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Weekly Word

Entries in Ministry (6)

Tuesday
Feb192019

Jesus Begins to Minister

Mark 1:14-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 17, 2019.

Last week, we saw Jesus preparing to minister to the people of Israel.  In the passage before us today, he begins. 

The preaching of Jesus

The first thing that we see is not miracles and wondrous signs.  Rather, we see Jesus proclaiming or preaching to the people.  Mark focuses on the natural transition point of John the Baptist being imprisoned as when Jesus entered Galilee to minister.

It is important to recognize that throughout the Bible we see that people generally resist a true prophet of the Lord who comes speaking the truth of God.  This general resistance can be overcome.  However, we should recognize its prevalence.  An underlying theme throughout all of this is that God’s Word/Voice cannot be silenced.  If one is imprisoned then another will speak forth.  If one is killed then another will take their place.  It is not just a secular thing.  This world, both secular and religious, often operates in a way to try and silence what the Spirit of God is doing through those who listen to Him.  It hates the fact that they march to the beat of a different drummer.  It hates the message that there is something wrong with it.  It hates the message that people need to turn back to the ways of God because they already feel that they have the truth.  This silencing is sometimes with brute force, imprisonments, and violence.  However, it is sometimes with propaganda, narrative-control, disinformation, and manipulative and seductive memes.

In whatever way this world tries to marginalize the true work of the Spirit of God, it cannot stop what the Spirit is doing.  Those imprisoned just preach to their captives and demonstrate the value of God.  Those who are killed are replaced by others who may be even more powerful than they.  God’s Word cannot be silenced because it is empowered by God Himself.  In another way we can say that it cannot be silenced because it represents real reality, which no one can run from very long without running smack into its stubborn existence.

We must understand this about Christianity.  It is not the institutional trappings that Christ is promoting.  Though it may look like the world is winning, we must understand that we are on the side of the God of the universe.  He will not fail, and I must do my part, whatever it may come to be.  John the Baptist probably did not envision imprisonment and later death (Mark 6), but that is what was asked of Him by the Lord.

Thus the preaching of Jesus comes on the heels of one of the greatest preachers/prophets that Israel had seen in a long time.  Now let’s look at what this preaching proclaimed.

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.  All of the Gospels emphasize several things about the teaching of Jesus.  At its core, He was proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God was drawing close.  This had been the hope of Israel for over 1400 years, obtaining more and more information from God’s prophets regarding what that would look like along the way.  For the previous 500 years they had specifically suffered under the imperial rule of the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, which still ruled over them in the days of Jesus.  The faithful still waited and hoped for God’s Anointed man (Messiah is the Hebrew word for Anointed One) who would judge the nations and rule over the world from Jerusalem.  When would this wait ever end?  John the Baptist had shocked the nation with his insistence that he was a forerunner to the Messiah.  He told them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.  Thus Jesus tells them the good news that the Kingdom was drawing close.  The long wait was coming to an end!

In fact, Jesus uses a phrase that the time was fulfilled or completed.  God had determined a particular time in history for the Anointed One to come forth.  Their long wait was done and the transition time was upon them.  Of course, things did not go the direction they all hoped it would go.  We now know that there are two phases to this Kingdom’s arrival on earth.  The first phase focused on spiritually changing those who would be its citizens.  It is a time of invitation and grace.  In this phase Christ rules from heaven over the hearts of those who believe in Him as the number of believers/citizens increases.  The second phase, which will occur at the Second Coming of Christ, is taking up of political control of the earth and removing the wicked leadership of the nations (which will only grow worse and worse).  This is often referred to as the Day of the Lord and as the Judgment of the Nations by the God of heaven.

Believers today live in this strange period where the Kingdom of God is now, but also not yet.  Though we may long for the coming of Christ and His rule upon the earth, we are still in the day of God’s invitation and grace to the people of this world.  Anyone, who so desires, can become a part of God’s Kingdom.  Thus it is important for current believers to keep their hands on the plow and keep working to share the invitation while there is still time.

Like any kingdom, the king has rules as to how one becomes a citizen.  Yes, any who so desired could come forward, but they were called upon to repent and believe in the gospel.  The need for a person to repent literally means to change your mind, or your way of thinking.  In so many personal ways, each person of that day was following the dictates of their own heart and mind.  Some in complete rejection of God’s Word and others with a partial rejection (sound familiar?).  The Spirit of God calls us to change the way that we are thinking, but also in a specific way.  Another metaphor that is used of repentance is turning.  We, who have turned away from God’s Ways into other ways of our own choosing, need to turn back to God in our hearts and minds, and follow His ways.

