Woe or Wow #2

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

        In an article updated just a month ago (January 27, 2021), Sarah Pruitt wrote on History channel website “5 Things You May Not Know About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.”  We all know the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986.  All seven astronauts on board were killed.

1. The Challenger didn’t actually explode.
The shuttle’s demise looked like an explosion, the media called it an explosion and NASA officials described it that way at first. Later investigations revealed that seal in the shuttle’s right solid-fuel rocket booster was weakened by frigid temperatures and failed. Hot gas poured through the leak. The fuel tank collapsed and tore apart.  The resulting flood of liquid oxygen and hydrogen created the fireball many thought was an explosion.

2. The astronauts aboard the shuttle didn’t die instantly.
After the fuel tank collapsed, the Challenger was momentarily intact, and actually continued flying upwards. Soon, however, powerful aerodynamic forces pulled the orbiter apart. Frightening as it is to say so, it’s likely that the Challenger’s crew survived the breakup of the shuttle but lost consciousness from loss of cabin pressure but likely died from hitting the water at more than 200 miles per hour.

        I won’t trouble you with the other three lesser-known truths. My point in all of this is that seven people trusted their lives to technology and lost.  What brought this to my mind is the central point of God’s message to us today:

God calls you to trust Him, not anything else.

Worldly things are not prone to fail, they are bound to fail.  We have to trust them to a certain degree, just to live and work in the world.  But ultimately, spiritually, nothing in this world is worthy of our complete trust.  God alone has earned that position.

1. Matthew 23:16-22 = Woe to Those who Trust in Worldly Things

        Woe #3 in Matthew 23 is directed at those who, as shown by their oath-taking, put more importance on the material wealth of the temple than its spiritual wealth.  Among the Jews, swearing an oath was an important issue.  To swear an oath but not keep it was considered perjury.  To swear by God and then fail to keep your word was blasphemy.

        I believe swearing by the GOLD or the GIFT played upon a natural but spiritually immature tendency to value material things over spiritual things.  Jesus exposed the worldliness of this approach by reminding them that the spiritual, transcendent things were of greater value.  He said it was the TEMPLE that made the GOLD SACRED, not the other way around.  It was the ALTAR that made the GIFT SACRED, not the other way around.  Just because you can put a price on something, that does not mean it is more valuable than something literally priceless, like our faith and relationship with God.

        The whole matter of oath-swearing may sound petty in our ears, but we need to think about it.  Swearing oaths receives a fair amount of instruction in the Bible and is important for that reason alone.  Also, that culture did not have the benefit of signatures, fingerprints, paper records, computers, etc. – all our modern means of verifying identity.  In that culture, swearing an oath took on a similar function, binding the parties in a contract to keep the contract.  Oath-taking had an important legal function in their society and pious people were also under divine directive to keep the oaths they swore.

        Jesus’ solution to this problem was to do away with oath-swearing entirely.  In Matthew 5:33-37 He instructed them to be honest and have integrity; “LET YOUR ‘YES’ BE ‘YES’ AND YOUR ‘NO’ BE ‘NO,’” He said.  To underscore this point He added, “ANYTHING BEYOND THIS COMES FROM THE EVIL ONE.”

        These days, this same kind of materialism is manifest in the American Church in at least two ways.  One, by their primary/sole concern for buildings, budgets, bodies, and by-laws and neglect of the Bible, beliefs, and blessings, some church-going folk betray their hypocrisy.  Like the GOLD and the GIFT these are concrete things that can be counted, measured, seen, and potentially controlled.  What a person values reveals a lot about the depth of their spiritual maturity.

        Two, by their primary/sole concern for the approval of politically correct culture, immersion in social media, and trust in technology to the neglect of biblical morality, theology, and integrity.  People who allow their beliefs to be determined by the culture, creed, or circumstance instead of Scripture are hypocrites.

2. Psalm 20:1-9 = Blessed are Those who Trust in the Lord.

        There are several promises made in this Psalm, all of them indicate the LORD hears and saves His people (1-6, 9).  We’ll take a look at these promises and then at the caution against trusting in worldly things.

        To those in DISTRESS, He offers protection (1). Perhaps the most sincere prayer is one uttered in a time of DISTRESS.  The NAME of God is a way of referring to His character and power; God Himself will PROTECT the pious pray-er.  The word PROTECT is based on a root word “to make high, inaccessible.”  The picture here is God putting His people someplace safe, removed from harm.

        The reference to the GOD OF JACOB looks back as Exodus 3:14-15; 6:2-3.  This was the name God gave Moses at the burning bush.  It is also a reminder; “God saved Jacob from Esau’s wrath and other things.  He will save you too.”

        From His temple, God promises HELP and SUPPORT (2).  THE SANCTUARY and ZION are references to the temple and the “mountain” on which it was constructed.  Historically, the kings of Israel who cared most about God’s temple were the ones who prospered.  The Old Testament affirmed that God’s presence was localized at the temple but not limited to it.  God is present everywhere, but He is especially present in those sacred spaces that are truly dedicated to Him.

        The word SUPPORT meant “strengthen” and could include provision of food and drink (Judges 19:5, 8; Psalms 104:15) or other means of assistance that give evidence to God’s loving care for His people.  He kept His part of the covenant.

        God promises to REMEMBER your SACRIFICES and ACCEPT your OFFERINGS (3).  The Law of God required His people to make animal sacrifices for various reasons.  On the surface, this looked like the same thing as the sacrifices offered to idols by the pagan nations.  The difference was the people of Israel were to offer sacrifices out of faithful hearts, demonstrating love for God and obedience to His commands.  On the other hand, the pagans were attempting to buy the favor of their false gods or appease their anger.  Their motives were entirely different.  In God’s eyes, the value of the sacrifice didn’t determine His response, it was the integrity and motive of the person making the offering that mattered.

        The word REMEMBER may be another way of saying ACCEPT, or it may be an assurance the godly behavior will be met with godly reward.  ACCEPT is based on a root word which meant “be fat.”  This is God showing His favorable response to their sacrifice because it was offered with a good motive and a true heart.

        He will reward you with THE DESIRE OF YOUR HEART and with success (4).  1 Kings 9:4 = INTEGRITY OF HEART was one of the conditions God gave Solomon to qualify for an everlasting throne.  We know Solomon lost that integrity over time and his kingdom was split in the next generation.

        It is God who decides rewards and punishments in perfect proportion to a person’s faithfulness or lack thereof.  Additionally, God has created the world in such a way that there are natural and more immediate rewards and punishments for our attitudes and actions.  Implied in this verse is the natural understanding that godly people are wise people and wise people tend to make better plans and are more likely to succeed.

        The references to HEART and PLANS seem to include the emotional and intellectual sides of human personality and decision-making.  The real recipe for success is to use one’s heart and mind to perceive the will of God and to seek it.  If we make God’s will the DESIRE OF our HEART and the center of our PLANS, the obviously we are more likely we will receive “Yes” answers to our prayers.

        God said He will award victory that will be an occasion for JOY and praise to God (5).  The BANNER mentioned here may be a reference to Exodus 17:15-16 where Moses set up an altar and called it “THE LORD IS MY BANNER.”  Its purpose was to remind Israel they were at war with the Amalekites FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION because of their treachery against Israel.  This was a demonstration of loyalty to God and that may be the point here as well. The psalmist is saying the proper response of faithful people is JOY because they know it is God who has delivered the victory.

        He will GRANT your prayer requests.  Verse five says MAY THE LORD GRANT ALL YOUR REQUESTS.  Note the verse ends with a reference to prayer.  That implies even after God has given the victory, His people are to continue praying.

        Verse six says God will answer His people FROM HIS HOLY HEAVEN.  Though God is HOLY and has His throne in HEAVEN, He is not so far removed that He is ignorant of what we are going through or does not care.  HE ANSWERS the prayers of His people.  We need to get this straight and help others understand; when God’s people are praying there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.”

        Verse nine says God will ANSWER US WHEN WE CALL. This also repudiates the notion of “unanswered prayer.”  God may respond with a “Yes,” in agreement with our prayers; He may respond with a “No” because what we asked for is not His will; He may respond with a “Wait” because the time is not right.  Those are all legitimate answers.

        All the resources of heaven will be deployed in defense of the LORD’s ANOINTED (6).  The word SAVES in verse six is from the same root as VICTORIOUS in verse five. The psalmist wrote of victories yet to come, but is so confident he speaks of his grateful response as if they’ve already happened.

         “The Anointed One” is the ultimate meaning of the word “messiah” and Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in that regard.  However, the promises of God’s victory are also given to God’s people through the Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

        He will SAVE the leaders of His people (9).  The reference to the KING in this verse makes some commentators think the whole psalm is about the king.  Even if the king is the person in view, these principles still apply to all God’s people.

        And now for the warning; those who trust in anything else are headed for a fall (7-8).  People trusting in CHARIOTS and HORSES will be BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL.  Even though there was no king over Israel at the time Moses spoke these words, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 commanded the king not to accumulate horses or wives. (You guess which was used in war and which in peace!)  The reason for this was to avoid trusting in worldly things.  Instead, the king was to keep the commands of the Lord always before him and obey them.

        It is tempting to be self-reliant.  It seems easier to rely on worldly preparations.  But God wants us to rely on Him instead.  Though everyone else may TRUST in worldly things and stake their future on their own preparedness, God’s people are to be distinguished by their reliance on God.

        Think of it this way; when a war is won by having more CHARIOTS AND HORSES, that glorifies the king and his generals.  But when a tactically inferior force defeats a greatly superior opponent, it is God who is glorified.

        In contrast to those who think a stack of worldly goods is all they need, people trusting in THE NAME OF THE LORD will RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.  They face doubts and discouragements, sure, but are always lifted up and encouraged by God’s sovereign hand.

God calls you to trust Him, not anything else.

        In this situation, a hypocrite may be defined as someone who claims to trust God but actually cares more about worldly things.  Remember, if God is not first in your life, He isn’t in it at all.

        What does trust in God mean?  What does it look like in daily living?

1) You are not going to panic when finances and circumstances go against you or don’t go the way you want.

2) You are more prone to pray and to consult the Bible before making decisions.

3) Your character will be increasingly marked by positivity and peace.

4) You will not be driven by greed or pride; love will more often motivate your words and deeds.

