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Entries in Jesus (145)

Tuesday
Jun182019

Finding Focus after Failure

Philippians 3:7-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019.

Today, we take time to celebrate fathers; a blessing for which they did not ask.  Being a father can fill you with all kinds of moments in which we feel great success and, of course, great failure.  It is one of those things that we cannot fully appreciate until we have been put in the harness ourselves.  Of course, this applies to parenting in general.

Our passage today is not about being a father.  However, it presents a problem that is common within parenting, that of getting up from failure and moving forward.  What do you do when your greatest attempts and endeavors are found out to fall short?  What do you do when that little baby who has grown up yells at you and slams the door to their room, or storms out of the house?  Sadly, many men run from such experiences.  Our society is full of missing-in-action fathers who decided to never start in the first place (often despite the children they have helped create).

Yet, for those who bravely jump into marriage and children, the challenges can mount and overwhelm a person.  We seem to be confronted with our weaknesses and shortcomings at every turn.  It is a very intimidating situation, even a crucible of sorts. 

So, I want to use this passage where the Apostle Paul is explaining his come-to-Jesus moment.  In it we will discover the proper response to those moments when you are made aware of your failures.

Confidence in the flesh does not lead to Jesus

Paul often spoke against the religious mindset that focused upon its own religious accomplishments because this does not lead anyone to Jesus.  Oh, it leads to all manner of places, but never to Jesus.  Confidence is good if it is placed in the right thing.

Paul had been raised in a religious environment in which performance was everything.  In verses 4-6 of this chapter, Paul lists his credentials among the Jewish people.  He had been circumcised when he was 8 days old.  This was the required mark that he belonged to God.  He was also from the tribe of Benjamin, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Thus, he was a true heir to the promises of God.  He was also a Hebrew of Hebrews, which meant that he was not one of those Hellenized Jews who adopted the Greek culture and mixed it, in varying degrees, with the culture of Israel.  He was a Pharisee, who prided themselves on exact, literal conformity to the Law.  His zeal was so great that he had been persecuting the Christians and even going to Damascus in order to seize more.  Lastly, his law keeping was blameless by the standards of his day.  Everything in Paul’s life told him that he was blameless and succeeding within his society.  Yet, the day that Jesus confronted him, he was made aware of just how greatly he had been failing God. 

Think about how we come from different subcultures within the greater USA culture.  Even Christians grow up within a subculture of the overall world-wide Christian community.  Each subculture has its own variation of what it means to be good, right, and successful.  However, those cultural trappings, whether religious or not, can blind us to our mounting failures.

Paul should have had his confidence centered upon God, but he had been taught to center it upon himself inadvertently.  On the road to Damascus, when Paul finally saw the light, he began to know just how far away from God he was, and yet also, that God still loved him.  I pray that today you may know that no matter whether you were a failure or a great success story, in regard to the subculture in which you were raised, God loves you too much to leave you alone.  He calls you to Himself through Jesus and says, “Put your trust in me.” 

Perhaps the greatest problem within Christianity throughout history has been the many men who were more confident in their ideas about Scripture than they were in the God who gave them.  On top of this is a similar problem.  Christians are often looking back to smart Christian men of the past and put more confidence in their great ideas about Scripture than in the Word itself.  Whether a group points to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or for Pentecostals, men like Charles Parham or William Seymour, or for the Assemblies of God, men like E. N. Bell and J. Roswell Flowers, it matters not what men your subculture points to and holds up as the great light to this generation.  What matters is if our confidence is truly placed upon Jesus instead of the reason of brilliant men.

Knowing Jesus is more important than the things we lose

Paul recognized that everything for which he had been working fell short of God.  He would rather know Jesus than have the greatest Jewish resume among his people.  Thus, he had to let go of certain things in order to know Jesus.  He had come to that moment of realization (my great works have fallen short), and chose to go after Christ rather than doubling down on his life’s work.  He let go of his standing and reputation within the religious community.  He let go of his potential within the leadership of Israel.  However, verse 9 also points out that he had let go of the righteousness of his own attempts to satisfy the Law of Moses, in order to obtain a righteousness that is from God through faith in Jesus.  The righteousness of faith in Jesus is diametrically opposed to the self-righteousness obtained by keeping the law.  Paul points to this as the great problem for Israel in Romans 10:2-3 where he says, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

To know Jesus is more than to know information about him.  Yes, we want to learn about who Jesus was, what he did, and what he taught.  However, the words used for “knowledge,” and “know,” in this passage, include a knowledge that comes through a relationship with someone.  Paul doesn’t just want to go to school and learn about Jesus.  He wants to do life with Jesus.  His life would now be about learning who Jesus is through a personal relationship with him.

