Are We Saying Two Things By One Spirit?

“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.

      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.



      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.


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

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Acts, Ernest H. Trenchard

Advent Angel Sightings #1

hand it to you

Please read Daniel 8:15-27 in your Bible.

A man who lived on Long Island, New York ordered an expensive barometer.  It was advertised as a precision scientific instrument, a reliable guide for predicting the weather.  When it arrived he was extremely disappointed to find that the dial was stuck, pointing to “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument.  The following morning, on his way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter. That evening he returned to Long Island, to find the barometer missing – along with his house! The barometer had been right. There was a hurricane!

When we receive bad news we have an unfortunate tendency to blame the messenger.  That tendency is at play in Daniel, the scene of our first Advent Angel Sighting in this series of messages.  Daniel lived during the time the Old Testament people of God (Judah) were conquered by the Babylonians.  They suffered this setback in fulfillment of God’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity in a foreign land.  Daniel was the best and brightest young men of Judah.  The Babylonians cultivated his leadership skills and gave him considerable authority in their government.  The story of the lion’s den is a small part of the life of this extraordinary man of God.

CONTEXT: Chapter eight records the second of Daniel’s prophetic visions.  This one involved a supernatural ram and goat locked in an epic struggle.  The appearance of the angel Gabriel is to explain the meaning of the imagery employed in chapters two and seven, which were beyond Daniel’s understanding.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

  1. Angels are God’s messengers:

their messages can be disturbing.

Here in Daniel eight we learn two things about angels. The first is that angels can take on the appearance of a human being (verse fifteen refers to Gabriel as ONE WHO LOOKED LIKE A MAN).  The Hebrew word for MAN (geber) is literally, “strong man.”  The visitor is named Gabriel, which means “man of God.”  Note the similarity of geber and Gabriel: we could translate his name as “strong man of God.”  If it helps, picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a robe.

In the Old Testament, only Daniel names angels.  Those named are Gabriel and Michael.  The fact that they are named distinguishes them from the innumerable host of angels and may imply they are of a superior rank.

Notice how Daniel down-plays this event: the angel Gabriel “looks like a man” and the voice of God “sounds like a man’s voice.”  But there is no doubt this is a divine visitation.

Secondly, angels are messengers who deliver God’s messages to people.  As we read in verse sixteen, “GABRIEL, TELL THIS MAN THE MEANING OF THE VISION.”)

Daniel was disturbed by the vision and the visitation.  In verse seventeen he wrote, I WAS TERRIFIED AND FELL PROSTRATE.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we see this self-humiliating pose as typical when approaching royalty.  This was how Esther approached the king in Esther 5:2.  The Apostle John took this position when he encountered the SON OF MAN (Revelation 1:17).

We see this again in verse eighteen: I WAS IN A DEEP SLEEP, WITH MY FACE TO THE GROUND.  This wasn’t a sudden urge for a nap or a swoon. This word for SLEEP is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a trance-like state in which a prophet receives a vision.  The fact that Gabriel lifted Daniel to his feet with a touch is another detail that gives this scene a supernatural quality.

The encounter took its toll on Daniel, as we see in verse 27: I, DANIEL, WAS EXHAUSTED AND LAY ILL SEVERAL DAYS.  I WAS APPALLED BY THE VISION THAT WAS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING.  We’ve all had the experience of having a nightmare that affected us so profoundly we lose sleep over it.  But not many of us have been so deeply affected that we were ILL for DAYS afterward.

But why was Daniel APPALLED at the message he’d received?  That Hebrew word can also be translated as “desolate, devastated, wasted, helpless,” so it is an extreme condition.  The simplest explanation is that he understood verses nineteen to twenty-five as warning of additional persecutions that would befall God’s people. He may have understandably felt they had already suffered enough and was saddened to hear more was to come.

What can we understand about this vision?  This passage, like all of Daniel’s visions, has been the subject of much speculation by people looking for clues to the end times events that are part of our future.  Based on the text alone, there are three things we can say with certainty.

Firstly, the vision looks to the future from Daniel’s perspective: to THE TIME OF THE END (verses seventeen and nineteen), a time in the DISTANT FUTURE (v. 26).  The expression THE TIME OF WRATH is used four ways in the Old Testament:

– One, for God’s wrath against His people for their unfaithfulness.

– Two, for God’s wrath against the foreign nations who made themselves enemies of His people and persecuted them.

– Three, the term marks the end of one historical era and the  beginning of another.

– Four, the end of reality as we know it; the putting away of the physical universe to replace it with an eternal creation.  We are tempted to assume the vision depicts God’s WRATH against the wicked at Judgment Day, but we need to be careful to note the context and determine which of the four meanings is appropriate to the text before and after it.

Secondly, verse 25 tells us this vision depicts the victory of God over the forces of evil in the world.  The fact is that the time of evil is limited and that God will win.  Apocalyptic literature like Daniel’s visions are given to encourage the faithful to resist the temptation to give up.  We are to be steadfast in our faith because we are assured the time of our trials is limited and that the end of the story is that God wins.