5) Your contribution to church meetings will more often be praise, less often complaints, corrections, or drama over details.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Psalms, Willem A. VanGemeren.

Hard Sayings of Jesus, F.F. Bruce

https://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-challenger-shuttle-disaster

Message #394

Why Follow a Glutton, Drunk, and Friend of Sinners?

Please read Luke 7:26-35 in your friendly neighborhood Bible.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      Preparing and giving messages from God’s word is a great privilege, one I take seriously.  Every week I learn new things about the Bible.  Some weeks I learn new things about our human world too.

      For example, this week’s passage is about reputation.  Jesus and John the Baptist, as public figures, had reputations.  Their reputation differed according to whom you were listening.  As is my custom, I about to search for illustrations that help illuminate the week’s core teaching.  What I learned this week is that reputation is big business.

      Believe it or not, there are profession reputation builders in man’s world.  You can buy their books and/or utilize their services.  For a fee, they can create a new reputation or rehabilitate a bad reputation.

      It appears much of this business is founded on social media, the new gossip and legal spots on the “information superhighway.”  When your reputation takes a hit on social media, these professional reputation rehabilitation specialists know just how to go to bat for you and restore what internet trolls have taken.

      Wow.  It has come to this.  A person’s reputation is no longer based on what they’ve said or done but on the way they’ve been portrayed by anonymous strangers on social media.  This is incredible, that an industry has arisen around recreating a person’s image in the fake digital world.

Live the life to which God is calling you.  Don’t let others choose your life for you.

1. We are NOT who others say we are.

      Just as John the Baptist was not who they said he was. They said John was possessed by a DEMON because he lived an ascetic lifestyle (33).  I suppose the logic was, “You’d have be possessed to be crazy enough to live on locusts and wild honey.”  More damning was his refusal to preach the “party platform” (31-32), another reason they accused him of having a DEMON.  They would accuse Jesus of the same thing in Luke 11:15.  I speculate a third reason they didn’t like John because of his confrontational approach: he called them a BROOD OF VIPERS (Matthew 3:7) and they probably didn’t think highly of that.  Come to think of it, Jesus levelled the same accusation at them (Matthew 12:34; 23:33).

      Just as Jesus was not who they said He was.  Jesus did not have an ascetic lifestyle, so they accused Him of being a GLUTTON, DRUNKARD and FRIEND to folks they deemed outcasts (34).  Here are three examples of Scriptures that seem to support their exclusionary attitude.

            On the subject of gluttony, Ezekiel 16:49 pairs gluttony with societal injustice and identifies them as two of the sins of which Sodom was guilty.  Regarding drunkards, Proverbs 23:20 says the wise person will not JOIN people WHO DRINK TOO MUCH WINE.  One might say Psalm 1:1 directs the faithful to avoid being a FRIEND OF TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS as it offers a blessing for those who do not keep company with the WICKED, SINNERS or MOCKERS.

      While you could argue these passages command us to not join people in their sin, the Pharisees took verses like these to mean avoiding all association with “sinners.”  Or they were implying Jesus was just like the people He spent time with, condemned by sharing in their sins.

      Jesus refused the standards set forth by His pious-sounding critics.  He appealed to true WISDOM which is proven to be true by the outcome of its exercise.  He was content to be PROVED RIGHT by the fruit of His life (35).  For example, John’s followers affirmed true wisdom by saying GOD’S WAY WAS RIGHT (29-30).  True wisdom also stands in contrast to the hypocrites’ immaturity as illustrated by the pouting MARKETPLACE CHILDREN of vs. 31-32.

2. We are whomever God says we are.

      For example, Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest of the human race but least in the KINGDOM OF GOD (28).  How are we to understand this difficult verse, which seems to demote John the Baptist?

      We must see Jesus did not denigrate John’s contribution to the Divine Plan.  Go back to verses 26+27 to see John’s two roles.  He was a PROPHET; the last of the Old Testament-style prophets.  Historically, John was a bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. The quote from Malachi 3:1 points to John’s unique role; the MESSENGER proclaiming the Messiah.  The word MESSENGER here is normally translated “angel” and means “envoy.”

      Verse 28 is meant to be one of the great affirmations of the status of believers.  As important as John was to the plan of God, even the least-known saint takes on a greater importance.  This is really a comparison of the Old Covenant to the New.  John is offered by Jesus as the pinnacle of the Old Covenant, but he is eclipsed by the least-known New Covenant saint.  We shouldn’t take this to mean that John was not a participant in the Kingdom of God, as in Luke 13:28 Jesus said ALL THE PROPHETS are included.  John recognized Jesus as the Messiah and in so doing, saw the truth that the Old Testament prophets and angels longed to see (1 Peter 1:9-10-12) but his life ended before he could see Jesus raised from the dead, fulfilling prophecy.  

      Verses 29-30 reveal the love-hate reactions John inspired in others.  The PEOPLE loved John and agreed with Jesus’ assessment of John because they had been baptized by him.  They ACKNOWLEDGED GOD’S WAY WAS RIGHT.  The religious leaders hated John and rejected his message and refused his baptism.  In so doing, they REJECTED GOD’S PURPOSE FOR THEMSELVES.

      This is a reversal of what one might’ve expected.  The “religious rejects” were the ones who recognized God speaking through John while the “most religious” people missed it entirely.

      Jesus rejected their hypocrisy.  In verses 31-32 He compared them to a bunch of complaining kids.  They rejected John because he didn’t dance according to their tune.  They didn’t acknowledge their need to repent and thereby rejected John’s baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 19:4).  They rejected Jesus for the same reason – He refused to conform to their erroneous expectations of how the Messiah would act.

      It didn’t matter what kind of tune they played – a DANCE tune or a DIRGE – he refused to play along with them and they were in a huff about it!  The FLUTE is a reference to John’s austere lifestyle and aggressive message.  He refused to DANCE to their immature demands.  The DIRGE is a reference to Jesus’ joyous message and loving lifestyle.  He refused to CRY just because they wanted Him to.

Live the life to which God is calling you.  Don’t let others choose your life for you.

      This may be the only time you hear me quote a rapper; Christian hip-hop singer LaCrae has made a sage observation about reputation. “Some of us are more concerned with our reputation than our character. The latter takes care of the former.”

      In this passage Jesus rejected and refuted the slanders made against John the Baptist and Himself.  Religious hypocrites, possibly jealous or wary of their popularity among the common people, tried to ruin the reputations of each man.  Jesus’ teaching was that godly wisdom will manifest in one’s character which will, in turn, be substantiated by one’s words and deeds.  He didn’t allow His detractors to define Him but instead remained faithful to the mission God set before Him to do.

      This is appropriate for Church Vocations Sunday as we must expect and assist our church leaders in following Jesus’ example.  When we make demands of church leaders to suit our selfish interests, we’re behaving like the CHILDREN in the MARKETPLACE.  We must support leadership in the church by encouraging and assisting our leaders in doing what God wills.

RESOURCES:

The NIV Application Commentary, Luke, Darrell L. Bock

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, Darrell L. Bock

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Luke, Walter L. Liefield

https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/character-and-reputation.html

Good and Pleasant Days

Please read Psalm 133 in your favorite Bible.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      One of the things affected by the pandemic was family vacations. You remember family road trips? Lengthy road trips, especially with young children are a fine example of the way unity can be broken down. 

      Let’s consider: the first stage of a family trip is anticipation and excitement.  Unity is high in the first stage because we’re all committed to the trip and looking forward to reaching the destination.  Excitement was built with the preparations made for the trip.

      The second stage is the distraction stage.  Here impatience and boredom are starting to form cracks in our unity.  In order to make good time we are getting out books and games and snacks and all sorts of diversions to occupy our minds.  Assaults on our good humor occur in the form of teasing, tantrums, impatience, the need for potty breaks, disagreements about navigation; all these things begin to take their toll.

      The third stage is called “Are We There Yet?” after the question frequently posed to the driver.  In this stage unity is largely absent; its every person for themselves.  There are no distractions, not even fighting, that can cure the monotony of the road.

      The fourth stage is stupefaction.  Everyone is either asleep or in an entirely private world of their own thoughts.  The only sound we hear is that of the tires on the pavement.  Unity is not an issue since we are each in our own little world.  We share a space in the car but are emotionally isolated within the overwhelming sameness of sights and sounds.  If you are the driver, this stage is the sweet spot of the trip: the distractions in the vehicle are gone and you are in the zone for safe driving.

      The final stage occurs upon arrival.  Everyone awakens – either from the trance of the road or actual slumber – and unity is restored as you are able to exit the vehicle at last.  You have all survived the trial of the trip.  The sense of shared achievement and relief restore good humor and camaraderie.

      PSS 133 is about ancient road trips.  It is one of the “Song of Ascents;” hymns that worshipers sang as they walked up to the temple and by pilgrims as they traveled together to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts (EXS 23:14-17; LVS 23:4-22, 33-43; NBS 28:16-31; 29:12-39; DTY 16:1-17).  It prefaces worship with the blessing of the Lord that is evident in UNITY.

Unity is part of the Lord’s blessing.

1. Unity is precious.

      Unity is GOOD AND PLEASANT (1); it is something that feels so good is worth celebrating.  Fellowship characterized by UNITY is a taste of what heaven will be like.

      When we read the word BROTHERS from our New Testament perspective we think of church.  Obviously, “church” was not in David’s mind as he wrote this.  I’d guess he was thinking more “countrymen” as BROTHERS.  So let’s say this word includes families and churches, anywhere God’s people are joined together for worship or service.

      Unity is PRECIOUS, like the oil used for the anointing of Aaron (2).  A unified fellowship is related to the Priesthood of All Believers, a doctrine with its origins in Exodus 19:5-6 and renewed for the Church in 1 Peter 2:9-10.  I believe UNITY and the Priesthood of All Believers is connected by the mention of Aaron’s name and the reference to his consecration to be the original high priest.

      The Priesthood of All Believers is an important doctrine for at least three reasons.  One, it identifies our role in this world: as priests we represent God to those outside the faith.  We are mediators of Christ in the sense that we are His hands and voice.  Two, it is an expression of our sanctification; we are set apart to God’s service as OT priests were.  Three, membership in the church is strictly limited to believers.  We must exercise caution in extending membership and in maintaining standards for members.

