Christianity 201

January 19, 2021

There are No Hometown Prophets

Today I was delighted when my quest to find new writers to highlight took me to Let’s Talk About Jesus, the blog of Aaron Irlbacher, who is a Baptist pastor in Roy (that’s the name of the place!) in the state of Washington. I know I’m always telling you guys to click the links and read these articles where I found them, but today there’s a double reason for doing so, as I enjoyed reading Aaron and Jayme’s story of how they met and their early days of criss-crossing the U.S. for school and ministry positions.

So again, click the header below to read this at source. Aaron is currently in the middle of a devotional series from the Gospel of Luke. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’ve closed comments here today so that if you wish to add something you can interact with him directly.

A Prophet Has No Home

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.

And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,’ “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ “

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.  But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:20-30, ESV

The Pattern for Jesus’ Life and Ministry

This scene effectively foreshadows Jesus’ entire ministry.

► First, Jesus arrives to teach the way of God (Acts 18:26) perfectly. He is welcomed early on and acclaimed as a teacher sent from God by all who hear Him.

► Second, His teaching creates faith in some and anger in others. Jesus’ sermons are not for tickling people’s ears (1 Tim 4:3). His words divide, but not because they are divisive. The dividing happens naturally as the result of truth-telling. Jesus came to seek and to save (Luke 19:10), but men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).

► Third, those who reject His identity as the Christ become infuriated and endeavor to destroy Him.

► Fourth, some of the same people who praised Him initially would join the angry mob, and the masses decide to put Him to death (Matt 27:20).

► Fifth, He survives their murderous plot but leaves them without any more revelation (Luke 24:6).

Do you see it? Jesus’ interaction in Nazareth is like His entire life in miniature.

There are no hometown prophets

When Jesus closed the Isaiah scroll, the entire congregation must have stared with mouths hung open while they thought to themselves, “did he just say what I think he said?” Some of them were so impacted by His gracious words and clear self-identification as the Messiah they asked, “isn’t this Joeseph’s boy?” The toothpaste was out of the tube. You can’t put it back in now. Jesus’ declaration was clear, and his audience did understand him. He knew their thoughts of doubt, and He knew their next question. All good teachers try to answer objections before they are raised, and Jesus is the perfect teacher. He tells the unbelieving what they would say next. You all are thinking, “What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well (Luke 4:23).” After Jesus tells them what they are thinking, He moves on to tell them why they are thinking wrongly. They had become so comfortable with who they assumed Jesus was that they could no longer objectively hear from Him. Jesus’ childhood friends and neighbors still saw a simple and relatively unimportant carpenter’s son, and therefore they could not recognize the true prophet. Their knowledge of Him as a lad was apparently so loud they couldn’t hear Him as the true prophet. That is why Jesus’ critique was “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown (Luke 4:24).”

If you had to choose between Jesus and a million dollars

It’s no secret that Americans are infamously materialistic. I wouldn’t consider myself materialistic, but what materialistic person would? We all can be distracted by stuff. While material things are not sinful to have or enjoy, the problem arises when our hearts become singularly focused upon something we have, or even worse, something we don’t have but wished we did.

Jesus acutely identified this problem in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24).” I prefer the King James translation that replaces the word “money” with “mammon.” Mammon was an old Semitic word that indicated more than simply money. Mammon was more like our word materialism than our word money, and Jesus was using the concept of materialism as a competitor against God for our hearts. Materialism easily turns into idolatry if our hearts crave something rather than God.

In Nazareth, though extremely poor by our modern standards, many of them fell prey to this temptation. Jesus addressed this sin within the hearts of His first audience. They wanted Jesus to do in Nazareth what He had done in other Galilean towns. On the surface, that is not a bad request. There’s certainly nothing wrong with petitioning the Saviour. Jesus often rewarded faith with compassion and gracious gifts of healing. What then was the problem? These Nazarites were wanting something from Jesus without wanting Him. This is a subtle distinction that we must learn and guard our own hearts against the temptation of idolatry. Idolatry may be described as adoring anything or anyone in a way that rivals our adoration for God. Natalie Grant sings this truth,

“Help me want the Healer, more than the healing,
help me want the Savior, more than the saving,
help me want the Giver, more than the giving.
Oh, help me want You, Jesus, more than anything.”

Amen Natalie.