Thirdly, as this vision was BEYOND the UNDERSTANDING to a great man of faith like Daniel, we must approach it humbly.  As God gives us wisdom to attempt to understand it, we must give grace to others whose interpretations may not agree with ours.

  1. How are we to react to disturbing messages?

We can do no better than to follow Daniel’s example – humble yourself and pray (as we read Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine).  It was humbling for Daniel to admit he could not UNDERSTAND all the implications of this vision.

Chapter nine records a prayer of worship, recounting God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people in times past.  It’s as if Daniel is reminding God He has been merciful with His people in the past in the hope He will show them mercy in the present.

In the Bible anyway, angel sightings are almost always shocking events.  Again, following Daniel’s example, we should be shocked into action, not frozen with fear.  Notice in verse 27 that the vision laid Daniel out for SEVERAL DAYS, he GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

After the vision had been explained to Daniel, the angel Gabriel ordered him to SEAL it up until the time the prophecy was fulfilled.  This command was a common feature of apocalyptic literature.

However, Daniel obeyed this command in an interesting way.  He did not put a physical seal on it, but a linguistic one.  Chapters two through seven of Daniel were written in Aramaic, a commonly used language in Daniel’s time, one his Babylonian captors would have readily known.  From chapter eight on, Daniel wrote in Hebrew – his home language – something his Babylonian overseers would not likely have been able to read.

The Apostle Paul would come along 100s of years later and explain the MYSTERY of the Gospel, revealing God’s plan for salvation as realized by Jesus Christ.  In effect, he was opening and explaining the salvation significance of OT prophecies like Daniel’s.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

          Preparing this message, I searched “angel sightings,” and as you can guess, there was quite a variety of stuff on the web related to that title.  One website had a page where they had photographic evidence of the existence of angels.  Another one offered similar claims of sightings of Santa Claus.  This is a problem that occurs when we try to convince people of the reality of spiritual things by using earthly means.  I wonder why an angel would bother to mask his appearance to the naked eye but allow his picture to be taken.

It is a hard balance to achieve, but I believe it’s good to retain a healthy dose of skepticism when people want to use science to prove faith.  Angel sightings and miracles are a couple instances where the line gets blurred and it makes me skeptical about the means and the motive.

So we will limit our search for angels to the pages of Scripture.  My prayer is that our search will be part of for our Advent search for the Christ child, our personal spiritual preparations to celebrate His birth.  Keep your eyes and your heart open to God’s messages to you in this Advent season.



Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A. R. Millard

Kingdom Come, Sam Storms

The Daily Study Bible Series, Daniel, D. S. Russell

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Daniel, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

When Family Fails

Sons of Noah

CONTEXT = We generally have a high opinion of Noah.  This opinion is well-founded, as the Bible testifies to Noah’s standing in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are some examples of biblical testimony about Noah.





And so we find today’s passage a little shocking and disconcerting.

Please read Genesis 9:18-29.

          Now be careful.  There’s good information here even if it comes from a cracked pot.

One proof that the Bible is true is that it is completely honest about its heroes.  They are not paragons of perfection, but are fallible human beings.  They sin and are forgiven again and again, just like we are.  This fact alone should make them more accessible to us, more relatable as people.

More good news – God forgave Noah and blessed Noah just as He’d promised He would. We all mess up.  We fall into sin, have errors of judgment, and often inflict our worst behavior on our family members.  God is not done with you, so get over yourself, get forgiven, and get moving forward!

When we fail at being family, there must be room for forgiveness and restoration that causes our relationships to improve.  Today we look at a negative example, people who failed as family.  May we learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in our own family!

Our family deserves our best behavior.

  1. Noah got “three sheets to the wind,” minus the sheets! (18-21)

In vs. 18-19 we are re-introduced to Noah’s three sons (first mention: 7:13).  The author takes pains to point out two important facts.  One, Ham was the father of Canaan.  (This fact may be a reason this account is included in the Bible.)  These three sons are the “fathers” of all the people who were – in ch. 11 – SCATTERED OVER THE EARTH.  There are elaborate theories about the dispersion of the peoples across the earth – suffice it to say everyone alive is a descendant of one of the three sons of Noah.

Noah is described as A MAN OF THE SOIL in v. 20.  This is new information.  Previously, we’ve only seen his carpentry skills.  This item is offered to explain why he planted a vineyard in the first place.

Apparently some time passed between verses 20 and 21.  According to an article on, it takes two years for vines to bear fruit and four years before the first bottle of fermented wine is available.  This is not a spur-of-the-moment decision by Noah, it was something into which he poured a lot of time and effort.  I mention this only because it puts the full weight of responsibility on Noah.  This was not a reaction to the stress of the whole ark incident.  It was a genuine, full-fledged mistake.  No excuses.

After four years of toil and waiting, Noah finally got to enjoy the fruit of his labors and enjoyed it too much (21).  First sin: HE BECAME DRUNK.  Drinking wine is not a sin.  For example, Psalm 104:14-15 says that God gave wine to gladden the hearts of men.  But drunkenness is a sin.  Ephesians 5:18 condemns drunkenness as it lead to all other kinds of sin.  Proverbs 20:1 calls wine a MOCKER.

