jesus. The new earth is pictured as having a “tree of life” with 12 kinds of fruit, one for each month of the year. There may be a particular spiritual meaning here, as in hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The third blessing is for those who weep. This is weeping as one suffers persecution because of their faith in Jesus. In the future they will laugh. In eternity there will be no tears, only laughter and joy. Revelation 21:4 says “God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes…”.
The fourth blessing is for those who are hated, reviled and spurned because of their faith in Christ. (22) They can rejoice because the will have great reward in heaven. Bonhoeffer said suffering is the badge of discipleship. (The Cost of Discipleship)
There is a particularly Jewish context here, for Jesus said those who persecute the disciples had fathers who persecuted the prophets. (23) Yet the blessing is for all who suffer persecution. For example, those who refused to recant their faith in Iraq and were beheaded by ISIS are blessed, they have the favor of the Lord.
The woes are brief compared to the blessings. But each woe is a counterpart to one of the blessings. A woe is a great sorrow. Jesus thought it tragic that people would live only for this life. By giving the woes to counter balance the blessings, Jesus contrasted two ways of life, one of godliness and one of worldliness.
We see here that the sermon was preached primarily to believers. He began the sermon by lifting up his eyes on his disciples. (20)
The first woe is to the rich who seek their happiness primarily in material things. (24) Those who do not realize their need for Jesus and rely on themselves will have distress in eternity, for their consolation occurred on earth.
The second woe is to those who are full, for they shall be hungry. (25) Again, those who sought only comfort on earth will have sorrow in eternity. Those who had appetite only for food and drink and not God will find themselves eternally unsatisfied, for they will be without God in eternity.
The third woe is for those who laugh for they will mourn and weep. Those who have had it good on earth and as a result did not seek Christ will mourn in eternity. This is in contrast to those who are serious about spiritual things.
The fourth and final woe is for those of which all people speak well. Again Jesus pointed to the Old Testament to say those in rebellion against God spoke well of the false prophets. (26) False prophets today who change their message to the approval of the culture are popular and praised. Those who oppose cultural norms for the standards of the Bible are often reviled.
What is the sum of Jesus’ message to his disciples? It is that the disciple is to follow Christ and stay true to him despite the consequences. And there will be consequences. Often disciples are reviled, sometimes persecuted and even killed. But those who experience hardship and persecution for Christ will be rewarded in eternity. Those who reject Christ to follow the world will have the sorrow and suffering in eternity.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Jesus had a big decision to make. He would choose 12 men from among his disciples to be his close companions and to carry the gospel to the world after his death.
Before making this decision, Jesus spent the entire night in prayer to the Father. I am in awe of that. I do not know anyone who claims to have done that. But Jesus did, communing with the Father and seeking wisdom to make this critical decision.
Few people spend significant time in prayer, even when a critical decision looms. Most often they throw up quick prayers while doing something else or spend a few minutes during their devotional time. Many churches have only moments of prayer during their worship services. Every believer agrees prayer is important, but few practice it diligently. Yet, the Son of God felt the need to do so. It is a convicting example for us.
The next morning, Jesus chose the Twelve. He called them apostles. An apostle is one who goes in the name of another to accomplish something. It is similar to an ambassador or an agent that has the full authority of his principal. Jesus will later commission them to go and make more disciples on his behalf.
Although we are disciples today, we are not the same as the Twelve. They were given to Jesus by the Father. (John 17:6) They knew Jesus personally, heard him teach, witnessed his death and resurrection, acted with his authority after his death and taught his word to others.
You cannot overstate the importance of the Twelve to the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Revelation 21:14 tells us the New Jerusalem will have a wall with 12 foundations, and on the foundations are the names of the 12 apostles.
The book of Acts will show us their role in developing the early church. In fact the name of that book is often called “The Acts of the Apostles”.
Notice that Judas Iscariot is named last and called a traitor. He was the one who betrayed Jesus. Jesus knew Judas would betray him and he called him to do that very thing. He did not choose him by mistake. We know this because, when Jesus prayed for his disciples before he was arrested, he prayed “I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12) This scripture that was fulfilled was Psalm 109.
