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Weekly Word

Entries in Scripture (6)

Tuesday
Apr092019

Jesus: The Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 7, 2019.

Historically, many Christians have developed an odd theology concerning what the Bible calls the Sabbath day.  The word Sabbath is a Hebrew word that means rest.  Under the Law of Moses, Israel was commanded not to work on the last day of the week, which for them was sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

Living in Israel, the first Christians found themselves continuing the Sabbath observance, mostly because it was their culture, yet also celebrating the first day of the week on which Jesus was resurrected.  They called it the Lord’s Day.  By A.D. 70, most Christians had been scattered out of Israel and many Gentiles in other countries had been converted.  They understood from the beginning that they were not under the Law and the necessity to cease work on the Sabbath.  Yet, in some ways Sunday came to replace the Sabbath of the Old Testament, even to the point of being called the Sabbath by many. 

This creates a theologically murky disconnect between what the New Testament is saying and what became the practice of many in the Church.  If we say Sunday has replaced Saturday as the New Sabbath, and true believers will not work on that day, then we are testifying that we are under a law that is similar to that of Israel.  Of course, it is impossible to find a verse in the New Testament that puts believers under such a charge.  In fact, we find quite the opposite.  We find verses which state that the day on which we worship and hold holy is not what is important.

In our passage today, we will see another complaint that the Pharisees had with the disciples of Jesus and how the answer that Jesus gives, teaches us the true meaning the Sabbath was intended to have under both covenants.

Another complaint against the disciples

Our passage opens by telling us that it is the Sabbath, which was a day that Israel would not be working.  Instead, they would go to the Synagogue and then stay at home while focusing upon the worship of God.  It seems most likely that Jesus and his disciples are on their way to the Synagogue, which explains why the Pharisees are there to see what the disciples are doing.

Before we get into the complaint of the Pharisees, we should recognize a pattern that can be seen in Mark 2 and many other places throughout Scripture.  We see the Pharisees complaining to the disciples about Jesus on one hand, and then we see them complaining to Jesus about his disciples on the other.  This is a ploy that the devil loves to employ.  It is really about trying to drive a wedge between Christ and his disciples.  It is safe to say that the weak link in this relationship is us.  This happens all the time in our society today.  May God help us to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of such manipulative questions, which surface in our culture and therefore in our own minds.  We can be assured that Christ will remain faithful to us and not refuse to stand with us, if we will not refuse to stand with him.

The Pharisees see the disciples breaking heads of grain off and eating them as they walk through a field.  They ask Jesus why his disciples are breaking the Sabbath law.  So, are the disciples actually breaking the Sabbath laws?  According to Scripture, we know that they were not stealing.  In their culture it was not considered stealing if a person walking through a field only used their hand to take some food.  It was a command from God that they take care of the poor in this way.  They would have needed to be reaping the field with scythes and packing off bundles for it to be theft.  The issue involves the meaning of the word “work.”  Israel was commanded not to work on the Sabbath.  Over the years, the rabbis had built up a whole tradition around this issue.  What constitutes work had developed a long, intricate, and even head-scratching list of rules.

Jesus knew that his disciples were not working and therefore breaking the Sabbath.  They were only guilty of breaking the rules that the rabbis had built up over the years.  By the way, this does not represent a great meal.  They clearly hadn’t had breakfast and were merely staving off hunger.  They went from feasting in the house of Levi to eating a pittance of small grains in a field.  Sometimes following Jesus doesn’t put a lot of food on the table, but always he will take care of you.

Jesus gives them an answer

Jesus defends his disciples and yet he does it in a way that teaches everyone involved the truth as to why the Pharisees are in error.  He is going to use an example from Scripture that conflicts with their view, and then give the logic behind the Sabbath.

Jesus reminds them of a passage in 1 Samuel 21.  David is one of King Saul’s generals at the time and realizes that Saul is wanting to kill him.  David and some of his men flee town and hide for three days until the dust settles.  He then goes to the tabernacle, which was in the town of Nob at the time.  It had been set up at Shiloh for over 300 years, but the Philistines had recently captured the Ark of the Covenant and destroyed the town where the tabernacle had been.  It is believed that the news of the defeat of Israel’s army had arrived soon enough for the priests to dismantle the tabernacle and remove it before the troops arrived at Shiloh.