Second sin: Noah passed out and LAY UNCOVERED INSIDE HIS TENT.  Recall that just six chapters earlier (2:25) Adam and Eve were both NAKED in the garden but they FELT NO SHAME.  Then they disobeyed God (3:7) and those days of innocence were replaced with shame over their nakedness. The two situations are parallel; Noah, as were our original parents, in a garden paradise.  They both sinned against God and were ashamed by their exposure.  Biblically, to get drunk and be exposed in this way was a disgrace (see Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21).  The grammar of the Hebrew makes it clear that Noah uncovered himself before passing out.  This was no accident; for whatever reason, Noah chose be naked.  That’s what makes this a sin, not an accident.

The three brothers reacted to the news in different ways.  We start with Ham, the troublemaker.   The Hebrew implies there was more to Ham’s reaction than mere amazement at seeing his father lying naked in his tent.  It implies Ham was somehow happy to see his father uncovered.  Medieval Jewish scholars theorized that Ham mutilated Noah or committed a homosexual act with him.  It could be Ham thought the whole episode was funny.

However you explain it, Ham went and told the “whole world” what Noah had done (22).  This is the only explanation the text supports: Ham was guilty of the sins of gossip and of disrespecting his father.  Had he simply not said a thing, this whole event would have passed peaceably.

Shem and Japheth had a more respectful attitude and devised a means to cover up their father without embarrassing him further (23).  That’s why they got the blessing and Ham got the bane.

  1. Noah got up angry and cursed Ham. (24-29).

In verses 24-25 Noah launched into a curse.  Given the usual state of a hangover, we can understand a certain amount of crankiness.  What’s not understandable is why he named Canaan, not Ham, as the object of the curse.  This is odd because the text does not name Canaan as having had anything at all to do with disrespecting Noah.

This discrepancy can be a clue into the purpose of including this account in the Bible.  The name “Canaan” should sound familiar to Bible readers.  Canaan was the set of people nations who settled on the east side of the Mediterranean Sea.  They would were a people of great wickedness.

Obviously, they are descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan, the person Noah cursed.  Canaan was the region God gave to the Hebrews as their Promised Land.  It was the Canaanite people whom God commanded be utterly destroyed.  Therefore, a purpose of this event is to explain why God made that choice; why he took the newly-founded nation of Israel to take the Canaanites land and their lives.  Not only were they a wicked people (their sexual deviance has been revealed many times over by the archaeologist’s shovel), but they were also descended from the son Noah had cursed.

We need to look at the context to see another explanation for this discrepancy.  In verse one of this chapter it is written, THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”  Noah was aware of this blessing and knew it was folly to curse Ham when God had already blessed him.  Canaan had not enjoyed God’s blessing and could be cursed.

Verses 26-29 deal Noah’s blessing of his other sons and the end of his days. He blessed Shem.  One of Shem’s descendants was Abram, the man whom God called into the territory of the Canaanites.  He would become known as Abraham.  The offspring of Shem have come to be known as “Semites,” a name we use as synonymous with Jews.

As later chapters in Genesis will testify, God promised Abraham all the territory occupied by the Canaanites.  In the books of Exodus, Joshua, and Judges, we read how, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites got that land.  Incredibly, the sons of Shem were to triumph over and enslave the sons of Canaan, bringing Noah’s curse into being.

Noah also blessed Japheth, but under the blessing of Shem: “MAY JAPHETH LIVE IN THE TENTS OF SHEM.”  In the curse and blessings Noah spoke predictively; foreshadowing world changing events that started with a disrespectful son.  It’s a shame that after having cleansed the world with a flood, humanity immediately returned to its sinful ways.

In spite of all the family drama, Noah lived a supernaturally long life (28-29).  This would be a good place to clarify; just because Noah’s curse and blessings came to pass throughout the course of history, it would be a mistake to say Noah “caused” all this.  Each person and each generation makes their own choices.  Neither God nor Noah’s offspring were in any way “fated” because of Noah’s words.  Noah’s blessing and curse were as much prophecy as they were disciplinary.

This passage may seem like a poor choice of texts for Father’s Day; a sad chapter of biblical history best forgotten.  However, this text has historically been misused to justify some horrible things by making them seem biblical.

This text was used to justify African slavery.  Without any biblical reason to do so, people said that Ham and his sons were dark-skinned; therefore the curse of slavery was applied to the Negro race by Noah and was therefore legitimate.

If that sounds superficial, unbiblical, and just plain stupid, it should.  Especially on Father’s Day, I’m ashamed to say it was someone who shared my family name that first popularized this so-called “Curse of Ham.”  In 1578 a sailing captain named George Best published an account of his travels in the southern hemisphere and attempted to justify his work as a slave trader.  In that book he set forth this false teaching.

I mention this so you understand why this goofy little passage everyone overlooks needs to be scrutinized and understood.  It’s also important for us to see that choices have consequences.  Sometimes the consequences are temporary and personal; sometimes they are inter-generational and universal.

Noah sinned by getting drunk and being uncovered.  Ham sinned by gossiping and disrespecting his father.  The immediate consequence was Canaan being cursed.  The long-term consequence was all of Canaan’s descendants being enslaved by the descendants of Shem.