Repentance is always needed in our lives because we live in a world and a body that continually questions and rejects the ways of the Lord. Christians are not those who repented long ago, but are those who continue to be a repentant people.

So it begins with repentance, but then it moves to faith.  They needed to believe what Jesus was telling them.  Even though Mark emphasizes believing in the good news, Jesus Himself is the good news!  To believe in the Gospel is to believe in Jesus.  God had joined mankind in order to lift us up out of the horrible fate we were plunging towards.  Thus to believe in the Gospel is to believe that God has not abandoned us, and instead He has stepped into the muck and mire with us in order to save us.  This is good news indeed, for who can stop the Lord Almighty!

The disciples of Jesus

In verse 16 Jesus begins to call certain people to follow Him everywhere.  The term disciple is not used here, but they were called to learn from, be students of, Jesus.  In the New Testament, Jesus called 12 disciples to a special task.  They would become his apostles, sent-ones, who would go to the nations and lay the foundation for His Church.  They actually lived and ate with Jesus as they helped Him in His ministry.  Many other people were students and believers of Jesus.  However, they did not live with Jesus day to day.  So we should recognize that even though the outward form may be somewhat different, all of these disciples had one thing in common.  They were now following and listening to Jesus as their master and teacher.

Let’s explore the passage.  Notice that Jesus stands on the shore and calls 2 fishermen to follow him here, and then 2 more fishermen to follow Him there.  These would be the core of the 12 disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John.  Though Jesus is no longer physically on the earth, he still approaches people through his disciples and calls people to believe upon Him and to follow Him.  None of us today pack up our bags and follow a physical Jesus to Jesus-ville.  However, we do these things spiritually.  To follow Jesus is to quit listening to those things you did before and to start listening to His Words and those of His Apostles.  It is to follow them.  It is to reject the mindset of this world that marginalizes Christ and His teachings, or even hijacks His teachings and twists them to other ends.  To follow Jesus is to have a spiritual journey every day where the Spirit of God leads us, much as Jesus led The Twelve 2,000 years ago.  We must ask ourselves this question each day.  Who am I following?  Am I following a favorite religious leader or philosopher?  Or am I following Jesus and the Spirit of God?

 The second thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that they were called to draw others to Christ.  These men had lived their lives catching fish and thus Jesus uses their life experience as a metaphor for what He was calling them to do.  They would fish for people.  Ultimately their lives would become about drawing people to Christ.

As in any analogy, fishing is a crude one.  God does not use tricks to hook people and drag them to shore in order to eat them.  Thus the metaphor is intended only so far.  God will work with people to live with and speak into the lives of others in order to draw them to Christ, to join His Kingdom.  Part of God’s call on your life is to be a light to the world around you.  You are to be a drawing influence through your life and the worlds you speak.  However, we are not to be drawing people to ourselves, but rather to Christ.

We are told that they dropped their nets and left their father in order to follow Jesus.  This recognizes the sacrifice that is made by all who follow Jesus.  Not every disciple was called to physically leave their families behind in order to follow Jesus.  However, we are all called to spiritually leave our old life behind and the attachments it has made upon us.  If I was a business man before I met Christ, He may call me to become a missionary or a pastor and I would literally leave that life behind.  However, He may simply call me to quit being the old business man that I was and to become a new creation in Christ who runs a business in a whole new way.  Regardless, the point is that if we are truly listening to and following the leadership of Christ, we will leave the old life behind.  I cannot hold on to the old way of living and survive.  I will either be pulled in two, or I will let go of one and cling to the other.  What am I clinging to today?

Let me close by recognizing just who Jesus chose to follow Him.  He was not in Jerusalem picking the top rabbis of the day.  He wasn’t even picking those Pharisees who would even one day believe on Him.  He was in the rural back country of Israel.  He was picking from among the lowly of society.  I do not mean they were lowly in a moral way, though we are all sinners.  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says it this way, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

We must quit looking at ourselves and our lives, becoming discouraged, and letting the enemy draw us away from Christ.  Rather we must rejoice that God loves to use the weak and lowly because then it is clear that it is His power working in us and not our own!  Yes, a rich man can be saved and even a powerful politician.  However, they will have to die to their riches and to their power before they can become a disciple of Christ.  Drop your nets (that which hold you back) and follow Jesus today!