In the story David asks the priest to give some bread to him and his men.  However, the priest explains that they only have the holy showbread, and only the priestly families could eat it.  By the way, the showbread refers to the 12 loaves that were made each week.  They would be placed on a table in the tabernacle and remain there until they were replaced a week later.  Once replaced this bread was considered still holy and not to be eaten by a non-priestly family.  It appears that the High Priest then enquires of the Lord and gets permission to let David and his men eat the bread as long as they are ceremonially clean, and they were.  Now, the thing that is amazing about this example is that it qualifies as a real breaking of the commands of the Law of Moses.  Second of all, it seems clear from the passage that God gave His permission for it.

Notice how Jesus sets up the story by saying, “Have you never read…?  Clearly these Pharisees had read the passage, but they hadn’t really taken to heart the ramifications of it.  In fact, their traditions that had been built up over the centuries stood in condemnation of David and this event.  Yet, God did not, who was the one who gave the Law in the first place.  If we are to develop opinions and traditions through our contemplations of the Bible, we must make sure that they account for all of the biblical data and not just some of it.  No matter how satisfying our ideas about Scripture are, they shouldn’t run into logical problems like this one.  If my teaching ends up condemning God Himself then there is something wrong with my teaching, not God.  I am the one who has not understood something critical in the issue.  Now, this doesn’t tell us why it was okay for David to eat the bread, but it does show us that there is something wrong with the way the Pharisees interpret the Law.

The Christian Church today has many different groups that hold to varying teachings that often are at odds with each other.  Sometimes none of the interpretations of a particular issue perfectly fit all of the biblical data.  In such cases, we should hold our interpretations lightly and not use them as a whip against our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

After using the example from Scripture to show the Pharisees that they didn’t completely understand the Law, Jesus gives them the logic behind why David could eat the bread and why his disciples were not even close to breaking the law.  He explains that the Sabbath day, or the day of rest, was given for the benefit of God’s people.  In fact, rest is a large part of the human condition.  If we do not rest 8 hours, plus or minus depending on our age, our bodies quickly begin to fail and shut down.  Yet, we also need rest on longer cycles.  Humans typically worked every day of the week during the days when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  God was promising Israel that if they would refrain from working on the 7th day and worship Him, then He would bless them so that they didn’t lack for doing it.  In fact, He often blessed them to the point they had more than if they worked all the time.  They were not born to honor a particular day for its sake.  The day was created for them so that they could have rest and enjoy their labor with God.  Yes, it was made into a command, due to our human nature.

For example, if I were to tell you that God was now promising to bless everyone who took a one-week staycation each year, would you do it?  Of course, He hasn’t told me this, but you can take my point.  It is easy to say God will bless you, but then as you approach the week, you look at your bank account and start to waffle in your faith.  There is nothing inherently sinful about working on Saturday.  However, once God makes it a command it becomes a moral issue of loyalty to Him. 

God wanted something better for Israel than working seven days a week.  The Sabbath taught them that they didn’t have to rely solely upon their own work.  They could trust God to bless their work to the point that they didn’t have to drive themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually into the dirt in order to get ahead.

Now, Christians are not under the Law of Moses and the command not to work on Saturday.  However, we still need rest, and we still need to learn the lessons of the Sabbath from the Old Testament.  The answer is not to create a new, Christian Law which changes the day to Sunday, but to hear God’s heart for us.  He wants you to be blessed, but He doesn’t want you to kill yourself trying to be blessed.  He doesn’t want you deceiving yourself about the true source of your blessing.  That is a life that is anything but peaceful and filled with rest.  You can work hard, and yet take breaks at appropriate intervals because God is not a slave driver, but our flesh is.

The Pharisees had lost sight of the whole purpose of the Sabbath day.  Just like the purpose of the showbread and the prohibitions upon who could eat it, the prohibitions of the Sabbath were not intended to make things harder and worse for Israel.  These men were hungry and had nothing to eat in both cases.  God is not an uncaring legislator.  These laws were symbolic of spiritual truth and not inherently about a moral issue.  Thus, in times of difficulty, the symbol could be put aside for the sake of God’s people.  Yet, all of this misses the further point, that the disciples were merely picking heads of grain.  The Pharisees have lost the heart of God who was behind the law.

So how should Christians view the Sabbath Day?  The New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament Sabbath is not that it has now been moved to Sunday.  I know that historically this is what it seems like.  Christians should not take Sunday off and worship the Lord because they are commanded to do so.  We could meet on any day of the week that we want.  We could meet on multiple days.  It is just that over the years, Sunday became that day, and for many good reasons.  It is now a part of our culture and the easiest day to have Church gatherings.  We need rest and should take a day off, gather with other believers, and worship the Lord.  However, we should do it because it is good and healthy for us in every way, not because we believe we are staving off the anger of God.

