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Entries in Scripture (5)

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

Tuesday
Nov262013

The Trustworthy Account

We have been looking through Luke in order to discover who Jesus really was and what he really taught.  Over the next 5 weeks we are going to go back to Luke 1 and discover the reality of the birth of Jesus.

However, today let’s look at Luke 1:1-4.  Here Luke describes why he is writing and I think we will find it both instructive and encouraging to our faith.

Why Luke Wrote

We see in verse three that Luke is addressing a man named Theophilus. He also uses the title “Most Excellent.”  It is from this title that most scholars believe Theophilus was an official of some sort who had come to hear the gospel, whether from Luke or someone else.  Either way, Luke is trying to give Theophilus further information about this Jesus that Christians were talking about.

Now the gospel of Luke is actually the first volume of a 2 part account of which the book of Acts is the second volume.  You can recognize this by reading Acts 1:1, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…”  Although Luke is writing to a specific person, it seems clear that the size of the accounts expected a wider audience. So this project of writing a Gospel and a History of the Church from the ascension of Jesus, seems to have been instigated by the need of further details that Theophilus had.

Luke makes reference to the fact that other gospels had been written.  He doesn’t say whether he felt they were insufficient or that he didn’t have a copy.  Either way he explains that he recognized that he was in a perfect position to create such a gospel as well.  Now let me insert at this point that it would be easy to say that this reference would include things like “The Gospel of Thomas,” or “The Gospel of Judas.”  However, the only Gospels that the first century church recognized as actually from the apostles and their companions were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  There is no record of these other gospels existing until later centuries.  They were also quickly rejected as poor copies of the Gospel style that were clearly written in order to co-opt Christianity and Christians into certain philosophies that existed at the time.  So this verse does not “verify” the legitimacy of The Gospel of Judas.

Another need for writing that is not explicitly mentioned by look is the fact that eye witnesses were beginning to die.  Now in 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul mentions that over 500 disciples were taught by Jesus at one time after his resurrection.  If we add a potential 100 more we would have a large pool of people who were witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.  This is beside the point that all of Israel were witnesses of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus.  Notice that Paul mentions that some of these 500 have passed away.  This pool of people was diminishing.  This would slowly begin to put pressure on Christians to write out the Gospel accounts before the eye-witnesses were all gone.

Another aspect of this is that even with 600 people, not all of them travelled as Paul did.  This group was limited in its ability to travel to all people and satisfy their curiosity.  So again, this would put pressure upon the witnesses themselves to put these things into written form.

Now Luke gives himself to this task because he felt that he had “perfect understanding” of what had happened.  Luke had ministered with the apostle Paul and had interacted with the other apostles as well.  He had received the accounts first hand and had opportunity to question and hear testimony from the people referenced in the historical stories.  Luke in verse 4 mentions that his hope is to make us certain about the stories of Christ.  He is concerned about the reliability of what people hear about Jesus.  If you have ever played The Telephone Game then you know how easily a story can be obscured the further removed from the source it gets.  Thus an account written by those who either actually saw the account or deposed those who did and wrote down their accounts would serve to establish that this is not just a tall tale that has grown with the telling.  Luke wants Theophilus to know that the incredible stories he has heard are in fact verifiably what happened.  Two thousand years later this need is even greater.  It is amazing to me that we are so quick to believe what we think happened, or didn’t, 2,000 years ago when we weren’t there.  And, yet, we will quickly discount the eye witness account of those who were there and that was written at that time when it could have been verified easily. These written Gospels become a verified anchor in time that becomes the evidence that what has been passed through time to us is the same that the Apostles themselves experienced.  It is reliable.

The New Testament Is Reliable

Now it is for these very reasons that we can know that the biblical account is reliable.  You can disbelieve it.  But don’t pretend that it is completely removed from reality.  You can disagree that Jesus existed, but you do so over the top of the historical witness of the first century Jews.  You can believe Jesus wasn’t resurrected from the dead, but you do so over the top of over 500 eye witnesses.  I can continue on this line of reasoning, but you can catch my drift.  You can be sure that the gospel of Luke we have today is the very understanding that Luke had and, by extension, that which the Apostle Paul, and the early Church themselves also had.

These accounts come from men who were eye witnesses and not in the sense that they all had a one-time psychedelic experience.  The apostles lived with Jesus and were his disciples for at least 3 years.  Those who witnessed him after the resurrection were numerous in number, but also numerous in the amount of times Jesus appeared to them.  Jesus spent nearly 40 days with these people and wasn’t just “sighted” like the modern Bigfoot sightings.  Rather, he spent time with them demonstrating that he was Jesus and teaching what he was wanting them to do.  Even if we want to believe that this is a large conspiracy, we will find such a premise incredible in light of how all of the apostles and many of the eye witnesses were treated and killed.  Under pain of death none of these eye witnesses recanted their stories and said, “We just made it up.”  We see this reality when Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  The Apostle John also in his letter 1John 1:1,3 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Another form of verification is the miraculous events that these eye witnesses saw.  Now in the modern world we reject miracles by definition.  However, it doesn’t explain what these people saw.  When the disciples share exactly what they saw, it stretches unbelief to hear some of the attempts of modern men to explain how they didn’t see what they saw, without saying they were lying.  You can believe that it wasn’t a miracle, but don’t pretend that the disciples didn’t know what a dead body looks like and that they were tricked by a different person pretending to be Jesus.

Think about it.  If this was just the account of a teacher from antiquity this world would be quick to embrace Jesus.  He would just be another teacher like Plato, Socrates, etc…  But Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh, and he claimed to rise from the dead and ascend into heaven.  This is unacceptable not just because it seems miraculous, but because it requires obedience to a particular God.  The miracles were the way that God helped the people to pay attention to Jesus.  But the point is not the miracles.  The miracles are intended to point to the one who is speaking and what they are saying.  Keep this in mind in the future because the Bible warns that lying signs and wonders will occur in the end times.  They are not lying because they aren’t real, but that they point to a liar and cause people to believe the liar.  When you look at Jesus hanging on the cross you know in your heart that this is no liar.  This one really meant what he said.  But when you see him resurrected from the grave you know that he was right!

These things were written down within decades and after having shared the story practically every day.  Historical evidences that we dig up always end up verifying the details of the Bible.  But on top of this, countless millions throughout every century have testified that they found the salvation and the Holy Spirit, promised in the Scripture to those who believe, to be real and true.

Jesus challenged us with this, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” This world wants to destroy any faith you would have in God’s Word.  But I am telling you that Jesus knew this would be happening.  You have been given great evidence upon which you can stand.  May you stand to the end!

Trustworthy Accounty Audio