So, how do you have a relationship with Jesus?  You do so by faith.  You pray, you believe, you trust, you succeed, you fail, you repent, you keep your eyes upon Jesus.  I pray that today you will be struck with this desire to know Christ and not settle for anything less.

However, to really know Jesus, you must also get to know those major aspects of his life.  Paul wanted to experience and to learn about that same power that raised Christ from the dead.  He wanted that power operating in his life.  He also wanted to experience and to learn about the sufferings that Christ submitted himself to go through, even to the point of laying his life down for others.  Paul wanted his death to conform to that kind of death that Jesus had, which was a noble and godly one.  Ultimately Paul wanted to experience the Resurrection from the Dead himself, which is promised by Jesus to all believers.  There is coming a day when he will give the command and all the righteous saints of history will receive glorified, immortal bodies.

What do I do when I haven’t arrived yet

Fatherhood is a constant reminder that we haven’t arrived yet, and I’m not talking about the kids in the back seat droning, “Are we there yet?”  It is easy to get the wind knocked out of your sails when you are faced with your own failures.  In fact, it is easy to get angry, even filled with rage, as life constantly reminds us of how short we fall.  Yet, just as Christ was calling Paul to a different life that was not filled with hatred, anger, and rage, so Christ is calling us to let go of our failures and follow him.

Paul clearly says in verse 12 that he had not attained the list of the facets of knowing Jesus.  In fact, because the Resurrection is on the list, he still hasn’t attained that whole list even today.  Unless Jesus returns in our lifetime, all of us will close our eyes in death, realizing that we hadn’t attained it all yet.  But, God will not fail us.  He has set a time in which all of these things will be attained by all of the saints of all time together.  All of us will simultaneously enter into our full inheritance on the Day of Resurrection.  Wow!  What a day that will be.

Paul could have run away from his failures and away from Jesus.  Instead, he ran towards Christ.  Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.”  Yes, we are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and work hard for our Lord, but we always remember that he will bring us through and finish us.  Yes, I haven’t arrived yet, but Jesus will get me there, just as he will get you there too.

Paul points out that he had to forget those things that were behind him.  We can learn lessons from our past, but we must not allow ourselves to become stuck in our past and frozen.  Paul had much guilt and shame behind him.  Yet, Jesus had forgiven him.  Have you ever noticed that we can still hold failures over our own head, even though Jesus says that he forgives us?  Faith is letting go and trusting Jesus.  Yes, you fell short.  Leave it behind you and move towards Jesus who promises to forgive you.

In fact, Paul was pressing forward to the things that Christ had set before him and us.  We first press towards those things that Jesus has for each of us in this life.  We don’t know what that will involve and everybody’s story is unique.  Yet, as we approach the end of our life, we must again press forward to those things that lie in our resurrected future.  Our greatest prize is that which we enter into at the Resurrection of the Dead.  All of us have to learn to get up and go to work.  This is what Paul is expressing.  He had to get up and get to work finding out just who this Jesus was.  Jesus is calling to each of us today.  “Come and get to know me!”

Paul ends this section with a reminder of our thinking, which he had been addressing back in chapter 2.  The mind of a person who keeps doubling down on their own accomplishments is not the mind of Christ.  Christ trusted the Father instead of trusting what he could do in the flesh.  He submitted to the cross and was rewarded with the highest honor of the entire universe.  The mind that is never too great to simply do what the Father asks us to do.  Failure is part of who we are as humans, but in Jesus it is not the final word.  If we will humble ourselves and press forward towards him, then Jesus will bring us to victory!

Finding Focus audio

Tuesday
Jun042019

Joining the Family of Jesus

Mark 3:31-35.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, June 02, 2019.

One of the great themes of Scripture is the family of God.  Some like to use this phrase to refer to all humans.  However, the Bible makes a distinction between natural biology and spiritual life.  Thus, not all humans are a part of God’s spiritual family according to the Bible.  We see this in John 1:12-13.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This biblical concept of becoming a child of God should not be confused with the many mythologies of the ancient world.  In these we often see particular gods coming down to earth and physically sire an offspring that were referred to as demi-gods.  This idea is diametrically opposed to the testimony of Scripture because it focuses on the flesh and sees the perfection of the flesh as the answer.  Thus, Zeus is actually copulating with a human maiden and she is actually birthing a child that is half human and half god.  These demi-gods would be faster, stronger, smarter, etc. than normal humans.

Yet, the Bible speaks of a spiritual birth that must take place in order for us to become a part of God’s family.  Birth in this case is a metaphor that is used of a person who received revelation from God and faith is conceived in their heart and mind.  They put their trust in God, namely in the One whom He sent, Jesus.  When this happens, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within that person and makes them spiritually alive and alert to His presence.  This is what it means to become a child of God.  We are not stronger or faster than normal humans.  Rather, we are in connection with the God of heaven and are being led by His Holy Spirit to become like Jesus, who is the exact representation of God the Father.