Yet, the Old Testament Sabbath law was pointing to something greater than just a change of the day upon which we rest.  It was about believing in Jesus and resting from the work of trying to save ourselves, trying to measure up through our excellent law-keeping.  Technically, everyday for the Christian is the supposed to be the Sabbath Day because in Christ we have entered into that peaceful place, that rest, which God intends for us in Jesus.  Sure, we continue to work for God, but not in order to be saved and measure up.  We work for Him out of joy, not drudgery and fear of breaking a law.  God wants us to have a spiritual peace in our hearts.  Yet, He doesn’t want us to cast off all restraint and walk away from His Holy Spirit.

Are you resting in Jesus today, and every day?  Has He become your peace and joy?  This is what the Father desires for you.  He wants to bless you as you trust Him each day!

Lord of Sabbath Audio

Tuesday
Jul172018

Seeking the Things that are Above II

Colossians 3:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 15, 2018.

Seeking the things that are above is a phrase that is used to change our perspective on how we live our life.  We can either live with our heart and mind, which is naturally fixated on the earth, leading us, or we can live with our heart and mind, turned towards heaven and the leadership of Christ.  Our flesh will lead us to destruction, but the leadership of Jesus will lead us to eternal life.

Thus, Christians need to be followers of Jesus in deed and not just in word.  To truly follow someone involves watching what direction they choose and making corrections accordingly.  Similarly, to be a disciple of Jesus, we must do more than just show up for His lessons.  We must actually take time to study the lessons that He teaches and then put them into practice in our lives.  In that way we will truly become more like Him over the course of time.

In our passage today, we will see the why, what, and how of doing this.  This passage will not answer every question that you may have.  However, it will encourage you to be a person who is seeking the things that are above rather than a person who is pursuing the things of this world.

Putting on the New Man

In verses 8-10, Paul has introduced the metaphor of taking off our old man, like you would a set of clothing, and then putting on the new man.  In this metaphor the old man represents my life as led by my own fleshly heart and mind.  The new man is Jesus, and by faith Christians are those who are taking off the old way of life and putting on the new way of life that is directed by Jesus.  Now, this is not intended just to be a nice platitude, but a template for our daily transformation.  This is something we must wake up every day and pray, “Lord, show me where I need to put off the old man today, and strengthen me to put on the new that you have for me.”

Thus verse 12 quickly explains why we should give ourselves to such a task.  The first is that we have been chosen by God.  God chose us for the purpose of becoming like Jesus.  He did not choose us just to warm a pew on Sunday mornings.  Also, this choosing was not based upon the fact that we were better than others around us, but simply because we humbled ourselves, and turned from the wisdom of this world and turned towards Jesus, the wisdom of God.  If I refuse to take off the old man and put on the new man, then I am rejecting the purpose for which God chose me.  In fact, I am ultimately rejecting His choice, period.

The second reason he gives for putting on the new man is because we are holy.  We are not holy because we got our act together better than those who are not.  We are holy because when we were chosen by God, He also set us apart for His holy purposes.  Those purposes do include taking the good news about Jesus and His salvation to all people, even to the ends of the earth.  However, we cannot preach salvation if it is not happening in our daily life.  Salvation is more than a legal standing before God.  It is also something that God does in our life every day as we listen to Him and find deliverance from our old man.  The foundation of the Gospel is God’s ability to take the worst of sinners and enable them to become like Jesus, the sinless one.  It is Jesus who purchased us with His blood on the cross, and He did so in order that we would become like Him.  When we are like Him then we can produce deliverance throughout the earth.  However, to use our life for worldly and selfish purposes would be to profane (use a holy thing for common purposes) what God has made holy.

The third reason he points out for putting on the new man is because we are loved by God.  When you have the love of the Creator, then nothing else matters.  It doesn’t matter when the world rejects me because God loves me.  It doesn’t matter if I am lacking in the things of this world.  In Christ I have everything I need.  He is the one who takes care of my needs.  Thus there are two loves that we must choose between.  We can remain in the love of God and pursue His purposes, or we can remain in love with the world and go after the purposes of our own flesh.  We cannot love both because they are diametrically opposed to one another.  I can’t love the ways of the world and the desires of my own flesh, and still love God.  I will go towards one and away from the other.  When we turn towards God in reciprocal love, then He teaches us how to love the world properly.  The proper way to love the world is to lay down your life that they might live, rather than plunging headlong with them into destruction.  May we love God enough that our hearts are changed regarding the world.  Then we will love people enough to call them back from the edge of destruction.