Christian, we must open our eyes and unplug our ears to see Jesus rightly and hear Him truly. There is nothing that we need more in all the world than Him. We must learn from Mary, the sister of Martha (Luke 10:42). She chose to stay in Jesus’ presence to directly hear the Words of life from the very Giver of life. I have two hopes for you today. First, I hope you will day by day faithfully come to hear Jesus for yourself in the Scripture and not just hear from me after I have spent time in His presence. Second, I hope you will continually grow in your desire for Christ above all else. May God’s Spirit works in us all.

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

Philippians 2:13, ESV

November 15, 2020

Andrew Murray on the Names of the Holy Spirit

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
 – John 14:26 NLT

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
 – John 16:7 NASB

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
 – John 16:13 ESV

 

Ten years ago at this time I was slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the two chapters, he was been looking at the passage that begins,If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different;How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.” Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continuously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

August 10, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times

For three days (here, here and here) we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew: the Ethical Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount, which we skipped since it is so often covered), the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Reading prophecy, people can become obsessed with trying to figure out “the day and the hour” but it’s more about understanding “the time and the season.”

This final teaching block, also called the Eschatological Discourse, is the second longest and spans all of chapters 24 and 25.

■ If you are able, take the time now to read both chapters.

The second of the two chapters (25) is, in many respects, easier for us to deal with as it also contains two parables, and one teaching section couched in the metaphor of sheep and goats.

The Ten Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegoom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”  – Matthew 25: 1-4 (parable continues to verse 13)

The purpose of this story is to remind us of the importance of being diligent; of being ready for Christ (the master) to return. However, if time permitted I would argue that this imagery has implications for other things as well, such as the teaching on the rapture.

The Bags of Gold

This is the section header used in the NIV 2011, but most of know this as the Parable of the Talents.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey…”  – Matthew 25: 14-15 (parable continues to verse 30)

Each of us then is like those to whom something valuable — here the modern use of the word talents actually works in our favor — has been given and is both expected and accountable to make the best use of those gifts and resources.

But note the text itself goes far beyond that, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (verse 29)

The Sheep and the Goats

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  – Matthew 25: 32-33 (the metaphor is implied throughout verses 31 – 45)

There is a future time coming when there will be a great separation.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25: 37-40 (this passage begins further back at verse 34 and is followed by a very similar set of verses which re-positions all of this in the negative sense.)

This contrast of charitable acts of commission and charitable acts of omission is in many ways similar to the teaching in the Ethical Discourse, aka Sermon on the Mount; but with the added judgment that those who failed to act “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (verse 46)

And that would wrap up the fifth and final teaching block, right?

Not yet. Remember, we skipped chapter 24 just now.

Signs of the End

Chapter 24 is every bit as much entitled to be considered prophecy as is the Book of Revelation and the latter chapters of the Book of Daniel. We don’t always think of Matthew as a prophetic book, but it contains — mostly in this first chapter of this discourse — a number of prophetic descriptions and markers as do passages like chapter 4 of  I Thessalonians (“…caught up to meet him in the air”) or chapter 3 of II Timothy (“In the last days, perilous times will come.”)

Those prophecies include

  • the destruction of the temple
  • the coming of false Messiahs, false Christs
  • wars and threats of wars
  • famines and earthquakes
  • persecution
  • believers betraying other believers
  • an increase of wickedness; lawlessness
  • believers growing cold in their faith
  • the “sacrilegious object that causes desecration” (NLT) in the Holy Place
  • the flight of those heading for the hills
  • “trouble on a scale beyond what the world has ever seen” (The Message)
  • the sun darkened, “the moon turned to blood” (echo of Joel’s prophecy in 2:31)
  • the unmistakable return of Christ on the clouds
  • the gathering of “the chosen ones” (CEB) from around the world

Positive words of encouragement from Jesus:

  • “Watch out that no one deceives you…”
  • “…see to it that you are not alarmed
  • the one who stands firm to the end will be saved
  • this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world
  • “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened
  • “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
  • “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”
  • “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

What can all this tell us?

Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (24:36)

But while we may not know the day or hour, we can know the times and seasons. Just a few verses earlier he offers a one-verse mini-parable: Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. (24:32)

We can be prepared, unlike the people he compares to those from the time of Noah for whom life was “business as usual” right up to the time God shut in his faithful, and the raindrops started to fall.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this four part series. I’ve never done anything quite like this in the history of Christianity 201, and I hope these four articles stand as a fairly decent overview of the four (out of the five) discourses we don’t hear as often.

August 9, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

 One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate.  –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

August 8, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

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That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore Then he told them many things in parables… Matthew 13 1-3a NIV

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”  He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.This is why I speak to them in parables… Matthew 13 10-13a NIV

Yesterday we introduced “the five discourses” in Matthew, namely, “the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.”