Peter quoted Psalm 109 when he led the disciples to choose a replacement for Judas. (Acts 1:12-26)
These were ordinary men except they were chosen by Jesus and given by the Father to Jesus. Jesus told them “you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide”. (John 15:16)
The Gospels show that these men did not have what it takes to shake up the world for God on their own. They repeatedly make mistakes and lacked understanding. But, when God calls a person to a task, he provides the gifts necessary to accomplish it. When the Holy Spirit came upon these men, they are changed into powerful witnesses.
Friday, December 16, 2016
Sunday, December 04, 2016
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.
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
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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 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 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.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Thursday, November 17, 2016
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
We see that Jesus had become a popular preacher in Galilee. He came to the Lake of Gennesaret, or the Sea of Galilee. Gennesaret is part of Galilee, on the western shore of the lake. It is an area between Capernaum and Magdala.. We would call it an inland lake. Remember that Capernaum is on the north shore of the lake. Jesus is likely just outside of town on the shore.
People gathered on the shore to hear him teach the word of God. As the crowd grew, they pressed upon Jesus.
Some of these people were disciples already. They had heard Jesus preach elsewhere and believed his message. They believed in him. Having believed, they wanted to know more. The essence of being a disciple is to be a learner. That is why, when Jesus told us to make disciples, he told us to teach them to observe all that he had commanded. (Matthew 28:18-20)
We learn from Jesus by reading his word. We also learn from Jesus by listening to preachers and teachers teach his word. Disciples of Jesus want to learn from Jesus.
Some of the crowd were there because the Spirit had drawn them there to hear to word of God about salvation. Paul wrote “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. (Romans 10:17)
It was likely difficult to hear in the back of the large crowd, so they pressed forward. Jesus got into a boat and asked the owner of the boat to take him a little way out in the lake so all of the crowd could hear him.
The owner of the boat was a man named Simon, a fisherman. I love it when God orchestrates an event to accomplish more than one thing.
After speaking to the crowd, Jesus focused on Simon. He told him to row out to the deep part of the lake and cast his net to catch some fish. That led to an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus.
Simon objected. He said “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (5) Simon’s position is actually reasonable. He had fished all night. It was common to fish at night, especially in hot weather, because the fish go deeper during the day. Additionally, they had already washed their nets and laid them out to dry during the day. (2)
Yet, Simon obeyed. Maybe hearing the word taught by Jesus had already warmed his heart and he believed in Jesus. Or maybe, he was close to believing. At any rate, he did what Jesus commanded. Although Simon was the master of the boat, he called Jesus “master”, indicating respect for and submission to his authority.
Then came the miracle. Simon’s net caught more fish than it could hold. He could not pull it up without breaking it. He signaled to his business partners, James and John, and they managed to get the net in and divided the catch between the two boats. However, the catch was still too big for both boats and they were in danger of sinking. (7) It was probably the biggest haul they had ever made.
Why did Jesus do this miracle? There are two reasons. First, he wanted to demonstrate his deity to Simon. The fish were caught not by Simon’s skill, but at the direction of the Lord who controls all of nature.
And Simon understood. He “got it”. He fell down at Jesus’ knees, a position of supplication and humility. He called Jesus “Lord”. He confessed his sin. When men and women are in the presence of God, they are struck with their sinfulness in comparison to His holiness.
Second, Jesus was telling Simon he wanted all of him. He wanted more than his worship, he wanted Simon’s whole life, even his work.
Simon responded to this call from Jesus. So did James and John. They left everything: their boats, their nets, their business, even the large catch of fish, all to follow Jesus. They did not know where he was going or what the end result would be. They simply believed he was the Son of God and followed him, forsaking all else.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” These men denied themselves and followed Jesus.
This story gives us a picture of what is needed for salvation. A man or woman hears the word of God, believes that Jesus is the Son of God, repents of his sin and follows Jesus as a disciple from that moment on.
The one thing Jesus told Simon about his future life of a disciple was “…from now on you will be catching men”. (10) He used a metaphor that Simon would understand: fishing. Simon formerly caught fish for money. From that point on, he would catch men and women for Christ. The verb literally means you will be continually fishing for men. This shows us that disciples are not only followers and learners, but those who tell and teach others about Jesus.