So what does it look like to put on the new man?  In the second part of verse 12 through verse 14, Paul lists many things that show us what this looks like.  He does so not because we need a checklist to accomplish, but because of the deceptions that Christians encountered then and of course also today.  There is one Lord, Jesus, and we are called to one life, putting Him on.  There are no such things as Christians who are at such a high level that it is now okay for them to do things that the Bible tells us are sin.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  These are listed to guard against error.

The first thing he tells us to put on is tender mercies, also translated compassionate hearts.  This parallels Micah 6:8 where we are told to love mercy enough to live it out in our daily lives.  Thus Christians are told to choose the tenderness of God over the hardness of the world.

The next word is kindness.  Kindness goes beyond doing the right thing.  It involves going beyond.  Jesus helped people, but more than that he did so in a kind manner.  We see such tenderness in John 4 as He talks with the woman at the well.

Next we are told to put on humility.  Humility is the disposition of the mind in which we do not see ourselves as superior or above others.  Christ is above us all and asks us to position ourselves beneath each other, so that we can serve one another in His name.  Of course, this is exactly what He did when He yielded to the cross.  Though He is God, He embraced the lowest place.  How much more ought we to do so?

Next we are to put on meekness.  This word is often defined as strength under control.  Its emphasis is gentleness and being mild-mannered, not because you lack strength, but because the Spirit of God enables you to control yourself.  A meek person is not pushing themselves and their agenda, but leaving room for others and what Christ is doing through them.

Patience in this passage is having a long fuse with others.  It is easy to be short-tempered and easily aroused to anger.  However, Christ is patient and slow to anger.

We are told to bear with one another.  We would probably call it putting up with one another.  Yes, it is not always easy to put up with YOU, just as it is not always easy to put up with ME!  This has more to do with the personality differences and disagreements we may have.  Christ puts up with our pettiness and slowness to follow Him, and He does so because He loves us.  Our flesh is too quick to write others off and refuse to deal with them.  This is not the heart of God.

Then we are told to forgive one another.  Here we get to the parts where may do each other wrong in one way or another.  The heart of God wants to forgive us for our sins and works towards reconciliation.  Thus, those who follow Jesus must also be a forgiving people.  This is one of the hardest things for our flesh to swallow.  Forgiveness is not saying, “It’s OK.”  Rather, it is saying, “I am not going to hold this against you.  It is now between you and God.”  If a person is repentant and wants reconciliation, then we embrace them as Jesus embraced Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in John 21.

Lastly, Paul tells us, “above all these things put on love.”  One way to view these different virtues is to see them as different facets of what it means to love Christ and to love others.  When you love someone you have a tender heart towards them, are kind to them, and humble around them, etc.  When we live out the love of Christ in our life it perfectly binds us to one another.  Genealogy, blood, race, nationality, and any other thing cannot perfectly bind people to one another, but the love of Christ can.  Such love cannot be commanded or forced by any human being.  But, every one of us is led by the Spirit of Christ to let the love of Christ be expressed in our life.

So how can we live in such an incredible way?  Verse 15 transitions to answering this question.  Putting on Christ is a daunting task and an extremely high bar.  How can God expect us to do it?  Paul points us back to Christ as our hope of accomplishing such a task.

The phrase, “let the peace of Christ rule in your heart,” has two parts to it.  First we must let it.  Those who put their faith in Christ are the recipients of His peace.  This is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart.  The picture I would use for this situation is when the disciples were with Jesus in a boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:39).  The sea represents our heart and all the emotions, desires, and thoughts that can stir up such an internal tempest that we fear for our lives.  Letting Jesus bring His peace into our hearts involves having Jesus in our “boat” in the first place.  But, more than that, we must call out to Jesus and ask Him to quell our inner storms.  When we call on Jesus, He says the words, “Peace, be still!”  Once Jesus calms those fears, emotions and desires, we then must let it rule in our hearts.  The word “rule” means the peace that Christ has brought to us is now calling the shots about what we will think, desire, and feel.  When you let Jesus lead in your life, you are enabled to have an inner peace that directs you without turbulence and chaos.  Clearly, this is something we must do each day.  Our hearts tend towards chaos, but letting Jesus rule in our hearts brings peace.  You don’t do this by yourself and all in one day.  You simply need to let the peace of Christ take up residence in your heart and let Him be your King.  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Next, we are told to be thankful.  Learning to be thankful in each moment is a difficult thing.  Without the assurance that Christ is with us, it would be an impossible thing.  Thankfulness begins with contentment.  When we are content with what God has provided in our life and the station of life in which we have found ourselves, it transforms how we approach others.  Thankfulness needs to become the atmosphere of our daily life.  Each morning, rise up and thank God for the day, but not because it is an opportunity to get more.  Do so simply because it is another day to be faithful in those good things that the Lord has given you.  Instead of looking to the hills for something better, ask the Lord how you might care for what He has already given you.  When you are faithful with the “little” that He has given you, then perhaps you will find that those little things are far greater than you imagined.  It seems impossible to be able to choose to be thankful.  It involves getting our eyes off of what you don’t have here on earth, and looking towards what you do have there in heaven.  God, help me to see what I have already.  Lord, help me to want to please you, in order that I might be more like you!

