Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Jesus: What kind of man is this?

"In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:25b).

Luke tells us that one day Jesus told His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake” (v. 22). They got into a boat and began to cross the Sea of Galilee. Jesus fell asleep, and while He was asleep, a ferocious storm arose on the lake and threatened to swamp the boat.

Such storms are not unknown on the Sea of Galilee. Due to the position of the hills around the lake, the weather patterns are such that tremendous windstorms sweep into the area from time to time. Though Jesus’ disciples included several seasoned fishermen, they were all afraid. They woke Jesus and told Him they feared they might drown. Jesus “got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm” (v. 24).

Some have suggested that Jesus slept so soundly through the storm because He was exhausted. Another theory is that because He was sinless, He was not out of sorts with God’s creation and thus was not threatened by it. For whatever reason, the storm that so greatly frightened these fishermen made no impression on Jesus at all.

This must have been some storm to defeat and terrify seasoned boatmen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John! Fearful as the storm was, however, the disciples were even more afraid after Jesus’ display of power over nature. They asked each other, “What kind of man is this?” The answer: He was the sinless incarnation of the second person of the Godhead.

Many people want to classify Jesus only as a “great religious teacher.” It is ridiculous, however, to put Jesus Christ in the same category as other “great religious teachers.” Did Mohammed ever command the sea? Could Gautama Buddha raise the dead? Does anyone claim Confucious was without sin? None of these men can be compared to Jesus Christ. The disciples were properly in a state of awestruck fear and reverence. They were afraid because they sensed in Him the presence of God Incarnate.

Where have you sensed God’s power unleashed in an extraordinary manner? Was it connected to answered prayer, a dramatic conversion, or a radical change of circumstances? Recall whether you had Peter’s good sense to be awestruck at the revelation of His presence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The True Family of Jesus

"He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21).

Luke 8:19 says that “Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd.” This reference to Jesus’ brothers, along with other passages that speak of His brothers and sisters, has occasioned a good deal of debate in the church.

Roman Catholic theology is committed to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Thus, Roman Catholic exegetes have proposed two explanations for Jesus’ “brothers.” The first is the suggestion that Joseph had been married previously and thus these were half-brothers. Yet, there is not a shred of New Testament or early church evidence for this, or that he married Mary in his old age.

The second suggestion comes from the fact that the words brother and sister can sometimes by extension refer to cousins, so that it was actually Jesus’ cousins that are referred to here. Again, there is no foundation for this, and why would cousins be accompanying Mary?

Unfortunately, much of Roman Catholic moral theology accepts the notion that sexual relations are always tainted by sin, even within marriage, and even when children are the result. Thus, since they believe Mary was sinless, they also maintain she could never have enjoyed marital relations with Joseph. This, of course, involves a frightful distortion of the biblical view of the goodness and sanctity of marriage and of marital relations.

Let’s turn to what the passage actually addresses. When Jesus became aware that His natural family was in the crowd, He told the crowd that His true relatives are those who obey God’s Word. It is not the natural family that will inherit the kingdom, but the spiritual family.

We often hear about the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. There is a limited sense in which this is true by creation (Acts 17:28), but in terms of redemption, only those adopted into God’s new family are His children and Jesus’ true brothers and sisters.

The spiritual family of Christ, known through the church, is frequently seen as a broken, disgruntled family. Each believer is charged with the work of an ambassador, reconciling members one to another in love. Assume more personal responsibility to promote love of the brethren today.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Let Your Light Shine

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17).

After discussing the fruit that must be produced by righteous soil, Jesus provides another comparison. He says, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light” (v. 16). By this, He means that we shine our light before men, and it would be just short of treason to our Lord to pretend that we are not Christians.

There is no point in trying to avoid exposure as Christians because eventually everyone will be exposed before God. Those who are willing to be known as serious believers need not fear that exposure because their sins are hidden in Christ. Those who seek to conceal their sins and refuse to ally with the Lord in this world, however, will be exposed on the Day of Judgment.

Jesus makes an application in verse 18: “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.” Jesus is saying we must open our ears to God’s Word. When it comes to the words of Christ, there is no neutrality: You either respond in faith and move from grace to grace and from light to light, or else you respond in unbelief and move from darkness to darkness and from death to death. Those who have received the kingdom will get more and more as they listen, while those who close their ears will lose even the little that they have.

Let me ask you this question: How do you handle your secrets? What are the things you seek to conceal from other people, and what do they tell you about your life? Are those things hid in Christ—secrets you keep in order to avoid scandal to the Gospel or to protect someone’s reputation; or are they shameful things you are trying to conceal from the gaze of God? If the latter, surely they will be exposed by Christ. Those are the only options we have. With Christ, there is no neutrality.

Believers are faced with the daily temptation to hide their light. Peer pressure (whether in school, neighborhood or the business community) can be strong and intimidating. How well does your light shine? Decide today how you can make your faith more visible to those around you.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Prophetic Preacher and the Sin of Abortion

To what lengths should a godly minister go toward protecting innocent human life? Preachers already feel pulled in so many directions. We rightly put our energies into preaching the Gospel, church growth, and exciting programs. But has God no concern for the rights of the weak and defenseless?

