Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Seeking Judgment

 

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them.”

(Luke 9:51-55 ESV)

 

Ministry, in our current day and age, is hard. As we seek to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and to make disciples of all nations, we find that people are unwilling to listen to us. And we find that we are often rejected.

 

This can leave us frustrated. It can leave us upset. It can lead us to long for the end. It can lead us to long for the return of Christ. And it can lead us to desire the judgment of the wicked.

 

This is what was happening among Jesus’ disciples in the passage above. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would ultimately be condemned and executed. However, he sought to minister to the people along the way.

 

For this reason, he sent messengers ahead of him. They entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him.

 

They did not receive him because of his destination. They didn’t receive him because he was headed to Jerusalem. The Samaritans, after all, not only had animosity toward the Jews. They also had a different place of worship, Mount Gerizim.

 

When James and John saw this rejection of Jesus, by the Samaritans, they asked him if he wanted them to call fire down from heaven to consume them. Some Biblical manuscripts refer back to Elijah, who called fire from heaven to consume the troops sent by King Ahaziah. What they wanted, then, was the judgment of these Samaritans.

 

Jesus responded to this question by rebuking James and John. He reprimanded them. He corrected this wrong attitude displayed by them.

 

Again, there is a difference in some of the Biblical manuscripts. Although we don’t find it in some translations (ESV, NIV, & CSB), we do in others (NASB & KJV). They record Jesus, adding: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”

 

Jesus came into the world not to condemn, but to save. He says it this way, in John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This, then, was the attitude he expected from his followers. And it’s the attitude he expects from us.

 

Although it’s easy for us to become frustrated with the response of others to the gospel, we must never seek their judgment. We must never seek their condemnation. We must continue to desire and to seek their salvation. They, after all, are a people for whom Christ died.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Law & Gospel

 

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

(Acts 2:36 ESV)

 

As we reach out to the lost, we tend to make one of two mistakes. One mistake is that we preach only, or primarily, the law. We focus primarily on God’s commands. And the end result is that people are left believing that salvation is to be earned. The end result is that people are left in despair.

 

As the law is emphasized, people are left uncertain of their standing before God. They feel as though they must live up to his commands. And, because of their ongoing failures, they’re left unsure of whether they’ve done enough. In short, they have no assurance of their salvation.

 

The other mistake we make is to preach only gospel, which makes no sense apart from the law. We often do so, wanting to proclaim a positive message. We do so, wanting to encourage others.

 

However, unless we realize that we need to be saved, and from what we need to be saved, the gospel is meaningless. It ceases to be good news. People are left believing that their sin is acceptable to God. They are left believing that they are enough, and that they have done enough, to merit God’s blessing.

 

Both sides of this message are needed. Both law and gospel must be proclaimed. Then, and only then, will we be enabled to receive the grace of God and to possess the assurance of our salvation.

 

We see an example of this in the second chapter of Acts. As Peter was preaching to the crowds, he pulled no punches. He told them quite clearly that, although it was the desire and the intention of God, they had crucified the Christ. They had killed the very one attested to them by God.

 

We, then, see their response to this message. They were cut to the heart.  And they responded to him, asking what they should do.

 

At this point, Peter proclaimed to them the gospel. He told them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, assuring them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Although they were guilty of murdering the Christ, forgiveness was offered to them. And so too was the blessing of God’s indwelling and power.

 

In the same way, we must proclaim both law and gospel. We must proclaim law to those who do not know their sin. We must preach law, by which our sin is made plain. We must proclaim law, by which we are enabled to see the punishment we deserve.

 

We must, then, proclaim gospel to the afflicted. We must proclaim gospel to those who see their sin and who are burdened by it. We must deliver them from their despair with the comforting balm of the gospel, that they might receive the forgiveness and the salvation of God, and that they might have the assurance of their salvation.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Lived in God's Grace

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

(Acts 1:8 ESV)

 

As believers in Jesus, we know that we are recipients of God’s grace. We know, in fact, that we can receive his blessing only by grace. It is not something that we earn.

 

We know and believe that we are forgiven because of Jesus.  We know and believe that we are saved because of Jesus.  We know and believe that, because he died on cross and rose from the grave, these blessings are available to all mankind.

 

They are given to us by the grace of God. They’re, in other words, a free gift that God bestows upon us. And they are received by us through faith.

 

Yet, although we understand this when it comes to our forgiveness and salvation, we think very differently when it comes to the life of faith. Although forgiveness and salvation are gifts of God’s grace, we tend to think that the Christian life is lived in our own strength. We tend to think that we live in it by our own effort.

 

We tend to think that any change in character is achieved by our own willpower. We tend to believe that others are blessed by our effort in serving them. And we believe that the gospel is proclaimed and disciples are made as we force ourselves out of our comfort zone to do so.

 

However, if the Christian life is dependent upon our effort, it is doomed to fail. If character reformation is dependent upon our willpower, we will absolutely remain unchanged. And if ministry is dependent upon our own strength and resources, it’s all in vain.