Lastly, we are told to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.  Notice that we are to “let” it happen.  God is working to put His Word in us and to have it richly bless our inner life.  This definitely involves reading the Bible, and spending some time in studying it yourself and with others.  However, Jesus is also called the Word.  Thus it is both, the commands that He gives us and He Himself.  Like the glory of God coming upon the tabernacle or the temple of Israel, so we should want the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  We must not only memorize the word of God, but also have the Spirit who spoke it working inside of us that it might be fruitful.  This process of letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is expressed in several ways.  We are told to teach and admonish one another, in the ways of Christ.  Also we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (alone and with others).  God’s people are intended to be a singing people.  We sing not because our voices are so good, but because we have something worth singing about, Jesus!  Our hearts are full of the grace of God, and He is pleased to hear the sound of our hearts as we sing about it.

Paul ends this passage with a powerful statement.  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him!  We are representatives of Christ in this world.  How well do I represent Jesus?  To some degree, we all fall short.  However, that is why we are told to bear with one another and forgive each other.  Jesus knows that we will have bumps and scrapes along the way, but He promises to dwell within us and enable us from the inside out.  The path forward is not an easy path, but it is a good one in which God will give us all the resources we need to put on the New Man and become like Jesus.  He will help us to be His spiritual children, amen!

Seeking things II Audio

Tuesday
Dec062016

Do not Test the Lord Your God

Matthew 4:5-7.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 04, 2016.

Today we continue our study of the temptation of Christ that we see in Matthew 4, and look at the second one presented to our Lord.  If the first temptation was to satisfy and sustain yourself with material things, then the second temptation is to promote yourself and make things happen by your own wisdom.  Another way to categorize these three temptation is to use the phrases that are given in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life- is not of the Father, but is of the world.”  The first temptation appealed to the lust of the flesh (make bread for your stomach).  This second one seems to be more about the pride of life.

All of us deal with issues of significance and often desire situations in which we are exalted above our fellow man.  Satan loves to play off of these desires and mislead us into a path of destruction.  For some this path leads them towards religion, but twists it with human pride.  For others the path may lead them away from religion out of a wounded pride.  Either way he wins because there is no other solution for the hearts of mankind than the Creator Himself.  So the first are walled off to Him by the self-delusion that they are acceptable, and the second wall themselves off to Him out of their pain.  May we all learn to lay our pride at the foot of the cross of Jesus and thereby remove from Satan’s arsenal a very powerful, spiritual lever that he loves to employ against us.

 We are tempted by pride

It is often said that Satan fell through pride in his own wisdom and beauty.  Thus it would stand to reason that he would seek to enamor us with his own prideful reasoning.  The Bible does not make it completely clear whether Satan knows he was wrong and is operating out of sheer spite, or whether he still thinks there is a play here where he actually “proves his case” and wins.  Regardless we must expect to be tempted in this area of pride.

We see in verse 5 that the devil takes Jesus up to the highest point of the temple.  It is not really important the mode of this travel, though many can speculate.  The setting is a place that no one may see immediately (while he is being tempted).  But if he listens to the devil there will be a very public spectacle.  How could jumping from of a height that was as much as several hundred feet be tempting?

It starts with being reminded of his relationship with the Father.  The first temptation tries to paint the Father as not taking care of Jesus.  “God doesn’t care about you as much as you think.  Make your own bread.”  However, this temptation does the opposite.  It plays on the pride of such a close relationship with the Father.  “Since you are the Son of God make a public show of God’s love for you.  There is no way He would let you die.”  Of course the devil makes no mention or shows no regard for what the Father’s plan might be.  Jesus loves the Father and has been in a relationship of unity with Him since the beginning.  So He is not only concerned with what the Father wants, but already knows that what Satan suggests is not the plan. 