I pray that you are a part of the family of God, but today we are going to spend some time discovering just what that means.

The family of Jesus struggled with his ministry

It is no secret that the family of Jesus had trouble with him.  When he began his ministry, he had multitudes continually surrounding him and imposing on his time.  In fact, it was to the point that Mark says that Jesus had difficulty just eating bread (Mark 3:20).  Also, he was not being received well by the religious experts, who increasingly made their disapproval evident.  In our passage today we find Mary and her sons showing up to talk to Jesus.  However, before we get into this, we should remember the previous episode in this same chapter, verse 21.

There we are told that “his own people” came to take hold of him because they thought he was out of his mind.  When we compare that event with the one in verses 31-35, we see that the latter passage is far more specific on just who is involved.  “His own people” is very general, but clearly could involve any of his family, relatives, friends, and neighbors from the Nazareth area.  Mark has gone out of his way to put two similar events within 10 verses of each other.  Events in which those, who were close to him as he grew up, tried to take him back home.  It happened more than once and involved various subsets of the groups I mentioned above.

In our passage today, it merely states that they show up while Jesus is teaching and send word that he should quit and come out to them.  This time it is not as explicit as saying they think he has lost his mind.  However, they are clearly antagonistic to what Jesus is doing.  Why not wait until he is done?  Why interrupt him in front of a large crowd who want to hear what he is saying?  It is because they do not respect what he is doing.

Let’s look at the brothers of Jesus first.  It is worth noting that they are not full brothers because Jesus is not the offspring of Joseph and Mary as they are.  Yes, I am aware that some groups teach that Mary had no kids, but this flies in the face of the text and requires special pleading for the normal interpretation of these familial words.  In John 7:5 we are told that his brothers did not believe in him.  On top of this, none of the brothers of Jesus are mentioned among the disciples of Jesus until after the resurrection of Jesus.  So, it is no shocker that they arrive and were most likely also a part of the earlier group in verse 21.  They also think that Jesus has lost his mind and needs to settle down and be a good Israelite.

However, the mention of Mary in this group may be more puzzling.  By the way, the Gospel’s silence regarding Joseph throughout the ministry and execution of Jesus is usually taken to mean that he has passed away at some point.  This idea is further supported by the words of Jesus to his disciple John, telling her to take care of his mother as a son (i.e. in his place).  This would not be needed if Joseph were still alive.

So, Mary, who saw and heard the angel Gabriel, who said “Let it be to me according to your word,” this very same Mary is in the unbelieving group demanding Jesus to come out and speak to them.  Most likely, she has been convinced and persuaded by her younger sons, and the pressure of her family and neighbors.  Still, even Mary is lending her familial relationship to this cause of having an intervention with Jesus.  In the best of intentions, they believe that they are stepping in for the good of Jesus, but in the worst of motivations, they are most likely afraid of what people are saying, and most likely some jealously on his brother’s behalf, among many other emotions.  Flatly stated, even Mary struggled with what Jesus was doing.  I am not painting her out to be a complete unbeliever, but we see her struggling much the same way John the Baptist struggled as he pined away in prison.  Was I wrong about Jesus?  Did I misunderstand?

All that to say, these intervention groups in verses 21 and 31 come trying to do the righteous thing.  Yet, there is a sea of unrighteous things going on under the surface.  It is easy to cover impure motivations with a thin veneer of righteousness.  In fact, we see it everyday within our own society: at work, in politics, in business, in families, etc.

By the way, I should make a few parenthetical statements about Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Over the centuries, an increasing devotion to Mary has led to all manner of unbiblical teachings about her.  Contrary to what some teach, we have no reason to believe that Mary was “immaculately conceived.”  This idea is that God kept her from being contaminated with the sin-nature during her birth.  This is so that she would not pass it on to Jesus.  Of course, this doesn’t make sense, since God could have done so to Jesus if it was needed. However, Mary herself declares that she has needed a Savior, i.e. had a sinful nature that needed saving, in the Magnificat of Luke 1.  There she states, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior!”  Of course, in our passage today, her faith is wavering and she is helping to be an obstacle to the ministry of Jesus.

Another thing that some teach about Mary is that she was a perpetual virgin.  The straight-forward teaching of Scripture is that she and Joseph came together sexually after the birth of Jesus.  She birthed at least 3 sons and 2 daughters, most likely more.  These all would have been at most ½ siblings to Jesus (Scripture gives no clue to the degree that God may or may not have used the genetic material of Mary’s ovum).