 

As we enter into the season of Pentecost, we’re reminded that all of life, as a Christian, is lived in God’s grace. We’re reminded that no aspect of our life is dependent upon our effort. Our forgiveness and salvation, our repentance, along with our service of both God and man, result only from the grace of God.

 

We’re reminded of this in the above passage. As Jesus left his followers to ascend into heaven, they asked him if, at that time, he would restore the kingdom to Israel. They wanted to know if, at that time, he would bring about the fulness of his blessing. And he told them that it’s not for them to know the times or the seasons fixed by the Father.

 

They, however, would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them. And they would be his witnesses. They would be his witnesses right there in Jerusalem. And they would be his witnesses to the end of the earth.

 

Again, if this great work was dependent upon them, it would easily overwhelm them. It would be absolutely hopeless. But the good news is that it was not dependent upon them.

 

They would receive power from the Holy Spirit. He, in other words, would enable this work. It was by his strength that this seemingly impossible task would be carried out.

 

The same is true today. And this is a great comfort to us. It’s a comfort as we do not have to muster up the strength and willpower to carry it out. It’s a free gift that the Spirit of God will accomplish in and through us.

 

We must not hinder his work in our life, of course. But the victories will result from his power. They will result only by the grace of God, which he freely lavishes upon us.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Undoing of Death

 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”

(Revelation 22:1-3 ESV)


When Adam and Eve fell, when they sinned in the garden by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God declared that they would die. This was the punishment incurred by their sin. They didn’t die, however, right away.


But God did remove them from the Garden of Eden. And, in this way, he denied them access to the tree of life. He denied them access that they might not eat of this tree and live forever.


Ever since that time, man has endured the consequence of his sin. He’s faced suffering and death. And we’ve all witnessed and been touched by this reality.


The other consequence of sin we face is that of hell. This, Scripture refers to as the second death. It refers to an eternity of suffering away from the presence and the blessing of God.


God, however, was not content to leave us in this state. From the time of the fall, God gave the promise of a Savior. And that Savior, of course, was Jesus.


Jesus was born into the world in the natural way, although he was not conceived by man. Being conceived by the Spirit of God, he did not bear a sinful nature, as do you and I. He lived the perfect life that you and I are unable to live. He, then, gave his life on the cross. He died on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin. And he rose from the grave, that we might be justified.


As the punishment of our sin has been paid, the consequence of sin will soon become a thing of the past. We see this in the passage above. When Jesus returns, and when the new heavens and earth come to be, our access to life will be restored.


We see the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. The Father and the Son, then, are the source of this river of life. And, as it flows through the city, we will all have access to its life-giving waters.


In the same way, on either side of the river, will be the tree of life. And this describes not only a single tree, but an entire forest. The tree of life will grow abundantly and the fruit of this tree will be always available.


The leaves of the tree, we’re told, are for the healing of the nations. They restore the nations. All people will have access to this wondrous blessing.


No longer will anything be accursed, we are told. As sin is a thing of the past, so too will be its consequences. And we will live forever in God’s blessing.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Willing to Hear?

 

“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:22-30 ESV

 

Among those who do not believe the gospel, a number of reasons for their lack of faith are given. Many, for example, insist that Jesus was not clear regarding his identity. They tell us that he was not clear when it came to his description of himself and his purpose.

 

This is really nothing new. We see the same excuse made above, as Jesus talked to the Jews during the Feast of Dedication. They stated that he was keeping them in suspense, that he was making them to doubt. And what they wanted to know is if Jesus is, in fact, the Christ.

 

Jesus responded to them, telling them that he had told them. It was plain to them in the things that he said and did. Yet, they did not believe.

 

We see, in the words of Jesus, that the problem was not with him. Their lack of understanding did not result from a problem with his communication skills. Nor did it result from a secretive or a mysterious nature that he possessed.

 

The problem was with them. They did not believe, Jesus said, because they were not among his sheep. They did not believe, because they were not his sheep. They did not believe, in other words, because they were not his people.

 

In saying this, Jesus was not indicating that some are chosen for salvation while others are not. He’s not suggesting that some are chosen to believe, while others are not. It’s not as if some have the inherent ability to hear and follow him, while others do not.

 

In our sinful state, none of us are inclined to hear or to follow him. In our sinful state, none of us possess the ability to understand him. In our sinful state, none of us have the ability to believe in him. Faith itself is a gift that is given to us.

 

He’s laying before them, rather, the difference between those who believe in him and those who do not. Those who are his sheep hear his voice. Those who are his sheep listen to his voice. Those who are his sheep receive what he says to them.

 

It’s these, then, who are known by Jesus. It’s these who follow him. And it’s to these that he gives eternal life.

 

The fault, then, for their lack of understanding was their own. The fault for their lack of faith was their own. It was their unwillingness to listen that stood in the way. It was their stubborn refusal to hear that stood in the way.

 

And the same, you see, remains true today. Jesus has made clear to us who he is and what he has done. But will we hear?