If this is what you think is meant by The Parabolic Discourse, you’ve come to the wrong page!

The third of these, The Parabolic Discourse, has nothing to do with parabolas, in case you were wondering. Rather it is a section consisting of consecutive parables.

■ Take time now to read the entire section in Matthew 13.

R. K. Bingham, writing at GraceOfOurLord.com introduces these.  The points below are excerpted from Matthew 13 – Parabolic Discourse1

  • Jesus first tells the parable of the sower in verses 3-9. We are not told about the chronology in the text, but most surmise that Jesus spoke all of the parables from the boat, and the explanation came later, after he went into the house in verse 36…
  • He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-15, explaining that the difference between them (the disciples that want to learn) and the crowds (those that do not really want to understand, much less accept, the truth) is in their hearts
  • This is followed up by the explanation of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23, which is the key to understanding all of the parables…
  • The parable of the weeds, or tares (verses 24-30), is like that of the net (verses 47-50), and refers to the fate of those who will not accept the truth…
  • The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and leaven (verse 33) show that the kingdom may be starting very small, but will grow into something very large…
  • The parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl of great value (verses 45-46) demonstrate that those who truly understand the value of our place in His kingdom will be willing to give up anything in this ordinary world in order to attain it.

Jeff Bryerley, writing at Burnside Family Church’s Bible Study page has some more extensive notes on the latter part of the discourse:

Why did Jesus ask if the disciples understood his parables (13:51)?
The disciples were chosen so that they would themselves be teachers (cf v.52 “scribes”) of others. Jesus was only too willing to give further explanation if needed. However, they replied that they understood. They understood (a) the importance of receiving well the kingdom (soils); (b) the humble growing / permeating of a great kingdom (mustard seed, yeast); (c) the consequences of receiving / rejecting the kingdom (wheat and tares, good and bad fish); and the priceless value of Jesus’ kingdom (hidden treasure, pearl of great price)… [L]ater events showed their understanding was not perfect, but it was growing and would be used fruitfully later.

What did Jesus mean “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (13:52)?
We believe this is referring to both the Old and New Testaments. The OT is an old treasure in revealing the Word of God and pointing to the coming Messiah. The NT is a treasure, revealing who Christ is, how He fulfills God’s promise of salvation and wraps up history with its eternal consequence. Indeed, Jesus’ teaching shows how the old is to be understood by the new. Michael Wilcox, in the NIV Application Commentary on Matthew, provides further background. The Greek word “oikedespoles” translated here as “householder”, is not just referring to someone bringing out old and new treasures to gaze upon and return to its safe location. The oikedespoles was someone who brought treasures out to be used fruitfully, such as dividing his estate among tenant farmers or to pay wages to his laborers. As Jesus’ disciples we are to be workers “who correctly handle the Word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Why did the people of Nazareth disbelieve Jesus (13:53-58)?
These verses show that Jesus was indeed fully human as well as divine. Before he began his ministry, Jesus led a very quiet ordinary life, albeit “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Indeed, this gives rise to evil suspicion among the townspeople as to the source of his wisdom and mighty works. This was not unlike the Pharisees who with blasphemy attributed the source of his power to Satan (12:22-32). The townspeople declared that Jesus was trained as a carpenter, (not as the student of some great rabbi). Also they note that he comes from a very ordinary poor family. They name his family members including his mother “Mary”, a quite common name. We believe the inference was that he cannot be genuine, that his power was not from a godly source and that he must be some sort of conjurer, an ordinary person contemptibly acting beyond his station in life, in an attempt to dupe them for some ill purpose. Their unbelief limits Jesus’ ability to do mighty works…

Returning to our first author quoted as to why the passage ends as it does:

…The rejection of Jesus in His own hometown resulted in Him not wasting much time there (verse 58). It illustrates very well the points that He made in the earlier parts of the chapter. The hearts of the people there were hardened to the truth and they could not see. The ground of their hearts needed plowing as well.


1Many of the blogs we use are now running rather firm copyright notices that are leaving us running scared of quoting material as we’ve done for over ten years now. I think this is a great overview and encourage you to read it in its original form, but I was nervous about simply re-blogging the entire post.

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus is arguably the greatest teacher that ever taught. His teaching was recognized as profound by those who first heard it:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

The teaching of Jesus continues to be revered in our day, by Christians and non-Christians alike. The impact of Jesus’ teaching is undeniable, on both individuals and societies.