Jesus Ministers audio

Tuesday
Aug212018

Help in the Ministry

Colossians 4:7-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 19, 2018.

Throughout history it is clear that God uses specific individuals to open doors of ministry and accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God.  However, today I hope you will see that even in such cases, no one ministers alone.  God expects us to work together so that the work He intends will be accomplished in our area and beyond.  Each Christian needs to seek the Lord regarding how we can help in ministering the Gospel to this world, whether that involves leading a new work, or coming alongside someone whom God has filled with a vision for reaching the lost.  No matter how small and lacking in talent you may be, God has a place for you in His plan.

Those who delivered his letter

Starting in verse 7, Paul gives a series of explanations to the Colossians regarding different individuals who were helping him.  The first two are those who had delivered this very letter from Paul, who is in Rome under house-arrest, to the Colossians.  Such a journey required a lot more help than it would in today’s world.  The first individual is Tychicus.  He is described as a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord.  Paul saw Tychicus as more than a worker who would help him get things done.  He had a familial relationship with him that was like a brother.  We must never lose sight of this in the work of the Lord.  If we treat it as a business and abuse one another in order to get things done, then we have lost sight of what God has called us to.

The second individual is named Onesimus and he is described as a faithful and beloved brother as well.  Here we are told that Onesimus is “one of you,” which means he is from Colosse.  This is the very same run-away slave of the letter to Philemon.  Apparently Onesimus had run away from his Christian master, Philemon, and ran into Paul.  Onesimus became a Christian through Paul.  But, note that Paul does not describe Onesimus as a “run-away slave” here in this letter.  He is called a brother in the work of the Lord.  In fact, it may be possible that Onesimus had delivered the letter to Philemon at the same time as the letter to the Colossians.

Paul points out that the Colossians will be able to hear what was happening with Paul in Rome in order to comfort their hearts.  When we are unaware of what is happening to others we love, it is very disconcerting.  Thus they would receive comfort by the testimony of Tychicus and Onesimus.  These two help Paul in some very practical ways.  They helped him stay in contact with the churches by carrying letters on ships and over land.  In our modern world of technological wonders we can forget that even our system of communication requires people helping and serving in very practical ways.  Not all service to the kingdom looks super spiritual, but it is needed nonetheless.

Those of the “circumcision”

Starting in verse 10 we have three individuals who are described as being part of “the circumcision.”  Basically it means that they are Jews.  However, the New Testament also describes a group of Jewish Christians who attempted to make Gentile converts to Christ follow the commands of the Law of Moses.  Circumcision became a flag for this view.  It doesn’t seem likely that these three held this view previously, so it is probably simply a way of referring to their Jewish ancestry and not their theological views.

By the way, it has been pointed out in the past that it is curious that there is no mention of Peter being in Rome at all.  Those who teach that Peter was the first bishop of Rome have a time explaining this issue.

The first of this group is Aristarchus, who is also under house-arrest with Paul.  Most of these individuals have come to Paul and are freely helping him.  However, Aristarchus is stuck.  Though he is Jewish, he was a Macedonian from Thessalonica, who had been helping Paul throughout his missionary journeys.  In fact, he was with Paul in Ephesus, when they were arrested for creating a mob.  “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28).  Thus Aristarchus is a helper who has been with him through thick and thin. 

Next we have Mark the cousin of Barnabas.  If you are not aware, Paul and Mark had some difficult history.  Mark, also called John, had abandoned Paul and Barnabas on one of their missionary journeys.  Later, when they went out again, Paul refused to let John Mark accompany them.  Barnabas disagreed.  This led to them going separate ways.  (See Acts 13-15, esp. Acts 15:36-40).  Several times in his letters, Paul goes out of his way to encourage churches to receive John Mark and not hold his previous failings against him.  So here we see that John Mark had traveled to Rome in order to help Paul, and Paul is very appreciative.  Christians are always going to have their times of strife.  But, we must work in order to make things right and forgive one another.  This is a classic picture of such in the early Church.  By the way, Mark is the one who wrote the Gospel called by his name.