Simon did what Jesus said he would do. He became an evangelist. He preached the gospel and won people to Christ. Interestingly, his first catch of fish for Jesus was a massive haul. He first sermon for Jesus, recorded by Luke in Acts 2:14-41, resulted in 3,000 people being saved and baptized.
Healing A Leper
This man Jesus encountered was “full of leprosy”. (12) Leprosy was a term used for many different skin diseases, not only Hanson’s disease as we now call it. The man had an advanced case. He was probably covered in some kind of sores. If he did have actual leprosy, he may well have been disfigured because it causes nerve damage.
It is shocking that the man was in the city. Lepers were forbidden to come into town. They were outcasts. Leviticus 13:46 says “He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” The people around Jesus would have been shocked to see the man in town and dismayed that he had gotten close to them.
The man asked Jesus to heal him. He also demonstrated belief in Jesus’ ability to do so. He said “If you will, you can make me clean”. (13) In other words, he said “I know you can heal me if you determine to do so”. He used the words “make me clean” instead of “heal’, because a person with a skin disease was ceremonially unclean. He could not participate in any of the Jewish ceremonies or even come into contact with people.
Jesus said “I will; be clean”. He literally commanded the man’s body to become clean. And, as with all of Jesus’ healing, the man was immediately and completely healed. Again, Jesus accomplished more than one thing. He helped the man out of compassion. Notice that he touched him, something no one else had done since he contracted the disease. (13) He also demonstrated his authority over the human body and its illnesses. He will demonstrate this in the ultimate fashion on the Last Day, when he raises all believers and gives them glorified bodies.
After healing the man, Jesus showed respect for the law. He told the man to show himself to the priest and make the required offerings “as Moses commanded”. (14) The law required a person to show him or herself to the priest. Only the priest could declare them clean, or healed. If the priest did so, the man offered sacrifices and then was able to rejoin the community. All of these requirements are set out in Leviticus 14. Jesus perfectly obeyed the law and did not even slight the law by suggestion. He told the man to fulfill the requirements of the law. In order to be fully righteous and become the perfect sacrifice, Jesus had to obey the law of the covenant.
Although Jesus told the man not to tell anyone, people had to notice his healing and ask him about it. Others around probably witnessed the event also. And so more news got around about Jesus and more people came to hear him and to be healed by him.
Almost as a footnote to the story, Luke tells us Jesus would withdraw from the crowds to desolate places to pray. (16) He stayed connected to the Father.
Leprosy has often been used as a metaphor for our sinful state. As leprosy alienated the Jew from the covenant community and the worship ceremonies, sin separates us from God and from the new covenant community.
Only Jesus can make us clean from sin. When we believe in him and repent of our sin, he declares us clean, just as he declared the leper clean.
Monday, November 07, 2016
Sunday, November 06, 2016
Jesus began his ministry preaching in Galilee. Mark wrote that Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God saying “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel”. (Mark 1:14)
After declaring himself to be the Messiah at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus continued teaching and preaching. He went to another town in Galilee, Capernaum. This town was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was the home of several of the apostles, notably the fishermen.
We see again that Jesus went to the synagogue and was allowed to teach. (31) He astonished the congregation with this teaching. This was partly due to his knowledge of the scripture and his wisdom in interpretation. But it was also a matter of style. The rabbis interpreted scripture to their congregations by citing famous rabbis. Jesus, however, taught with authority. He taught what the scripture meant, needing no other authority, since he was the author of it.
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us all scripture was “breathed out” by God. 2 Peter 1:21 says no prophecy was made up by men, by men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
While Jesus was teaching, there was an outbreak of demonic activity. Satan constantly tried to derail the coming of the kingdom of God during Jesus’ ministry. On this occasion, the demon influenced a man to disrupt the teaching by crying out and taunting Jesus.