      The occasion of Aaron’s anointing was important on its own merits but the OIL itself is also said to be PRECIOUS. This was a sacred OIL prepared with certain ingredients (Exodus 30:22-33), a formula that was not to be used for any other application, only for the consecration of priests.

      This OIL had two GOOD and PLEASANT associations in the minds of the OT saints.  It had a unique aroma.  Even the memory of that scent would stay with them and the mention of it would help them recall the scent.  It was a unique situation.  The anointing of Aaron was the event that instituted the priesthood.  It set apart an entire tribe for holy service (Exodus 29:44-46; Leviticus 9:22-24; Numbers 6:24-26).  In their experience it would have been associated only with the consecration of a priest.

      The way the OIL is described is an extravagant abundance, an overwhelming experience.  This OIL was POURED on Aaron’s head; not dribbled, not splashed.  The fact that a great quantity of the special OIL was used is evident in that it overflowed the crown of Aaron’s head, RUNNING down to his BEARD, then over his beard on to the COLLAR OF HIS ROBES.

      Unity is a BLESSING like the DEW that falls on MOUNT ZION (3).  Because of its high altitude, (10,000 feet above sea level), Mt. Hermon was known for abundant precipitation in all seasons.  Even during the dry season (May – Oct.) lush vegetation could be found upon its peak.  Mt. ZION (Jerusalem) would have little or no precipitation during these months.  The description of the blessing of unified fellowship was that it was so GOOD and PLEASANT, it felt refreshing as if Mt. HERMON’s DEW had fallen on Mt. ZION instead.  Just as the DEW refreshed and revived the plants atop Mt. Hermon, UNITY has the effect of refreshing and revitalizing the spirits of the saints.

      The word THERE may refer to the mountain and/or to the gathering of God’s people and the revitalizing power of His BLESSING.  Some people generalize and say the promise of life after death is absent from the OT but here it is: LIFE FOREVERMORE.

2. Unity is worth protecting.

      Protecting unity starts with loving God first and foremost.  This Psalm rightly identifies God as the source of life and UNITY.  It is His gifts that bring us the most profound joy.  The basis of fellowship is our shared relationship with God.  Because we have one Father, we become brothers and sisters.

      Protecting unity happens when we love others ahead of self.  The NT repeatedly lists various sins and identifies them as unity-busters.  Sin is the product of evil desires that are expressions of selfishness; putting more value on self than on others.  To preserve unity we must humble ourselves and defer to others.  Unity requires self-sacrifice on most occasions.  On more rare occasions, unity may require the sacrifice of persons who are distracting or disruptive.  Unity should be a greater priority than the personalities involved.

Unity is part of the Lord’s blessing.

      Like our salvation, UNITY is not something we create by our good works; if it is true, it is God’s gift. However, UNITY is expressed and enjoyed in loving, gracious, and good works.  Unlike salvation, UNITY can be quickly undone by sinful, selfish, and divisive actions.

      In part because UNITY is so easily broken and also in part because it is intended to be a means toward encouraging spiritual maturity, UNITY is something God values very highly.  Psalm 133 is one of many Bible passages that make this truth plain.  UNITY is not “optional” to one’s Christian experience, it is essential.

      We get a sense of the importance of UNITY among God’s people from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In MTW 5:23-24, Jesus taught, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

      Here Jesus says that UNITY must precede worship!  God cannot be legitimately approached in worship until we have done all we can to restore UNITY.  Healing a broken relationship is to be attempted before worship is offered.

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 – Psalms, Willem A. VanGemeren

The Daily Study Bible Series, Psalms Vol. 2, George A.F. Knight

Are We Saying Two Things By One Spirit?

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021?

“How to resolve conflict?” a story by Malik Mirza (posted 26dec10).

      “There was a father who died and left 17 camels to his three sons. When the sons opened the will they found it stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third). The youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the 17 camels.

      “As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, three sons started to fight with each other. How can they divide their father’s inheritance?

      “Finally, the three sons decided to go to a wise man to decide how to do it.  The wise man listened patiently about the whole matter and, after giving careful thought, brought a camel of his own and added it to the 17 left by the father. That increased the total to 18 camels.

      “Then he read aloud the deceased father’s will and apportioned the camels as follows:

Half of 18 is 9, so he gave the eldest son 9 camels.

1/3rd of 18 is 6, so he gave the middle son 6 camels

1/9th of 18 is 2, so he gave the youngest son 2 camels.

      “Now add this up: 9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17 and this leaves one camel, which the wise man took back.

The attitude of conflict resolution is to find the ‘18th camel’ (i.e. the common ground). Once a person is able to find the 18th ground by using his or her intellect, the issue is resolved. The first step to conflict resolution is to believe that there is a solution.

https://wisdomfrombooks.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/how-to-resolve-conflict-a-story/

      Today we observe the Epiphany, the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus.  They claimed to have been led to the newborn King of the Jews by a star.  Similarly, we are to be directed by a heavenly guide, the Holy Spirit.  Often, however, the Spirit’s leadership is not as obvious as a bright star indicating our destination.  Writing to a divided church in 2 Corinthians the Apostle Paul twice affirmed all believers are given the same Spirit.

4:13 = IT IS WRITTEN: “I BELIEVED; THEREFORE I HAVE SPOKEN.”  WITH THAT SAME SPIRIT OF FAITH WE BELIEVE AND THEREFORE SPEAK.

12:18 = I URGED TITUS TO GO TO YOU AND I SENT OUR BROTHER WITH HIM.  TITUS DID NOT EXPLOIT YOU, DID HE?  DID WE NOT ACT IN THE SAME SPIRIT AND FOLLOW THE SAME COURSE?

      What are we to do when church people oppose one another, both claiming the direction of the Holy Spirit?  We have this example from the book of Acts to instruct us.

The Holy Spirit speaks with one voice, leading the church to a unified expression of faith.

1. Paul said the Spirit led him to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 20:22-24)

      Paul said he was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go to Jerusalem (22).  Previously, in Acts 19:21 = Paul was in Ephesus when he DECIDED TO GO TO JERUSALEM.  Ironically, he also announced he was to go to Rome, which is where Paul would end up, and there surrender his life for his faith.  We don’t know when Paul received the Spirit’s instructions to go to Jerusalem, here he announced his decision to go.  He had organized a big collection of funds from the Gentile churches he founded and wanted to deliver it personally to the church in Jerusalem

      He also said the Spirit warned him that PRISON AND HARDSHIPS awaited him (23).  These warnings came in EVERY CITY, including the ones mentioned in these chapters.  Paul was not deterred by these  warnings, as His ambition was to FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME – TESTIFYING TO THE GOSPEL (24).

2. The Syrian believers said the Spirit led them to urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:1-17)

      After a tear-filled goodbye with the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:36-38), Luke and Paul finally arrived at Syria (1-3) and spent a week with the DISCIPLES there (4).  We don’t know if the Syrian church had the same emotional attachment to Paul as the Ephesian elders did, but they URGED him THROUGH THE SPIRIT NOT TO GO ON TO JERUSALEM (4).  Paul continued to Jerusalem anyway (5-9).

      Caesarea was the last seaport on Paul’s journey to Jerusalem.  I was there A PROPHET NAMED AGABUS prophesied Paul’s imprisonment, quoting the HOLY SPIRIT (10-11).  This is serious because ten chapters earlier, Agabus predicted a severe famine across the empire.  This prophecy prompted Paul’s work to collect funds from his Gentile churches to support the mother church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30).  This prompted additional pleading with Paul not to go (12-14).

      Resolved, Paul went on to Jerusalem (14-17).  Verse fourteen reports they finally gave up trying to persuade Paul, saying, “THE LORD’S WILL BE DONE.”  It sounds like there was a disagreement over which prophecy came from the Spirit.

      In the end, Paul had to decide for himself, as all of us must.  People have debated whether he made the right choice or not, given all the trouble he experienced; his lengthy imprisonment followed by his execution.

3. How we are to understand and obey the Spirit’s leadership.

      When there are conflicting claims of the Holy Spirit’s leading, there are 4 possible explanations.

      First, one claim is wrong, the other right.  We must discern which is right.  Instinct compels us to think this the obvious explanation, especially if we have a stake in one side or the other.  We should avoid the temptation to make this conclusion but should first discuss the matter. We must never fall out of fellowship over matters like this.

      Second, both claims to being led by the Spirit are wrong.  We must expose falsehood and prevent its recurrence.  This is the most troubling possibility as it means misunderstanding the Spirit is more widespread.

      Third, both claims are correct.  We must discern a divine reason for what seems to be a mixed message.  This is the least likely explanation.  We need to be careful; the Spirit will never contradict the written word, nor will He lead us into sin.

      Fourth, both claims have a portion of the truth; together they tell the whole story. This is what I believe we see here in Acts 20-21.  For his part, Paul correctly discerned the Spirit’s guidance directing him to go to Jerusalem.  For their part, Agabus and the other believers correctly discerned this would be Paul’s last days of freedom; Jerusalem would be the beginning of the end for him.  This news dismayed them and they understandably mistook it for counsel not to go at all.  Instead, God was preparing Paul for what he would have to face.  This is clearly how Paul understood the situation (Acts 20:23).

      When seeking God’s leading through the Spirit we must pray, listen, wait for wisdom, discuss it with maturing believers, test what’s being said against the Bible, make a decision, then try it and see what happens.

      The apparently contradictory prophecies we see here in Acts could be troubling but we need to remember that prophecy by nature can be somewhat enigmatic; it often requires some interpretation to understand it.  After that, prophecy requires application; we have to decide what to do with it. 

      Interpretation and application are both processes where the human element comes in.  The message is purely of the Spirit, but after it has been interpreted and applied, some of the message may be changed in the process.  (This is true of all kinds of human communication so it shouldn’t surprise us if it happens in divine-human communication too.)

The Holy Spirit speaks with one voice, leading the church to a unified expression of faith.

      In these chapters of Acts, we see what seems to be opposing counsel from the Holy Spirit is actually two parts to a single message: Paul was to go to Jerusalem, but he was to go with his eyes open, aware of what it would cost him.  The churches, likewise, needed to know they could never again count on Paul to be with them; they needed to develop leadership within their own members to go forward.

      If we consider the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy to be available today, we have to understand how it works and how to use it.  On a bigger scale, the Bible teaches all claims to speak for the Holy Spirit need to be subjected to scrutiny (1 Corinthians 14:29-30).  We must not be content only to separate true from false but must also correctly interpret God’s message and how to apply it.

