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Now displaying: Category: life-changing truth
Apr 29, 2017

Real Talk with Roderick
To The End of the Earth: Irreconcilable Differences (Acts 15:36-41)

Introduction
Some days have passed (Μετὰ δέ τινας ἡμέρας) since the conflict concerning circumcision was resolved with a word from Jerusalem (Acts 15:30-31). The contention was settled with a letter from leadership delivered by four men: Barsabas, Silas, Barnabas, and Paul. The former two, Barsabas and Silas, are leading men from among the disciples of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22); they were selected by the Jerusalem apostles, elders, and brethren to accompany the letter. The latter two, Barnabas and Paul, are leading men from among the brethren of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26). They had been sent earlier to Jerusalem to get clarification concerning the circumcision question (Acts 15:1-2).

The letter revealed that the commotion-causing men who came trying to compel the Gentiles to be circumcised were not official. They had not been sent - they just went (Acts 15:24).

Not Sent, Just Went (Acts 15:24, NKJV) — 24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment

Sent vs Went (Deuteronomy 13:13; Acts 15:24; 1 John 2:19)
More important than the going is the order to go (Matthew 28:18-20). Those that went because they were sent were apostles and the effect of the Spirit through them was apostolic; foundation was laid through their labors. Those that went without being sent were authors of confusion, antagonists of the faith, and always advancing an agenda that ultimately did not bring the kingdom.

And so it is today. There are some whose going is an obedient response to the mission given by the Master. They are surrendered to the Spirit and examine everything in light of His word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Their program is not their own; They are sent.

And there are some who have not been called or dispatched. For all their fine-sounding words they are false prophets. There is no anointing on their preaching and no power in their service. Though they use many self-given titles they are without authority and work assiduously to undermine the will of God in favor of their own program. Who are they? Those that just went.

Just Went (1 John 2:19, NKJV) — 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

But now the commotion has been removed and thoughts of missions and discipleship begin to take precedence again.

Missing / Not Missing Mark (Acts 15:36-38)
Having fought successfully against the false doctrine that threatened their fellowship Paul now proposes something in line with the mandate to make disciples: "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing." After all of the distraction brought on by the legalists, the trip required to quell the trouble, and the glad resolution to have the Gentiles remain as they are in Christ, the idea of going on a plain old missionary journey sounds pretty good. Barnabas is in support of this idea and was determined to take with them John called Mark (Acts 15:37). He is a young man that had accompanied them on their first missionary journey out of Antioch on the Orontes; Mark is Barnabas' cousin (Colossians 4:10).

Paul's determination to not take Mark is as strong as Barnabas resolve to have him in their company. I can imagine Paul's words:

"When we were in Pamphylia this young man left us. He did not continue beyond the island of Cyprus for the real work that would lay ahead. Don't want him on the trip. Can't use a man like that." (Acts 13:13)

Luke is careful not to give his readership a side in the relating of the history. No indication is given that he favored Barnabas' position or Paul's position.

The Better Plan (Acts 15:39-41, NKJV)
39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Although Barnabas is characterized as being Spirit-filled and meek he is not week. The suggestion that Mark not make the trip was not okay with him and the old friend of Paul stuck to his position - Mark should go! The former pharisee was not a weak-willed man either; even stoning could not break his commitment to preaching the word of God. He stuck to his position - Mark should not go! And the disagreement (παροξυσμὸς) between godly men became discord. And at last it led to a decision to part ways.

The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas does not make pleasant reading, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that the two men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other. Luke does not relate the dispute in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong. In view of Luke’s restraint, it is idle for the reader to try to apportion the blame.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 301). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Barnabas would take Mark and go back to Cyprus. He would hold on to Mark return to the place where formerly the young man had not been able to hold up. Paul would choose someone else to travel with him in the work of strengthening the churches: Silas. His traveling companion would preach with him, be beaten for doing right with him, go to jail with him, and sing songs with him as they sat in the shackles of a jail in Philippi.

But who was right? The fellowship that heard the matter did not have a problem supporting Paul and Silas on another journey. And Barnabas' decision to keep discipling Mark would later become a blessing to the body of Christ.

Conclusion
Mark was probably not ready for the rigors of another journey with Paul. It was the right decision, in light of recent history (Acts 13:13) and subsequent trials (Acts 16:16-24), for the Pharisee-turned-Jesus-follower to cut him from the team. And yet John Mark was not a lost cause; he was a young man who was yet to bear much fruit. Under the encouraging tutelage of Barnabas and Peter the apostle he would eventually be used by God to make the gospel of Jesus Christ easier to share. Mark's reoccurring name in the New Testament is an ongoing reminder of what can happen when we stay the course in walking with someone who has fallen short.

  • Mark is Regarded as Worthy of Welcome (Colossians 4:10, NKJV)
  • Mark is Mentored toward Maturity (1 Peter 5:13, NKJV)
  • Mark becomes Useful for Ministry (2 Timothy 4:11, NKJV)

The differences between Paul and Barnabas concerning John Mark could not be resolved. But if I learn anything from this passage I am made to see this: The irreconcilable differences of important individuals cannot derail discipleship, dispense with disciples, or distract from the mission of making Jesus known. And we must not overlook the fact that when Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways the number of experienced missionary teams going out of Antioch was doubled. What looked at first like a setback was actually a setup for the springing forward of Christian mission. In the irreconcilable differences of Paul and Barnabas was birthed the indisputable benefit of a division of labor for a vast harvest (Matthew 9:37).

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
The New King James Version. (1982). (Matthew 9:35–38). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Apr 8, 2017

Real Talk with Roderick
Fulfill the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-5)

Introduction
Galatians has a readily discernible approach to arguing against legalism and for faith-based living. Paul goes from simple truths about Christianity to the consequences of those truths in the conduct of Jesus followers. He goes from orthodoxy to orthopraxis, from principles of the Way to the practice of wayfaring, from learning about the Lord to living life in His service. He is not trying to merely refute false teachers he is also working with each word of the epistle to promote Christ-centered, Spirit-led living.

The point of Paul's preaching and penning of letters was always to move his reader into an attitude and understanding that would help in the day-to-day of actual Jesus following.

With this in mind our reading of Galatians must culminate in a practice of Christianity that honors God. There can be no half-hearted attempt to understand the truth in this book. Though it may take a while we should always be searching the Scriptures and seeking in earnest to understand the basis of our faith (Acts 17:11). Yes, in these Scriptures are some things hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). But the Spirit of Truth will lead us into a right doctrine. Second, it must never be the case that we are content to camp around the doctrines of Galatians. If we just collect understandings and don't use them in following Jesus we are spiritual truth hoarders. Ultimately, having sat at the feet of the Lord (Luke 10:38-42), we must get up and follow Him in the truths we have been graciously given.