Lastly, it has become popular to teach and speak of Mary as the Co-Redemptrix of the world along with Jesus.  This is illogical because it confuses the clear biblical message that Jesus alone is the Redeemer of the world.  Yes, Mary plays a critical part in God’s plan of salvation, but it is Jesus alone who does the work of redeeming mankind.  Thus, Mary should be respected as a godly woman who was willing to do the will of God even though He asked her to do a difficult thing.  She should be honored, but not revered as a quasi-divine being.  In fact, we should recall the words of Simeon the prophet in Luke 2:34, who spoke to her in the temple.  “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts  may be revealed.’”  This is exactly what we are seeing in our passage today.  Their hearts are being laid bare so that they can make a real decision and not one that is masked by a veneer of goodness.  No matter how critically we have been used by God in the past, we must work to remain open and sensitive to the Holy Spirit and what He is doing today.

Jesus defines his true family

This event gives an opportunity for Jesus to define what it really means to be in such a close relationship with him that he would consider you his brother or sister.  Jesus is apparently in a house of some kind and it is full of people listening to him teach.  At some point, word comes to him that his mother and brothers are outside and they want him to come out to them.

As I said earlier, they are not there to receive his teaching and learn.  They are not there on a mission from God.  They are there on their own terms and for their own purposes, which happen to be contrary to the will of God the Father.  Jesus is doing exactly what he knows the Father wants him to do.  This sets up a chance for Jesus to teach on what is important when it comes to family, from God’s perspective.

It doesn’t matter into what family you were biologically born.  It could be the most spiritual family on the planet, or it could be the most heathen family on the planet.  This is not what connect you to God, nor is it what keeps you from connecting from God.  Some very wicked people grew up in Christian homes, and some very godly people have come from homes that were wicked and often so dysfunctional that the term home should not be used.  Thus, this saw cuts both ways.  The spiritual state of my biological mom and dad does not guarantee me a ticket, nor does it disqualify me.

This means that something besides physical birth has to happen in order for me to become a child of God.  Kids raised up in Christian homes have to come to Christ for themselves, at some point.  Parents can often lose sight of this fact.  We can be so focused on making them outwardly conform that we forget that works without faith are dead.  The Scriptures say, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” 

Jesus is not being insensitive to his family.  They are the ones being insensitive to the call of God on his life.  Jesus is not teaching us to blow off our biological family and do whatever we want.  Rather, he is challenging us to place the work of God in our life above the desires and purposes of our biological family.  The best-case scenario is to have our biological family pulling together with us for God’s purposes.  In this sense our biological family is also our spiritual family.  The reality is that this is easier said than done.  Thus, we must desire to be spiritually born into the family of Christ.  Jesus takes advantage of this situation to define for us what puts a person in his spiritual family.

Whoever does the will of the Father is a part of the family of Jesus.  What do I mean by that?  Jesus points to the crowds who are sitting around him listening to the words of God and declares that they are an example of spiritual family.  God wanted all of Israel to listen to Jesus, but many didn’t.  These ones who were there that day were there because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, or at least a prophet sent from God and worthy of their devotion and attention.  His biological family is there that day for the wrong reasons.  They aren’t the devil, but neither are they supporting what God is doing through him.  Times like these require getting on your knees in prayer and asking God to sift your heart and help you to see any impure motives that might be in your heart.

When you think about it, it is relatively simple for the devil to convince good Israelites, and good Christians, to do his bidding, if they do not guard their hearts and remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  He just comes as an angel of light doing what is right, but his every word is a lie.  In fact, Jesus explains this clearly in John 6:28-29.

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Jesus is the One whom the Father has sent to the world.  It is not believing in the sense of intellectually believing that he exists, but rather believing that he really is the Son of God who was sent into the world to save us.  It is believing in the sense that we pick up our cross and follow him, first as a disciple or student, and second as one who has been sent to the world around them, to draw them to him.  Yet, true belief is not just an inner disposition.

True faith always makes an external difference.  It is the Father’s will that all people everywhere repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.  If we have true faith in Jesus then it will produce works of righteousness that come from the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather than a conformity to culture (religious or secular).  No matter how Christian the culture of America was in the past, no one was ever saved by conforming to the Christian culture.  In fact, even a Christian culture finds itself fighting against the will of God, just as the religious culture of Israel did in the days of Jesus.

Make sure that you are not just coasting along in a Christian Family or a Christian subculture, and yet not truly believing in Jesus as your savior and lord. On the other hand, make sure that you are not remaining in sin and pushing Jesus away because the people around you won’t understand, or you are afraid of how they will react.  The Holy Spirit is working every day to convict people of their sin and the judgment that looms over them.  Yet, He also convicts them of the righteousness of Jesus that can save them from that sin and judgment.  He is really all that we need.  If everyone forsakes you and ridicules you; if the comfortable Christians around you think that you have lost your mind and need an intervention; regardless of all these things, look to Jesus and the Word of God, and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in the will of God.  It is His will that you be a part of His family today!