The third Jewish person was a guy named Jesus, or also called Justus.  We know nothing about this Justus, other than that he was Jewish and had gone to Rome to help Paul.  Perhaps he is a friend of John Mark and came with him.  Paul seems to imply that others of “the circumcision” should have been there to help him.  I don’t want to read more into this than is appropriate.  However, Paul may be thinking of at least two things.  First Paul is a Jew and so Jewish Christians naturally should go out of their ways to encourage him.  Second of all, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem under false charges.  Thus the Christians of Jerusalem should also feel an obligation to encourage him.

In all this, Paul praises these three for being a comfort to him.  We all need comforted as we work for the Lord.  No one is so spiritual as not to need comfort, not even our Lord Jesus.  We must allow others to come alongside of us and comfort us.  However, God’s supply of helpers in our life is not a steady stream.  In the letter of 2 Timothy, Paul notes a time of having no one with him.  Ultimately, we must always draw our comfort from the Lord first.

Other helps and greetings

In verse 12 Paul quickly mentions some other helpers who want to greet the Colossians.  Epaphras is a Colossian and a fellow slave of Christ.  Though it is not mentioned here, in the letter to Philemon it is clear that Epaphras was also imprisoned with Paul.  Note that Epaphras is praised for his many prayers for the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.  He prayed “fervently” (the word denotes that pain is involved) for them.  Thus just as some help is very practical, so some help is very spiritual, but both are needed and should be commended.

Next Luke the doctor is mentioned.  He is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  He was with Paul throughout many of his journeys.  In fact, if you read through the book of Acts, you will notice a change at times in the pronouns that are used.  Sometimes he writes “we” did this and “we” did that.  Then it switches to “he” did this and “he” did that.  Paul calls Luke beloved.  Perhaps Luke had to use his skills as a doctor time and time again to assist Paul in keeping healthy.

Little is said of the last individual Demas, other than that he greets them.  It is believed that this is the same Demas of 2 Timothy 4:10 of whom Paul wrote, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”  The ministry of the Gospel is not always easy and there are always those who will start out strong and then fall away from Christ.  We must always keep an eye out and minister to one another so that no one is discouraged.  However, the problem with Demas is rooted in his desire for the things of the world.  He had been trying to plow with Paul while looking back at what he had left behind.  No one can serve two masters for long.

Paul asks the Colossian believers to greet the Laodicean believers.  He also asks them to greet the individual named Nymphas, and the church that met at his house.  House churches were the norm.  Thus there is something particular about Nymphas that causes Paul to mention them, as a means of encouragement.  In fact, any church leader is always in need of encouragement.  Some translations refer to Nymphas as a man and some as a woman.  This is because some older manuscripts use a female construction of this sentence.  Regardless, the point is not the gender, but the need for encouragement.

Final Instructions

Beginning in verse 16, Paul gives some final instructions while closing the letter.  He tells them to share his letters with the churches around them and to read the letter that he wrote to them.  The early church did not have a New Testament.  The letters of the different apostles were being written at the time and typically were only known in the areas where they were sent.  Yet, over time they would be shared beyond their areas and eventually with all the Church.  Here we see the apostle instructing and approving of such.  Even though the letters were to a particular people at a particular time, they have value to any believer who would read them.  In fact it is here that we read that there had been a letter to the Laodiceans that did not survive this process.  It has been lost to the sands of time.

In verse 17 Paul gives a particular person a reminder of the duty of ministry.  The man is Archippus, who is mentioned in the Philemon letter.  There is clearly more to the back story that we are not aware of.  Perhaps Archippus had a calling to ministry upon him and he was either not doing it, or being apprehensive in doing it.  Regardless Paul encourages him in his duty to minister.  Three things about ministry are told to us here.  First, we must take heed or pay attention to the ministry that God has given us.  Ministry doesn’t just happen.  People must pay attention in prayer, in word, and indeed.  We must watch out for others and allow God to speak through us in order to share the Gospel, and mature those who receive it.  Second, ministry is received from the Lord.  It is never “our” ministry except as that which has been delegated to us by the Lord.  It is His ministry that we partner with Him in order to do it.  Christ opens the doors and supplies the work of the Holy Spirit to make it effective.  In ministry we must never get our eyes off of the fact that we do what we do for Christ, not for another person, or for ourselves.  Third, Christ expects us to fulfill it.  We must be diligent and obey the Lord in order to “fulfill” the ministry that He has given us.  We don’t always understand why God sends us to some people and certain places.  However, it is our job to be faithful and fulfill the purpose for which He has sent us, and not the purpose we imagine that He has sent us.