Let us get into this word daily. As individuals and in our gatherings let us study, meditate, and memorize Galatians. As individuals and in fellowship let us dialogue, discuss, debate, and even disagree about what it looks like to live the truth of Galatians. But then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us get off our duffs to do Galatians! May there be a parting of ways between our pants and our pews to practice what has been preached. Otherwise, brethren, we become hearers only (James 1:22). We are called to so much more.

(Galatians 6:1)
It is best to regard the trespass in which a person may be overtaken as one of the works of the flesh enumerated earlier (Galatians 5:19-21). Why? That list is not orthogonal to the surrounding work and is certainly helpful to Paul's readership. They are equipped by the lineup of lusts of the flesh to identify the overtaken brother in their midst. Further assisting the saints to whom the missive was sent in recognizing regression into carnality is the second inventory. Whether or not they find someone in a sin specifically mentioned, if it is a trespass, it will certainly be inconsistent with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

The general teaching of 5:13–26 is now given life application. Going beyond the renouncing of mutual envy and provocation (negative) there must be a move into the restoration of our fellow man (positive). We cannot be satisfied with seeing sin, saying it is sin, and endeavoring to cease from sinning. We are called to serve the Savior by helping the fallen brother, by helping the failing daughter to find their footing, by helping the overtaken to become the overcomers they have been called to be.

(Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:2; James 1:22)
The offender cannot be simply regarded as reprobate and rejected from the body. There must be an earnest and gentle attempt to see the one overtaken in a trespass come out of the sin: rehabilitated. Where it is so much easier to cast out the criminal we are then contrary to God's heart of saving flawed people (Luke 5:32; 15:10). Where it is so much easier to forsake the felon and stand against their return to fellowship it is inconsistent with the example and exhortation of Jesus. Peter was not put out because he was found failing in His faith. He was pushed to reaffirm his commitment (John 21:15-19) and given the larger purpose of using his own restoration for the strengthening of his brethren (Luke 22:32) and serving the Shepherd's sheep (John 21:17).

Habitual or Just Happened
A παράπτωμα is not a settled course of action but an isolated action which may make the person who does it feel guilty. The rehabilitation must be undertaken by those who are truly πνευματικοί, whose life and conduct alike are controlled by the Spirit of Christ. Paul uses the same verb (καταρτίζω) in an ethical sense when he begs the Corinthian Christians to be joined (κατηρτισμένοι) in unity of mind (1 Cor. 1:10) and, more generally, to mend their ways (καταρτίζεσθε, 2 Cor. 13:11).
Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 260). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Paul calls upon those that consider themselves spiritual to prove it out. "If you are spiritual, if you are walking in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, if you are letting the fruit of love and gentleness be produced in you through His Spirit, then do what Christ did and gently restore the fallen." This small verse matters much because with it we can examine ourselves. Using it as a plumb line we are able to assess the quality of our spiritual in relation to the people who need us most.

  • Stick and Move Spirituality - I show up to call you out and then get as far away from you as I can to protect my own sanctification.
  • Star Trek Spirituality - When I realize that there is sin in your life I just label your life as primitive and invoke the prime directive. "Enterprise, one to beam up."
  • Star Wars Spirituality - It is just you and Jesus that are going to take on this fallen brother and train him to do the right thing against the admonition of the whole Jedi Council. People like this usually get mauled.
  • Holy Spirit Based Spirituality (1 Corinthians 10:12; Matthew 26:41; Ephesians 6:18) - A cavalier handling toward sin issues when helping others is an indicator of eminent moral failure and an index to an attitude of spiritual arrogance. A right regard for my own weakness makes me wary and wiser when working to help my fallen brother; his giving in to temptation must be treated as my own course of action if I become self-confident.

One way of validating of spirituality is a willingness to work with someone who has fallen by the wayside to see them regain their gait on the straight and narrow path. This is the mind of Christ and in doing this we are following Jesus.

(Galatians 6:2)

While the “spiritual” do the work of restoring, all believers are to become involved by prayer and encouragement. This, wrote Paul, will fulfill (anaplērōsete) the law of Christ, that is, the principle of love (cf. 5:14; John 13:34).

Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 609). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. 

Ephesians 4:2 (NKJV) — 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,

(Galatians 6:5)

The Christian does in fact test himself by carrying his own load. This does not contradict verse 2 because the reference there is to heavy, crushing, loads (barē)—more than a man could carry without help. In this verse a different Greek word (phortion) is used to designate the pack usually carried by a marching soldier. It is the “burden” Jesus assigns to His followers (cf. Matt. 11:30). There are certain Christian responsibilities or burdens each believer must bear which cannot be shared with others. Jesus assured His disciples that such burdens were light.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 609–610). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Mar 4, 2017

Galatians 6:6–10 (NKJV) — 6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Oct 31, 2016

Dr. Bob Rowley brought a stirring message to Three Rivers Community Church. He challenged us to think seriously about church in terms of the call to make disciples. It was a message that looks beyond church as a ritual and more as the most relevant thing we can do to promote a better world, honor the Lord, and love others. Listen in!

Sep 26, 2016

Real Talk with Roderick

Introduction
Per the request of the Holy Spirit the church leaders Barnabas and Saul, assisted initially by John Mark, were sent by the anything-but-ordinary fellowship in Antioch on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:4-5). As they went from city to city, commended by their sending church to the grace of God, they faced increasing success and resistance. First, they were opposed by a sorcerer in Paphos. Paul ended the interference by declaring blindness on the evil false prophet. Seeing what had happened the proconsul of that island city believed (Acts 13:6-12). Second, jealous Jewish brethren in Pisidian Antioch, contradicted the teaching and blasphemed in a dog-in-the-manger attempt to stop the work of witnessing to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas are expelled but not before the word spreads throughout the region, a multitude hear the gospel, and many choose to become disciples of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:49-52). Leaving Antioch they go to Iconium. Before they are finally forced to leave Iconium because of the threat of stoning the Lord supports their witness with signs and wonders (Acts 14:1-3). In that city a great multitude of Jews and Greeks believed.

In Lystra Barnabas and Paul continue to have Jesus-enabled miracle support in their preaching. Unfortunately their audience mistake them for the gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-18). Before everything gets sorted out enemies from cities visited earlier (Antioch and Iconium) show up and make matters worse. Paul is stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). But he is not dead and gets up to go back to the previously visited cities to encourage, explain the necessity of Christian suffering, and establish structure through the installation of spiritual leadership.

When Paul and Barnabas, having come through persecutions and a stoning, return to their sending church they report their experiences. It was a success! Especially the work among the Gentiles in Galatia. Churches have been established among the Gentiles in Galatia. And now these godly men can relax for a while. Right?