Family of Jesus audio

Wednesday
May292019

A Warning against Blasphemy

Mark 3:28-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Memorial Day Weekend, Sunday, May 26.

Today we are going to talk about the Unpardonable Sin.  Many people who become Christians live under a fear of an inner accusation, which tells them that they can’t really be saved because they did something so bad that God won’t forgive it, no matter how repentant they are.

Our passage is short and follows on the heels of the response of Jesus to the Scribe’s accusation that he is in league with the Demon Lord, Beelzebub.

The general statement about forgiveness

After showing that it is illogical to think that Satan would cast out his own demonic minions, Jesus gives what can only be seen as a warning.  Is he saying that the Scribes had already gone too far and could no longer be saved, or is it simply a warning that they are flirting with a serious offense?  That would seem to be the question.  Before we get into the unpardonable sin, though, we should spend some time talking about the powerful statement Jesus first gives in verse 28.

It is an amazing statement about our sins and blasphemies, and the possibility of their forgiveness.  Let’s first notice that it opens with the word “Amen.”  This is usually translated as truly or assuredly (KJV = verily).  This is a Hebrew word that means something is firm and dependable, along with everything else this implies.  We are most used to its use at the end of a statement, or as an affirmation of the hearers to a statement that is truth.  So, to preface a statement with this word is to in a sense amen your own statement.  It functions as a form of emphasizing the importance of what one is going to say.

So, what about our sins and blasphemies?  Jesus states that God is ready and able to forgive them.  That is an important statement.  Sin is the many ways that we miss the mark or goal that God has for us in this life.  It is not just an inability to hit the target, but also our partiality to missing it on purpose. Interestingly, the word that is used in the Greek is a modified form of the word for sin and adds the sense of including even the results of our sins.  Thus, it points to our sinful actions (whether in thought, word, or deed) and the sinful results they produce in us and others. 

Blasphemy on the other hand is a particular kind of sin, or a subset of it.  It means to slander someone or speak in a way that intends to bring harm and injury to them.  It is not about hurting someone’s feelings, but about our intention to hurt their reputation, their place in society, and even their physical well-being.  This can be done against another person, but also against God Himself.  Though we don’t use this word in our society, we probably should, since much of our politics and social discourse consists of lots of slander, whether intentional or not.  At best our politicians throw mud against their opponent hoping it will stick to them in your mind and heart.  Beware of being drawn into the blasphemies of others for their selfish motivations and your own. 

Now, as horrible as sin and blasphemies can be, the statement is that they can be forgiven.  Each one, no matter how bad.  Yes, we are going to get an exception.  However, we should not jump past this statement.  God is ready and able to forgive us our sins, pause and meditate.

The second emphasis is that God alone is the remover of sins.  When we say that they will be forgiven, it is not a statement of universalism, which means every sin regardless of our heart condition will eventually be forgiven, i.e. no one will be judged eternally.  Rather, this is a statement of possibility and God’s disposition towards us as sinners.  He is willing to forgive us.  The word “forgive” is far more specific in the Greek.  It literally means to remove our sins, including their guilt, and cause them to be separated from us.  It does not mean to overlook something.  God will remove them so that no one, not even Satan himself can bring them up to be used against us before His judgment seat.  So, how does this work when we are told to forgive one another?  We cannot remove another person’s sin and guilt from them, only God can do this.  When we forgive another person, we choose to let go of the offense and not bring it up against them ever again.  If they are truly forgiven is between them and God.  I, however, need to forgive for at least two reasons.  One, I testify to the other person of the greater forgiveness of God that they should seek.  Two, I shut down the sins of hatred and bitterness in my own heart.

The phrase “shall be forgiven” in verse 28 is in the future tense and has a quality that means, “at whatever time it is needed or necessary.”  Though Jesus does not bring up the mechanism of getting God to forgive us, the Scriptures teach that those who humble themselves, repent of their sins, and believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness from God.  1 John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Confession is agreeing with God concerning just what sin is (i.e. not changing the definition to suit us).  Repentance is the idea of turning away from our ideas and emotions about our “sins” and turning towards God and His Word of Truth. 

This is a powerful reminder of the grace of God that works tirelessly to give us what we desperately need and yet also give us what we undoubtedly do not deserve.  We stand completely guilty before Him of not just accidental and incidental sin, but also of willful and purposeful ones.  Yet, He does not want us to perish in our guilt.  He makes forgiveness possible through the death of Jesus, who takes our sins upon him and carries them away from us.  Praise God for His indescribable gift!  We must simply humble ourselves, ask his forgiveness, and put our faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

Now, we turn to verse 29 and the qualification to the general statement that all our sins can be forgiven.  Blaspheming, or slandering, the Holy Spirit is put forth as a sin that will not be forgiven.  So, what does this actually mean? 

