Thursday, May 27, 2010

II Peter 3: 1-2 The Heart of a Pastor—Part Deaux

I love Peter. Without question, he is my favorite person in the Bible. If there was a “Golden foot” award for sticking your foot up to the middle of your thigh into your mouth, my boy Peter would have won that. Honestly, you read some of his stuff and it’s like his philosophy was “Ready, fire, AIM!!” I picture him as this kind of flinty eyed guy that every time he opened his mouth, his friends would cringe because they had no idea what would come out. I mean, when he got it right, he got it really right (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”). And when he got it wrong, it was very, very wrong (“I’m going to wash your feet” “Nuh-uh” “Peter, I am going to wash your feet” “Well, if you’re going to do that, why don’t you go ahead and give me a bath”). However, at the heart of it all, we see Peter, the big fisherman, had a heart that was even bigger than his mouth. We see, here, in these verses how much he cared for these people to whom he wrote and how he wanted to encourage their faithfulness to Christ.

As he wrote in chapter one, he reminds those people he considers “beloved” in the first verse of this chapter that this is the second letter he has written them. However, this was not just a social call. Peter had a very specific purpose in mind when he wrote these believers. As we have studied chapter 2, we have seen Peter exhort these believers to shun false teachers due to the deadly false doctrine they purvey. He told them what they taught and what they looked like so these Christians could avoid them. Therefore, as he says here, this second letter is a vehicle by which he is able to go about “stirring up [their] sincere mind[s]”. The word translated “stirring up” has the literal idea of rousing someone from sleep which, considering Peter’s nap in the garden of Gethsemane, is pretty ironic. The point here is that believers need to be diligent. Peter’s epistle, then, is a call to diligence. This is not a time to be catnapping or frittering away time. People are lost, dying, and going to hell. False teachers are misleading them with false gospels. We’re the ones responsible for proclaiming the gospel and calling all men and women to repent and trust Christ and in the face of such overwhelming opposition we had better get busy. This is not the time to be a spiritual couch potato.

In addition, notice the mindset Peter calls for in this verse. He says he is trying to stir up their “sincere minds”. The words “sincere” translates a Greek word that means pure or unadulterated. These people needed to be single minded about the gospel and the proclamation of biblical truth. Brothers and sisters, we need that same sincere mind today. Do you view your work/school/whatever as your mission field? Yes, you go to work and do the best job you can but is your focus on how you can use your job to win the lost and proclaim the gospel? Friend, it needs to be. Our minds need to be so focused on the gospel that everything else is secondary. I pray that Peter’s epistle has caused you to realize that as we’ve studied together.

Further, notice the substance of his reminder. He doesn’t say that they should take a survey and see what the demographics are in their neighborhood or canvas the area to find out what people’s felt needs are so that the church can meet them. He doesn’t suggest that they adjust how they dress, how long the sermon is, or what kind of music they use. He says in verse 2 that they should “remember the words spoken to [them] beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and savior spoken by your apostles”. There it is—the sum total of what the church should be focused on remembering. We have the writings of the apostles and the commandments of the Lord collected for us today while they were still being written and compiled when Peter lived. The focus, the message, of the church as we see it here and we hear it from Peter who we know to be a loving pastor is the entirety of the Bible—the Old (prophets) an New (apostles) testaments. How many times do we hear of preachers preaching and churches teaching everything except the word of God? It happens far too often. However, Peter is a faithful undershepherd who loves and cares for the flock of God. Here he gives this church the best advice one could give any church—keep the study and proclamation of the Bible first place. It’s that important.

I pray that you will heed these words of Peter and, along with me, commit to constantly hold the study and preaching of the word of God as the highest priority of the church. It is by the truth of that word that we were saved and that we mature as believers. Furthermore, it is by the truth of that word preached that God will call those whom He will to salvation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

John Calvin and Scripture Exposition

John Calvin wrote tracts, he wrote the great Institutes, he wrote commentaries (on all the New Testament books except Revelation, plus the Pentateuch, Psalms, Isaiah and Joshua), he gave Biblical lectures (many of which were published as virtual commentaries) and he preached ten sermons every two weeks. But all of it was exposition of Scripture. Dillenberger said, "[Calvin] assumed that his whole theological labor was the exposition of Scripture" (see note 44). In his last will and testament he said, "I have endeavored, both in my sermons and also in my writings and commentaries, to preach the word purely and chastely, and faithfully to interpret His sacred Scriptures"

Calvin's preaching was of one kind from beginning to end: he preached steadily through book after book of the Bible. He never wavered from this approach to preaching for almost twenty-five years of ministry in St. Peter's church of Geneva - with the exception of a few high festivals and special occasions. "On Sunday he took always the New Testament, except for a few Psalms on Sunday afternoons. During the week . . . it was always the Old Testament". The records show fewer than half a dozen exceptions for the sake of the Christian year. He almost entirely ignored Christmas and Easter in the selection of his text.