(Galatians 1:1-5; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53)
1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The writer opens the letter to the Galatians using a name he began using during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:9). Besides the fact that Luke will no longer use Saul when referring to the former Pharisee, Paul (Greek - small or little) himself will not use his Jewish name in any of his letters. Why the change? He is doubtless not ashamed of his heritage (Philippians 3:4-5) and probably used the Jewish-Roman Saul Paul among Jews of the diaspora. His chosen designation of Paul is one way in which he has embraced his calling (2 Timothy 1:11).

Some scholars have equated this change of names with a major shift in Paul’s preaching career: his transition from a largely Jewish orientation to his new role as Apostle to the Gentiles.
George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, p. 77). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Immediately after stating his name Paul goes on to state his title: an apostle (Galatians 1:1). This is a standard feature in his letters and readily seen as part of his salutation formula: name (Paul), title (an apostle), blessing (grace and peace), and then thanksgiving for the recipients. He uses this self-designation in eight of the twelve New Testament letters that bear his name (66.7%).

 

The opening of this letter at first glance seems to be just like all of his other writings. It contains his name (Paul), his title (an apostle), and a blessing (Grace to you and peace...). However, a closer inspection reveals important differences. The elaboration on his title not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead is unique. There are no other letters where Paul uses so many words in the salutation to gird up the authenticity of his authority. And there are other differences.

Though the salutation includes the usual identification of author and recipient together with a customary greeting, the usual expression of thanksgiving and praise for believers is totally absent.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 589). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

So, there is an elaboration on his position as an apostle and an absence of thanksgiving for the recipients. Is this worthy of note? Do we care? Yes! Each departure from his usual opening signifies an issue precipitating the letter itself. The issue being handles in the letter has and does keep coming up for the church. The list of deviations, although short, is pregnant with meaning and advice for the modern Christian.

  • Explaining His Title (Galatians 1:1) - We care about this because if he had no authority with the original audience he will have less with people who have never seen his face. If had no authority then to command holiness, to call for humility, or to exhort us to hang our hopes on Christ what business do I have listening to a dead guy asking me to taking a road less traveled today. But if he was sent then with authority for the singular and authentic message of salvation through faith in Jesus we do well to hear and heed him now.
  • Expanding His Mention of Messiah (Galatians 1:4) - We must not overlook the mention of Christ's sacrifice and the reason. Was this necessary? Only if the effectiveness of this most essential element of the gospel was being questioned. In fact it is mentioned early as a preface to a more extended poof that Christ's cross work was a satisfactory atoning sacrifice.
  • Eliminating His Thanksgiving (See Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:4) - Where is the expression of thanksgiving for the believers of the Galatian churches? What did they do to make his usual practice inappropriate
  • Expressing His Astonishment (Galatians 1:6) - In addition to leaving out his gratitude for their faith he launches immediately into expressions of his surprise and grief over their gullibility toward "another gospel".

As we try to interpret Galatians for its original audience and today these exceptional features of the salutation signal counterparts that are coming in the body of the letter. In Paul's prescript he portends the content. That is, the why of Paul's letter is indicated by the items included or excluded from his usual salutation.

Galatians defends the authority of its author and the sufficiency of what has been said concerning salvation. In its words a former leader in legalism refutes the accusation of an inferior apostleship, razes the camp that would corrupt the gospel, corrects the teaching concerning the purpose of the law, and calls his readership back to grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. By this book we are loosed from the sophistry of man-made salvation and the futility of attempting to live by the law. We are led back to confidence in Christ, in His cross work, and the effectiveness of His Spirit in doing God's will.

The salutation is important for the proper understanding of the book of Galatians. And the larger work, salutation and following material, arms us in our war with those who would attack the veracity of Scripture, against seemingly spiritual people who would lead us into the bondage of legalism, and against people who would corrupt the gospel.

(Galatians 1:6-10)
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Paul is dumbfounded by the defection of the Galatian disciples. He is astonished by their apparently rapid abandoning of the grace of Christ to a different gospel. News of their falling away is the reason why their is no thanksgiving for their faith. He is not sure of their faith at this point! When the essentials of the gospel are given up there can be no assurance of salvation, no hope for a heavenly home, and no counting on the Comfort of Holy Spirit for the recipients.

When compared with the opening of 1 Corinthians this is even more striking, for despite the Corinthians’ deep moral defection Paul nonetheless expressed commendation. But here in the face of theological departure he did not express thanks, thus emphasizing the more serious nature of doctrinal apostasy.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 590). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

When the foundational facts of the gospel are removed you no longer have grace. The preacher becomes a panderer of one more religious system where man saves himself, where the cross work of Christ is necessary but not sufficient, and where Jesus is only a significant contributor to redemption. That false gospel is no cure for what ails but a poison pill that makes the perdition certain.

To make this work you have to undermine the credibility of the work and witness of Paul. They made him out to be someone leading people into licentious living to gain favor with the Gentiles. It is not hard to imagine the damaging words of his detractors: "He will do anything to gain favor among the nations. He even said something like I am all things to all men that I might by all means save some. So he throws out the Law to win approval."

Apparently the Judaizers had charged Paul with teaching freedom from the Law in order to curry the Gentiles’ favor. But the tone of this letter, specifically the harsh language Paul had just used, was hardly calculated to win the approval of men. Men-pleasers simply do not hurl anathemas against those who proclaim false gospels. Indeed, if the apostle had wanted to please men, he would have remained a zealous Pharisee and promoter of the Law rather than becoming a servant of Christ.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 591). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

The tone of his letter would be a problem for his enemies. The words he had penned in the opening of this letter were infused with a tone that did not fit the profile of a people pleaser. Instead of smooth words aimed at promoting calm and collaboration with the Judaizers... he cursed them and anyone else that would dare to change the gospel.

Jul 12, 2016

Dear Real Talk Community,

My youngest son and I have the same birthday. We celebrated with breakfast, dinner as a family, and some colorful cake items.

I thank God for His grace toward our family.

 

In His grip by His grace,

Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.

Jul 9, 2016

Real Talk with Roderick
The Last Word (Acts 12:20-24; Isaiah 42:8)

Introduction (Daniel 4; 5:19-21)
King Herod has harassed the church and killed an apostle. The illegitimate leadership that arraigned Jesus and promoted His crucifixion is working with Herod to hurt Jesus followers. And it seems like they are getting away with too. It is reminiscent of another king that seemed to operate with impunity until he crossed the line with God.

Under Nebuchadnezzar the Jews were taken captive. Under Nebuchadnezzar they were stripped of their names, their freedom to practice their faith, and their homeland. He was cruel toward his captives and toward the poor. And he even setup idols to himself and demanded that everyone bow down and worship. That was taking it too far (Isaiah 42:8). So God warned him in a dream (Daniel 4:20-26). Not withstanding, one year later he boasts about his accomplishments. Immediately heaven reduces him to a beast of the field. He loses his mind and becomes a grass-eating, long-nailed, crazy man in the pastures for seven years. What happened?