Many treat it as a simple one-time act that can remove us from any hope of salvation.  They can picture a person who is begging God to forgive them, but He will not because they did a sin that is unpardonable.  Is this actually what Jesus means?  And, do we ever see God telling a truly repentant person in Scripture that they cannot have forgiveness in the Scriptures?  The answer to that last question is an emphatic, “No!”  Yes, there are some verses that may seem on the surface to say such, but the truth is that on deeper inspection it is not.  This is often approached in one of two ways.  People either use it as a point of fear and warning, with no hope for those who may do it, or they try to water down the idea to the point that you don’t really need to worry about it because it is basically impossible.  I believe that either way is foolish.  Jesus would not have said this if it was impossible to blaspheme the Holy Spirit in such a way that you could not be forgiven.  It is a real warning of something that we can actually do, if we let ourselves do so.  Sin is damaging, even to the point of eternal damage.  Thus, it should not be taken lightly.  The passages that warn of judgment are as important as the passages that point us to grace.  So, whatever we do, we must understand that this is a true warning from Christ of a sin that can affect our eternal salvation.

Yet, does this mean it is something that we can unwittingly do in an unguarded moment of time?  To analyze this, we must think about the way the Holy Spirit is involved in forgiveness as revealed by Scripture.

The Bible tells us that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict or convince people of their sin, their coming judgment, and the righteousness of Christ.  This can be found in many places, but John 16:8 says it best.  Even as Jesus was doing what he was doing, the Holy Spirit was moving on the hearts of those watching him.  The Spirit was working to convince them of their sin, coming judgment, and need for God’s righteousness.  Thus, it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to humble ourselves, repent, and believe.  If it wasn’t for the grace of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, none of us would do so.  The Holy Spirit operates upon every heart and mind upon the earth, drawing them to Christ.  Jesus does the work of making forgiveness available to us, but it is the convincing work of the Spirit that encourages us to believe in Jesus and receive the benefits of what He has done.

This is a critical point because, if we need the Holy Spirit’s work in our heart and mind in order to be forgiven, then any resistance and slandering of that work pushes away the only thing that can bring us to it.  Essentially to resist the Holy Spirit is to build a wall between us and salvation.  To slander the Holy Spirit is an even greater wall between us and forgiveness of sins.  The point of verse 29 is not about an instant in time.  We have plenty of examples in Scripture of people who resisted the Holy Spirit, and even blasphemed His work, and yet who later repented and received forgiveness (Paul the apostle comes to mind).  In fact, all humans who ever get saved do so after a period of resisting the work of the Holy Spirit and what He was trying to do in our hearts and minds. 

Many people who have been hurt in this life will tell themselves that they want nothing to do with organized religion.  In so doing they protect themselves from the charlatans that abuse the words and authority of Christ.  Yet, in so doing, they also wall themselves off from a huge witness that the Holy Spirit could use to reach their hearts.  If we continue to block and resist the Holy Spirit in our heart regarding Jesus, then we have no hope.  There is no other answer; there is no other way.  Jesus is God’s solution to our problem of sin and the Holy Spirit is God’s worker to convince us of this, period.

The phrase in verse 29 that is often translated “never has forgiveness,” literally says, “is not having forgiveness into the age, but is presently guilty of eternal judgment.”  The emphasis is on a current condition that will not be overturned in the age to come.  The emphasis is not on whether or not we can get out of that current condition as long as we are alive.  We are presently in the age of grace in which God is allowing whosoever will to believe and receive forgiveness of sins.  We are approaching the age of judgment and the restitution of all things.  Let no one think that the sins they refuse to deal with in this age will be overlooked in that age.  Now is the day of salvation.  Today, if you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts, as they did in the rebellion.  Rather, repent and believe in the Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.  Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is serious because you are fighting against the one person who can convince you of salvation.  I do not believe Jesus is saying that one instance of blasphemy can damn a person forever.  However, each time we do so we are damaging our ability to respond to the Holy Spirit.  We can so damage our ability to respond to the Holy Spirit that we are unrecoverable.  How can a person know if they have gone too far?  If you are worried that you may have gone too far, then it is a sign that you haven’t.  Only the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin and by definition those who have gone too far are beyond His work, or no longer sensitive to His stirrings. 

If you feel fearful and despondent today, don’t stay in that place.  The Holy Spirit is calling you to Christ, but the Devil wants to scare you away.  Repent of past disbelief and rationalizations of why you don’t need to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.  Then believe on Jesus and follow Him.  You can know today that your blasphemies can be forgiven, if you will yield to the conviction of the Holy Spirit right now.

Blasphemy audio

Tuesday
May212019

The Authority of Jesus

Mark 3:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 19, 2019.