We tend to trivialize things, especially when we are the guilty party.  We say things like, “It was a little white lie.  Why are you making a big deal over it?”  This passage should impress us with the seriousness of all sin and the deadly consequences it can have even generations after us.

Look at it another way.  Consider something a parent or some other adult you trusted did or said that hurt you.  Forgiveness may have been offered and received, but the words are not forgotten.  Whether you repeat them or not, they affect your behavior and your behavior is repeated or avoided in the next generations.  Families are serious business!

All of this to explain and motivate us to adhere to this simple truth: Our family deserves our best behavior.  I tell you this not on the authority of an expert practitioner.  I have failed my family too often.  Instead, I tell you this on the authority of the Word of God and my calling to tell you the truth, no matter how unpleasant and unpopular it may be.

I have never preached on this passage and I would venture to say most preachers go their careers without bringing it up.  It’s like one of those “skeletons” in the family “closet,” the story we know but ignore because it’s embarrassing.  However, we ignore things like this at our peril.  We need to face it, confess it, be forgiven and do better.  That’s what we do when family fails.



More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, John H. Sailhammer.


Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.



O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

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

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

Were You There?

board game

Casting about on the internet, I found part of a 2009 sermon by C. Philip Green entitled “Take A Risk.”  There he described a game published by Parker Brothers in the 1950’s.  It was called “Going to Jerusalem.”  (it’s worth $50 on Ebay!)

The players moved little plastic pieces across the Holy Land by looking up answers to questions in a little book of the Gospels provided with the game. Players started in Bethlehem, and moved their three pieces all the way to a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem to win the game.

Pastor Green took exception to the fact that there was never any Crucifixion or Resurrection following the Triumphal Entry.  You just got to Jerusalem and quit.  He saw this as very unbiblical, promoting a shallow and impractical expectation of life and a lopsided view of Scripture.  Sure, it’s easy to get people to line up to be the life of the party, the “Grand Marshall” of the parade if that’s all there is, but there’s only been one man willing to face pain, humiliation, death, and taking on every other human being’s sin.–stories-discipleship-74176?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

I have to agree with Pastor Green.  While the Triumphal Entry makes for a good game, we need to know the whole truth.  In the Bible, the Triumphal Entry was not an end in itself, it was the beginning of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we’ll see this morning is that the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem supports two points: One, Jesus is King, and two, He’s not the king you’re looking for, but He is the King you need!

Please read Mark 11:1-11 in your favored version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

  1. Who would you have been?

Obviously, you’d have been a Jew.  You would have been one of thousands of pilgrims attending the Passover; a Jewish feast day and arguably the most important.  (If you melded Christmas and July 4th, you’d have a similar vibe: patriotic and religious.)  Jewish pilgrims came to the feast from all corners of the Empire.

Passover occurs in the spring, during the Jewish month of Nisan, on the 14th day, which is often in early April.  Using astronomical data, our best guess is that THIS Passover was April 3, AD 33 or April 7, AD 30.

The last leg of your trip is from Jericho to Jerusalem, and could be the most difficult part of your journey.  Jericho is 17 miles from Jerusalem, but the Roman road goes up and over the Mount of Olives, elevation 2600 feet.

There is a village along this route, but it is so small, off the main road, and so close to the city that not many people ever stop there as they make this journey.  So why does Bethany rate a mention in Mark 11:1?  Mark tells us that during the days prior to His death, Jesus didn’t spend nights in the city, but stayed in Bethany.  Bethany was home to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

This is one of many instances where Jesus is shows He was completely in control of the events leading up to His death.  He didn’t want to be handed over to the Jewish authorities too soon; His death had to occur during the Passover.  Staying in Bethany kept Him further off the public “radar” until His time had really come.

  1. What would you have done?

We could twist our heads around backward trying to make a firm calendar of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.  For example, Mark has Jesus going directly from Jericho to Jerusalem while John has Him stopping in Bethany first.  There are ways to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies, but today we’ll skip all those details and look at the sequence Mark offers.

Every faithful Jew was expected to return to Jerusalem at this time every year.  If you were wealthy, you probably did.  If not, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jesus’ coming into the city was something people anticipated and raised the excitement of THAT Passover to new heights.  They were familiar with the details of the predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures, so Jesus’ method of arrival sent an unspoken message: “Here I am!  Your King has arrived!”

SO – on this day you greet Jesus as a King, with the great enthusiasms we read in vs. 8-10.  You spread your cloak out on the road before Him.  This is the ancient equivalent of the “red carpet treatment.”  (In 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu was crowned king, the people greeting him in this way.)  Your hope is that this parade will be the first step to Jesus assuming the throne of David, overthrowing the Romans.

You spread out branches cut from roadside fields.  In this culture cut branches were associated with joyous times. (For the Festival of Booths, palm branches were cut to make temporary shelters.)

You praise Him by shouting, “HOSANNA!” and “HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!”  Hosanna means “God saves!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD” was shouted by folks on one side of the road, while “BLESSED IS THE COMING KINGDOM OF OUR FATHER DAVID” was shouted as a response by folks on the other side of the road.  This antiphonal kind of worship was typical among the Jews; the Psalms were recited in this way.