RESOURCES:

More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Acts, Ernest H. Trenchard

https://wisdomfrombooks.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/how-to-resolve-conflict-a-story/

I.F.F.

Read 2 John in your Bible.

IFF

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

                From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Identification, friend or foe (IFF) is a radar-based aircraft identification system designed for command and control. It uses a transponder that listens for an interrogation signal and then sends a response that identifies the broadcaster. It enables military and civilian air traffic control systems to identify aircraft, vehicles, or forces as friendly and to determine their bearing and range from the interrogator.

      “Despite the name, IFF can only positively identify friendly targets, not hostile ones. If an IFF interrogation receives no reply or an invalid reply, the object cannot be identified as friendly, but is not positively identified as foe; it may, for instance, be a friendly aircraft with an inoperative, unresponsive, or malfunctioning transponder. IFF is a designed to reduce friendly fire incidents, but also contributes to overall tactical decision-making.”

       Many people are familiar with Jesus’ words, “JUDGE NOT,” and take that command to forbid all kinds of judgments about other people.  That is a classic example about taking a verse out of context, as just a few verses later, Jesus gives instructions on how to tell the difference between a GOOD TREE (person) and a BAD TREE (person).  Spoiler alert: it is by their FRUITS (words and deeds).  Jesus forbade judgmentalism but commanded exercising good judgment in knowing the difference between good and evil in one’s self and in others.  John is certainly in line with the teaching of Jesus.

Believers are to be wise enough to know the difference between God’s friends and His foes.

1. Identify God’s friends by their love in word and deed. (4-6)

      Mark #1 = God’s friends love the truth.  WALKING IN THE TRUTH brings GREAT JOY to God’s friends. (4)  The author of this book identified himself as the ELDER, so that is what we will call him.  The Elder expresses relief and GREAT JOY to find that SOME of the CHOSEN LADY’s CHILDREN are still WALKING IN THE TRUTH.

      This is the Elder’s teaching, the truth revealed by the FATHER who commands His children to live in keeping with the TRUTH.  To walk in the TRUTH means to live in a way that is consistent with God’s commands, obedient to His will.  We are to keep all the truth, not just the parts we find convenient or compelling.

      Mark #2 = God’s friends truly love one another.  In verse five THE Elder developed the most important part of the TRUTH revealed by the Father: His command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  The Elder did not change his message; this is the same command he gave them FROM THE BEGINNING.  In his commentary Dr. Tom Johnson wrote, “Love is the vital power to keep Christians together amid controversy and conflict.  It can heal old wounds and keep new ones from opening.” (p. 153)

      God’s friends WALK in OBEDIENCE and LOVE. (6) To merely claim to have faith and feel love are insufficient.  Our daily living, our WALK, must be characterized by faith and love in action.  Love for God is manifest in and proven genuine by obedience.  Love for one another is manifest in and proven genuine by our words and deeds intended to build each other up in spiritual maturity.

2. Identify God’s foes by their falsehood & lack of love. (7-11)

      Mark #1 = God’s foes are FALSE (7).  The Elder called them DECEIVERS.  This Greek word is based on the word for “error.”  The DECEIVERS were not sincerely wrong, they were leading others astray even though they knew what their teaching was in error.  The Elder identified one important point of their deception: they did not ACKNOWLEDGE JESUS CHRIST AS COMING IN THE FLESH.

      Concerned for the spiritual life of the church, the Elder warned such DECIEVERS have GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD.  They misrepresent the Church and the Gospel.

      Mincing no words, the Elder correctly identified God’s foes as THE DECEIVER AND THE ANTICHRIST.  There is no middle ground: every person is either God’s friend or foe.

      Mark #2 = God’s foes split churches (9).  In a play on words, the Elder wrote that God’s friends WALK in love, but God’s foes “run ahead.”  Rather than stick with the faith passed down from the Apostles, they believe what they want.

      Their error in rejecting THE TEACHING OF CHRIST is that they do not HAVE GOD.  Regardless of what they claim, such people are not putting forth this teaching at God’s direction.  It is entirely their own doing.  By way of contrast, God’s friends continue IN THE TEACHING OF CHRIST, including that He came to this world IN THE FLESH, to provide life for us.

3. The importance of identifying friend and foe is found in the Elder’s warnings. (8,10-11)

      The Elder’s warned the believers to guard their REWARD against God’s foes. (8)  God has promised to reward His friends, the ones who remain faithful, whatever life or persecutors throw at them.  Their motive is not to LOSE WHAT YOU HAVED WORKED FOR, the full REWARD God offers, eternal life in heaven.  Daniel L. Akin wrote, “John believes perseverance is the proof of possession.” (p. 158)

      In 1 John 1:19 our author explained how people who had been in church could turn and become “antichrist:”

THEY WENT OUT FROM US, BUT THEY DID NOT REALLY BELONG TO US.  FOR IF THEY HAD BELONGED TO US, THEY WOULD HAVE REMAINED WITH US.”  In other words, it is not possible to lose your salvation, but it is possible to appear to have it and by giving up, lose the appearance of salvation.  By persevering we prove to ourselves and others our faith is real.

      The Elder also warned them against befriending God’s foes. (10-11)  When you recognize God’s foes, you are to cut ties with such a person.  The idea is not to punish anyone with rudeness, but to act to quarantine yourself against their falsehood like an infection.

      In a culture that emphasized hospitality (for example, in 3 John 8 the Elder commanded showing hospitality to faithful teachers), the Elder commands them to not be hospitable to such people.  In our time, this would take the form of quietly but firmly shutting the door on cultists at your home or hanging up on deceivers on your telephone.

      Speaking plainly, the Elder cautioned that anyone who welcomed God’s foes became an accomplice in their WICKED WORK.  This would be sufficient cause to lose one’s REWARD (v. 8).

      The Elder is simply being practical.  He is making it easy for the friends of God to maintain their faith, not taking the risk of contaminating the truth by giving them even an inch of the precious territory of their soul.  “Zero Tolerance” is the simplest, safest policy.

Believers are to be wise enough to know the difference between God’s friends and His foes.

      Daniel L. Akin offers a neat, “mathematical” way of understanding how the foes of God work against a church.

Addition = “They add an extra-biblical source of authority by prophet, pen, or professor.’

Subtraction = “They subtract from the person and work of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  They deny His deity and find inadequate His work of redemption.”

Division = “They divide our allegiance from God through Christ alone to others.”

Multiplication = “They multiply requirements for salvation.  All advocate some form of works salvation.” (Akins, p. 169.)

      Social media and 24-7 news media have created a “disinformation superhighway.”  It is simply too easy to throw out personal opinions and prejudices without any regard for others or for consequences.  The Elder says we who believe must do better.

      My advice is to disconnect until you can find reasonable sources of information.  Use social media to contact people you know and interact only positively and only with people you know and trust.

RESOURCES:

Message #538

New International Bible Commentary, 1, 2, and 3 John, Thomas F. Johnson

Christ-centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in 1, 2, & 3 John, Daniel L. Akin

The Nefarious Institution

Take a moment to read Philemon in you favorite Bible.

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      One of the three things that has caused 2020 to be an historically awful year has been the rioting in American cities.  A reason offered for these mob actions is to force more attention and action on “race relations.”  In recent newsletter articles I have shown how the Church needs to actively promote the truth and decry the use of the word “race” to account for differences in skin color.  Science and Scripture both affirm that human beings are far more alike than they are different.

      A factor in this aspect of the “Cultural Cold War” is the enduring effects of the practice of slavery in this country.  Slavery has always been an offense to God who makes all people in His image and it has been a problem for our nation since before its birth.  It was debated during deliberations on the Declaration of Independence.  Sections of the document condemning slavery were edited out.  Ironically, a document proclaiming the right to freedom of every human did a hard pass on the freedom of humans who happened to be slaves.

      Later, after our revolution succeeded, our founders met to give form to our government: “That year, during debate on the Constitution, one of the most vocal opponents of slavery among the Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, called slavery a ‘nefarious institution’ and ‘the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed.’” (Quote retrieved from Britannica.com.)

      Today we will look at the Bible book that most directly and powerfully examines this topic.  It happens to be one of the “One Page Wonders of the Bible,” Philemon.  Here is the backstory before we begin: a slave ran away.  He ran into the Apostle Paul.  At some point this slave became a Christian and an important assistant to Paul.  Love and law collided in this situation.  Paul was forced to make a tough choice.  His response is instructive to us on slavery and in Christian conduct in general.

The Apostle Paul did not argue for abolition but attempted to persuade one owner (Philemon) to benefit one slave (Onesimus), both of whom were brothers in Christ.

1. Paul put Philemon in his place. (4-7, 21)

      Paul held Philemon to a high standard and wrote positively about his faith.  Paul commended Philemon’s faith in five ways.

      First (v. 4), in thankful prayers. In this culture, letters often began with this kind of greeting.  In this case, Paul is expressing more than the usual amount of love for Philemon.

      Second (v. 5), Paul’s thankfulness was based, in part, on the reports Paul had received about Philemon: his remarkable FAITH and LOVE.  Philemon had FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS and LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS.  The word ALL stands out here because there were many slaves who were numbered among the members of the Church.

      Third (v. 6), by noting in detail what he prayed for Philemon, Paul attempted to create these virtues in Philemon.  For example, the clause, THAT YOU MAY BE ACTIVE IN SHARING YOUR FAITH aims to encourage Philemon’s activity in witnessing.  Were Philemon to actively share his faith, that would put his Christianity in a more public place.  This would, in turn, have the effect of making Philemon virtually accountable to everyone he met.  Were he to behave poorly to Onesimus, there would be peer pressure of disapproval or at least the threat of it, to motivate him to behave more charitably.

            Another example of using prayer as a motivator, Paul prayed THAT YOU WILL HAVE A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF EVERY GOOD THING WE HAVE IN CHRIST.  This prayer acknowledges we learn by experience.  The aforementioned “active sharing” would be an experience that would impart a fuller understanding of faith in Philemon.  But Paul’s prayer is specific; that Philemon would better understand and appreciate EVERY GOOD THING WE HAVE IN CHRIST.  My guess is that Paul wanted Philemon to feel richly blessed so that he would feel he could afford to be generous regarding Onesimus.