Today, we are back in the Gospel of Mark.  We will be talking about the authority of Jesus. 

After the Resurrection, Jesus told his disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him.  Thus, he was sending them out to proclaim who he was and what he had done.  They were to disciple those who believed in Jesus.  When you bring the Gospel into someone’s life and teach them to follow Jesus, you are operating under the authority of One who is greater than the Washington State Legislature, or the United States Congress, or the United Nations Security Council.  You are operating under the authority of Jesus, who is the King over all kings and the Lord over all lords.

However, this does not mean that we should be arrogant, and neither does it mean that we should be fearful and timid.  May the Spirit of Christ rise up within us and enable us to rise up in the face of the spirit of this world.  May we be bold enough to lead people to Jesus.

Jesus appoints The Twelve Apostles

Though Jesus has already called the twelve disciples to follow him, here we have an actual appointment to a position that these men didn’t understand completely, at the time.  They are not just to be his disciples (a word that focuses on being students of Jesus), but also to be his apostles (we will talk more about this word in a bit).

Verse 14 in the King James Version and in the New King James Version do not have the added phrase “whom he also named apostles.”  This is due to the fact that many more manuscripts and many older manuscripts have been discovered since the creation of the KJV in the early 1600’s.  Modern translators have had to weigh the evidence of the many manuscripts that currently exist and make choices of what was in the original.  In case you think this is unacceptable, you may be interested to know that the translators of the King James Version testified that they had done this very thing themselves.  They did their best with the manuscripts they had at the time.  This is why most modern versions have added the phrase “whom he also named apostles.”  It is interesting that sometimes it goes the other way, a phrase is believed to have been added later and is thus removed by newer versions.  Either way, we want to have what was written originally, no more and no less.  Thankfully, none of these questionable phrases or words affect any doctrinal positions of the Bible.  Even if the word “apostle” should not be connected to this passage (even though the evidence seems to point in the other direction), Mark will undisputedly use the word apostles of these guys in chapter 6.  This is also backed up by multitudes of other passages throughout the New Testament.  The 12 Disciples were also called to become the 12 Apostles.

Before we look at the names that are listed, we should note that it says that these men are those that Jesus wanted.  We should not rush by that statement.  It is his choice; and when you analyze his choices, you find them to be revealing.  None of these men are professionally trained in the Scriptures.  They are also mostly lower class (although Matthew does represent the wealthy).  Even in Matthew’s case, his wealth is attained through taxation and therefore makes him an outcast to his people.  They all are from a rural area of Israel, and all from Galilee except for Judas Iscariot.  He is the only man from Judah picked and his name is also the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah.  Still he is “Iscariot.”  This is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Ish Kerioth, or man of Kerioth (a rural town in Judah).  When you connect all of this to the New Testament theme that Jesus calls those who are not always the greatest and wisest of this world, you begin to get the picture.  The greatest and wisest of this world are often so full of themselves that there is no room for God.  Also, God purposefully operates in a way that the simplest among us can understand and come to Him for salvation (not to say that The Twelve were simple-minded).  This is counter to the operations of the great in our world today.  Those who wish to create great organizations look for the brightest stars to work for them, but Jesus calls those who are not the brightest stars.

So, what is an Apostle anyways?  In the vernacular of the day, they would be official representatives of Jesus, at least when he is not available.  They would be his “sent ones.”  The main purpose of this appointment would be evident after the ascension of Jesus.  The text tells us that these apostles would be with Jesus (everywhere he went).  Thus, they would be eye-witnesses of all the miracles that he did and the teachings that he delivered.  They would also be eye-witnesses of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  They would represent a solid foundational witness that would stand the test of time.  In this sense there are no apostles today.  We operate on the foundation built by Jesus and his apostles, once and for all, in the first century.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is a better place where the Apostle Paul takes time to describe and explain the appointing of the apostles.  They were those who were eye-witnesses of the post-resurrection appearances and had been given the Gospel directly from Jesus.  In fact, Hebrews 3:1 tells us that Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our faith.  Just as the father sent Jesus to the world, so Jesus was sending his apostles to continue his work to the ends of the earth.

Now, I know that there is a lot of controversy in the Church today over whether or not there are still apostles today, and in what sense.  There is a good article online at the Assemblies of God website: https://ag.org/Beliefs/Position-Papers/Apostles-and-Prophets.  This should walk you through all of the pertinent issues and is well-balanced.

Mark emphasizes their closeness to Jesus (as opposed to the many other disciples who did not travel everywhere with Jesus).  These guys would have the most time with Jesus compared to anyone else.  He would explain things to them that he may not have explained to the crowds.  This would enable them to accurately preach, or proclaim, what Jesus wanted them to teach.  The Kingdom of Heaven was here, and whosoever will could join and become a part of it.  Always remember that proclaiming the truth for Jesus begins with first spending time with him, through his Word and spiritually in prayer.