The demon possessed man said “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God.” It is as if the demon could not tolerate Jesus’ teaching any longer, so he had this outburst. Certainly, if Jesus was teaching about his bringing in God’s kingdom, you could understand that the demon would hate that since he belonged to the kingdom of the one who rebelled against God’s rule. That is why he says “have you come to destroy us?”, for God’s kingdom will result in the destruction of Satan’s kingdom.
The answer to the demon’s question is “yes”. John later wrote: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”. (1 John 3:8)
Notice that the demon knows exactly who Jesus is. He knows who he is as a man, for he calls him “Jesus of Nazareth”. Probably everyone in the synagogue knew that, as Jesus had become locally famous for his preaching.
But the demon also knew who Jesus was in his divinity. He called him “the Holy One of God”. The demon was once an angel in heaven. He knew who God was, the triune God, and thus recognized Jesus as God and as the Son, sent by the Father to save people and defeat Satan.
Jesus showed his authority over Satan by demonstrating his authority over the demon. Remember, he later said “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. (Matthew 28:18) He rebuked him, ordering him to be silent. (35) He did this because he did not want the testimony of demons. Later in his ministry, the Pharisees would in fact accuse him of driving out demons by the power of Satan. Yet, it is sad that demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God while humans continued to reject him.
After silencing him, Jesus commanded the demon to come out of the man and he did. Jesus, as God, is sovereign over Satan and his demons. As we saw in our study of Revelation, he will one day cast Satan and all of his demons into hell so that they may never interfere with God’s people again.
This made quite an impression on the congregation. They marveled at his authority and power to command “unclean spirits” or demons. (36) They told the story to others and it spread throughout the region.
By telling us this story, Luke shows us also that Jesus is the Son of God and that he has power over Satan. This shows us the beginning of the fulfillment of a word of God spoke thousands of years before. After Satan, in the form of a serpent, deceived Eve, God told him that Eve’s offspring would bruise or crush his head. (Genesis 3:15) Jesus is that offspring, as Luke showed by tracing Jesus’s genealogy all the way back to Adam.
After the events of the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon’s house. He is the one we know as Peter, one of the apostles. So we see that Peter lived in Capernaum. There Jesus healed Simon’s mother in law of a high fever and whatever illness caused the fever. She was, as in all of Jesus’ healings, instantly and completely healed. She got up from bed well and started serving them, no doubt preparing a meal.
The news of this healing must have gotten around also, because people brought their sick family and friends to the house and Jesus healed everyone of them.
And so in this story, Luke shows us that Jesus not only rules over the spiritual realm, but the physical. He who created the human body is sovereign over it and can heal it of any disease if he chooses to do so.
There is one other thing to note here. Both of these events occurred on the Sabbath. The Sabbath ran from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. That is why the people waited until the sun was setting on Saturday to bring the sick to Jesus. (40) They were not supposed to travel on the Sabbath.
Jesus cast out demons and he healed bodies on the Sabbath. No one objected to it at that time, but later the Pharisees will object to Jesus doing these things on the Sabbath because you were not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath. But Jesus showed that ministry to make things better for men and women did not violate the Sabbath, which was made for the benefit of men and women.
Jesus went from Capernaum to preach in other places. In contrast to the people of Jesus’ home town (Nazareth), these people wanted Jesus to stay with them. But Jesus said he had to preach the gospel in other towns.
Jesus’ ministry set the course for future ministries. Paul also went from town to town. He preached first in the synagogue, as Jesus did. Afterward, he preached to the Gentiles. Jesus modeled the great commission. He did not stay where it was comfortable and where he was well received. Rather, he kept moving, preaching the good news of the kingdom in many places.
It is what he calls us, the church, to do also.
We can do that because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
Paul was not only a great theologian, who could write with deep meaning and complexity. He was also one who had a great love for the Lord and could burst into praise while writing. That is what we have in these verses today. Paul bursts into praise to God for the spiritual blessings he has bestowed on us.
Paul praises God’s wisdom, his forethought, and purpose. He tells us we were not only saved for our own benefit, but also to exalt Christ and bring glory to God. The end of God’s purpose is to bring everything together under Christ.
Paul celebrates God’s accomplishment in Christ of his eternal purpose. God incorporated Jews and Gentiles into one divine society.