So what does Satan hope to accomplish?  It is tough to say.  Perhaps he hopes to try and thwart any spiritual help that would come with his own angels, so that Jesus would die.  Clearly he seeks to kill Jesus because of the cross later.  Let’s get one thing clear.  Satan is not interested in promoting Jesus and he could care less about promoting you.  In the end his only aim is to destroy your life.  If he can do that by inflating your pride in your relationship with God, then he will.

Notice that this time Satan backs up his temptation by quoting Scripture.  His first temptation was pushed aside by Jesus reminding him of Scripture.  So he tries to reverse this tactic back on Jesus by quoting some Scripture himself.  One thing is clear in the Bible; the devil always twists the meaning of God’s Word.  He is only capable of abusing Scripture for his own ends, which are contrary to God’s.  An illustration of this can be seen in politics.  Every word of an opponent is generally twisted out of context and used against them by the other side.  Finding a truly, objective treatment of the person is rare.  As Christians we must flee this kind of activity in our own life.  2 Timothy 2:15 says that we must “rightly divide [handle] the word of truth.”  We can see that the devil does not do such a thing but twists the meaning of Psalm 91 by skipping phrases and leaving out the context.  So let’s look at this section of Psalm 91.

Satan quotes from verse 11, skips the second part of it, quotes verse 12, and leaves off verse 13.  It is always important to pay attention to what is left out.  Notice that God’s angels would be commanded to watch over the righteous “to keep you in all your ways.”  The way of a person is a huge theme in the Bible.  In fact the righteous are known by their determination to walk in the “way of the Lord.”  Thus the passage is about a person who is in a trusting relationship with God and living as God has taught us.  When God’s ways are our ways then the devil will find little within us that he can manipulate.  Now verse 12 points out that God’s protection is upon the righteous.  But verse 13 shows why.  We are protected in order to tread upon the lion and the cobra.  Now this is not a passage about handling literal lions and cobras, although God is more than capable of delivering the righteous from such.  There is never a case of people “treading” on lions and cobras in the Bible so that should be your first clue that something deeper is going on here.  The lion and cobra are metaphors for our spiritual enemy, the devil.   1 Peter 5:8 says, “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”  God doesn’t necessarily protect us from ever falling down literally.  But He does offer constant protection so that we may never fall to the schemes of the devil and be devoured by Him.  Similarly, in Revelation 12:9 it says, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.”  The “serpent of old” is an allusion to Genesis 3 and the Fall of Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve fell before the Serpent (Satan) because they were tricked into distrusting God.  Clearly Satan doesn’t want to quote this part of the passage and highlight that angelic protection is so that we can tread on the devil, not cooperate with his plans.

However, Jesus does not go into Psalm 91 and point these things out to Satan because there is an even greater context to these verses.  All Scripture is context to any one verse.  A very powerful thing about Scripture is that its proper understanding will not contradict any other part.  If it seems to then you know there is an error in your understanding.  So, dig deeper.  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16.  Yes, God will protect you along your way.  But we also, must not test Him in this.  Now, God is gracious and many of us have been in times of weak faith and have asked God to give us a sign of his love.  If we do so without the threat of walking away from Him then He sometimes graciously responds.  But, if you lay down something as a test that God must pass or you are walking away, then beware.  Such actions are not born out of a loving relationship with God, but out of selfish love for yourself.  Beware of those who trumpet on Scripture to the detriment of the rest of Scripture.  This is classic cult leader stuff.

We must not put God to the test

So let’s develop that last point that Jesus makes to the devil.  The Holy Spirit had not led Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple; the devil had.  In our own lives it is not always so clear who is leading us.  Thus we must be careful to recognize anything that smacks of trying to force God’s hand, or trying to speed up things.  This is manipulation of the relationship that God wants with us.  Now, a parent loves a child, but would be foolish to allow the child to fall into the habit of trying to manipulate them.  Of course, kids are learning how to love.  They don’t understand such deeper concepts.  It takes a parent who loves them too much to let them get away with it, a parent who disciplines them in such times, in order to help a child grow in love.  Just as your flesh desires material things, so it desires the pride of life: public success, and the accolades of those around us.  Satan plays off of these things.  Yet, Jesus did not operate in such a way as to lift himself up, or try to out think the plan of God.  In fact, Jesus often did the opposite of what self-promoters would do.  Jesus pointed us to the Father and for such a blessing he was crucified.  That was to be his public moment of demonstrating the love of the Father.