Neil Peart was arguably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. The one known as “The Professor” said this on why he took drum lessons despite his already high level of drumming proficiency: “What is a master but a master student?” (Rolling Stone Magazine 2012). Was Jesus, the master teacher, also a master student? While the Bible tends to focus on the teaching of Jesus, there is one passage which speaks to his learning:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:41-47 (NRSV emphasis added)

Before Jesus taught, he learned. There are two things to take note of.

First, Jesus went to the right place and the right people to further his growth and learning. He went to the temple, he sat under those who taught things about God. According to the custom of that time and place, Jesus should have been focused on learning carpentry from Joseph. No doubt most his days were taken up with learning that trade. However, even from a young age, Jesus had a sense of a much deeper calling:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2:48-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus would have called Joseph “Dad.” And yes, Jesus would have been learning carpentry from him. However, in being in his “Father’s house,” and in learning things about God, Jesus showed his awareness of being someone special, of being called to something special. Jesus, being the Son of God, was called to do what no one else in history could do; be Lord and Saviour.

Do we know our identity in, and calling from, God? We may immediately think of our vocation or volunteering. We may have matched our passions and gifts with what we do with our time. There is a calling more basic and fundamental than that. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be his disciples, a word which simply means ‘student.’ If Jesus, being aware of his calling and identity as the Son of God, went to the Temple, we, as disciples of Jesus, will want to go to Jesus. Perhaps you thought I was going to say we go to church. Yes, that is part of it, but even in church we focus on learning from Jesus.

Second, Jesus engaged in conversation, asking questions and giving answers:

. . . they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)

There is a theological question we must answer so that we can better understand this Bible passage. Was Jesus, since he was God the Son, and therefore potentially knew everything already, showing off his knowledge? Or, was Jesus actually engaged in learning? While Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human. Bible passages will sometimes put the focus on one or the other. In this passage, the emphasis is on the humanity of Jesus. Note the verses immediately preceding and following this passage of Scripture:

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:40 NASB

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 NASB

Before Jesus taught, he learned. He asked questions, he dug deeper. He gave answers, giving opportunity for correction. This was how people learned from the rabbis in those days. The teachers were not annoyed with the answers of Jesus, as they would be if he was coming off as a ‘know-it-all,’ rather, they were amazed. Before Jesus taught with great wisdom, he learned with great wisdom.

Are we asking good questions? There is never a dumb question. But there are questions that are are more wise to ask than others. For example, I have often been asked whom Cain married. Since the Bible only told us about Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel up to the point of Cain going off and getting married, whom did he marry? This is not a dumb question. However, a better question, a wise question to ask is: “what is the nature of, and God’s vision for, the Bible?” When we find the answer to that question, the question about Cain goes away. In a nutshell, the Bible is given to teach us what we need to know about ourselves, God, and our relationship with God. It is not given to tell us everything. Are we asking good questions? Are we open to correction? Do we have a teachable spirit? Sometimes this means, not adding to our understanding, but making adjustments to our understanding. Are we learning with wisdom?

Like Jesus, the master learner, we want to be in the right place to grow into our identity and calling. We want to be learning at the feet of Jesus. Like Jesus, we want to be wise learners, asking questions, digging deeper, giving space for correction.

Jesus is not just a great teacher, but being God the Son, Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Jesus is not a self-help guru! Our growing in, and learning from, Jesus is not just about living the good life. It is part and parcel of our salvation. Salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It is also about heaven’s influence on us now. Are we learning from the Master Learner?


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

March 28, 2019

The Compelling Man

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Is Jesus Evidence that Christianity is True?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus and why should we care? Some would say that we should consider Jesus apart from any religious ideas, without asking the “God question.” Let us do so for a moment. Before we ask whether God exists, or, if Jesus has anything to do with said God, what can we say about Jesus? Here are some things:

  • Jesus was a man of compelling activity. He went about doing good. Life changing miracles are ascribed to him, but even if your worldview is not open to miracles, you can at least say that the earliest witnesses knew him to be a man of good works for many people.
  • Jesus was a man of compelling teaching. He is described as teaching “with authority” and “not like the teachers of the law” (see Mark 1:22). He was not educated, yet was recognized as having better teaching than the educated and sophisticated teachers.
  • Jesus was a man of compelling ethics. His vision for behaviour was focused on love long before the Beatles sang “all you need is love.” In contrast to the religious leaders of the day, Jesus pointed out that the divine rules existed for the sake of humans, rather than humans existing for the sake of the rules (see, for example, Mark 2:27).
  • Jesus had a compelling presence. He was known as a friend to sinners (see Matthew 11:16-19). Despite his profound teaching and capability, things which can often make people inaccessible, he was a man of the people. People enjoyed and longed for his presence.
  • Jesus issued a compelling challenge. Whether telling the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” (see John 8:11) or, as happened far more often, challenging the religious leaders, the status quo had no chance.
  • Jesus issued a compelling life-changing and world-changing call. Where it was expected, even hoped for, that Jesus would call people to pick up a sword and fight the Romans, instead he called people to pick up a cross and follow (see Matthew 16:24-26). His call was to the way of  understanding, love, grace, and forgiveness.
  • Jesus had and continues to have a compelling impact. Even if you do not believe in God, or that Jesus is God, you cannot deny that Jesus has had a huge positive impact in the lives of individuals, in entire societies, indeed upon the world. Yes, Christians at times have a negative impact, but the impact of Jesus has been profoundly positive and enduring.

Seeing all that is compelling about Jesus, it is no surprise that Jesus can be fairly described as the most compelling person in the history of the world. We have not even considered the “God question” yet.  Let us now do so.

In Mark 8:27-30 Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say that I am?”, followed with “who do you say that I am?”. This is perhaps the most important question ever asked. Peter answers “You are the Messiah,” which shows that Peter was beginning to recognize that Jesus was from God in some special way.

We can also ask “who does Jesus say he is?”. Consider;

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven” John 6:51
“I am the light of the world” John 8:12
“You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” John 8:23
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.” John 8:42
“Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,” John 11:25
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6-7

In case there is any doubt that Jesus had a very high opinion of himself:

For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. John 5:18

In case we think that John is putting words in Jesus’ mouth, let us consider that the “high Christology” of Jesus is consistent with all the New Testament witnesses. That is, all the New Testament writers affirm, or are in tune with the belief that, Jesus is God the Son. Take for example the opening of the Gospel of Mark, which is the most “down to earth” of the four Gospels;

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:1-3

This reference to Old Testament prophecy in Mark is not in mere anticipation of a Messiah, a man anointed by God to rescue the people from oppressors. That is not what the prophecy in Isaiah is about. This is anticipation of God, Himself, coming. The Gospel of Mark is about God coming to us, it is about Jesus.

Jesus taught that he was from God, that He came from God in a special way which could not be said of anyone else. But do we believe him? If a person we considered evil, like Stalin, said the kind of things about himself that Jesus said about himself, would we believe him? Given his life, you’d say “Nope!”. Likewise, if you said the kinds of things about yourself that Jesus said about himself, would anyone believe you? Again, “Nope!”. But when Jesus says it, with his compelling activity, teaching, ethics, presence, challenge, call, and impact, plus the eyewitness testimony of people saying “he was dead but lives!”, well that is different.

Consider also, if God were to come to us as one of us, if He were to become incarnate,  especially the kind of promise-making-and-keeping God we find in the Old Testament, what would He be like? We would expect Him to have compelling activity, teaching, ethics, presence, challenge, call, and impact. Because He is love, we would expect a rescue. Because He is powerful we would expect victory over death. Jesus fits!

Who Jesus was, who people experienced him to be, adds weight to who he said he is. Of course Jesus is the most compelling person in history. We would expect that from someone who is “God with us” (see Matthew 1:23), “Lord” (see Romans 10:9), and the “Lamb who takes away the sin of the world” (see John 1:29). He is the great God solution to the great human problem of sin and death.

Jesus is the most compelling person in the history of the world, even without the God question. Add in the God question, and the God answer to the human problem, Jesus is even more compelling! Jesus is compelling evidence that God is, and that God is love. Being a compelling man, Jesus is yet more compelling evidence that Christianity is true.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

March 27, 2019

Living in Distracting Times

Biblical writers never knew the degree of distraction which we face in the 21st Century. We are bombarded with input of all types: advertising, road signs, warning lights, notifications, etc.; even as we must remember PINs and user names and passwords.

However, their world was not as different as we might think. They were still aware that all manner of things could appear before them and prove not only distracting, but also destructive.

When our oldest son was 21, he became convinced he was spending too much time watching videos on YouTube. So he simply uninstalled Flash player in his computer. (Yes. Seriously, he really did that.)

In Matthew 5:29 we read Jesus words:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (NIV)

but Jesus apparently repeated these words, as Matthew records them again at 18:9

9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (NASB)

…To which we might add the following paraphrase:

If part of your computer causes you to waste time, disable it.