  1. Why would this Passover be remembered?

Because it fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and a prophecy from Jesus Himself.  Jesus sent His disciples after the COLT as a demonstration of His miraculous fore-knowledge and divine authority over the events as they unfolded (vs. 2-4).

His miraculous foreknowledge is revealed in the fact that the animal was precisely where He said it was and the exchange occurred just as He said it would.  The fact that the owners initially objected shows Jesus had NOT made previous arrangements with them.  The disciples did not identify themselves or the LORD they represented.

His divine authority is indicated in the fact that the owners allowed the COLT to be taken by strangers who did nothing more than say, “THE LORD NEEDS IT AND WILL SEND IT BACK SHORTLY.”

This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus rides anything.  He walked everywhere else.  The distance between Bethany and Jerusalem is just two miles.  The COLT is not needed for practical reasons, but was chosen to send a biblical message to the faithful pilgrims on the road; “Your Messiah has come!  God’s Promised One is here!”

You will also remember it because on that day your hopes and dreams were fulfilled.  At this time in history, the Jewish people had been under the heel of Rome for nearly 100 years.  They were understandably anxious to throw the Romans out of their land. During those years, men would claim to be the Messiah and amass a group of followers.  The inevitable result was a rebellion against Rome ending in bloodshed and even worse offenses imposed on the people as a means of punishment and discouraging further rebellion.

To these horrible violations you added with the typical and more personal abuses of authority you’ve experienced at the hands of Romans.

With the city crammed with pilgrims during the Passover, it was a yearly crucible for rebellion, and the Jewish leaders worried terribly about a repeat of past events.  You can see how easily a big public demonstration like this would provoke a deadly reaction in a way that Jesus’ teaching or miracles ever did.

One last fact to support this interpretation: when Jesus finally got into the city, what did He do?  Not much.  Verse eleven tells us He went directly to the temple, but just looked around a bit, then left!

That was surely unexpected and probably felt a little anticlimactic.  And it begs the question, why go to all of that trouble just walk in, look around, and walk back out again?

I believe the best explanation for Jesus’ action is because the parade accomplished Jesus’ purpose and there was nothing more to do.  He’d already made His point and there was no reason to linger.

Dr. William Craig Lane is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith.  I used his article on Mark 11 as a basis for my remarks and will quote a small part of it to conclude. (Go to to see for yourself.)

“What lessons can we learn from the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? Let me mention two. First, we see the Lordship of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident that befell him unawares while visiting Jerusalem. Rather, Jesus understood and embraced his calling to undergo so excruciating a death. In fact he deliberately provoked the events that would lead to his execution. Throughout the process he displayed foreknowledge of the events of his passion and announced all these things in advance.

“The second lesson is related to the first: Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. The Jews expected a king who would be a great military leader who would establish God’s kingdom by force. But Jesus was radically different than they expected.”

At the beginning of this message I asked,

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

I hope and pray your answer has come closer to the very message Jesus was trying to send: He came as King, but not the kind of King who meets worldly hopes or fulfills dreams we have written for ourselves.

I hope and pray you have decided to make Jesus YOUR King.  That you see in Him the fulfilling of all God’s promises on His terms and in ways that bless and challenge us in ways we didn’t anticipate or want, but have found to be exactly what we needed.

There is no better reaction you can have to the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry than to take your place among the crowds who welcomed Him.  No greater act of faith than to welcome Him as your own Lord and Savior.

Why’d He Do It? To Fulfill Prophecy

(Please read LUKE 24:25-27 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV in the following article.)

Jesus gave His life to keep God’s ancient promises.

“Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, Peter Stoner, has calculated the probability of one man fulfilling the major prophecies made concerning the Messiah. The estimates were worked out by twelve different classes representing some 600 university students.

“The students carefully weighed all the factors, discussed each prophecy at length, and examined the various circumstances which might indicate that men had conspired together to fulfill a particular prophecy. They made their estimates conservative enough so that there was finally unanimous agreement even among the most skeptical students.

“However, Professor Stoner then took their estimates, and made them even more conservative. He also encouraged other skeptics or scientists to make their own estimates to see if his conclusions were more than fair. Finally, he submitted his figures for review to a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation. Upon examination, they verified that his calculations were dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented (Peter Stoner, Science Speaks, Chicago: Moody Press, 1969, 4).

“After examining only eight different prophecies (Idem, 106), they conservatively estimated that the chance of one man fulfilling all eight prophecies was one in 10^17.

“To illustrate how large the number 10^17 IS (a figure with 17 zeros), Stoner gave this illustration :

If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom (Idem, 106-107). “

<Retrieved from on 3/17/16.>

We’ve spent the weeks of Lent looking at why Jesus surrendered His life on the cross.  Today we find out that He offered Himself because that was the will of God the Father, a decision that He revealed hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

We will learn that this fact helps establish the trustworthy character of God and the reliability of His self-revelation.  Here on this Palm Sunday we will see what the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ the King of Kings is a completely reliable witness.

  1. CONTEXT: Jesus explains His death after the fact.

WHEN? The afternoon of Resurrection Day.

WHO? Two followers of Jesus, Cleopas & his wife.

