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
Each of the Gospel writers began the story of Jesus in a different fashion. Matthew began with the genealogy of Jesus to convince Jews that Jesus was the son of David so that he was qualified to be the Messiah. Mark did not write about the birth of Jesus at all. He started with John the Baptist and jumped right in to Jesus’ ministry. Luke, at the other extreme, gave detailed accounts of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.
John, however, is unique in his approach. He began with a prologue that is theological and specifically “Christological”.
This is the first part of the prologue:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
John’s prologue is a commentary on Genesis 1. Genesis 1 first says “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. John tells us Jesus was there in the beginning and that the heavens and earth were created through him. Jesus is eternal and Jesus participated in creation.
It is interesting to me that God creates everything by speaking. Each act of creation after the initial act of creation is set forth with the words “and God said”. God created everything through his word. John tells us Jesus is the Word and God created everything through him.
The earth was originally dark. Genesis 1 says “darkness was over the face of the deep.” But God said “let there be light” and there was light. I used to puzzle over this, for the sun and moon were created later. So, how could there be light? Well, there was light because God said for there to be.
And John tells us that the Jesus had life in him and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness. So, Genesis 1 spoke primarily of physical light. But John 1 speaks to spiritual light. Spiritual light is the knowledge of God. Jesus came to bring the knowledge of God to us. He came to bring the light. He said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.
The Bible often uses light to indicate the revelation of God to us and our knowledge of him. Romans 1 describes those who do not honor God as those whose thinking became darkened.
Jesus revealed himself to Paul in a blinding light of glory on the road to Damascus.
Jesus’ very birth was an event of light. Angels appeared to shepherd reflect the blinding light of the glory of God. The shepherds fell to their feet in fear at their appearance.
A bright star appeared in the heavens to lead the Magi to Jesus. In other words, a heavenly light led the Magi to the Light of the World.
John also tells us that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That was a dramatic statement when John wrote it. The Roman Empire ruled the world that John knew. It was a pagan empire, having a collection of Gods that were to be worshipped. Eventually, it required worship of the emperor. The Empire was a force of darkness. The Star Wars movies captured this image, making the two leaders of the Empire clothed in darkness.
In spite of the Empire, the church grew. The light spread across the empire, chasing away darkness. Many times since then it has appeared to us that darkness would prevail, yet John’s statement continued to be true: the darkness has not overcome it.
And that statement is true today. Things often look dark. The enemies of the church are everywhere. Yet, the gospel is preached in new places and the church grows around the world. We sing a song about this, but not at Christmas. We sing in on Missions Sunday. But it applies to Christmas, too. It is called “We’ve A Story To Tell to the Nations”. The first verse and refrain goes like this:
We've a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright;
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
The kingdom of love and light.
The Christ child in the manger is the light of the world, bringing eternal life to all who believe in him. That fragile baby survived a jealous Jewish king willing to kill all the male babies in town to kill him. But that darkness did not overcome the light. Jesus rose from the grave after being killed by Romans and Jews. The darkness did not overcome the Light of the World.
And today, as we string light on trees and houses, and in church sanctuaries, we proclaim that the darkness of sin and evil have not, and will not, overcome the Light of the World. He will overcome all of the darkness. And we will stand in the light with him for all eternity.
That is a cause for a Merry Christmas.
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.