      Fourth (v. 7), in personal gratitude for repeated expressions of love he had given the Apostle Paul: YOUR LOVE HAS GIVEN ME GREAT JOY AND ENCOURAGEMENT.  On a bigger scale, Philemon had also REFRESHED THE HEARTS OF THE SAINTS.  As he had proven himself to be a good man to the whole church, Paul hoped he would prove himself to be a godly man in his response to Onesimus, to the approval of the church.  Paul hoped Philemon would give him more reason for JOY AND ENCOURAGEMENT by showing LOVE to Onesimus upon his return.

      Fifth (v. 21), in his customary obedience to Paul’s instruction.  Based on previous encounters, Paul had reason to be CONFIDENT OF Philemon’s OBEDIENCE.  Paul pressed this point further.  He not only expected Philemon to as instructed, but to go beyond those instructions and showing initiative to do EVEN MORE THAN I ASK.

      I do not see this as flattery but as strategy.  The Apostle Paul never used flattery, he condemned it in 1 Thessalonians 2:5 = YOU KNOW WE NEVER USED FLATTERY, NOR DID WE PUT ON A MASK TO COVER UP GREED – GOD IS OUR WITNESS.  Instead, Paul used the strategy of holding up the ideal kind of behavior and attributing it to Philemon so he will be more likely to react to Onesimus’ return according to that higher standard, not according to anger or other vices typical to human nature. This was a positive use of peer pressure to bring into being the virtues you want someone to have.

2. Paul appealed to Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother. (8-21)

      Paul appealed to Philemon though he could have given him orders. (8-9)  Paul pulled rank without really pulling rank or even threatening to do so.  He took a gentle approach.  There is no abuse of his authority as an apostle. Instead of forcing a confrontation that way, Paul appealed to a greater power: the power of LOVE.

      Paul stressed how useful Onesimus had become to him; useful and more. (9-11)  As he had become an OLD MAN AND A PRISONER, Paul had need for a helper, a servant who could enter and exit the prison to get him things he needed.  Onesimus was of a practical value to Paul and yet Paul did not even consider keeping him but vowed to do the right thing.

      The value of Onesimus’ assistance and the depth of Paul’s feelings about him are measured by Paul’s reference to Onesimus as his SON.  In that culture, the teacher-student relationship was referred to as a “father-son” relationship. 

      We must also note the high human value Paul placed on Onesimus by referring to him as a SON, not a SLAVE.  Too often slaves are dehumanized, thought of as mere property, like cattle.  Paul humanized Onesimus by this reference.

      In verse eleven the apostle made a play on words.  The name Onesimus was a common name for a slave as it meant “useful.”  The fact that he had this name may indicate he was born into slavery or given this name as a dehumanizing act.  Paul said Onesimus became USELESS to Philemon when he ran away but became USEFUL to Paul in his imprisonment.  We cannot see it in English, but Paul is making a little joke here to try to draw out some of poisonous anger Philemon must have felt.

      Paul reluctantly returned Onesimus to honor Philemon’s legal authority as master. (12-14)  There are two contradictory truths here.

      On the one hand, Onesimus had been USEFUL to Paul as an assistant.  Moreover, Onesimus was in Paul’s HEART (v. 12) as a brother in Christ.  Paul held him in the highest value and hoped Philemon would see his true value as well.  On the other hand, the law was clear about fugitive slaves and God commands His people to follow the law.

      Feeling the sharp horns of that dilemma, Paul wanted to respect Philemon’s legal rights. (14)  Furthermore, he did not want to twist Philemon’s arm, using his authority or circumstance, or any other leverage to compel Philemon against his will.  Instead, Paul wanted to change Philemon’s will, so that his rights and freedom were respected and yet the best possible outcome achieved.

      Paul had to send Onesimus back.  But he used strategy, reasonable and emotional appeals, and relied on the Holy Spirit to change Philemon’s heart.

      Paul hoped Philemon would receive Onesimus as a BROTHER IN THE LORD, not a SLAVE. (15-16)  Onesimus broke the law by running away.  His service to Paul was given freely and appreciated, but Christian virtue does not allow us to break the law for matters of convenience or worldly gain.  There is the dilemma.

      Verses fifteen and sixteen are the heart of Paul’s appeal.  He looked at the situation from God’s perspective.  He speculated God may have intended to use Onesimus’ flight to provide for his ultimate freedom legally and spiritually.  We know God is powerful enough to take what men intend for evil and use it to bring about good.  In the long term, this letter definitively strikes a death blow against slavery.

      In his letter Paul redefined Onesimus.  He ran away as property; he was coming back as Paul’s SON, as a MAN, and best of all, as a BROTHER IN THE LORD.  Paul respected Philemon’s rights and his manhood but maneuvered around them in making his appeal.

      Paul put it to Philemon as a PARTNER, offering his own resources as compensation for any loss Philemon might incur by being faithful. (17-20)  Now Paul is being entirely practical.  The word PARTNER here has the sense of being a business associate. Rather than make this appeal and expect Philemon to write off his business losses, Paul offered, in several ways, to repay those losses so they may not be considered a “debt” that Onesimus would have to work off.

      Paul did this out of respect for Philemon but also to avoid any circumstance where Onesimus’ slavery would have to continue any longer.  He wanted Philemon to have no business reason to keep Onesimus a slave.  He removed any economic roadblock with this offer.

      We are told twice that Paul was a PRISONER.  What kind of financial resources could he have to back his offer?  I do not think he had much to offer, but the fact that he made that commitment speaks volumes about his character, his faith, and his desire to see Onesimus become a free man.

The Apostle Paul did not argue for abolition but attempted to persuade one owner (Philemon) to benefit one slave (Onesimus), both of whom were brothers in Christ.

      The irony of this letter is found in v. 1; Paul is a PRISONER (literally) trying to help a SLAVE (Onesimus) return to his servitude!  Because Paul is imprisoned by the Romans, all he can do to try to make this situation right is to write a letter.  I believe Paul poured his heart and all his persuasive powers in this letter because he loved both the slave and his master and he wanted to see them reconciled in the most legal and most Christ-honoring way possible.  Maybe Paul also hoped for a reconciliation scene that would forever be a testimony to the power of Christ to overcome the worldly things that try to separate us from one another.  Maybe he hoped that Onesimus might be remembered as a Christian who obeyed the law even when it cost him his freedom and that Philemon might be an example of Christ-like love and grace because he not only forgave Onesimus for running away but also rewarded his Christian faith with his legal freedom.  If Paul was not hoping all those things from his letter, then God had them in mind and that is why this brief letter is included in our Bibles.  It is a short note with a powerful appeal!  It is an example of how we believe, with Christ, that we can change society one person at a time.  Political power and media influence are worldly means of persuading people to change.  Our power resides in the Holy Spirit in us. 

      Paul was faithful to act to change the heart of one master, softening it to save the life of one slave, making them brothers in the family of faith.  He used a letter filled with love, not a picket sign or a media rant to do it.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, Philemon, Arthur A. Rupprecht

https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-and-Slavery-1269536

Loyalty Tested is Loyalty Proven

Read 1 Peter 2:13-17 in your go-to Bible.

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

       Here at Emmanuel Baptist Church we have been in the habit of setting aside the second Sunday in October as “Loyalty Sunday.”  It has been a time when we encourage our members to make a pledge, invite a friend, make a special effort to be in worship.  In the midst of the pandemic, those are things not all of us are going to be able to do, so this Loyalty Sunday I want to turn the emphasis a bit to thank you for the loyalty you’ve been showing.

       Emmanuel Baptist members and friends have maintained pre-pandemic levels of attendance in-person and online.  You have given generously and consistently to meet our expenses.  You have responded positively to the steps we have taken to create a safe environment in our building.

       On this Loyalty Sunday, I want to thank and congratulate you.  As a result of your continuing support, the ministry of Jesus Christ at Emmanuel continues.  Praise the Lord!

       Take a moment to look at the illustration in your bulletin.  It seemed to me if you want to illustrate the virtue of loyalty, the best place to start is with our race’s best friend (after Jesus, of course): the dog.  The dog in this picture is demonstrating his loyalty through obedience: he’s been taught to leave a treat on his nose and will resist centuries of instinct, not gobbling it down until his master gives permission.

       If you can’t see that picture at the moment, I offer a verbal illustration found at the website “DogTime.”  “In Siberia, Russia, a dog has been coming to a hospital every day for over 2 years, unaware her master died a year ago. Her owner was admitted 2 years ago and a patient for about a year. Masha has come every day in search of her owner, unaware the man has passed. She still comes, hoping to find him. A family tried adopting Masha but she escaped and made her way back to the hospital. Now the hospital staff makes sure she is cared for.

That dog’s loyalty extends beyond the grave!  What a great picture of the loyalty we are to demonstrate in our relationship with God.

Loyalty to God requires obedience.

      CONTEXT: In 2:9 Peter taught believers have God-given authority; he called us A CHOSEN PEOPLE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, and a PEOPLE BELONGING TO GOD. (9)  He went on to detail the responsibilities that go with such an exalted status in vs. 11+12.  In this context, to command submission seems almost self-contradictory.  Taken together these complimentary commands prove a full-featured 3D view of discipleship: we do not SUBMIT because we are doormats anyway.  Believers SUBMIT out of obedience to God and to accomplish things that are possible only by submission.  Now we’ll take a moment to explain how that works.

1. SUBMIT YOURSELVES. (13-15)

God commands us to SUBMIT to EVERY AUTHORITY INSTITUTED AMONG MEN. (13)  The Greek words for EVERY AUTHORITY can also be translated “every human creation” or “every fundamental social institution.”  Peter will specify the authorities to be…

The government (13-17).

Masters & slaves (18-25).

The family (3:1-7).

      THE KING AS THE SUPREME AUTHORITY.  Would’ve been the emperor in Peter’s situation.  GOVERNOR were the regional or local authorities charged with enacting the emperor’s will in their jurisdictions.

What underlies this command to submit to heads of state is to counter the understandable desire for rebellion as a response to suffering persecution.  These commands remove any excuse for retaliation for persecution, even though at that point the government is misusing its God-given powers.

There is also a theological argument for the command to submit.  Starting with creation where God imposed order upon chaos, the Bible makes it clear God is all about order.  He is an organizer who calls His people to join Him in bringing righteous order to a sinful disorderly world.