Certainly, a minister’s primary responsibility is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). This involves a call to repentance as well as a call to faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). In His last public discourse, Jesus exposed and denounced the sins of the religious leaders of that day. Likewise, in the midst of secular Athens, Paul declared that God is “now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent”—pagan Greeks as well as Jews.

Ministers must likewise follow the example of Jesus and Paul. The taking of innocent human life in abortion is a sin. So a minister should preach against abortion. But should a minister do more to protect innocent human life than simply preach against it?

Should anyone need to be reminded, we learn from Paul that a minister must not only call others to righteous living, he must pursue after it himself: “Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). Central to righteous living is a self-giving love for one’s neighbor. In the case of the weak and defenseless, it is taking up their cause. God has said. “I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things” (Jeremiah 9:24).

Conversely, God hid Himself from Israel when they only prayed and sacrificed, for He said. “What are your multiplied sacrifices to me?… I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly” (Isaiah 1:13). Iniquity in their instance was that they did not seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow—basic acts of justice. Does God now tolerate a lack of concern for justice on our part?

Taking up the cause of the unborn means action, public action. For James asks, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”

The call to righteous living, in this case, is a call to give these needy persons clothing and food. If this much is required, how much more should we seek to prevent the taking of innocent human life? “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

Christ said to His followers, “You are the salt of the earth.… You are the light of the world.” Paul admonished, you are now “light in the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:8ff.). When God commissioned Paul, He appointed him “to open (the Gentiles’) eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light … performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:18ff). Our main purpose is to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness and to exhort people to turn to Christ. Again, in the abortion crisis, the light is not meant to shine behind closed doors.

Abortion is indeed an “unfruitful deed of darkness” which we are to expose. Its forces are impressive and are on the attack. But we serve the “Light of the World,” and as Martin Luther reminds us: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are attacking at that moment, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all battlefields besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

God appointed Ezekiel to be a “watchman for the house of Israel.” But God warned:
When I say to the wicked, “O wicked man, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hands. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your life.”
This same compulsion rests upon prophetic preachers today. Occasions arise when the Word of God cannot be held in, and to do so would make us guilty of the blood of others. Infants are dying painful deaths today in abortion chambers. We must face the horror of abortion. These are extraordinary times which call for extraordinary actions. We cannot afford to ignore what is taking place.

Notably, whenever Peter or Paul spoke to a Gentile audience, they spoke of coming judgment and exhorted people to flee from the wrath to come. This is a Good News act. It flows from true love for the lost. James concludes: “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:20).

In sum, our call to preach the Gospel, to live righteously, to be salt and light, and to proclaim God’s judgment is a call to act prophetically. It is true that the New Testament office of minister is not equivalent to a prophet. But there is a prophetic aspect to preaching, for prophets were directed by God to speak forth His word in an open forum, often in hostile circumstances, to bring repentance. Preachers are God’s primary mouthpieces today.

There are parameters to our protest. The first is that God’s purposes are not served if we break His Law. Destroying property or hurling abuse at others is contrary to God’s desires.

Also, God is against violence. We are a nonviolent people, based on the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” No form of violence should be tolerated, not even hate. Those involved in abortion desperately need God’s forgiveness in Christ.

We are motivated out of love and concern for unborn children, for mothers who out of ignorance or callous indifference abort their children, even for the clinic personnel. We must warn them to flee the wrath to come. Are we willing to love them that much?

A godly protest will be covered with prayer, conducted with reverence, and be an occasion for witnessing to Christ’s love. We must be ready to offer love and help as we show alternatives to the horrendous choice of abortion.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Parable of the Sower

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).

The parable of the sower might better be called the parable of the soils. In the story, a sower throws seed indiscriminately on four different kinds of soil. The four soils respond to the seed in four different ways. Jesus tells us that the seed is the Word of God, while the soils represent different kinds of people.

In the first case, the message falls on a path, never gets plowed under, and is eaten by the birds. How often the Word of God bounces off of people in just this fashion. They hear it on the radio or happen to visit a church, but they are completely bored and uninterested in it.

In the second case, the message falls on rocky soil. This is soil that has a hard layer of bedrock just under the surface. The roots cannot sink deep and thus find no moisture. Just so, there are people who are initially excited by the Gospel. They join the church, buy a Bible, and tell everyone they’ve become a Christian—and then after a while, they drop out. Such people have only had an emotional experience, and never really became Christians.

In the third case, the message falls among thorns and weeds. As the plant grows, it flourishes briefly, but eventually is “choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature” (v. 14). These people drift away from the church, sink into a worldly lifestyle, and are lost. Only those who persevere to the end are saved.

Then, Jesus describes the fourth kind of soil. “It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown,” and it “stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (vv. 8, 15). These people have a deep interest in God’s Word and seek to put it into practice. Their lives are really changed and bear fruit by patient persevering. They don’t expect sudden miracles and changes, but by diligent obedience, produce a great crop.

Jesus wants fruit from His people—fruit that grows from a heart committed to Him. Fruit comes from patient feeding on God’s Word and obedience. You should see fruit in your life today, no matter how young a believer you are. Obviously the older in Christ, the more fruit you should bear. Evaluate your fruitfulness in the light of this parable.