Some would argue that the words of Jesus were never intended to be taken literally, but the radical degree of his teaching was fully intentional. Call it hyberbole if you will, but Jesus was saying that it’s going to take doing something extreme in order to be where he wants us to be.

In the past I’ve written many times about controlling our thought life. You can read those at this link. One of my favorite graphic images (that we’ve used in the sidebar of this blog in the past) is this “eye chart” version of some words of Jesus from Luke:

Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

There is certainly a “garbage in / garbage out” effect that takes place depending on what we allow our eyes to see. Jesus also said, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” (Matthew 15:11)

Contextually, I know Jesus was making a whole other point, but if we can take some liberty here, we could also follow the pattern and say “It’s not what goes into your eyes that defiles you; you are defiled by the images you allow to dwell there.”

In other words, you may not have the luxury of editing or filtering every image. There may be times when you say,

“It’s too late, I can’t un-see that.”

However you can decide which images are going to stay with you and which you are work diligently to forget. Martin Luther put it this way:

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”

Or, to use another graphic image we’ve used here before:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phil 4:8 NLT)

…The point is that scripture speaks to these issues. What is very real to us in a world of distraction was very real to them.

Do what you need to do. It may require something like disabling a part of your computer. But if that is what it takes, don’t ignore the possibility!

~PW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 13, 2019

Jesus Feeding the Thousands was for More than Physical Hunger

Today once again we’re back with Elsie Montgomery, at the blog Practical Faith. Please, click the header below and read this at her blog and then check out some of the other devotionals.

Jesus sets up the crowd so they will listen

My mother amazed us when it came to feeding people. On the farm it was common for friends to drop in around lunch time. She usually prepared lunch for 2-4 people, but these drop-ins could bring the number up to a dozen or more. This didn’t faze her. She found ways to feed all of them. Her goal was meeting needs.

Our current church has brunch after the service on Sunday. This ministry started small but now we host between 400 and 500 people. We stack chairs, bring out tables and tablecloths and folks line up to several buffet tables with regular breakfast fare, plus a counter with toast and coffee, and another table for those on a gluten-free diet. This congregation is mostly well-to-do so it is not a charitable event. The main goal is that we can get to know one another as we fellowship over food. Brunch develops relationships. Unity in Christ is our goal for brunch.

Jesus fed people too. John 6 tells of a crowd who followed Him and when it was lunch time, all but one of the five thousand plus hungry people forgot to pack a lunch. The disciples were concerned. Finally, Andrew brought a boy to Jesus with his lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes.

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. (John 6:10–13)

What was Jesus’ goal in doing this? Filling their bellies, or did He have something more in mind?

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:14–15)

He was not ready to be exalted, but this miraculous picnic did prepare the people for what He wanted to tell them. The next day the crowd gathered again, seeking Jesus, but He knew their real motive:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:26–40)

This miracle gave Him opportunity to talk to them about their spiritual need. The rest of the chapter tells how Jesus used the situation to teach them the contrast between “the flesh” and “the spirit” and in doing so He uncovered their failure to understand spiritual realities. But some stayed, including Peter:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66–69)

He got it, at least got the part that kept him close to Jesus. He understood that Jesus was the Lord, and that they had no other options.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Jesus, so many times I’ve figured out other options. When challenges come, “I can do this” runs through my head far too often. It should be “Jesus will enable me . . . .” Forgive this reliance on the flesh and keep prodding me to walk by faith, trusting You for all that I need, including but not limited to lunch!

September 8, 2018

Don’t Even Think About It

A few years ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

April 19, 2015

Spiritual Snobbery

When I gave this blog its name, all those years ago, I was thinking in terms of something that would go beyond the surface, move past the superficial. The tag line “Digging a Little Deeper” expressed itself in having deep quotations or worship songs with rich lyrics. I prided myself in telling people that we offered something that went beyond those devotionals.

A few years in however, and the trademark style emerged that you see today.

First, there is always an anchor scripture verse or passage, highlighted in green because it’s God’s Word that has life; not anything any of us has to say.

Second, we try to run about five or six paragraphs, as opposed to those devotionals that only have two or three paragraphs.

But there’s also a third hallmark of this blog that perhaps isn’t so obvious: I have always eschewed stories and illustrations. We never start out with cute stories about children or puppies, hobby interests like photography or gardening, or sports illustrations from rock climbing or running marathons. Again, not like those devotionals.

Do you hear the pride talking?