Their son Simeon would later be head of the Jerusalem church.

Elsewhere, one of Jesus’ female followers named Mary is said to be the wife of “Clopas.”  Pretty similar spelling – same guy?

WHERE?   Emmaus was seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.

HOW? Jesus journeyed with them.  In their culture it was not at all unusual for a teacher to take a walk or trips with their students as they taught.

WHY? They thought it was over; Jesus was dead.

They were leaving Jerusalem and returning home because they thought Jesus’ story concluded.

In the fashion of their culture, they invited the stranger in from the night to share food and shelter.  They probably wanted to hear more of His teaching.

WHAT? They did not understand the meaning of their recent experience.

Jesus appeared to them in disguised form so they would listen to His teaching.  He wanted to correct their misunderstanding.

Another purpose was to benefit all the people who would hear Cleopas and Mary’s testimony, including their son Simeon.

  1. COMMENT: Why this is so important.

While they didn’t recognize Him – probably because they didn’t recognize Him – Jesus taught them.  His teaching was to show one reason for His death and resurrection: that it was to keep all the promises God had made in the Scriptures.

He began by rebuking them as FOOLISH and SLOW OF HEART TO BELIEVE (25).  In the Bible, FOOLISH is a synonym for “unbeliever.”   They are people who perceive the world around them but do not understand it.  For example, the world says it is foolish to believe the Bible is true, Jesus said it is FOOLISH to not believe the Bible is true.

Jesus also rebuked them as being SLOW OF HEART or “dim-witted.”  They were slow to give up their worldly notions to find faith.  It’s significant that a portion of having faith is UNLEARNING what the world has taught us.  It is overcoming skepticism, superstition, and negativity.  Their slowness was in regard to believing ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE SPOKEN (all the promises God made in the Old Testament portions of our Bibles).  One of those promises was that God’s Anointed (chosen) Servant, the CHRIST, would have to first SUFFER and after that, enter His GLORY (26).

It is a theme of this passage that Jesus turned the attention of His followers to the word of God.  V. 32 says He OPENED THE SCRIPTURES to them.  In vs. 44-48, Jesus had essentially this same conversation with the Twelve Disciples.  In v. 45 it is written, THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  A college or seminary education is less important for understanding the Bible than having your mind opened to the truth by Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Apostle Paul explained that a merely worldly mind cannot perceive spiritual things because that knowledge is revealed, not discovered.  It is revealed by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus EXPLAINED to them which parts of the Old Testament were prophecies of the Messiah and how He had fulfilled them.  No one has ever proven the Bible is wrong or at fault, though many have tried.  Instead, the Bible is the utterly reliable guide to our utterly trustworthy God, who will save us to the uttermost!  Both His suffering and His glorification had been predicted in the Scriptures.

All this had been promised in their Scriptures.  Jesus fulfilled more than 350 Old Testament predictions (v. 27)!  In Matthew 5:17, Jesus Himself said that His mission was not to “abolish” the Law and Prophets (what we call the Old Testament) but to “fulfill” them.  This was the mission of His life and His death and His resurrection

Here’s what Matthew meant when he used the word “fulfilled.”  “The Greek term for “fulfilled” is pleroo. The verb was used in the sense of “to fill” something, or “to be filled” (Acts 2:2; Romans 15:13). “Fulfill” was employed of bringing to completion something that had been pledged earlier (cf. Jeremiah 44:25). This is the sense of Old Testament prophecy.

“In the New Testament certain events are said to have occurred in order to fulfill prophecy. The thought is that the thing spoken in prophecy has now been accomplished, and in such passages the word “fulfill” is the practical equivalent of “accomplish,” “complete” (Young 1960, 232).

“J. H. Thayer identified the “fulfilled” texts in Matthew’s Gospel (as listed above)as “sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish” (1958, 518). Danker states it means “to bring to a designed end, fulfill a prophecy, an obligation, a promise . . . of the fulfillment of divine predictions or promises” (2000, 828-829), with the twelve Matthew passages listed. “

<Wayne Jackson, retrieved from on 3/17/16.>


The fact that God can be trusted to keep His promises is not just important, it is essential.  How could we trust our lives, let alone our eternity to anyone who is not trustworthy?  Trust is the foundation of all relationships, including our relationship with God.  The death and resurrection of Jesus confirmed all the promises of God and proved the reliability of His revelation in the Word of God.

Clark Harden wrote about a group of mountain climbers and what we can learn from their experience.

“There was a group of climbers who set out to scale a large mountain in Europe. The view boasted a breathtaking peak of snowcapped rocks.

“On clear days the crested point reigned as king on the horizon. Its white tip jutted into the blue sky inviting admiration and offering inspiration. On days like this the hikers made the greatest progress. The peak stood above them like a compelling goal. Eyes were called upward. The walk was brisk. The cooperation was unselfish. Though many, they climbed as one, all looking to the same summit.

“Yet on some days the peak of the mountain was hidden from view. The cloud covering would eclipse the crisp blueness with a drab, gray ceiling and block the vision of the mountaintop. On these days the climb became arduous. Eyes were downward and thoughts inward. The goal was forgotten. Tempers were short. Weariness was an uninvited companion. Complaints stung like thorns on the trail.