They were also going to be given power to heal and cast out demons.  This demonstrates the power of Christ in regards to physical matters and spiritual matters.  They would truly operate under and in his authority.  This would be especially important as the Gospel was taken to the nations.  These nations represented the territory of the spiritual enemies of Christ and his people.  The apostles were the tip of the spear of Christ’s invasion of the spiritual kingdom that Satan had amassed over the years. 

So just who were these guys?  The apostle Peter is actually named Simon and Jesus has given him the nickname Peter, which means rock.  Yes, Peter may have been the original Rocky!  Jesus also gave nicknames to the two sons of Zebedee, James and John.  They are called the Sons of Thunder.  Boanerges is a Greek spelling of an Aramaic compound word.  We can also notice that there is another James in the list, the son of Alphaeus.  He is sometimes called James the Lesser.  There is another Simon who is a Cananite.  This is not a reference to Canaan (notice the two a’s in a row).  It was a word that was used of a group of Zealots who resisted and plotted against Rome.  Lastly, we have the infamous Judas Iscariot.  He would be the one who would betray Jesus and then go on to commit suicide.  He is replaced in Acts 1 by Matthias.  Yes, Jesus knew very well that he had chosen a guy who would one day betray him, but that was part of the plan.

Challenges to his authority occurred

Jesus had far more authority than people could really accept.  He literally is the One who had given the Law and had brought Israel into the Land of Canaan, but that is another story.  So in these verses, we see several challenges to what Jesus was doing.

First, there is a challenge mentioned from his own family (this is what is meant by “his own people.”)  It could mean those who are from his clan, but most likely meant his immediate family.  The question here is that they think Jesus is out of his mind.  Perhaps it was the continual traveling around causing disruption with great crowds of people.  Perhaps it was the way in which he didn’t fit in with the religious establishment.  We don’t know exactly what bothered them, except the fact that they don’t understand and spiritually are not in the right place. 

Let that be a lesson to us.  Sometimes those closest to us can resist the work of God in our life the most.  This is not always true, but it often can be.  Don’t be that type of person that holds people back from what God is doing, out of your own fears.  Make sure that you are following God and then you will be in a good position to help others to do so.  Yet, even then, remember that you are not God.  Leave room for the Holy Spirit to operate in the lives of your loved ones. 

Now, recognize that this passage is not supporting crazy actions.  Jesus was not climbing up on top of the temple and casting himself to the ground.  Rather, it is showing that what Jesus was doing was far outside the normal, and thus, it was hard to accept for many, including his own family.

The second attack on his authority in this passage is from the scribes who are experts in The Law.  They come down from the big city and proclaim that these country bumpkins are being taken in by a charlatan.  They claim that Jesus is able to cast out demons because he is in league with Beellzebub, which was an Aramaic term for the “Lord of the flies,” (aka, the lord of the demons).

However, Jesus sets the record straight.  He first points out that Satan is not going to cast himself out (that is cast out demons who are there doing his bidding and extending his kingdom).  Clearly, Jesus sees Satan as the head honcho of an evil, spiritual kingdom that had been set up on this earth.  No general or king gives up their territory of authority without it being taken from them in some way, which leads to the next point.

Jesus makes it clear that he is casting out demons because he has first “bound the strong man.”  He has somehow put Satan in bonds and thus can go out and mop up his territory at will.  So, what does Jesus mean by binding Satan?

Revelation 20 speaks of a time when Satan will be captured and bound in the bottomless pit for 1,000 years.  He is then going to be released for a short time before he is recaptured and thrown into the Lake of Fire, never to return again.  Of course, Jesus cannot be talking about this actual removal of Satan from earth because the apostles later warn believers to be aware of Satan and his tactics, i.e. he is not bound up yet.  1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  So, we can call this the ultimate binding of Satan and it is not what Jesus means.

The binding is in his own life.  The gospels all point out that the first thing Jesus does in his ministry is to go into the wilderness, where he is tempted by the devil.  Jesus thwarts Satan’s every attempt to bring him under his control.  That is why Jesus later says in John 14:30 that the ruler of this world is coming, but “he has nothing in me.”  So, Jesus has bound Satan in his own life by countering each temptation and spiritual attack.  Notice that most people are possessed by a demon.  However, if we are to set other people free from the bonds of sin that Satan has used to bind them, t hen we must first bind Satan’s work in our own life.  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit and looking to Jesus Christ that we can overcome the enemy and then plunder his kingdom.

So, as we close this morning, just remember that Christ calls all of his believers to be learners or students of his word.  He also calls us to pick up the work that the apostles began and go to the world with the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He is God’s answer for the problem of sin in this world.  Put your faith in him today.

Authority of Jesus audio