The seriousness of Nebuchadnezzar's sin is not in what he says but in the way he sees himself. His chief trespass was not the conversation he had with himself about his greatness but considering himself (1) above other men and unobligated toward the needs of the poor and (2) the cause of the great splendor of his own kingdom. The primary problem is not in his pompous words; these are but a symptom of the real problem - his pride. In His pride He sinned by seeing success as something he made happen... without God's help. His uplifted heart, wallowing in the wickedness of self worship, said "I did this!"

Now back to king Herod. It seems like he is getting away with murder as he persecutes the church. But he is about to cross the line.

The Prop for Displaying the Problem (Acts 12:20; 1 Kings 5:1-11; Ezra 3:7; Ezekiel 27:17)
20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.
Herod the Great (37 - 4 BC, Matt 2:1–22; Luke 1:5) and his grandson Herod Agrippa I (37 - 44 BC, Acts 12) were kings over Judea; they wielded power conferred upon them by Rome. They both desired (1) due respect as rulers of the region and (2) undue religious reverence from the Jews (Matthew 2:1-3); each coveted the crown that ultimately belonged to the Son of David. Given their way the prophecies concerning the Messiah King would be set aside in favor of a Herodian Dynasty. However, as both men are Edomites, neither of them can ever have legitimate claims to David's throne.

Herod [the Great] was an Idumean, an Edomite half-caste; in Jewish eyes he was unfit to rule. As a client-king of Rome, Herod symbolized foreign domination to the Jews...
Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas (p. 199). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Although much was done by the grandfather and grandson to garner favor with the priesthood and common folk they were both genealogically disqualified for the position King of the Jews. Further, as seen in their ongoing acts of wanton wickedness and brutality toward the people of their region (Matthew 2:16-18; Acts 12:1-2), they were so insecure and depraved in nature that they could never muster the servant leadership God wanted for Israel.

Legitimate leadership is often thought to be about grand actions, great ability, and a good command of others. But these types of "real leaders", apart from heavenly enabling for service, are often little more than rulers. The Anointing that moves Messiah to wash feet is not at work in them. These take charge types are actually the continuation of the Herodian Dynasty.

Herod Agrippa I wants to be regarded as a type of Solomon in blessing other nations.

1 Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, because he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram had always loved David. 2 Then Solomon sent to Hiram, saying:

3 You know how my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the wars which were fought against him on every side, until the Lord put his foes under the soles of his feet. 4 But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor evil occurrence. 5 And behold, I propose to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord spoke to my father David, saying, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, he shall build the house for My name.” 6 Now therefore, command that they cut down cedars for me from Lebanon; and my servants will be with your servants, and I will pay you wages for your servants according to whatever you say. For you know there is none among us who has skill to cut timber like the Sidonians.

7 So it was, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly and said, Blessed be the Lord this day, for He has given David a wise son over this great people! 8 Then Hiram sent to Solomon, saying:

I have considered the message which you sent me, and I will do all you desire concerning the cedar and cypress logs. 9 My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon to the sea; I will float them in rafts by sea to the place you indicate to me, and will have them broken apart there; then you can take them away. And you shall fulfill my desire by giving food for my household.

10 Then Hiram gave Solomon cedar and cypress logs according to all his desire. 11 And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors of pressed oil. Thus Solomon gave to Hiram year by year.

In Acts 12:20 we are told that Herod had been angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. The reason for his angst is not provided. It was not important for the unfolding of his fateful errors and is recounted summarily only as a foil for a bigger point. They need his help and he cannot resist the opportunity to have them groveling at his feet.

The cities of the Phoenician seaboard, Tyre and Sidon, depended on Galilee for their food supply, as they had done a thousand years earlier in the time of Hiram and Solomon (1 Kings 5:9–12).
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 240–241). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


The Problem Displayed (Acts 12:21-23)
21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
Like Nebuchadnezzar king Herod has crossed the line. It was not so much in his action as in his inaction and his tacit approval of being worshiped.

Josephus also went into greater detail on the “royal robes” worn by Agrippa. The garment was made of silver and glistened radiantly in the morning sun. As Herod, in all his glory, turned and addressed the people, they shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man” (v. 22). Josephus recorded a like response from the people, who hailed Herod as a god and “more than mortal.” Josephus at this point added significant detail, noting that Herod neither affirmed nor denied the people’s ascription of divinity to him.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 285). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

His affirmation is in his silence. And his demise is in his decision to do nothing as he is being lauded by the people as deity. His chief failure is not in actions but in his attitude toward God and himself. Like Satan he wants something that only belongs to God - worship. And like Satan this attempt to get glory for himself results in a fast and unrelenting removal from power. Regarding Satan's fall Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning."

  • Proverbs 11:2
  • Proverbs 16:18
  • Proverbs 6:16-19

The Last Word (Acts 12:24)
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Having removed Herod the Lord has ended a period of persecution of the church.

Conclusion
The lofty get lowered. The low get lifted. So get low.

Questions for Discussion

May 24, 2016

Real Talk with Roderick
Beyond Our Boundaries with Bridge-Building Barnabas (Acts 11:22-26)

Introduction
If Peter's preaching to people outside of the Jews was not enough to make the Judaizers of Jerusalem lose it... this may do it (Acts 11:1-3). Beyond the seemingly wayward work of the most eminent apostle we now have the work of a few radical disciples. The outcome of their efforts has begun to make the news (Acts 11:22). It all started when some of the Jews that were scattered with the persecution of Stephen went as far as Antioch (Acts 11:19). Initially they stayed with the practice of presenting the grace of God through the gospel to Jews. Only Jews.

But eventually some of them began to go off road and present the gospel to the Gentiles. And although that causes consternation for people who want to keep the faith - away from nations, the decision was confirmed by Christ Himself. Similar to what happened when Peter preached to the centurion's household, the hand of the Lord was with those roguish preachers; a great number of heathen believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21).

But, lest this thing get out of hand and the faith become feral, the church in Jerusalem needs to get someone to Antioch to make sure that things are being done right going forward. To that end they selected Barnabas and sent him over 300 miles as far as Antioch to investigate (Acts 11:22). What happens next is a set of powerful lessons for anyone that is serious about supporting the work of God among the nations. A close examination of bridge-building ministry of Barnabas yields a bounty of truth on going beyond our borders.

(Acts 11:22-24)
Barnabas himself was a Cypriot Jew by birth, like some of those who had begun to preach the gospel to the Antiochene Gentiles, and his sympathies would in any case be wider than those of such Jerusalem believers as had never set foot outside Judaea.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 226). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Principle 1 - Content with the Core
The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people who know it well. They are not deceived by dangerous deviations and will readily recognize and refute error. But when the gospel has been really received they are not distracted by cultural differences orthogonal to an unconditional commitment to Christ. Their deep understanding of God's grace gives them the ability to be genuinely glad when the critical part and core of salvation has been received: the Lord Jesus Christ. They do not need to hear in new believers their own music, agreement with their own political positions. They do not need to see conformity to their own preferences in the arranging of hair or adorning of the body. The gospel finds it best support and promotion in people who are content with the clear communication of the need to receive Christ - Christ alone.