The reasons for our submission.  The first and most important of these reasons is FOR THE LORD’S SAKE (13), which means for the glory due His name and for the obedience He commands.  If you wouldn’t choose to submit, do it anyway; do it FOR THE LORD’S SAKE.

      Second, the authorities are SENT by God to accomplish two purposes, which, together, accomplish the fullness of God’s justice.  Purpose #1: TO PUNISH THOSE WHO DO WRONG.  Purpose #2: TO COMMEND THOSE WHO DO RIGHT.

      Third, it is GOD’S WILL that we should DO GOOD to SILENCE THE IGNORANT TALK OF FOOLISH MEN. Notice the word “rant” in IGNORANT.  Do you suppose that’s just a coincidence?  The word for IGNORANT is typically used in the Bible for stubborn unbelievers; people who reject God because they are unreasonable folk.  Words do not generally silence such people as words are a weapon they wield as part of their arsenal of evil.  What is more likely to silence them are good deeds. The point is that the lives of believers are to be as blameless as possible so that critics of the faith have no true basis for accusation.

2. LIVE AS FREE MEN. (16)

We are to be FREE, but without excuse: freedom is not an excuse for doing what you want.  Our FREEDOM is that we’re no longer slaves to our own sin nature.  We’re not free from rules or responsibilities; we are free to embrace God’s commands without the distraction and encumbrance of a sin nature.

Believers are to behave responsibly, not misusing our freedom to do evil.  Followers of Jesus live in the truth; we don’t make excuses to justify misbehavior.  Here Peter echoes Paul’s teaching in Galatians 5:13 = YOU, MY BROTHERS, WERE CALLED TO BE FREE, BUT DO NOT USE YOUR FREEDOM TO INDULGE YOUR SINFUL NATURE; RATHER, SERVE ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.

Our freedom exists to allow us to choose to love.  It is love that motivates and directs the free choices we make.

SERVANTS OF GOD exercise their true freedom in Christ; they are free in a way that an ungodly person is NOT free.  “Slave” is a more literal translation of the Greek word rendered here as SERVANTS.  Peter made a forceful comparison between slave and free.  Behaving like FREE MEN requires surrendering our FREEDOM in voluntary slavery to Jesus Christ.  In this, Peter and Paul are again in agreement: Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUR OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.

3. SHOW PROPER RESPECT. (17)

RESPECT involves recognition of another person as more worthy than self.  We show RESPECT by deferring to the other person and having sensitivity to them.

In this “Information Age” we are trying hard to be heard, so it is easy to resort to disrespecting other voices on the same subject.  A respectful person does the opposite; they are, as James wrote, QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY (James 1:19).

RESPECT is the foundation to all good relationships because it involves recognizing the worth of all people, based on the fact that God created them.  Note: this means that RESPECT is NOT always earned, it is bestowed as a matter of course, based on God, not on the person.  RESPECT can be as much an act of grace as any other human interaction.

The word PROPER means “appropriate to the type of relationship.”  Peter gave three examples of appropriate RESPECT.

      The first example is LOVE for THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS. When we think about God’s command to love our “neighbor,” our family of faith rises to the top of that list.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve special LOVE.

      The second example is FEAR for GOD.  Our relationship with God is not one of equals.  We must have awe for God, recognizing He holds us in His hands.

      HONOR for the KING as long as honoring the KING does not require disobeying God’s law.  When faced with that choice, we must agree with Peter and the Apostles in Acts 5:29, “WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN!”

Loyalty to God requires obedience.

      President Woodrow T. Wilson said, “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” That is another way of stating what has been said in this passage regarding our loyalty to God: it is manifest in our obedience to His commands.  Obedience has the greatest value when it demands the most self-sacrifice.

      This loyalty is demonstrated in the big decisions of life, but it is more commonly and more importantly manifest in the minor and mundane decisions of everyday life.  Our judgments made in ordinary moments, our choice of words and deeds either prove our loyalty or betray its falsehood.  What’s needed is for each of us to slow down and in these ordinary moments, consider how we might act as a loyal follower of Jesus Christ.  The weight of those decisions will, over time, have the most impact.

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, James, G.J. Polkinghorne.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 1 Peter, Edwin A. Blum.

https://www.quoteambition.com/loyalty-quotes/

Don’t Give Up On #100

Please read Luke 15:1-7 in your favorite Bible.

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

       Here’s a backwards take on the parable we’ve just read:

       “A devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, ‘It’s a miracle!’”

       “’Not really,’ said the sheep. “Your name is written inside the cover.”
(Source: http://www.jokes4us.com/animaljokes/sheepjokes.html)

       How do you react when you discover something’s lost?  On the one extreme there’s the person who won’t give up the search for the lost thing until it’s either found or they’ve exhausted the places they can look.  On the other extreme is the person who’s ready to give it up right away.  “It’ll turn up,” they say, and continue on, unconcerned.

       I tend to the first type, but my general lack of patience kicks in and I say, “Whatever.”  My grandmother used to say, “Whatever the house takes the house will give back.”  I have a few orphan socks that argue against her theory, but why quibble?

       As we will see in this parable, our attitude toward lost people ought to be something like the first extreme: we never give up.

Genuine godly love never gives up.

1. The point of this parable.

The shepherd’s work to find his sheep and his joy afterward are indicative of his love.  God does not give up on people; He continues to seek and save the lost.

God’s love is universal, but not all persons will be saved; only those who receive it by faith.  2 Peter 3:9 explains this apparent contradiction. THE LORD IS NOT SLOW IN KEEPING HIS PROMISE, AS SOME UNDERSTAND SLOWNESS.  HE IS PATIENT WITH YOU, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.

2. The parable in its context.

At the center of this passage are the folks whom the religious leaders dismissed as TAX COLLECTORS AND “SINNERS.”  The religious leaders’ discrimination was the launching point for these three parables, all of which make the same point about the extravagant love God has for sinners.

       THE PHARISEES AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW had written off such people as “deplorables;” people whom they believed God had already given up on.  In fact, they had a name for such people; they called them “People of the Land.”  Here’s what their own rules advised: “When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him, trust him with no secret, do no appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, Luke, p. 199.)

Sin draws boundaries to shut people out.  These religious leaders were legalists and hypocrites, two things that often go together.  Their lack of love stands in stark contrast to the deep love demonstrated by the shepherd in this parable and the father in the Parable of the Lost Son.

       These “religious” men grumbled publicly about Jesus’ choice of students: “THIS MAN WELCOMES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM.”  EATS WITH THEM was a more involved level of association, an action unthinkable to these hypocrites.  They intended this to be a slur on Jesus’ character (“A man is judged by the company he keeps.”) and a reason pious Jews should not listen to Him.  They were also warning faithful Jews that association with this crowd would make the ceremonially unclean, a status that would bar them from entering the temple.

Sheep and shepherds were common Bible images for God and His people.  Jesus’ parables most often used common events.  For example, Ezekiel 34:12: [The LORD said] “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.”

       The size of the flock (100 sheep) was average; it was customary to count them as they entered the sheep pen for the night.  The shepherd was responsible for the sheep, even to the point of risking his own life for them.  When a sheep died, he was required to bring home at least the fleece to show how it had died.

       For shepherds, each animal was a significant financial and personal investment; the relief and joy expressed by the shepherd in v. 6 would be typical.  The FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS invited to share in his joy might include the shepherd’s partners or the owners of the flock.  Even the detail of carrying the sheep on his shoulders is accurate; it was the typical way to carry a sheep that was injured or too frightened to be herded.

One detail was exaggerated and atypical in order to draw attention to it: this shepherd went “overboard” in his search for the missing sheep.  The 99 sheep were left in the OPEN FIELD, not in the pen.  This indicates the shepherd’s overwhelming concern for the lost.  He does not give up the search UNTIL HE FINDS IT (4).

       When the shepherd finds the sheep, he lovingly carries it back to the fold and calls for a joyous celebration.  This image fits perfectly with Jesus’ mission as He identified it in Luke 19:10, “THE SON OF MAN CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE WHAT WAS LOST.”

God searches, finds, and all heaven rejoices.  In the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep in the OPEN FIELD, Jesus showed God had nothing to do with the self-righteous attitudes of the hypocrites.  As long as life remains, God will continue to seek and save people who are, at the moment, lost.

       In verse seven Jesus sharpened the point of the parable and stuck it to the complaining hypocrites, “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.”  He used their own word SINNER against them; this is dripping with irony.  Jesus turned their point of view inside out.

       HEAVEN is the throne room of God.  The REJOICING that takes place there defined God’s love as being directed at the ones who need it most, not the ones who mistakenly justify themselves.

       It sounds like Jesus is contrasting a new believer with existing believers, but in fact, He is contrasting a sincere believer (anyone of any background who repents) with a hypocrite (someone who sees no need to REPENT).

3. The parable in our context.

Godly love will not allow us to give up on people, even those who “disagreeably disagreeable.”  When I started in ministry, church growth experts advised churches to reach out to people just like the people already attending there.  Though I understood the practicalities of that strategy, I didn’t like it then and like it less now.  This strategy is akin to the attitude of the hypocrites that preface this parable.

       On the other hand, our culture holds up diversity as the highest possible goal.  The truth is in the middle: diversity is not an end in itself, but means to an end: we are more godly people when we invite everyone to our table.  The ideal is unity in theology, charity and diversity in just about everything else.  We are stronger when our differences multiply our understanding and patience.  We are to witness as God provides us with opportunities.  Even the difficult ones.

Godly love requires us to leave the FOLD to find the lost sheep.  The shepherd didn’t say “Oh well” and stay in the comfort of the sheep pen.  He left and searched until the lost was found.  So much of church life is focused on the members.  Look at where we spend our money and our time.  Like members of a country club, we emphasize our benefits and buy off our obligations.

       SO; let’s don’t be the disapproving hypocrites in vs. 1+2 or the grumpy older brother in vs. 28-29.  Instead, let us follow the example of the shepherd in this parable, the woman in the next, and the father in the third parable.  They eagerly sought to find what was lost.

Genuine godly love never gives up.

       I am the first to confess this passage troubles me.  I’m more comfortable around churched folk and my job puts me in contact with churched folk who are, in the majority, friendly and easy to get along with.  At the same time, I know that every week God gives me opportunity to practice what I preach, often in the days before I preach it.  This message is no exception.