I’ve always been impressed by pastors who simply jump right into the text. (Note: This includes speakers who preach topically and those who use the exegetical method.) We’ve had the opportunity to visit a couple of megachurches where the message just starts to roar through the auditorium like a freight train. It is good use of peoples’ time, though often you don’t get to know the heart or background of the pastor. (This does solve the problem of churches being personality-driven, however.)

But as I was getting ready to post today’s article I was very convicted about these verses:

And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,
Mark 4:2

and

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Matthew 13:34

Jesus took the familiar sights and sounds that people could relate to and incorporated them into his teaching. I do need to qualify here that the parables in the Gospel accounts are much more than just illustration or analogy, however. There was a certain richness and even mystery to them sometimes that went beyond the 1:1 correspondence a modern preacher’s story might contain. Often His parables could be processed on several different levels at once. At the website GotQuestions.org they deal with this aspect and include this passage:

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:10-17).

So… I am repenting of spiritual snobbery today. Who knows that I haven’t tossed out some good devotional material over the past few years because of wanting to quickly jump into exposition of the text?

If the methodology was good enough for Jesus, it ought to be employed by us. And as the passage above reminds us, you can be “digging a little deeper” in a parable just as much as you can from formal, doctrinal teaching.

 

We have a C201-related bonus item for you today, if you’re interested. At Thinking Out Loud, I explained a little bit of why I cite different translations to accomplish different purposes.  Click to read How and Why I Use Different Bible Translations.


November 22, 2013

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

sheep1

For three recent blog posts, Kevin Rogers at the blog The Orphan Age has been studying the parable that is part of a trilogy of stories that we call “The Lost Sheep.” Below are excerpts from the series and a link to each.

Luke 15:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

One hundred sheep represent a healthy community. Together they have shared resources and maintain a strong defense. The predators are warded off by the efforts of good shepherding.

Jesus told this story to religious leaders who were entrusted to take care of God’s flock in Israel. They noted with contempt that Jesus always surrounded himself with the people who were not righteous. This story responds to the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ self-righteous, smug posturing.

People who were immoral or who followed occupations that the scribes held to be incompatible with keeping God’s law. A rabbinic rule stated that “one must not associate with an ungodly man,” and the rabbis would not even teach such a person… The rabbis taught that God would welcome a penitent sinner, but these parables teach that God seeks out the sinner.[i]

The Jewish leaders excluded those who wandered away from their demanding righteousness. These people who got into trouble were the lost sheep and expected to find their own way home. Shepherding was conditional upon compliance with flock standards of behaviour.

The fact that tax collectors and sinners listen to Jesus while the leadership does not is a cultural reversal of expectation. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places.[ii]

Religious elitism and arrogance always leaves people on their own without community. Hard-hearted religion leaves behind its homeless sheep.

[i] Reformation Study Bible
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

Read THE PROBLEM WITH EXCLUSIVE CHURCHES in full.


Through Jesus’ continuing use of the sheep/shepherd metaphor we learn some important things about God’s involvement in peoples’ lives. Jesus echoed what the ancient Scriptures spoke of. What is a good shepherd?

Ezekiel 34:

For this is what the sovereign Lord says, “I will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

God says that this is what is in his heart towards people. Ezekiel described 4 characteristics that are consistent with Jesus’ leadership. As Jesus’ followers, have these values started to grow in us?

1.     God searches for the lost
2.     God brings back the strays
3.     God binds up the injured
4.     God strengthens the weak

Continue reading THE VALUE OF 1%


The parable of the lost sheep speaks to the challenge of living right. Personal righteousness was a central theme to Scribes and Pharisees. Lost sheep were those who did not follow the leader and stay with the flock. They disobeyed the rules of good sheep:

1.     Sheep need to listen to shepherd’s voice and follow
2.     Sheep have a communal flock instinct. Sheep that are ill might wander away

When someone distances him/herself from the faith community, it is usually for similar reasons. They have had poor leadership in their life or lacked respect for shepherds in general. Wanderers let the sickness of soul lead them away instead of letting a good shepherd restore them to health, bind their wounds or accommodate for their weakness.

So we may easily blame sheep for wandering away. But that is not the moral of the story. The heart of God searches for the wanderers and brings them home, fully aware that the sheep is sick, wounded or foolish. The Shepherd values every lamb and knows each weakness.

Read the conclusion of HOW TO GET LOST

October 19, 2013

Why Did Jesus…? Part Two

Tody we continue where left off yesterday. There are no specific scriptures for this one, you’ll need to refer back to the verses posted here the day before.  Louisiana pastor Waylon Bailey has treated this subject well at the article titled Why Did Jesus Tell His Followers Not To Tell About Him?