Barnabas was a wise choice for several reasons. First, he, like some of these Christian ambassadors, was from Cyprus (4:36; 11:20). Second, he was a generous man (4:37) and therefore thoughtful of others. Third, he was a gracious gentleman as attested by his nickname (4:36) and Luke’s testimony about him (11:24).
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 383). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

The presence of a man of such sterling character and faith, a man “full of the Holy Spirit,”29 gave them the stimulus they needed to prosecute their evangelism still more vigorously; the number of converts increased rapidly.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


Acts 11:25-26

Several years had gone by since Saul of Tarsus had been escorted to Caesarea by his new friends in Jerusalem and put on board a ship bound for his native city. Barnabas could think of no one more eminently suited for the responsibility of sharing his ministry in Antioch. He therefore went to Tarsus in person to seek him out30—a task of some difficulty, perhaps, since Saul appears to have been disinherited for his joining the followers of Jesus and could no longer be found at his ancestral home.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The text of Acts is compressed and selective, but the most likely reconstruction of Pauline chronology from Gal 1–2 would indicate that some ten years or so had elapsed from the time he first departed from Cilicia to when Barnabas set out to find him.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 272). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Principle 2 - Capable of Collaborations
The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people who are able to receive by faith the fruit of its transforming power. Looking at life through the lens of the gospel and their confidence in Christ, they see marvelous works of God where some can only see the mistakes of the past. They see an agent for good and apostle born out of time where others only see the adversary that once wreaked havoc in the church. They no longer see the persecutor of brethren but see by faith the eventual writer of powerful epistles. The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people willing to collaborate with the formerly violent and insolent man who has become in Christ a new creation.

Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. The ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of”; thus “Christians” were those of Jesus’ party. The word “Christians” is used only two other times in the New Testament: in 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. The significance of the name, emphasized by the word order in the Greek text, is that people recognized Christians as a distinct group. The church was more and more being separated from Judaism.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 383). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Second, it reflects that Christianity was beginning to have an identity of its own and no longer was viewed as a totally Jewish entity. Again, the success among Gentiles would have hastened this process in Antioch.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 273). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


But “would-be” Barnabases of today need to heed a further lesson from this outstanding biblical figure. Barnabases want everyone to be happy, but sometimes it simply is not possible to please everyone without serious compromise of one’s basic convictions. Barnabas found that out later at Antioch when, in order to placate the conservative Jewish Christians “from James” (Jerusalem), he withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him here witnessing to so enthusiastically (Gal 2:11–13).
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 272). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

May 9, 2016

The Approachable Apostle
(Acts 11:1-18)

Introduction
All of Jerusalem is in shock over the scandal. How could he have done it? Peter, changed by his time spent with Jesus and charged by the Spirit of Jesus, has become a legend. He spoke into the bewilderment of his brethren words of tremendous insight and hope and helped them to see the trustworthiness of God's word in the tragedy of Judas' treachery (Acts 1:15-26; 4:4). When he preached thousands made decisions to place their faith in Christ (Acts 2:40-41). When he extended the right hand of fellowship even people that could not walk were fully restored. Literally! E.g., there was a man that had been lame from birth. But when he was pulled to his feet by the big fisherman, the same man is later found walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:4-10).

When Peter was in trouble for his faith in Jesus he was indomitable. Incarceration did not break him (Acts 4:3). Threats from high ranking officials did not scare him away from preaching in the temple. When put on trial for the trespass of teaching the resurrection he in turn put his judge and jury on trial for the murder of the Messiah and told them to their face that they have no hope of salvation except in the name they won't say - Jesus (Acts 4:8-13). And when he was whipped for proclaiming the truth he would not wail saying "Woe is me!" Instead he sang for the joy of being allowed to suffer in Jesus' name (Acts 5:40-41). In the power of the Holy Spirit the man formerly driven by fear to deny the Lord is now fearless in his new identity as a witness for Jesus.

But legend or not... he has taken things too far. Even though he is the most well known and popular among the apostles he has crossed the line. Check out the headline in The Jerusalem Journal

Pete Meets and Eats with Gentiles

Peter's meeting and eating with Gentiles is altogether unacceptable. He seems to think that he is above the Law. Every self respecting Jew knows that God has in one breath both called Israel both away from Gentile fellowship and Gentile food.

24 But I have said to you, “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:24-26)

Wait until he gets to Jerusalem. Apostle or not he is going to confronted and needs to answer for his actions.

People Perceive Problems in Peter (Acts 11:1-3)
1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
The news of what has happened in Caesarea traveled fast. It was such an astonishing thing that the Jewish News Network (JNN) was carrying the matter as breaking news: Gentiles had also received the word of God (Acts 11:1). But not everyone is happy about it. There are some who see a more disturbing issue: Peter's rebellion overshadows Gentile repentance. There are some in the fellowship who are so incensed about Peter's transgression of fellowship and food restrictions that they cannot rejoice in the faith revival. They are so fixed on his failure to keep the Law they are fundamentally incapable of seeing in his actions the leading of the Lord. Who are they? In the passage they are referred to as those of the circumcision. They are a group within the new fellowship holding up the importance of the Old Covenant.

Here, however, “those of the circumcision” has a narrower sense, namely those who contended for circumcision as being necessary for membership in the Christian Church, the circumcision party.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 438). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

What does Legalism do? It locks up the grace of God in man-made traditions, in religious rituals, and in the Law. According to the gospel of legalism you cannot see the Savior until you have seen the synagogue. You cannot meet Messiah until you have been properly introduced to Moses. And you cannot know Jesus as Lord until you have submitted to the Law (Acts 15:5).

But the relentless grace of God sends an evangelist into a deserted area to share His truth with one man who was physically disqualified from participating in the fullness of Judaism. The determined move of the Spirit sends Peter to preach salvation to the uncircumcised. And the uncanny counsel of the Godhead considered it wise to send a former Pharisee to make grace in Christ known among the nations.

The legalists take issue with Peter's behavior. But, lest we become their judges, we should bear in mind that their thinking is reasonable. Judaism and Christianity are still viewed by some as the same thing.

Evidently they represented a strongly Jewish Their perspective is understandable, given that at this point Christianity was still seen as a movement within Judaism.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 266). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Moveover, the facts had not yet been brought forward. The decision to confront Peter should be viewed as an attempt to get an explanation. It is actually a good thing and reveals that Peter was approachable, people did not regard him as infallible, and their issues were not reduced to slander and gossip.