But it goes deeper than just crass manipulation.  We cannot force God to demonstrate His love as we dictate.  When a person lays down an ultimatum to God, “either you do this or I walk,” we step out onto shaky ground.  God in His grace does work with our weakness.  Gideon was given a sign by God.  Yet, we must always have as our foundation, “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.”  In fact, God gave the greatest demonstration of love possible when He gave His One and Only Son to become a man and do for us what we could not do for ourselves.  All this is so that whosoever would believe on Jesus would have everlasting life instead of perishing.  It is easy for us to do this to one another.  We can be angry and made that someone didn’t show their love in a particular way.  We can even do the politician thing and twist everything that they do or say into “not love.”  But when we act this way we actually destroy the very love that is being given to us.  Too many people say, “If God would only do such and such, then I would know that He exists and that He cares about me.”  The problem is that you are trying to control God and refusing to deal with the countless ways that He has demonstrated His love for you.  So we can push aside 1,000 ways of love and complain that we did not receive a particular 1.  This is folly and not the path of love.  Love is a discovery of the uniqueness of another and how we can uniquely love them back.  How can we demand more than that?  Love doesn’t dictate how another person loves.  Rather, it receives it freely and with Joy.

Do not Test audio

Tuesday
Nov182014

The Blessing of God's Word

Today we are going to look at the passage in Luke 11:27-32.

Have you ever noticed that it is easy to see the blessings that others have and overlook our own?  Whether it is self-pity, or the ignorance we have of the lives of others, we get stuck in blindness towards what true blessing is.  In fact, that is the case even when we have the best of motivations.  However, we often are envious of what others have and too greedy to be content with what we have.  This only makes the situation worse.  May God help us to be thankful for the portion we have received from Him and to put it to good use.

The context of this passage involves Jesus ministering in miracles and in teaching the Word of God.  His powerful command over an evil spirit and knowledgeable teach about how evil spirits operate amazed the crowd.  This leads to a woman in the crowd crying out how blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus, must be.  She is so smiled on by God.  She is so lucky.  I wish this was my son!  Of course, I don’t know what all is in this woman’s heart.  But the greatness of Jesus caused her to think about how nice it would be to be his mother.  Jesus takes advantage of this interruption to teach them and us something about what really makes us blessed by God.

We Misunderstand God’s Blessings

This woman and her outburst is a good illustration of the natural condition of our human hearts.  We so easily overlook the blessings that God has given us.  Yet we have “hyper-sight” of the blessings of others.  This spontaneous exclamation gives us insight into what is happening in our hearts as humans all the time.  Although we may have learned to control our words and outbursts, we all have the same visceral reactions to life.  “How lucky that person is!  I wish I was even half as blessed as them!  God sure blessed them.  Why doesn’t He bless me?”  When we think this way we are truly thinking foolishly.

This woman ends up comparing and contrasting her situation with that of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  When she sees Jesus she sees what she doesn’t have- a son who is amazing the people of Israel.  Even if her sons had turned out great and had good reputations, they couldn’t compare to Jesus.  “What must it be like to have such a great son?  That Mary is so blessed!”  Yet, the truth of Mary’s blessing is far more complicated than that.  In Luke 2:35-36, when Joseph and Mary brought the eight day old Jesus to the Temple, the prophet Simeon said to her, “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.”  Mary had good times.  But she would also have extreme soul-piercing times as well and most likely far more than this woman would ever have.  In 2 Corinthians 10:12 we are told that we are not wise to compare ourselves to others.  We can’t know the half of what it is like to walk in their shoes.  We need to learn to focus upon our self and not by contrast with others.

James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights.  He is the source of our blessings.  The “woe is me” attitude causes us to look down upon the blessings that God has given us, which is looking down upon Him.  This woman misses the reality of her own blessing.  In fact, we today can be envious of the fact that she got to physically see and hear Jesus.  Yet, later Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Please catch the fact that we do not understand what a blessing is.  We look to all the wrong things and say that is a blessing.  Yet, Jesus corrects us and points us back to what our true blessing is.  This woman misses the reality of her own blessing because she is looking at Mary’s lesser one.  We focus on what we think are big blessings, when all along we are overlooking those that really are big.  Mary was blessed, but not any more than her.  Even to this day groups within Christianity will look to Mary in awe because she was the “Mother of God.”  Of course that statement misrepresents the reality that Mary only mothered the physical flesh that God took upon Himself in Christ.  Mary was not near to God because she birthed the Messiah.  In fact, we can end up with a heart that has to have a son who is Jesus in order to be content.  Does God have to do such and such in order for you to believe that He has blessed you?  Does God have to bless you with a certain something in order for you to be happy?  Be careful, because that thing has become an idol in your life.