"The Divine Majesty of the Word"
John Piper

Monday, May 24, 2010

Matthew 8:4-13 Testimonies of Faith and Faithlessness Part I

When we read and study the Bible, sometimes we need to put ourselves back in the shoes of the people in the Biblical narratives. It’s easy for us to look at the children of Israel and criticize them for their unbelief, but forget about our own faithlessness. It’s times when I contemplate that and realize how sinful I truly am that I am particularly thankful that Christ came to save me in spite of my voluminous shortcomings and that the call to salvation is effectual. As we continue to examine the book of Matthew, we will begin to see a clearer picture of the role of miracles and the responses to them.

For instance, observe with me in verse 4 the instructions our Lord gives to the leper He healed. He told them man to “go, show yourself to the priests” and further that he should go through the ritual cleansing prescribed in the Levitical code. This took days—the person was not declared clean just by a cursory visual inspection of the affected area. Rather, he had to make an offering and wait seven days. Finally, on the 8th day, he was pronounced clean. While the process was long and appeared needless, there was a purpose in what the Lord told the man to do. By following the codes prescribed in Leviticus 14:2-57, the man would be able to give “a testimony to them” about how he had been healed. The miracle would provide to the priests a powerful testimony not only of the man’s faith but also of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

Now, with that as a set up for the miracle described in these next verses, we see the faithlessness of Israel, God’s chosen people, made all the more obvious. In verse 5, we have a new character enter the picture. As Jesus went to the town that essentially served as his home base, he encounters a Roman solider—a centurion. Yes, the account in Luke indicates that he sent intermediaries to Jesus rather than coming himself, however, the point is the same. He implored Jesus on behalf of his servant. The exact nature of the ailment is not mentioned but, showing His love for all kinds of people, the Lord agrees to come to this Gentile’s home to heal this man.

Observe, however, beginning in verse 8, the great faith this man whom the Jewish leaders would have called a dog had and the perception he had been given as to who Christ was. He did need Jesus to “come under [his] roof” to perform this miracle. While we can only speculate as to his motivations for dissuading the Lord from coming to his house, the fact is the centurion saw it as unnecessary. We see why he saw it as unnecessary—he recognized Christ’s authority. In an amazing display of faith, he was willing to just take Christ at His word and believe him. Because he himself had experience commanding men (vs 9), he knew what it was like to exercise authority. Now, this centurion understood authority in his sphere of influence extended to them soldiers under his command. Therefore, when he tells Jesus “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” what he is really saying is that he recognizes Jesus to have absolute authority in this matter. Further, the fact that he sends people to ask Jesus to do this demonstrates that the centurion recognizes as being sovereign in the matter as well—Jesus could heal the servant or choose to not heal the servant. Here, in the heart of a “dog” as the Jews would call, we see a recognition of not only what Christ can do, but also Who Christ is.

The Jews, who had the testimony of scripture that had been delivered to them, rejected their Messiah. This Gentile commander, in contrast, sought Jesus out and recognized His authority as God in human flesh—the Sovereign of the universe. What kind of response have you made to the revelation of Christ? Are you like the Jews who reject the evidence, or are you like the centurion who is willing to take Christ at His word and trust Him?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Testimony

I've been doing this blog for about 3 years now. I had posted at one time a testimony of how I came to Christ. I thought, since it had been a while, I would post it again. I pray you will be encouraged as you reflect on God's sovereign grace in your own life.

My family went to church when I was a child off an on. When we moved to Tennessee when I was in the 2nd grade, we stopped going. My mom told me it was because all the churches around us were Methodist and we couldn’t find a Baptist church in Tennessee. I reflect on that now and realize just how funny that was. Anyway, we moved back to Alabama when I was in 4th grade. In 6th grade my brother and sister started going to Children’s choir at our old church. I went to a performance they did and I was hooked. There was always something about music that had me hooked. I joined Children’s choir and from there joined youth choir and started going to Bible studies, Sunday School and church.

I started to hear about the fact that I was a sinner and that my sin separated me from God. I heard that Jesus paid the price for my sin on the cross and that if I would repent and trust Him to save me, He would. When I was in 7th grade, one afternoon after basketball practice, I prayed in my room to trust Christ as my Savior.

I praise God for His faithfulness and for sending His Son to save me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thoughts On The Doctrine of Election

God, before the foundation of the world, chose to save certain particular individuals on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross (Eph 1:3). He did this knowing that those saved would be dead in their sins and unworthy of this gift of divine grace (Eph 2:3-5). He made this sovereign choice unconditionally meaning that it was not conditional on something we could or would do or be. Rather, He chose to save these people to the praise and glory of His name in spite of their sinful condition. A student of the Bible can see God’s sovereign choice to save throughout scripture extending all the way back to Noah and Abraham through His choice of Israel and into the New Testament where He chose Paul to preach to the Gentiles.

The question that is often asked is “Does man have free choice? What about free will?” For instance, I know that when I was 12 years old I prayed to receive Christ. From my perspective, this was my choice. I prayed, I trusted, and I repented. However, I read in scripture where God declares that He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 48:3). As we read in Romans 9:19, Paul anticipates the question “Who resists His will?” I have no way to explain it or understand it really other than to say that the word of God declares it to be true. I do read, though, something interesting in John 6.