       This week an unchurched person God put in my path was not the kind of person I would seek out for friendship.  This person required patience as their political, religious, and personal views were almost all contradictory to mine.  Without breaking any confidentiality or being unkind, I can say they needed a listening ear and I had two to offer.

       I prayed with the person and offered all the practical help I could.  What effect our conversation will have on their life is yet to be revealed, but God gave me a blessing of leaving the safety of the fold to be His spokesman to someone who may not have heard the truth from anyone else.  He will take it from there.

       I offer myself as just one small example of the truth taught in this passage.  Loving as God loves will require patience and persistence.  It will require the sacrifice of our comfort in order to be instantly obedient to His call to love someone different from ourselves – even someone disagreeable to us – so they can hear the life-changing truth that God loved them first and loves them best.  We simply can’t do that from a comfortable place of apathy or lazy indifference to the eternal destination of the people God sets in our day. The frequency and degree of effort we put into witnessing for Jesus is an indicator of our spiritual maturity.

Messages #262 & #1093

The World Must Know

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

          After more than two hundred years of American missions to foreign lands, it may surprise you to hear that there are still places on the earth that have not been reached by the Gospel.  If we define an “unreached people group” as a culture that has no indigenous churches and no self-propagating form of Christianity, then it’s safe to say there are millions of people who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

          Most of these people groups are located in what’s called the “10/40 Window,” an area of the eastern hemisphere that covers North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  People groups within that area of the world have received about 1% of the missionaries sent into the world.  These and other factors account for the fact the Gospel has not taken root in these countries.

          The reason the “10/40 Window” has so captivated the attention of American missions is the verse we’re about to examine: Matthew 24:14.  Some people understand Jesus as teaching that if we can just preach the Gospel (the good news of salvation by faith in Christ) to all parts of the world, we can move the Second Coming closer.  It sees Jesus’ teaching as a goal to be met or a condition that can be fulfilled, and then Jesus’ Second Coming will happen sooner rather than later.

          I was surprised to find Matthew 24:14 is one of several Scriptures that address this point of preaching the Gospel to the entire world.  In order to understand this teaching, we need to survey what the whole Bible says about it.  Put them all together, and this is what you see:

World-wide missions are a prophecy, a command, and a promise kept.

1. Jesus predicted a world-wide witness as a sign of the “end times.”

          In Matthew 24:14 Jesus predicted a testimony of the truth to all the nations.  The verses that immediately precede verse fourteen (vs. 9-13) give warning of all kinds of persecution and trials afflicting the Church.  In other Scriptures we are warned that there will be an increase in wickedness as the time for the end draws near, but there will also be a parallel rise in the fervent faith and commitment of those who are truly Christ’s.  With this in mind, we might paraphrase verse fourteen to say, “But don’t you worry – the Gospel will be preached.”

          The object of the Church’s preaching is THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM of God.  This is the truth about the Kingdom coming with Jesus at His First Coming, to be consummated at His Second Coming.

          The scope of God’s offer of salvation is universal, but it must be accepted by each individual in order for them to be saved.  PREACHED IN THE WHOLE WORLD.  Notice WHOLE and ALL; no exceptions.  The offer of salvation is A TESTIMONY TO ALL NATIONS attesting to the power of God to save.

          THEN THE END WILL COME implies the PREACHING and TESTIMONY will either be a sign of the end or an event that brings it to pass.  As Matthew 24 is all about signs and nothing about triggers, I believe Jesus offered a sign of the coming of the end, the Gospel being made known to the entire world.  This sign implies that all people will be unable to claim ignorance as an excuse, proving God’s judgment to be just.

          Mark 13:10 is a briefer version of Matthew 24:14, but it also refers to worldwide preaching as a sign of the end being near: for that reason it must happen FIRST: “THE GOSPEL MUST FIRST BE PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS.”  The word MUST underscores that this prediction is sure; the Gospel being PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS is not optional.  It can be depended on as a sign of nearing the end of this creation.

          Mark puts this teaching in the same setting as Matthew; Jesus’ discussion of the end times as prompted by the disciples admiring the temple in Jerusalem.  Mark used fewer words and Jesus seems to be saying something slightly different here; “Stop worrying about when the kingdom will come and get busy building it by means of preaching.”

          In Luke 24:45-47 Jesus predicted the preaching of the Gospel would lead to a time of repentance and forgiveness as it must for people to be saved.  THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  HE TOLD THEM, “THIS IS WHAT IS WRITTEN: THE CHRIST WILL SUFFER AND RISE FROM THE DEAD ON THE THIRD DAY, AND REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS WILL BE PREACHED IN HIS NAME TO ALL NATIONS, BEGINNING IN JERUSALEM.

          Luke puts this teaching in a setting that is different from Matthew and Mark: this is a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus.  On this occasion Jesus OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  The Bible teaches that none of us can understand the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit.  What Jesus does for His disciples here, He also does for us today.  On that occasion, He first explained the prophecies of His death and Resurrection, why all the things they’d just experienced had to happen.  Second, He explained the need for preaching about the repentance and forgiveness of sins His death and Resurrection made possible.  As it happened historically, this preaching was done first in Jerusalem – to the Jewish nation – and then TO ALL NATIONS.”  The first explanation proves the reliability of biblical prophecy: the things predicted about the Messiah came true in the life of Jesus.  In exactly the same way, the things Jesus predicted about the End Times will come true.

2. Jesus commanded that the whole world must hear the Gospel.

          Matthew 28:19 is called “The Great Commission” and is the banner text for International Mission.  Jesus commanded preaching as part of  discipleship: “THEREFORE GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”  The Greek word for discipleship is a word picture of introducing the disciple to the master.  As such, it is about forming a new relationship as much as it is about a formal relationship passing on technical content and creating expertise.  In that culture, being a disciple was a 24-7 commitment and a complete submission to one’s master.  An ox taking on a yoke was the frequently used expression.  Jesus invited people to take on His YOKE (see Matthew 11:29) and turned away those whose commitment fell short of this standard (see Matthew 10:17-31).

          Disciple-making covers all parts of the life of faith, from conversion through sanctification, all the way to death.  Jesus mentioned two aspects of disciple-making: teaching and baptism.  Baptism is the ritual of initiating new disciples, teaching the means of maturing the faith of existing disciples.

          Let’s not miss Jesus command to take our disciple-making mission to ALL NATIONS.  As we read in the book of Acts, there was some hesitation in the hearts of some of the believers to take the Gospel to any nation other than the Jewish nation.  God is sovereign and the Gentiles were included in the Church; her expansion to ALL NATIONS is something that is still developing.

          Mark 16:15 correlates to the Great Commission; here too Jesus commanded the Gospel be carried to all the world and to all creation.  HE SAID TO THEM, “GO INTO THE ENTIRE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOOD NEWS TO ALL CREATION.”  Notice the universal nature of the command: ALL THE WORLD and ALL CREATION.

          The GOOD NEWS is to be understood as God’s offer of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  The GOOD NEWS is that we no longer have to be estranged from God or from one another.  Instead, we can love one another and love God more fully.

3. God promised to complete this work.

          As we’ve just seen, the Church has been commissioned to take the Gospel to the entire world.  We’re blessed to not be left to accomplish this mission on our own; God considers this mission of the Gospel to the whole world as being so essential He partners His disciples with the Holy Spirit and with the angels to accomplish it!

          Jesus pointed to the Holy Spirit as our power source for witnessing in Acts 1:6-8.  He needed to remind His disciples their job was to witness, not to second-guess God’s timing.  SO WHEN THEY MET TOGETHER, THEY ASKED HIM, “LORD, ARE YOU AT THIS TIME GOING TO RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL?”  HE SAID TO THEM, “IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW THE TIMES OR DATES THE FATHER HAS SET BY HIS OWN AUTHORITY.  BUT YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES ON YOU; AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES IN JERUSALEM, AND IN ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

          This passage is found in a similar context to Matthew 24, where Jesus’ disciples ask a question related to the “end times.”  It is also similar to Luke 24, as it is also a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus.  These verses are also an apt summary of the entire book of Acts.  All that follows will in one way or another explain how Jesus’ words came true.

          The disciple’s question demonstrates they were still thinking of Jesus as a conqueror and king in the usual political sense.  This is significant; in spike of having their minds opened (Luke 24:45-47), they were still thinking of Jesus as leader of an earthly kingdom and they were eager to help bring it into reality.  Here we see Jesus sending them on an entirely different mission: they were to extend the Kingdom of God by means of witness, not establish the kingdom of Judah by means of conquest.

          This is why Jesus rightly told them the TIMES and DATES were none of their concern: those decisions were up to God the Father; He alone had the authority to make those decisions.  Jesus Himself did not know this (Mark 13:32).  The Apostle Paul got this message; he wrote NOW BROTHERS, ABOUT TIMES AND DATES WE DO NOT NEED TO WRITE YOU, FOR YOU KNOW THAT THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)

          What they were supposed to be focused on instead of timing was the receipt of the Holy Spirit and their witness empowered by Him.  Historically, we know the advance of the Gospel occurred as Jesus predicted here.  It was offered first to the Jews in Jerusalem and their half-brothers in Samaria before it went out to the WORLD (including the Gentiles).  Our focus is on the role of the Holy Spirit in witnessing; we don’t have a witness apart from the Holy Spirit.

          Revelation 14:6-7 shows an ANGEL proclaiming of the Gospel.

THEN I SAW ANOTHER ANGEL FLYING IN MIDAIR, AND HE HAD THE ETERNAL GOSPEL TO PROCLAIM TO THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH – TO EVERY NATION, TRIBE, LANGUAGE AND PEOPLE.  HE SAID IN A LOUD VOICE, “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY, BECAUSE THE HOUR OF HIS JUDGMENT HAS COME.  WORSHIP HIM WHO MADE THE HEAVENS, THE EARTH, THE SEA AND THE SPRINGS OF WATER.”  Our focus here is on the ANGEL proclaiming the ETERNAL GOSPEL.

          The word ANGEL means “messenger” so it should be natural for us to think of angels bringing the Gospel.  However, this is the only Scripture of which I’m aware that an ANGEL does the proclaiming.  This does not imply God’s human messengers (the Church) had failed to reach all people groups, because the ANGEL witnesses to EVERY NATION, TRIBE, LANGUAGE, AND PEOPLE.