Verses 3-14 are all one long sentence in the Greek. Paul just poured it all out without stopping. The English translations add punctuation to help us understand it.
Most of us would separate theology from praise. Baptists have often treated theology as boring or intellectual and, therefore, bothersome. But, Paul’s praise here is built on theology. He praises God for his purpose and his fulfillment of it, using theological terms so packed together it can take a long time to sort it all out and understand it.
You could divide this passage into three sections. In verses 3-6, the work of the Father is described; in 7-10, the work of the Son and in 11-14, the work of the Spirit. I love it when we find a Trinitarian structure to Scripture.
What are the blessings for which Paul praises God? They are: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, wisdom and understanding, unification of all things in Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit.
So, think of this passage first as a doxology, a song of praise. Remember the song we used to sing all the time in church that we just called “The Doxology”?
Read the passage.
1:3 Blessed Be God
Let’s look at verse 3, the first verse in this passage. It has this nice repetition of the word “bless”, using it 3 times. He says “Blessed be God” and “who has blessed us” and “with every spiritual blessing”.
The first thing we should note is that it is different when we bless God than when he blesses us. When he blesses us, he gives us something we need. He blesses us with grace. He blesses us with peace. But, when we bless him, we do not add to him, since he is complete. What we do is ascribe to him his character or the things he has done. It is praise to him. I think that is why the NIV says “praise be to God” rather than “blessed be God”. It is conveying this very idea. It just loses some of the poetry.
Second, these blessings all come in Christ. God blesses us “in Christ”. God has chosen to extend his blessings to the world through Christ. Only those who are united with Christ receive them.
Third, these are spiritual blessings. Paul says God “blesses us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. I think what he means by “spiritual blessings” are in contrast to “material blessings”. This new kingdom is spiritual.
This spiritual blessing is in contrast to many of the promise of material blessings in the Old Testament. For example, look at Deuteronomy 28:11. If Old Testament Israel obeyed God and kept his covenant, he would make their crops and livestock increase. God does not promise the church its members’ salaries will increase or their cars will multiply. That is why prosperity preachers tend to quote Old Testament promises to Israel to say believers will receive wealth and health if they believe and give.
These blessings come in the “heavenly places” according to the ESV, or the “heavenly realms” in the NIV. I take this to again mean the spiritual realm. This phrase appears 5 times in Ephesians. Christ ascended to the heavenly realm. Later on, in verse 20, Paul speaks of Christ raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places. Psalm 110:1 starts it off with a prophecy that the Lord would do this. Jesus, in Matthew 22:44, applied it to himself. Several other New Testament verses speak of this.
In Ephesians 2:6, Paul said God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ. So, even though we live here in this physical realm in our mortal bodies, in Christ we enter into spiritual life and blessings of God.
1:4 He Chose Us
The first blessing for which Paul praises God is his choosing us. He says God chose us in Christ. God had a purpose. He had a purpose for Christ and he had a purpose for us.
His purpose for Christ was to redeem a people for himself. 1 Peter 1:18-20 says “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” Revelation 13:8 says “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast-all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”
God chose us before the foundation of the world. He chose us before creation. So, before the world was created, the Father chose the Son to be the redeemer, and chose those who would be the redeemed, all to be his people. Revelation 17:8 says “the inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast…”
There are many passages that speak of God’s choosing. Romans 9 is one of the major ones. Paul says that God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born and before they had done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose in election might stand (Romans 9:11).
Not only did God choose us before the foundation of the world, he did it for a purpose. The purpose was to be holy and blameless in his sight. Peter put it this way: “…just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15. Peter was quoting the words spoken to Israel in Leviticus 11:44-45. This was totally an act of grace, because we, in our natural state were unholy and blameworthy.
Since God is holy, the only way we can witness to him is to be holy also. When we do not appear holy to the world, we profane God’s name.
The second spiritual blessing for which Paul praises God is that, in love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. Paul says we were predestined for this privilege, meaning again that this was determined before hand. Adoption means becoming God’s sons and daughters through Christ, becoming part of God’s family, with all the privileges of children. Romans 8:17 says we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Romans 8:29 says “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.”