We all know and understand that Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. That part makes sense. Everyone needs to know Christ. We all also understand that we have been given the responsibility to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

That makes the question even more difficult to comprehend. What did Jesus mean when he repeatedly told the people around him not to tell anyone what they had seen and heard? And, why did He tell them this? Mark 1:40-45 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It shows Jesus as He truly is. Having encountered a man with leprosy, Jesus had great compassion on the man. His heart went out to Him. Jesus healed the man of his leprosy. After the healing Jesus “sternly warned” the man to tell no one. He simply was to go to the priest as prescribed by the law of Moses. Instead, the man told everyone what had happened. This story is fairly representative of all those who were told to tell no one.

Why did Jesus tell him not to tell anyone?

The issue primarily seems to be one of timing and proximity.

After the resurrection, Jesus repeatedly and consistently told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Each of the Gospels has its own commission to take the message to the world. We commonly call this the Great Commission.

It was in the time before the resurrection that Jesus counseled His disciples and others not to publish widely what they had seen and heard.

Why was this the case?

First, Jesus did not want people to only associate Him with the miraculous. He was the bringer of good tidings not simply a miracle worker.

Second, Jesus did not want people to make Him an earthly king. We know that many Jews looked for the kind of Messiah who could overthrow Rome. It would be an easy step for all of the people to miss the significance of what Jesus came to do. As long as Jesus turned water into wine and a few loaves and fish into abundance, the people wanted to follow Him.

Third, Jesus wanted the freedom to move about Israel unhindered. When the man cleansed of his leprosy disobeyed Jesus and began to publish the matter “Jesus could not enter any town openly but stayed outside in lonely places” (Mark 1:45). Many other towns were deprived of the Lord’s presence. Jesus had not wanted that to happen.

Interestingly, Jesus told those outside Israel to proclaim the message. The fifth chapter of Mark is quite interesting. Jesus healed the demoniac from the Decapolis (largely Gentile area). He told him to go back home and tell what the Lord had done for him (Mark 5:19). In the same chapter he healed the daughter of the leader of the Synagogue and told them to tell no one (Mark 5:43). It was a matter of proximity. Inside Israel, the messianic fervor might lead to a premature confrontation with Rome or the Jewish leaders. Jesus “hour” had not yet come.

We live in this wonderful new age when all must hear the message of Good News.

Considering this subject for the past two days has reminded me of this quotation from Walter Wink that Philip Yancey uses:

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company.

“One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” 

~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

October 18, 2013

Why Did Jesus Sometimes Ask Miracle Witnesses to Tell No One?

Jesus - Don't tell anyone

Doug Wolter posted this several months ago as Why did Jesus say, “Don’t tell others?”:

Yesterday I preached on four incredible stories from Mark 4:35-5:43 where Jesus calms the storm, heals the demoniac and the hemorrhaging woman, and raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  Afterwards, a member of my church asked me a great question: Why did Jesus tell the demon possessed man to go and tell others but told the ones who saw Jairus’ daughter being raised to strictly tell no one?  What a great question!  Here’s my response:

The demon-possessed man was in a Gentile region where not many knew about Jesus or cared about the coming Messiah. In Mark 5:17, after Jesus had healed the man, they begged him to leave the area.  Jesus left, but told the demoniac to go and tell what had happened to him since he would now be the only real witness in this region (Mark 5:19).

Now Jairus and his daughter lived in Galilee. This region would’ve been Jewish and therefore anticipating a coming Messiah and so Jesus wanted to keep this a secret because he didn’t want to stir up a big crowd.  The concern on Jesus’ part was that people’s attention would be distracted from what he really came to do, namely, the ministry of the word (Mark 1:38).  His essential aim was to preach repentance and faith (the message of the kingdom) and then die on a cross. After he died and rose again, that’s when he told his disciples to go and tell everyone who he was because that was the real message he came to bring as the Messiah.

Of course there are many of these passages:

Healing of Many:

Matthew 12:15 …A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him.

Peter’s Confession of Christ’s Lordship and Divinity:

Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

(also found in Mark 8 and Luke 9)

Returning from the Mountain of the Transfiguration:

Mark 9:2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus….

…8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Casting Out Demons:

Mark 3:11 Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.

The Healing of a Deaf Man:

Mark 7:35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The Healing of Jarius’ Daughter:

Luke 8:51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother… 

…54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

Are Jesus’ reasons the same in each case, or do you think that there were different motivations for asking people not to tell what they had seen?

Jesus - Don't tell anyone 2

September 25, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking.  Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

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