“We’re like that, aren’t we? As long as we can see our dream, as long as our goal is within eyesight, there is no mountain we can’t climb or summit we can’t scale. But take away our vision, block our view of the trail’s end, or ask us to walk awhile in faith, and the result is as discouraging as the journey.”

<From a message entitled, “The Road to Emmaus,” retrieved from on 3/18/16.>

Another benefit to Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy is that it provides evidence that substantiates the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible.  People react to this truth differently:

People who have faith don’t need it.  Faith exists on its own.  Evidence of the kind I offered in my introduction is inspiriting and vindicating, but it’s not strictly necessary.  True faith is circular; it provides its own reason and validates itself.

People who don’t have faith don’t want it.  I’ve done some reading lately by Jewish authors who want nothing to do with Jesus.  They reject any claims that He is the Messiah and offer persuasive, reasoned arguments against it.  I am not at all persuaded, but it’s clear they are.

It is good for us to study the Bible and the objective evidence that supports it.  But most will receive more benefit from a testimony that shows how it makes a difference in us.  The Bible can be approached and argued from all sides, but I rarely hear of people finding faith by losing an argument.

What happens more frequently is that people are convinced by genuine love and good behavior that is consistent with the faith we claim.  We are to prepare to give a good answer to anyone who questions our faith, but the most convincing answers are the ones we back up in everyday life.

The Just Judge

(Please read Isaiah 11:1-5 and Acts 10:34-38.)

            A New Yorker was forced to take a day off from work to appear for a minor traffic summons. He grew increasingly restless as he waited hour after endless hour for his case to be heard.

When his name was called late in the afternoon, he stood before the judge, only to hear that court would be adjourned for the rest of the afternoon and he would have to return the next day.

“What for?!?!?” he snapped at the judge.

His honor, equally irked by a tedious day and sharp query, roared out loud: “Twenty dollars contempt of court! That’s why!”

Then, noticing the man checking his wallet, the judge relented: “That’s all right. You don’t have to pay now.”

The young man replied, “I know. But I’m just seeing if I have enough for two more words.” Read more:

A Charlotte, North Carolina man, having purchased a case of rare, very expensive cigars, insured them against …. get this …. fire. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of fabulous cigars, and having yet to make a single premium payment on the policy, the man filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, the man stated that he had lost the cigars in “a series of small fires.”   The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason that the man had consumed the cigars in a normal fashion. The man sued … and won!! In delivering his ruling, the judge stated that since the man held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable, and also guaranteed that it would insure the cigars against fire, without defining what it considered to be “unaccep-table fire,” it was obligated to compensate the insured for his loss.

Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the judge’s ruling and paid the man $15,000 for the rare cigars he lost in “the fires.” After the man cashed his check, however, the insurance company had him arrested… on 24 counts of arson! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used as evidence against him, the man was convicted of intentionally burning the rare cigars and sentenced to 24 consecutive one year terms. Read more:

Examples of unjust judges and jokes about them abound.  In Scripture, one of the things God hates in injustice.  The abuse of power is a violation of the trust God and people invest in those in authority.  For example, in Leviticus 19:15, the LORD is quoted as saying, “DO NOT PERVERT JUSTICE; DO NOT SHOW PARTIALITY TO THE POOR OR FAVORITISM TO THE GREAT, BUT JUDGE YOUR NEIGHBOR FAIRLY.”

Get the Message = Isaiah predicted the Messiah would be a Just Judge; Peter announced Jesus Christ is the Just Judge.

  1. The Son of Jesse would be a Just Judge. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

CONTEXT: Isaiah has just written about how a remnant of Israel will survive all their tribulations and return to the land (ch. 10).   In chapter 11, he explains that one of the descendants of King David’s father Jesse will be the agent of saving the remnant.  In chapter 12, he pauses briefly to compose a song of praise for God’s salvation action.


As a human being, the Messiah would be an eternal version of a king in the dynasty of David (v. 1).  This is important because most of David’s descendants were lousy kings – either idolatrous or cowardly.  (This may be why Isaiah made no mention of David but jumped back to Jesse.)  The Messiah will dramatically break out of that pattern.

Isaiah used an arbroreal image to depict this prophecy of hope: A SHOOT…F/T STUMP OF JESSE.  It is a continuation of an imagery that appeared earlier in this book:  In chapter six, the burned-down forest symbolized the downfall of prideful Israel.  In chapter ten, the forest representing mighty Assyria grew up to replace Israel but was cut down. Now the imagery goes full circle as a SHOOT grows from the STUMP of the failed monarchy.

By the time Jesus was born, no king of the line of David had reigned over Judah for 600 years.  But, through Isaiah God promised that a fruitful BRANCH would grow FROM HIS ROOTS.  God worked powerfully to restore His people.

The Holy Spirit would empower His rule (v. 2).  In the Old Testament, when people do things that normal people couldn’t do, the explanation is always that the Spirit of the Lord empowered them to do it.  The prophet elaborated extensively on this point because, as we saw last week, it is crucial

– THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD WILL REST ON HIM.  (This prophecy was very literally fulfilled on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit, in the form of a DOVE, rested on Jesus.  Even more miraculously, a voice from heaven explained the meaning behind the event: “THIS IS MY BELOVED SON IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.”  (See Matthew 3:17.)