Lastly, Paul tells them to remember his chains.  The chains are real, but are also symbolic of this world’s hatred for Christ and His people.  They should never forget that even though they may not be in chains, there are others who are currently imprisoned for the cause of Christ.  They should never forget that even when people are no longer in chains in their part of the world, the Gospel was brought forth by those who endured such hostility, and it will indeed come round again.

Ministry does not happen without the Lord, but neither does it happen without people saying “yes!” to Him.  If we were to write a letter about the people who are helping with the ministry of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, or who have ever helped, that would be a long list, and we are a small church.  What would be said of you or me?  May God help us to be faithful to come alongside the ministry that He is calling us to do.  We may not be the leader like Paul was, but we all need each other in order to help the ministry of the Gospel to go to fellow believers and to the lost.

This concludes our time in the letter to the Colossians.

Help in the Ministry Audio

Tuesday
Mar202018

The Fire of God's Judgment II

2 Kings 2:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 18, 2018.

Last week we saw how the fire of God was a symbol of the judgment of the wicked, that is, when they are found to be lacking before God.  This week we will see that the fire of God can also be seen as a judgment of the righteous, in that they are found to be acceptable to God.

This amazing story of Elijah’s ascension into heaven may raise the hackles of all cynics and skeptics.  However, it is in the Scripture for a reason.  It challenges our understanding of what is possible, but it also teaches us the ultimate purpose of God.  Though mankind knew that each person would one day die and go into the grave, in the persons of Enoch and Elijah, the righteous are given the hope, even the understanding, that the grave is not their final destiny.  God is able to take whom He will into the heavens with Him.  It is in the examples of Enoch and Elijah that we see that God does not intend the righteous to share the same fate as the wicked, even though our experience tells us that they all end up in the same place.  God will do what is necessary in order to lift the righteous into His presence.  

Let me encourage you today.  Even though our Heavenly Father is a consuming fire, we need not fear Him if we are walking in faith in His Son, Jesus.  The same power that takes the wicked down in judgment is the power that will lift you up into the presence of God, according to His judgment.

Elijah’s last mission

We are told right off the bat that Elijah is going to be taken into heaven in a whirlwind.  So if you pictured Elijah riding in the fiery chariot, you will see later that this is not the case.  This is to be Elijah’s last mission and as he follows the instructions of the Lord, he is led to the place where he will leave this world.

It is clear that it has become common knowledge that Elijah is to be taken by God, at least among the prophets and those who served them.  Either Elijah has made God’s plan known to the other prophets or it was another prophet who public ally prophesied that Elijah would be taken on a particular day.  Nevertheless, we see the “sons of the prophets” warning Elisha of what is about to occur.

Who are these “sons of the prophets?”  This is metaphorical language, which speaks of a person (like Elisha was to Elijah) who serves a prophet.  In some cases this would function much like we see with Jesus and his disciples.  They followed him around, lived with him, and learned from him.  It was often done in the hopes that eventually they would become like their masters, i.e. prophets.  The proven, elder prophet would be training those who came to them.  In Elijah’s case there is only one servant, but it is clear from this passage that some of these groups were quite large with 50 people mentioned at Jericho.  Now we do see a resurgence of the idea of a “school of prophets” today.  People will take classes and learn how to be a prophet.  We do need to be careful with this idea.  Not everyone who served the prophets became prophets themselves.  A person could not call themselves to be a prophet by just showing up.  To be a prophet was made clear by the fact that God was clearly speaking to them and through them.  Thus it might seem cool to be a prophet, but going to a school or hanging out with a prophet does not necessarily make you one.  This is up to God.  Even then, even those with the calling of becoming a prophet, and who will become people of great faith, need to learn and grow in the area of hearing God and representing Him.  

Now we see Elijah going from town to town.  In each town he tries to get Elisha to stay there while he goes on.  Now this could be seen as Elijah wanting privacy in this intimate time of his life.  However, it is more than likely that Elijah is testing Elisha, in order to see if he will stay the course.  It is important in life to do more than just want to do something.  We must also learn to follow through.  Of course, it is important what your target is, and Elisha desires a good thing: to be with Elijah when he is taken by the Lord.  Sometimes God does not give us what we want immediately to see if we will persist.