 

Jesus’ sheep, his people, his followers, hear his voice. They listen to his words. They understand what he has taught. And they comprehend the testimony offered to them by his actions. They are known by him, and they follow him.

 

 

 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Unintentional Sin

 “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven.”

Leviticus 5:17‭-‬18 ESV


Although we’re quick to acknowledge that we’re far from perfect, and although we’ll readily admit that we are, indeed, sinful, we do all we can to deny our guilt. We do all that we can to excuse it. And we do all that we can to explain it away.


We do this in many ways. One place it is seen, however, is in the realm of unintentional sin. It is seen in the area of inadvertent sin. 


If a sin was committed without forethought, we do not feel that we are guilty. If a sin was not committed deliberately, we do not feel that we are at fault. If a sin was committed unknowingly, or if a sin was committed without malice, we do not feel culpable.


In that case, we expect to be let off the hook. In that case, we expect to be given the benefit of the doubt. In that case, we expect to be exempted from any type of punishment.


It’s clear, however, that society holds us guilty for unintentional sin. We can see this as we look at the crime of homicide. And we need look only at the class of homicide defined as manslaughter.


When a person is convicted of manslaughter, it’s acknowledged that he did not purposely take a life. It’s acknowledged that his crime was not premeditated. By means of carelessness, however, he is guilty of taking a life.


A person found guilty of such a crime is also sentenced. He receives the due punishment of his crime. And, although his punishment may be less severe than that of another, who is guilty of first or second degree murder, he is punished nonetheless.


This is true not only in the eyes of society. It’s true also in the eyes of God. Scripture is clear that an unintentional failure is sin. It’s clear that wrongdoing, committed without malice, is still sin. And Scripture is clear that any such wrongdoing makes us guilty in the eyes of God. 


And not only are we guilty. Any such sin makes us deserving of punishment. And for such a sin, atonement must be made.


We see this in the above passage. We are told that, if a sin is committed unknowingly, and our guilt becomes clear to us only after the fact, we bear iniquity. And, in the case of Old Testament Israel, a sacrifice had to be offered.


The same, you see, is also true of us. Even a sin committed unknowingly renders us guilty. We are held accountable for even a sin committed unintentionally. This, in no way, excuses or justifies our sin.


It is a sin that needs to be confessed. It is a sin of which we must repent. And it is a sin for which we must seek forgiveness.


The good news, however, is that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sin. He paid the penalty of the sins we commit both knowingly and unknowingly. Through Jesus, atonement for all of our sins has been made. And we receive his grace and mercy through faith in him.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Trusting the Testimony

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

(John 20:29 ESV)

 

Many of us, today, struggle with faith. We find it difficult to believe in Jesus. We find it difficult as we are filled with so many questions and doubts.

 

“If only I could see Jesus,” we tell ourselves, “then I could believe.” “If only I could see one of his miracles,” we say, “then it would be easier.” “If only I could hear his voice, like his disciples,” we exclaim, “then I would have no doubts.”

 

In this way, we are a lot like Thomas. You may recall that he was absent when Jesus first appeared to his disciples. And, when they told him what had taken place, he refused to believe.

 

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” These were the words of Thomas after hearing their testimony. And these are the words to which Jesus referred when he appeared next.

 

One week later, Jesus appeared to his disciples again, this time while Thomas was present. And he invited Thomas to touch his wounds. He invited Thomas to stop doubting, and to believe.

 

At this point, Thomas exclaimed that Jesus was his Lord and his God. At this point, he confessed faith in Jesus. At this point he believed.

 

Jesus then spoke the words seen above. He pointed out that Thomas had believed because he had seen him. But those who believed without seeing, Jesus said, are blessed.

 

Jesus appeared to his followers for a period of forty days following his resurrection. At that point, he ascended into heaven. And, from that point on, the faith of believers was based not on sight. It was based on the testimony of Jesus’ followers.

 

Those who were there shared with others what they had seen. They shared with others what they had heard. And they shared with others what they had experienced.

 

This is what is meant when Jesus called his disciples to be his witnesses. They were called to bear witness to what they had seen. They were called to testify regarding Jesus, and what he had done.

 

Countless people, since, have received this testimony. They have believed this testimony. And this includes those of us today, who believe. It includes us, as the testimony of the apostles is what makes up the New Testament.

 

John alludes to this in the very next verse. In verse 30, of this chapter, he writes: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

 

The reason, then, for John’s testimony is that we might believe. The reason for his testimony is that we might believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. The reason for his testimony is that, by believing, we might have life in his name. And the same, you see, is true of the other apostles, whose writings make up the New Testament.

 

And we, then, are the recipients of the blessing, referred to by Jesus as he spoke to Thomas. We are those who have believed without seeing. We are those who, unlike Thomas, have been brought to faith without having been there.

 

That being said, this reveals to us, also, the importance of Scripture. It reveals to us why we must faithfully make use of God’s Word. It’s in this way that we receive the testimony of the apostles. It’s in this way that we are brought to faith. And it’s in this way that we are blessed.