With refreshing openness [Peter] was taken to task for his conduct.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 439). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

The Lord's Lesson on Being Loosed from the Law (Acts 11:4-10; Galatians 3:24-15; Romans 10:4; Leviticus 20:24-26)
4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

* 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ (Acts 11:9)
* 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)
* 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. (Romans 7:1-4)

 

He did not argue in the least; he let the facts speak for others just as they had spoken for him. The imperfect ἐξετίθετο should receive more attention, “he proceeded to set out.” It continues the previous imperfect διεκρίνοντο. Both are descriptive, but both intend to hold the reader in suspense as to the final outcome which is recorded by the aorists in v. 18 after Peter has delivered his address. Here were these people contending with Peter, here was Peter telling his story. What was the result? Verse 18 tells us.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 440). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.


The wording of Peter’s refusal in verse 8 is closer even than that of 10:14 to Ezekiel’s protest when he was directed to eat “unclean” food: “abominable flesh has never entered into my mouth” (Ezek. 4:14).
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 221–222). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Clean Meat Means Clean Man?
Some scholars feel that Peter’s vision dealt more with food laws than with interaction with Gentiles. This is to overlook the fact that the two are inextricably related. In Lev 20:24b–26 the laws of clean and unclean are linked precisely to Israel’s separation from the rest of the nations. The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to the Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14–23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean.86 In Mark 7 Jesus’ teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to fully accept someone with whom you are unwilling to share in the intimacy of table fellowship. The early church had to solve the problem of kosher food laws in order to launch a mission to the Gentiles. Purity distinctions and human discrimination are of a single piece.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 255). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


The Prevenient Grace and Gospel of God Goes Beyond My Boundaries (Acts 11:11-14)
11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’


The most significant difference from the earlier account is the additional detail that there were six Christians from Joppa who accompanied Peter to Caesarea (v. 12). More than that—it was “these” six whom Peter brought to Jerusalem as witnesses to what transpired in Cornelius’s home (cf. 10:45).117
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 267). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

Barriers Broken Down in Baptism (Acts 11:15-18; Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:3-4; John 1:26, 33)
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

The legalist would tell you it is necessary for you to help pay for your pardon and that you must garner God's grace through great effort. He will say that you must see the synagogue before you can see the Savior, that you must meet Moses before you can be properly introduced to Messiah, and that you must learned in the Law before you can know the Lord.

God evidently made no distinction between believing Gentiles and believing Jews; how could Peter maintain a barrier which God plainly ignored? To do so would be to oppose God. There is no express mention here (as there is in 10:47–48) of the baptism of the Gentiles, though it is perhaps implied in the language of verse 17.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 222–223). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

Apr 26, 2016

Real Talk with That Guy

What Do I Do? (Acts 5:22-32)

Introduction

There are times in life when it is unclear what we should do. Should we take the job or not take the job? She we buy the house or not buy the house? Should we try to adopt a child or not try to adopt a child? Should I marry this person or not marry this person? Should I put solar panels on my home and learn more about conservation or not put solar panels on my home... and not learn about conservation? In such times it is more than moderately helpful to review our corporate and personal why. Our why is always more important than our what. A clear understanding of why we exist and why God has called us to Himself is often enough guidance for the formulation a plan of action that will find heaven's approval. If you are unsure about what to do in the face of increasing personal difficulty, growing opposition, a motley crew of options, or mixed emotions about your situation this message is going to help.

 

Lost Their Way (Acts 5:22-24)

22 But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23 saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be.

Previously in our study of Acts we saw the apostles being arrested... again (Acts 5:17-18). Their open defiance of the mandate not to talk about Jesus (Acts 4:17) had run its course. The religious authorities, hearing that these unapproved religious upstarts were still in the temple teaching Jesus and resurrection was too much; the Sadducees came unglued. Among the people making the arrest was the high priest himself.

 

But after they were unlawfully incarcerated they receive a Get Out of Jail Free from an angel of the Lord (Acts 5:19). And the heavenly messenger, in case they were wondering what to do, reminded them:

 

Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life. (Acts 5:20)

 

And so the apostles have continued in the rabble rousing what of proclaiming salvation in Jesus name even when it carries with it the promise of prison. The authorities are now ready to retrieve the criminals and review their crimes. But there is problem.

 

The officers went as instructed to retrieve the rogue rabbis and could not find them. Imagine the looks on their faces and the questions they asked among themselves. "This is the jail right?" "Did someone post bail last night?" "How did you not see 12 grown men leave through a single door?" "Who unlocked the door?" "This is obviously an attempt to make us look bad. Seriously, who locked the door after all of the prisoners had been released?" In their report were the following facts:

 

  • Prison Shut Securely - They locks were all intact and the doors were shut.
  • Posted Guards - They guards were at their posts. In fact they were standing at their posts. None of this sitting at a monitor business.
  • Positively Empty - The prisoners' whereabouts is a mystery. But we do know where they are not.

 

The effect upon the leadership was immediate and profound. Only hours ago they had been confident of what to do and how to do it: (1) get the perpetrators, (2) put the perpetrators in prison, (3) conduct a "trial" and condemn them, and then (4) find a way to get rid of them. The word used to describe their state of mind (διαπορέω (diaporeō) - be at a loss) indicates that they were completely confused or thoroughly perplexed. When we see this word in Scripture it is always used to convey the idea that a person has no idea what to do:

 

  • Luke 9:7 - Seeing the miracles of the Messiah the tetrarch Herod is confounded. Is it John that was beheaded at work through this Man?
  • Acts 2:12 - The wonder of tongues was overwhelming. How is it that people who can't speak their language are speaking the native tongue of everyone else?
  • Acts 10:17 - Why would the Lord tell Peter in a vision to eat things formerly considered unclean? Peter cannot make heads or tails of the vision.

 

The inability to understand or forge ahead is rooted in a loss of identity.

 

Religious leaders who are devoted to glorifying themselves cannot find peace or function properly when confronted by genuine glory. Their angst and anxieties are only amplified by the anticipation of His appearing (Matthew 2:1-3). And they cannot be happy when hearing His name on the lips of His people (Matthew 21:9-15). In getting away from their why they lose their way.

 

Resistance is Futile (Acts 5:24-26)

25 So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.

Even as the Sadduccees are reeling with the unsettling news about the empty prison there comes in more news that must have made some of them realize that they were not accomplishing anything by fighting against this faith (Acts 5:33-39). The "So" of this verse does not translate a word normally used to introduce a logical conclusion but rather a connected idea. Luke wants his readership to see that the message of this latter messenger is to be viewed with the news of the empty prison. Seen together they say that the war on His witnesses is irrelevant.

 

In the light of the apostles great and growing support the captain went with the officers but was careful to bring them without violence. There is no mention of fear in the apostles. However their adversaries are now beginning to feel unsafe as they harass these men of God.