(Notice that five of the six elaborations are things that occur between the ears.  This underscores the importance of the mind as the place where our life of faith is realized and sensed.)




This is summed up with a statement of the Just Judge’s character.  His would be the kind of life that makes justice possible and at the same time is a work of the Spirit = HE WILL DELIGHT IN THE FEAR OF THE LORD.  The kind of powerful but righteous individual, the perfect ruler described here, must be both divine and human.

As a divine being with perfect character, the Messiah will judge with perfect justice (vs. 3-5).  In the Old Testament, pronouncing wise judgments in court is the “acid test” of all authority, whether it is good or evil.

His godly character empowers His just judgment.  How the authorities treat the most vulnerable members of society reveals where their hearts and heads are.



Judgment is both recognition of the truth and an appropriate response: reward for the righteous AND wrath for the wicked.  Notice that it is the Just Judge’s WORDS that will accomplish this.  His judicial pronouncements have the authority to make the will of God occur.



RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL BE HIS BELT AND FAITHFULNESS THE SASH AROUND HIS WAIST.  The words BELT and SASH miss the imagery of the original language; the virtues just listed are like the undergarments of the Messiah.  When all outward appearances are stripped away, He is still righteous and faithful.  He does not go by appearances as people do, He is righteous all the way beneath outward appearances.

  1. Jesus is the Just Judge. (Acts 10:34-38)

CONTEXT: Acts 10 is an important transitional event in the history of the Church.  Peter received a vision and an experience in which God revealed that salvation is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.  Our verses are Peter’s testimony about Jesus as he summarizes what he has learned.


The Just Judge will not show favoritism (vs. 34-35).  To the poor and oppressed, justice is equated with salvation; at last their cause will be vindicated.  PETER BEGAN TO SPEAK is a formulaic way to introduce an important address.

“I NOW REALIZE,” Peter began.  After the visions he and Cornelius had, Peter sees God at work to change his mind about the Gentiles.

“GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM,” the word translated as FAVORITISM literally means “face-taking.”  God does not put on a smiley face for one set of people and condemn another based on arbitrary factors like nationality.

Here is a point on which Peter and Paul agreed.  In Romans 2:11 it is written, FOR GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM.  (The context for this verse is what Paul wrote on the subject of God’s righteous judgment.)

“HE ACCEPTS MEN FROM EVERY NATION,” but NOT from every religion.  This text can’t be used to justify our culture’s indifference about religion, our studied attempt to overlook the differences or understand which faith is true.

This same point has already been revealed in Acts:

– Acts 1:8 = Jesus promised His disciples would be His witnesses “TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

– Acts 2:17 = In his Pentecost sermon, Peter himself quoted the prophecy of Joel that the Spirit would be “POURED OUT ON ALL PEOPLE.”

– Acts 8:26-40 = An Ethiopian had already been saved and received baptism at Philip’s hand.

Also, prior to Jesus’ ministry, Luke 2:32 records Simeon declaring that Jesus would be “A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES AND FOR GLORY TO YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL.”  In spite of these warnings, it required this experience to move Peter to an understanding of this revelation of God’s plan.

Persons who have made an acceptable response to God have two qualities.

– The FEAR God.  The oft-repeated teaching of the Proverbs is that FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM.

– Because we tend to associate FEAR with negative things, this rubs us the wrong way.  BUT, it makes sense to fear God as He is our Judge.  Whether it takes the form of respect or anxiety, FEAR is a perfectly acceptable motivator to DO WHAT IS RIGHT =

In verses 36-38, we see that Jesus demonstrated He is the Just Judge.  For starters, He took the message went to Israel first: THROUGHOUT JUDEA, BEGINNING IN GALILEE; predominantly Jewish areas of the Roman Empire.  This was the plan of God, to offer salvation first to His people, and through them, to the world.

AFTER He had received THE BAPTISM JOHN PREACHED, Jesus began His public ministry.


– …do GOOD.  It’s incredible that though all Jesus ever did was good, He had to endure such opposition.

– HEALING ALL WHO WERE UNDER THE POWER OF THE DEVIL.  This explains part of the opposition He suffered.  The devil arouse opponent because Jesus delivered people from his influence.

All this was possible because GOD WAS WITH HIM.  May this be our greatest ambition, our most fervent hope.

At the height of a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. “Isn’t it true,” he bellowed, “that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?”

The witness stared out the window, as though he hadn’t heard the question.

“Isn’t it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?” the lawyer repeated.

The witness still did not respond.

Finally, the judge leaned over and said, “Sir, please answer the question.”

“Oh,” the startled witness said, “I thought he was talking to you.”

Justice is not something that just happens.  It is too contrary to our sin nature and human nature, the things that dominate our thinking otherwise.  Fortunately, we have Jesus as our example as the Just Judge.  We are given the same Holy Spirit by God the Father, so we have everything we need to obey His will and exercise His will.  In the name of the One who IS Justice, let us go forth and live justly.