          The recipients of the angel’s proclamation are THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH: a phrase which – in Revelation – refers to the unrepentant, wicked people who deliberately revolt against God and persecute His people.  This is a last chance for them to repent and avoid judgment.

          The angel’s message is a good model for our message: “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY…WORSHIP HIM, your Creator.”  In Revelation, this passage is an example of last-minute second chances that God gives to the unrepentant, stubbornly evil people to be saved.  It is intended to illustrate the great mercy of God.  It is a good model for our witnessing as we tend to emphasize salvation without explaining why salvation is necessary.  We want to deal in Good News, but there can be no Good News if there is no bad news.  The aspect of warning must precede a call to repentance.  If our witness is only promises and positivity, we’ve failed to communicate the necessity of repentance by warning people of the consequences of unbelief and misdeeds.  A lopsided or incomplete witness may partially explain why so many new converts fall away from the faith: their knowledge is incomplete and under-motivated.

World-wide missions are a prophecy, a command, and a promise kept.

          I believe these teachings are given to motivate and encourage us to be full supporters of international missions.  We must be obedient to God’s command, intentional about fulfilling prophecy, and eager to be partners with God in bringing about His final solution to sin.

          To illustrate the necessity of a world-wide witness, allow me to share with you a story I read recently at the “Ministry 127” website.

          “In the 1840s, John Geddie left the pastorate of a church in Canada to take his wife and two small children to the South Sea Islands to begin a mission work there. After a voyage of more than 20,000 miles, they arrived in the New Hebrides Islands at Aneityum. The island chain was filled with cannibals, and more than twenty crew members of a British ship had been killed and eaten just months before the Geddies arrived on the mission field.

          “They faced the difficulty of learning a language that had no written form and the constant threat of being killed. Slowly at first, a few converts came, and then soon many more received the Gospel. Geddie continued his ministry faithfully, including translating the entire Bible into the native language and planting twenty-five churches. In the pulpit of the church Geddie pastored for so many years stands a plaque in his honor which says: ‘When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.’”

          Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of thing be said of each of us?

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vols. 8, 9, 12.

https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/evangelizing-cannibals

You Have Been Warned

Please read Luke 17:20-37 in your Bible.

You Have Been Warned_v04

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

I was listening to the song, “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago.  For some reason, I actually heard the lyrics for the first time.  Do you know this song is about TIME?

As I was walking down the street one day
A man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, yeah
And I said

Does anybody really know what time it is (I don’t)
Does anybody really care (care about time)
If so I can’t imagine why (no, no)
We’ve all got time enough to cry

And I was walking down the street one day
A pretty lady looked at me and said her diamond watch had stopped cold dead
And I said

Does anybody really know what time it is (I don’t)
Does anybody really care (care about time)
If so I can’t imagine why (no, no)
We’ve all got time enough to cry

And I was walking down the street one day (people runnin’ everywhere)
Being pushed and shoved by people (don’t know where to go)
Trying to beat the clock, oh, no I just don’t know (don’t know where I am)
I don’t know, I don’t know, oh (don’t have time to think past the last mile)
(Have no time to look around) And I said, yes I said (run around and think why)

Does anybody really know what time it is (I don’t)
Does anybody really care (care about time)
If so I can’t imagine why (no, no)
We’ve all got time enough to die

Everybody’s working (I don’t care)
I don’t care (about time)
About time (no, no)
I don’t care

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Robert William Lamm

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Spirit Music Group, BMG Rights Management

The song is about having a carefree attitude about time.  The singer wonders why people waste so much time hurrying about in senseless activity.  I had never known the name of the song or what was behind the happy, light-hearted music.

This song reminds me a lot of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17:28-37.  He warned that in the days prior to His Second Coming people were going to be going about their everyday lives as if they were going to go on forever.  They would be surprised to find that Jesus’ warning and promises were all true and that it was tragically too late for them to join the team.  The upbeat music of that song contrasts vividly against the tragic realization of missing out eternally.

Verse 20 supplies the context; the Pharisees had been paying attention to what Jesus was teaching in order to find something in which they could entrap Him. They knew He’d taught about the coming Kingdom of God and His role in it.  This was not the kind of kingdom they were expecting, however, so they wanted to check on it.  They asked Jesus WHEN the Kingdom would come.

The Kingdom of God will come suddenly but not unexpectedly.

  1. The Kingdom is here; it is within you. (20-21)

We don’t get to decide WHEN the Kingdom comes, nor even know when it is coming.  It is enough for us to know THAT it is coming and to spend ourselves in preparation for that day. As Jesus said, “THE KINGDOM OF GOD DOES NOT COME WITH YOUR CAREFUL OBSERVATION.”  We don’t predict its coming, we don’t ratify it’s appearance; the Kingdom of God is God’s rule, not ours.

In Genesis 1:27-30, God gave people dominion over the earth.  The people promptly sinned and in a way, turned part of their dominion over to Satan.  When the Kingdom comes in its fullness, God will have full dominion over the New Creation, making us “kings and priests” in that New Creation.

We get to observe it in one another.  Jesus told us not to pay attention to people who claim to see the Kingdom in one place or another because it is WITHIN us.  This is exactly the opposite of what the Pharisees anticipated.  They expected signs in the heavens and a great deal of fanfare and drama as the Romans were overcome violently.  Naturally, they wanted to be the first to see it, to lead the way in pointing it out to others.  Contrary to their hope, Jesus predicted the Kingdom would come to people directly, quietly, individually, the ultimate “grassroots” event.

The Church is the Kingdom of God.  The Church is the people of God redeemed from every nation, tribe, language, and people assembled by their shared faith in Christ (Revelation 5:9).  The word WITHIN in v. 21 can also be translated as AMONG, so there is a sense in which Jesus answered the Pharisees by saying, “With all your careful observations you still won’t see the Kingdom because it’s right in front of you!”  Jesus Himself was the inauguration of the Kingdom!

This is the paradox of the Kingdom of God.  It came in part in the person of Jesus.  It will come in its fullness when Jesus comes a second time.

Transition: The first part of our passage was spoken to the Pharisees.  The second part was spoken to HIS DISCIPLES.

  1. Don’t be surprised by the Kingdom’s coming (22-37).

It will come after Jesus suffers ultimate rejection. (22-25). He understood their desire to SEE ONE OF THE DAYS OF THE SON OF MAN, but warned they would NOT SEE IT.  Historically, we know Jesus did not come again during the lifetime of those men.

Jesus warned His disciples there would be claims made, false sightings of the Son of Man.  He warned them in advance not to believe them.  They would know these sightings were false because they would not have seen Him with their own eyes.  Jesus assured them His Second Coming would be perfectly obvious to such a degree as to remove all doubt: LIKE LIGHTNING WHICH FLASHES AND LIGHTS UP THE SKY FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER.  BUT FIRST – before any of this talk about the Day of the Lord, Jesus would have to SUFFER MANY THINGS AND BE REJECTED BY THE current GENERATION.

Jesus followed with two historical examples of people caught unaware by sudden but expected destruction. (26-29)  The first was Noah.  Though Noah had warned them, the people of Noah’s time carried on with life as normal, until the very day Noah walked onto the completed ark and God shut the door behind him.  As soon as the door was shut, the rains fell down, and the unrepentant people were destroyed

The second example was Abraham’s nephew Lot, who at one time resided in a city called Sodom.  The people living in Sodom were engaged in business as normal, oblivious to danger.  Then God got Lot out of danger as He’d done for Noah and immediately the FIRE AND SULFUR rained down to their destruction.

When the Kingdom of God comes, there will be no more opportunities to join it. (30-37)  History will repeat itself on THE DAY THE SON OF MAN IS REVEALED.  People will refuse to repent, busy themselves with their usual work and play, and be surprised to find it is too late to avoid destruction.  It will be too late to retrieve their GOODS, which will do them no good anyway. (31)  To turn back will result in their destruction, just like Lot’s wife. (32)

Verse 33 is one of the key verses of all Jesus’ teaching.  The things of this world must be lost (sacrificed) as part of the faith-commitment that preserves our lives.

Verses 34-35 are a warning; another illustration of the sudden effects of Jesus’ second coming.  One person is taken to Jesus, leaving behind their unbelieving partner.  They will suffer surprise and sorrow.  Some manuscripts offer a third example in verse 36.

5) The disciples are still thinking very literally; they want to know where the disappearing person ends up.  Jesus’ reply is difficult to understand.  It’s as if He is telling them where the person left behind ends up (DEAD) instead of where the disappeared person has gone (to be with the Lord).  Upon Jesus’ Second Coming the righteous will be divided from the unrighteous on Judgment Day and each will receive their eternal due.

The Kingdom of God will come suddenly but not unexpectedly.

When you really stop and study this passage, it is a beat-down experience.  It is a strongly-worded, in-your-face, graphic warning to get right or get left behind.  Turn or burn.

Way back in ’95, Diane Franzen of Carson City, Nevada wrote about a personal experience with her son.

“As a harried young mother of a five-year-old and an infant, I kept busy with the mundane tasks of housekeeping and child care. One day, the work had piled up and I was frantically running around scrubbing and dusting, while my son pestered me to play with him. ’Not now.  I’m busy,’ I said throughout the day.

“Finally, my son sauntered into the kitchen, head hung low, and asked me to play one last time in his most forlorn voice. I pulled my sudsy hands out of the dishwater and wrestled him to the kitchen floor, tickling and laughing. When we settled down to catch our breath, he looked up at me and calmly said, ‘Mom, you should play with me more, because when I’m ten, I’m not going to want to play with you.’”

It’s funny how the son saw the future clearly but his mom had to be told.  Opportunity is a very finite resource.  Though we are warned they are limited, we’re still surprised when opportunities run out.

This passage warns about the worst of all missed opportunities: the opportunity to be saved.  The opportunity to follow Jesus, to be obedient to God’s will and to invite as many people as we can to join us in eternal life is a limited opportunity.  Though we know He is coming again, we don’t know when.  We can’t waste our days on trivialities alone, we must be intent on the opportunities to draw nearer to Jesus and help others find Him as their Savior too.

When the VULTURES appear, it’s too late; even too late even for regrets.

 

 

RESOURCES:

The NIV Study Bible, Luke, Darrell L. Bock

https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/232/missing-the-obvious