 

What Is Going On? (Acts 5:27-28)

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

The apostles are conducted to the council chamber and set before the convened group - the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:27). The high priest begins with a rhetorical question. It is the type of interrogative that is presented not because the person asking is unaware of the answer but because they are wanting to bring the answer to the fore of thinking. Sometimes it is used for dramatic effect; the question draws attention to a fact for the sake of a point that is going to be made. This is the intent of the high priest. He is making much drama out of the defiant actions of the apostles. He is taking issue with two whats.

 

First, although the edict against evangelism was clearly articulated, the city of Jerusalem is now filled with their teaching about Jesus. The command against teaching in Jesus' name was not a suggestion. It was a strict command. And yet the what of witnessing keeps happening.

 

Second, beyond teaching a doctrine that the Sadduccees do not support there is the matter of the ongoing indictment: the religious leaders are murderers. They are guilty of the blood of an innocent Man - the Messiah Himself. But this what is the outworking of their own evil actions. And their actions are proof positive of what Jesus had said so many times during his ministry - they are murderers (Matthew 23:35; John 7:19; John 8:37, 40, 44).

 

24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24-25)

 

When We Are Witnesses (Acts 5:29-32)

29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

 

An Old Testament prophet had called the people of Israel to be God’s witnesses in the world (Isa. 43:10; 44:8); the task which Israel had not fulfilled was taken on by Jesus, the perfect Servant of the Lord, and shared by him with his disciples. The close relation between God’s call to Israel, “you are my witnesses,” and the risen Lord’s commission to his apostles, “you will be my witnesses,” can be appreciated the more if we consider the implications of Paul’s quotation of Isa. 49:6 in Acts 13:47.32 There the heralds of the gospel are spoken of as a light for the Gentiles, bearing God’s salvation “to the end of the earth”; here “the end of the earth” and nothing short of that is to be the limit of the apostolic witness.

Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 36). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

Questions for Discussion

  • What are the decisions that I am struggling with today? What are the actions that I am considering?
  • Am I comfortable with my identity as a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ?
  • If I accept my identity (my why) what bearing does it have on my actions (my what and my how)?
Apr 23, 2016

Mark 11New King James Version (NKJV)

The Triumphal Entry

11 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage[a] and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it.And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

So they went their way, and found the[b] colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”

And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“Hosanna!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’[c]
10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
That comes in the name of the Lord![d]
Hosanna in the highest!”

11 And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

The Fig Tree Withered

12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

And His disciples heard it.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. 17 Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?[e] But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”[f]

18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. 19 When evening had come, He went out of the city.

The Lesson of the Withered Fig Tree

20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

Forgiveness and Prayer

25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”[g]

Apr 23, 2016

Acts 10New King James Version (NKJV)

Cornelius Sends a Delegation

10 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”

And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”

So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.[a] He will tell you what you must do.” And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

Peter’s Vision

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him,“Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

Summoned to Caesarea

17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.

19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”

21 Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius,[b] and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”

22 And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” 23 Then he invited them in and lodged them.

On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

Peter Meets Cornelius

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour[c] I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.[d] When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

Preaching to Cornelius’ Household

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. 36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they[e] killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.

Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

Apr 6, 2016

Northwest Community Evangelical Free Church

(March 22, 2014)

Dave Smith

Sermon manuscript

Sermon series: THIS Jesus

 

 

Sight to the Blind                                                                           Study #4

(John 9)

 

Introduction: A question that clarifies…

                Some time ago I was talking with a friend on a hiking trail. We were on Day Three of a multi-day backpacking trip, and this friend was at something of a crossroads in his spiritual life.

                Good talks often happen no the trail and I was listening to him express doubts and wonderings about life and God.

                When there was a silence I took the opportunity to ask a question that I hoped would help bring some clarity. We had been talking about what would be a sufficiently grand ideal or idea or value to live for.

                So I asked, “What would you be willing to die for?”

                That question sent my friend for a loop. Frankly, the question rocks me back on my heels, too. It is a challenging question and I ask it of myself pretty regularly.

                A few minutes ago you and I watched a video that highlighted the sufferings of some of our Christian family. We watched as twenty one men sang hymns of praise to God before going to their deaths for their faith in Christ.

 

                After viewing that, we almost can’t help but ask ourselves, “For what would I be willing to die?”

 

                Those men were willing to die for Jesus.

 

                Not the nice Jesus of popular culture, not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

 

                No. They were willing to die for the Jesus who is revealed on the pages of the New Testament. THIS God-in-the-flesh, wonder-working, loving, courageous Jesus. It was THIS Jesus for whom they lived and for whom they died.

 

                Signs aplenty...

 

                During these weeks leading up to Easter, we are viewing signs that Jesus performed, signs recorded in the Gospel of John. All of these signs advertise something about Him and His ways.

 

                We’ve seen signs that include turning water into wine and a couple of healings, multiplying food and walking on water.

 

                The text we are going to explore today shows us Jesus performing another sign.

 

                Today’s sign, like all the signs do, advertises His power. On a strictly physical level, He performs a miracle that defies all medical explanation.

 

                But He is going to follow up that physical miracle with its spiritual counterpart. That He is able to do THAT amazing work assures us that He is worth both living and dying for.

 

                When we catch up with Jesus today, He is in Jerusalem, having just walked through a crowd of people who were poised to stone Him to death.

 

                Of the action that follows, we are given very few details. Aside from the fact that it is in Jerusalem, we don’t know where the incident we are about to see occurs.

 

                Most scholars place this event about six months out from the crucifixion, putting it in the September/October time frame. But we really don’t know for sure exactly when it happened.

 

                As He was walking, Jesus saw something that caught His eye. He saw a man who had never seen anything.

 

Opens the Eyes of the Blind (9:1-12)


Blindness: The Dead-End of the “Cause” Question (vv. 1-5)

 

                Jesus SAW the blind man (v. 1)

 

                [1] As he passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.

 

                This man’s world was the world of the blind. Hearing, taste, touch, and smell were all intact. But he had never seen the face of his parents or sisters or brothers or friends. He had never seen a sunset, or a nighttime sky. He’d never seen the Temple or a Passover lamb.

 

                The World Health Organization tells us that today, there are over 39 million people who are blind and 285 million who suffer with compromised vision of some sort.

 

                Problems with sight can develop due to all kinds of causes, including cataracts and glaucoma, diabetes, and macular degeneration, to name only a few.

 

                One of the most touching times our team experienced during a 2012 missions trip to Kenya was the time we spent with blind children who had developed problems with sight. Blindness is a huge problem in East African children, due in large part to a simple deficiency of Vitamin A.

 

                My brother-in-law, Don Kerr, suffered a general optical neuropathy over fifteen years ago that the doctor’s still can’t explain.