Jesus answers the woman with the truth about who was blessed.  The Word of God is the greatest blessing that we can receive.  In that sense they were all just as blessed as Mary.  Many who have had material blessing in this life will go into eternity lost and ill prepared for judgment.  Don’t envy the material blessings at all.  They cannot save you and are not proof that God loves those people.

Yet, the Word of God must always be mixed with faith; belief.  Think of it this way.  Was Judas blessed?  Yes, in that God gave him a great position in His band of followers.  Yet, in the end Judas wasn’t blessed because he failed to trust Jesus.  Thus Jesus emphasizes hearing and keeping the Word of God.  The word “keep” means to guard, watch over, and nurture.  It is also in the present tense.  Blessed are those who are hearing the Word of God and keeping it.  Are you guarding God’s Word to you this morning, or are you allowing the evil one to use every manner of tricks to plunder it?  Get this deep into your heart.  When you truly understand blessing, you will understand that the greatest blessing is simply receiving the Word of God and then doing it.  This is what brings us near to the heart of God.

The Evil Generation

Jesus then turns to speak about the generation of Israel in His day.  It was an evil or bad generation.  Of course, not every single individual was bad.  But overall they did not trust the Word of God.  Rather they trusted the word of men.  They lack faith in God and obedience to Him.  Are we part of an evil generation here in America?  Forget about Iran or ISIS.  What about us?  I think it is clear that we too have crossed a threshold where we as a people have decided that God has nothing to say to us.  We can figure it out for ourselves. 

Jesus says that an evil generation looks for signs and wonders.  They demand spectacular proof from God.  Now Jesus did many miracles, but they weren’t enough.  They always wanted Him to do something greater.  In that sense our desire for God’s miracles can come from a place of hypocrisy.  We want God to jump through our hoops in a very specific way and then we will believe.  However, we never get to belief because our unbelief keeps asking for something greater.  You can never please or convince a person who doesn’t want to believe.  Even if it takes a ridiculous argument, they will come up with reasons why your argument isn’t enough, or why God hasn’t done enough.

Yet, it is God who chooses the signs we will receive.  God will not put himself in a position of scrambling to please every whim and desire of those who refuse to believe Him.  He chooses the signs and gives enough to those who want to believe.  We are not in control He is.  If you want to be blessed then be quick to trust Him rather than continually challenging His love and care for you.  If His commands lead you to a cross then say, “Your will be done.”

Jesus tells them that the sign they are going to get from God is the sign of Jonah.  Although in Luke this phrase is not explained, in Matthew 12:40 we are told, “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  Now the story of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish or sea creature is an amazing one.  When you read Jonah chapter 2 and the prayer that Jonah prays when he has been swallowed, you get the impression that Jonah may have actually died.   Whether he did or not, God miraculously causes him to be transported and regurgitated onto the beach.  Having spent 3 days in stomach acids he must have been a sight to behold.  He was probably pale and lacked any hair on his body.  Whether or not there were any witnesses to his projection onto the beach, he would have looked like he had been in the belly of a fish.  Thus he is a picture of a prophet of God coming back from the dead to proclaim the Word of God.  This picture corresponds to the Resurrection of Jesus.  That is the main sign that God would give to their generation and to ours.

Now Jesus then points to other generations that the people of Israel would have thought of as evil.  In the time of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba traveled a great distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon and believed in him.  But Jesus had brought greater wisdom to that generation and most did not believe in him.  Yes, they were amazed, but most did not mix it with faith.  Are we guilty of this today?  Do we scour the internet and the whole world for wisdom and yet look down upon the Word of God, or never even give it a hearing?  Jesus wasn’t in some far off country.  He had brought the Wisdom of God right to them and yet they were rejecting it.  Jesus said that the Queen of Sheba would be Exhibit A in the case against them.  Even if we try to say, “but God you can’t expect me to believe that,” He need only point to those who responded to far less.

Another example of this is the Ninevites.  The Ninevites repented when Jonah warned them of the coming Judgment.  Yet, Jesus was greater than Jonah and preached a greater message, yet few repented.

We are swimming in the blessing of God in this world.  The gospel has gone out to the world.  Especially here in the West, we have God’s Word everywhere.  God’s Word has never been more prevalent and more accessible to mankind, and yet we persist in demanding greater proof and refuse to seek it out; refuse to repent.  Even though we think our reasoning is air-tight, God need only point to those many people through each generation who believed with far less than us.  No, we truly are an evil generation.  Judgment hangs over us.  But you can be spared.  Jesus calls you to come, pick up your cross, and follow Him.  Join the band of people who not only heard God’s Word but also mixed it with faith.

 

Blessing of God's Word audio