When Elijah and Elisha get to the Jordan River, we are told that 50 sons of the prophets are watching in the distance.  At this point, Elijah performs an amazing miracle, he strikes the river with his rolled up mantle and it parts in two that he and Elisha can walk through on the ground.  Why would God instruct Elijah to do this?  It is not like they couldn’t cross at the fords.  One thing to see here is that it will give credence to the fantastic story that Elisha will tell when he gets back.  Second of all, it will demonstrate that the power of God that was with Elijah has not left.  It is now with Elisha.  But more on that later.  

Suffice it to say that this miracle of parting the waters is a signature act of God.  The Jordan River was parted three times: by Joshua, by Elijah here, and as we will soon read by Elisha.  We also see in the Bible that Moses parted the Red Sea so that all of Israel could escape from the armies of Pharaoh.  Why all this parting of water?  It harkens back to the creation account where we are told that God separates the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.  It is a way of God saying, “I’m here!”

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what last thing he can do for him before he leaves.  Here Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Many teachers have made a big deal about Elisha performing exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.  That may be true.  However, Elisha is not asking to do twice as many miracles or to be twice as powerful as Elijah.  A double-portion is terminology that goes with matters of inheritance.  Elijah is about to be taken from the earth.  Typically one would put their affairs in order and have a will to bequeath all their effects to their inheritors.  In Israel the estate would be divided between the sons in a way where the eldest would receive two portions compared to the other brothers.  For example, if there were three sons then the estate would be divided into 4 parts.  The eldest would get two (50%) and each of the other brothers would get 1 part (25%).  This was a picture of the blessing of God upon the eldest who would now be taking the place of the family patriarch.  Elisha is not worried about getting a material inheritance because Elijah did not amass any estate in this life.  What Elisha wants is a spiritual inheritance, and is essentially asking to take Elijah’s place, or to be used by God in the same way.  IT is interesting that God has given His Spirit to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  As Elisha looked to Elijah, the man of God, and hoped to have the same Spirit, so we must learn to look to Jesus and ask the Father that the Spirit of Christ would rest upon us and empower us for what we need in order to face this life.  May we become the spiritual inheritors of Christ.  In fact, in Christ we can all inherit a “double-portion” of His Spirit.

At some point as they are talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses speeds between the two, separating them.  Then Elijah is caught up by a whirlwind that supposedly is in the wake of the chariot.  What Elisha actually saw is not told to us, we simply have his description of what it looked like.  Regardless, we see Elijah ascending into heaven in a fiery whirlwind.  This is not quite as grand and majestic as the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1.  But it is amazing, nonetheless.

I mentioned in the opening that Elijah and Enoch are unique in the Old Testament in that it is not said that they died, and that they do not go into the grave, but up towards heaven.  In fact Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch did not see death.  This raises all sorts of questions.  Is it possible for a material being to be in heaven?  Isn’t it supposed to be a place for spirits only?  Well, Jesus has a material body and He is seated at the right hand of God.  I know that his is a glorified body, but I want us to see that there is much we do not understand about the physics of the material world and the spiritual world.  Because these two men of the Old Testament do not see death, and Malachi prophesies that Elijah will return before the coming of the Messiah, some have speculated that perhaps they are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  We don’t have time to go into this today.  However, I would just say that it is clear that we are leaving the strong foundation of biblical witness and crawling out on the thin limb of speculation or opinion, at this point.  Regardless, of the full extent of its implications, the ascension of Elijah gives the righteous the hope that we too shall dwell with God by His mighty power.

Elisha begins his new ministry

As Elijah is taken up into heaven, we see the shock and amazement of Elisha as he cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot and the horsemen of Israel.”  Father here is a metaphorical term of endearment that is the complement to “son of the prophet.”  This spiritual chariot and horsemen convinced Elisha that the real defenses and protection of Israel came from God Himself.  In 2 Kings 2:6, Elisha and his servant Gehazi will be surrounded by the king of Syria.  We are told that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  We must never look to the things of this world as our true defenses and help.  It is God’s spiritual defense and help that is our true source.