In John 6:39, we read “This is the will of Him who sent Me (A), that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.(B)” In this verse, we are the objects. God gives the elect, those who believe, to the Son. We are passive in this verse. God is the one Who is active and is acting.

In John 6:40, Jesus says “For this is the will of My Father (A), that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day (C)." In this verse, Christ does raise up the believers at the last day, but the believers are no longer passive. They are quite active actually. They believe, they behold, and they have eternal life.
Now, in math, when I learned to do word problems I learned that “is” means an equal sign needs to be stuck there when writing an equation. Therefore, when Jesus says “This IS the will of My Father (or Him who sent me)” He defines the words that follow that phrase. Now, both verses say “This is the will of God” (A) and have two different definitions of the word of God (B) and (C). From the transitive property in mathematics, we know that if A is equal to B and A is equal to C then B is equal to C. Therefore, since God’s will is revealed by His sovereign choice (vs 39) and God’s will is revealed by man’s belief (vs 40), God’s sovereignty and man’s profession of faith are both equal in effect in the act of salvation. How do I reconcile such profoundly incongruent statements? I don’t. I’m perfectly willing to accept the fact that while both are true they seem contradictory.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Exposition of Hebrews-Part 9

A friend of mine, Doug Searle over at Taking Up Space, is teaching through the book of Hebrews and posting the audio from his classes online. You can listen to lesson 10 here. You can click here to get the class handout.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Salvation Was Accomplished On The Cross

If you subscribe by email, you may have to click over to the blog to watch this video. And trust me, you really need to watch this video. Even if you're not a fan of rap, you will be blessed by this talented young man's explanation of an important biblical doctrine.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Matthew 8:1-3 Unclean No More

Sometimes, being around people is hard. I come off acting like an extrovert but in reality I’m shy and it takes a lot of energy for me to be around folks and interact with them. However, I might not like to admit it but I am acutely aware of my need for people, particularly of my brothers and sisters in Christ. As I read this passage of scripture, I am struck by how isolated the poor man who comes to Christ to be healed was and what a blessing it was for him to be healed. Truly, it was a great miracle that we can all take note of and learn from.

Now, to set the stage contextually within Matthew, let us remember we have just studied a message where Jesus has set forth the truth that the righteousness God requires is unattainable by people. Not one of us can live up to the standard of the law. We must declare spiritual bankruptcy before God if we’re to have any hope of being saved. Our hopeless condition forces us to depend on the grace and mercy of God to save us and cleanse us. Matthew moves from this wonderful truth filled sermon to give us several snapshots into the healing ministry of Jesus. Matthew, in this gospel, does not attempt to follow any clear chronology but rather drives home the point using events from the life of the Lord and the truths He taught that Jesus is the Messiah that Israel had waited for and that the prophets had foretold.

We find, in this particular scene, that Jesus is surrounded by throngs of people as we read verse 1. Now, that makes what happens in verse 2 all the more spectacular. We see an unexpected player come on the scene—a leper. Now, this was unheard of and was forbidden in the law of Moses. In face, we read in Leviticus 13:45 that “the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!’” People with this disease were cut off from society and could not mingle with folks, much less come to a crowd of people seeking Jesus. There was not only a social stigma at work here but also we must remember leprosy is contagious. However, recognizing his helplessness and hopelessness, he pleaded for help. He knew that Jesus had the power to heal him. He says “Lord…You can make me clean.” Perhaps he had heard of the healings and other miracles Jesus had performed. In any case, he appeared to have faith in Christ’s ability to do this.

Further, he knew of Christ’s authority in the matter. Beyond addressing Him as “Lord”, this man adds “…if You are willing…” Make no mistake about it, this was a humble request from someone who knew that they had no hope. The man could interact with other lepers or live as a hermit, but his disease completely cut him off from all ties to anyone who was not infected. He recognized his inability to help himself and pleaded to Jesus for mercy. The crowd probably whispered incessantly amongst themselves, I’m sure, wondering what, if anything, Christ would do.

What He did was scandalous to polite society. He touched the leper. You just didn’t do that. Not just because of the fact that the disease was communicable but because you just didn’t do that—at least in polite society. Verse three not only records Jesus’ actions but also His compassion. He says to the man “I am willing”. Jesus wanted to honor this request. This does not suggest or imply that it is always His will for disease to be healed and that no believer will ever suffer with sickness. In a miraculous display of power, Christ chose to heal this man and he was healed instantly. In the time it would take for you or I to blink, he was made perfectly whole.

You and I have a similar problem. We had a sickness of our soul that made us unclean before God. Our sin separated us from God and there is nothing we can do about it. However, God sent Jesus to die on the cross and be punished for sin. I have trusted Him to forgive me and He has forgiven my sin on Christ’s account. I no longer have to feel the shame and isolation from God that sin brings. I am clean. If you haven’t trusted Christ to save you, why don’t you do so today?