Elijah’s mantle had fallen to the ground as he was snatched up.  A mantle was often designed in such a way that was indicative of both the profession a person had, and the individual themselves.  Thus Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah is symbolic of him stepping into the shoes of Elijah.  God would now work powerfully through Elisha as He had with Elijah.  This is how it has always been in God’s kingdom.  Those who have gone before must train and disciple those who are coming behind.  At some point the older generation passes on and the younger generation must step into their shoes, and carry on the work of the Lord.  Not all are called to be prophets as Elijah and Elisha were.  However, there is a calling on our life which asks us to pick up a mantle that has been left behind.  We must learn to bravely pick up the mantle of what God calls us to do, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we trust the God who is calling us.

As Elisha comes back to the Jordan River, he cries out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  In the mouth of a foreign warlord, this would be seen as a mocking question.  But in Elisha’s mouth it is simply asking, “God are you still with us and in particular me?”  It is also important for the sons of the prophets who see Elisha coming back.  The question, and God’s response will highlight in their mind that God is with Elisha like He was with Elijah.  Did they ever get a show that day.  When Elisha strikes the river, it parts again (twice in one day).  They witness that the spirit of Elijah was on Elisha.  That spirit is the Holy Spirit of God.  May God help us to see what He is calling us to do.  In a way we are all prophets.  We have been given a message from God to share with all those around us who do not know it.  We must learn to trust Him to give us direction and empower us to do it.  Thus each day is a new day to rise up and ask, “God are you still with me?  Help me to walk with you today as long as I have time left on this earth.”

God's Judgement II audio

Tuesday
Aug192014

Greatness in God's Kingdom

Today we are going to be in Luke 9:46-50.  Here we are going to see some rivalry between the disciples of Jesus.  Throughout the Bible we run into different kinds of rivalries: between siblings, within marriages, between nations, and here among God’s leaders.  At the heart of rivalries is often the desire to have the attention or favor of a parent, or spouse, or even God himself.  There is nothing wrong with wanting favor.  However, when we want that favor at the expense of another it is wrong.  These situations can take on a whole life of their own, in which even siblings who are now adults continue to fight each other long after their parents are gone.

The disciples could not understand that the powerful workings of Christ were leading to a cross, rather than to the throne of Israel.  In their mind power means greatness and greatness means the throne.  This is the kind of worldly thinking that causes us to chafe against the ways of the Lord.  We need to change how we view greatness and lowliness in serving God.

Which Of Us Is The Greatest?

So let’s look at verses 46-48 to discover which of us is the greatest.  Somewhere along the road the disciples began to have strife with each other.  This strife developed into a dispute among them as to which of them was greatest.  Now the word “dispute” here is literally reasoning or a line of reasoning without reference to whether it is in one’s head or actually spoken to others.  The term “among” them also is general in nature.  Whether every single one of them thought they were the greatest or not, a spirit of self-promotion had come into the group and had lead to friction.  Apparently these disputes were not happening in front of Jesus because it says that he “perceived” their rivalry and the source of it.

Now if we were to answer the disciples we might piously state, “Knock it off!  Jesus is the greatest, period!”  However, the disciples are not thinking they are greater than Jesus.  They really are arguing over 2nd place.  Which of us will have the prestige of being the Right Hand of Jesus?  So Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  In truth some will serve Christ greater than others.  In the coming Kingdom some will have greater positions of authority than others.  Who will it be?

Now we need to recognize up front that we pretty much always see things in our favor and this not righteous.  Let me describe a scenario for you.  So you are watching a sporting event in which you don’t care about either team.  However, you have two buddies who are each strong supporters of different teams.  As penalties and friction happen in the game you will see them arguing strongly against each other.  “That was a foul!  No it wasn’t!”  Of course when the situation is reversed the guy who thought it was a foul before will suddenly not see it as a foul now, simply because he doesn’t want it to be a foul.  Our sin nature infects the way that we think and tends to bring up thoughts and lines of reasoning that justify ourselves and condemn others.  This self-promotion over the top of others is not good.  In fact, it is contrary to the way of Jesus.  It is the source to their inability to understand the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  Think about this truth.  Our thinking will tend to go against the way of Jesus and towards our own self-promotion, or greatness.  Such things lead to division and dissension among Christians, and is an open door to the work of the enemy.  If we want to follow Jesus we are going to have to drop the concern of our own promotion.

Now Jesus answers this by using a child as an object lesson.  In this situation the child represents someone who has zero status.  He may belong to Jesus, but he is low on the scale of greatness.  To receive this child can mean many things.  But, in this situation it probably focuses on ministry.  People were often coming to Jesus asking for help.  When he “received” them, he was allowing them not just to come to him, but also be healed.  Jesus equates ministering to those of zero status as the same as ministering to God Himself, who has the greatest status.  Notice that we don’t tend to think that way.  Wouldn’t you rather be the right hand man of the King rather than the right hand man of a pig farmer?  Doesn’t one seem like a position that is “greater” than the other?  Yet, Jesus is equating them.  This is a hard lesson to learn emotionally.  We may understand it intellectually, but our heart and desires resist this way to which Jesus points us.

Jesus then tells them that “He who is least among you all will be great.”  He is basically telling that if they want to be great they need to seek the lowest place.  His answer is really challenging our definitions.  The least, by their definition, would be great, by God’s definition.  The beauty of this answer is that Jesus tells them to quit seeking what they think is the “greatest place” and start seeking what they see as the “lowest place.”  It is a rebuke to humble their minds and hearts.  This is more than simply refraining from promoting yourself.  This is a radical 180 degree turn to actually demote their self.  In this world you will probably never see anyone ask for a demotion.  All of this hinges on changing our worldly reasoning and definitions about greatness.  John the Baptist understood this when he said to his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Though John would be tested on this declaration when he was put in prison, He understood that It was not about him.  It was all about Jesus.  This is a principle we need to live by within our own life.  The thinking and actions of Jesus need to increase in my life and the old thinking and actions need to decrease.  Jesus must be promoted in my life and I must be demoted.  Seek the lowest place.

Before we leave this; notice that Jesus does use the word “greater” or even greatest.  He merely says great.  Greater and greatest are terms of comparison.  Whereas great is a term that simply describes one despite its relationship to others.  This attitude of comparison is something that we need to flee.  The disciples are not simply wanting to be great, but wanting to be greater than each other. In 2 Corinthians 10:12 Paul states, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  The disciples were being foolish and opening a door for the enemy in their lives.  In Christ all ministry is measured by our faith in God and faithfulness to what He gives us.  If he sends us a small child then we will minister unto that small child as if it were God himself.  We can be great because we do it out of love for Him and by His direction.  If we are given a task by the greatest one it is by definition a great task.

Our Desire For Greatness Squelches Ministry

In verses 49-50 we see that our desire for ministry can get in the way of ministry and even stop it.  Sometimes instead of trying to completely shut down ministry we can simply try to control it.  Jesus rebukes such activity.

When Jesus tells them to receive a small child in His name, John is remind of a man that they had not received.  He tells Jesus the situation and Jesus tells him that they had acted wrongly.  They had come upon a guy who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  They told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the 12.  Up to this point they are the only ones that Jesus had told to do this.  They were being territorial over this kind of ministry.  “Who do you think you are?”  It is most likely that this guy had seen the disciples themselves ministering and casting out demons in the name of Jesus and had decided to follow their example.

Now one thing we need to recognize is that this guy must have had faith in Jesus.  He is doing the same thing the disciples did.  Whereas in Acts 19 the 7 sons of Sceva, who are not believers in Jesus, tried casting out demons “by the name of Jesus that Paul preaches…”  The demon states that it knows who Paul and Jesus are but not them and proceeds to beat the guys up.  The ability to cast out the demons demonstrates that the guy had true believing faith in Jesus.  So why shut down a fellow believer who is only doing what Jesus told us to do?  There is no room for such rivalry in the Kingdom of God.  It is a wrong spirit and opens the door for the enemy to sow seeds of dissension and destruction.

Jesus states that “He who is not against us is for us.”  This man was not speaking against Jesus.  In fact, he was clearly promoting Jesus.  This statement is the Lord’s stand against cliques that develop within His kingdom.  Now a denomination is not the same thing as a clique.  But it can develop these kind of attitudes of superiority and rejection of others, based merely on their own reasoning and not the reasoning of Christ.

Walking humbly before God and our fellow man is not an easy thing for our flesh.  It runs counter to our sinful nature.  This is why we are told to daily crucify our sinful nature.  There is going to be friction, and we are going to have to continually die to our self, and humble ourselves before one another, and forgive each other. Greatness for the believer is about following Jesus who laid his life down for us.  It is about laying our lives down for each other.

Greatness Audio