 

                First sight in one eye went away; then, most of the sight in the other. Don is now virtually blind, in addition to many other ailments that plague him. But before he went blind, he had been able to see.

 

                The man Jesus has just passed by, though, had never seen anything. He had been blind from birth and he would have made his way in the world by begging, which was about the only way blind people in ancient times and in many places today can make ends meet.

 

                Jesus and His disciples passed by this man. The twelve were intrigued by his condition, so they asked Jesus a question.

 

                Theology 101 (vv. 2-3)

 

                                The disciples assume sin’s causality (v. 2)

 

                [2] And His disciples asked Him, saying, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”[1]

 

                Their question sounds Hindu-ish, because the Hindu says that if you see someone who is suffering, you can know that they lived badly in a previous life.

 

                The idea in Hinduism is that the moral universe is a zero-sum game. One piece of suffering is the result of one bad action by somebody somewhere. It is a convenient and simple explanation of suffering and evil in the world.

 

                Jesus’ disciples (who weren’t at all closet Hindus) reveal by their question how tempting it is to think in terms of moral cause and effect. One sin translates to one suffering.

 

                It’s tempting for us, today, to think that way, too. But it’s wrong-headed thinking.

 

                We don’t wonder, after someone has died on a slick South Texas road, what they or their parents did wrong to require such cosmic payback.

 

                We don’t walk through the cancer ward of Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital and ask what sin this child or her parents committed.

 

                The moral universe is NOT a zero-sum game. There is not a neat one-to-one correspondence between sin and suffering. The Bible doesn’t play the “sin card” every time someone suffers - and Jesus doesn’t play it here, either.

 

                                Jesus jumps to God’s great effects (v. 3)

 

                [3] Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

 

                Of course, Jesus would agree that some suffering is the result of personal sin. But the suffering of this blind man was not the direct result of his own sin or of the sin of his parents.

 

                Jesus’ answer moves us away from speculation about causality. He wants His disciples - and us! - to think of suffering in some way other than as a  part of a cosmic blame game or as a brain teaser.

 

                He wants us to think of suffering’s redemptive potential and of God’s power to bring personal wholeness out of personal brokenness.

 

                Then Jesus turned from His disciples to the blind man.

 

Blindness: Jesus Eye-to-Eye with a Blind PERSON (vv. 6-7)

 

                A messy healing (v. 6)

 

                [6] When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes

 

                Imagine the thoughts running through the blind man’s mind as - as SURPRIZE! - Jesus applied spit-moistened clay to his eyes.

 

                “What’s this? No! Someone is rubbing mud in my eyes!”

 

                Maybe he’s been the victim of unsuccessful and messy healing attempts before. Maybe he’s been the victim of bullying and ridicule. It may be that he thinks someone is making fun of him.

 

                Whatever his thoughts, with the mud applied, Jesus gave the blind man marching orders.

 

                Marching orders (v. 7a)

 

                [7a] and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (which is translated Sent)

 

                And off the man went, stumbling his way to the pool of Siloam, a stone-lined pond somewhere nearby in the old city of Jerusalem.

 

                When he walked away from Jesus he was blind. His walk to the pool was a walk by faith, not sight.

 

                By faith the man walked and by faith the man washed. Then, with the mud gone from his eyes, he opened his eyes. And, for the first time in his life, his eyes work!

 

                Washed and well! (v. 7b)

 

                [7b] So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.

 

                We are not to understand that there was any healing power in the mud or in the pool’s water. The means do not explain the miracle. Jesus’ power - and that alone - explains the miracle.

 

                He could see the pavement he walked on and the trees that shaded him. He could see the faces of friends he had known for years.

 

                I would have loved to have seen him walking back. He’s probably never walked all that steadily, due to his blindness. He may still have the blind man’s cautious, shuffling gait.

 

                But his eyes are feasting on everything he sees as he makes his way back to the place where he had encountered Jesus.

 

                This sign shouts Jesus’ power.

 

                 The Lord didn’t miraculously scrape off a cataract or reverse the effects of glaucoma. He connected an optic nerve that had never been connected and trained synapses to fire that had never fired and taught nerves to send signals to the brain of what the eyes now, for the first time ever, saw.

 

                This was a display of God-sized power, poured out on an unsuspecting blind man because Jesus simply takes pleasure in bestowing grace on needy people.

 

                When this formerly blind man returned from the pool of Siloam to his familiar begging spot, I’m sure that he was looking for his Healer.

                But that one Voice he would have known above all others was gone. He had not seen Jesus and Jesus has now retreated to the sidelines.

                The healed man, though, is thrust right into the spotlight. We listen as John records the responses of a few people to the miracle. And I’ll just warn you. Their responses are kinda odd.

 

Closed Minds from the Sighted Blind (vv. 8-34)

 

The Neighbors: “It’s hard to say…” (vv. 8-12)

 

                A case of mistaken identity (vv. 8-9)

 

                [8] Therefore, the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” [9] Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.”

 

                These friends and neighbors have watched this man beg for years. Now, they are doubting their own senses of sight because he has gained his. For them, simply seeing the man see was NOT believing.

 

                Rather than embrace the obvious miracle, they figured  they were looking at the man’s heretofore unknown identical twin brother.

 

                Well, finally, someone who did see that he was the [formerly] blind man, asked the man himself to explain how he had come to see.

 

                A case of a curious healing (vv. 10-12)

 

                [10] So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?” [11] He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’  So I went away and washed, and I received sight.”

 

                He likely doesn’t know much about Jesus. But he did know that it was Jesus who had given him his sight.[2] But he wasn’t out to preach a sermon. He didn’t have an axe to grind. He just answered the question.

 

                When they then asked him, [12] “Where is He?” he had to admit, “I do not know.”

                So confusion reigns. Nobody is exactly certain what has happened.

 

                And at the height of all this confusion, some genius among the crowd of friends and neighbors suggested that they do what was always a good idea: “Hey, let’s go see the Pharisees!”

 

The Pharisees: “You and Jesus are sinners…” (vv. 13-34)

 

                The Pharisees’ opinions about Jesus (vv. 13-17)

 

                                Polite questioning (vv. 13, 15a)

 

                This meeting between the Pharisees and the formerly blind man began friendly enough.

 

                Pharisees were among the religious heavyweights of ancient Israel and, at first, were polite in their questioning.

 

                [13] They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind…[15a] Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight.”

 

                So here, for the second time, the man recounts the story of how he came to see.

 

                                Courteous answering (v. 15b)

 

                [15b] And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

 

                It’s a consistent story. He’s telling the truth and all seems well.

 

                But all is not well because of a detail John provides. Because of this detail, there arises a difference of opinion among the Pharisees about the significance of what has happened.

 

 

 

                                Pharisaic division (vv. 14, 16)

 

                [14] Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.[3]… [16] Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man (meaning Jesus) is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.[4]

 

                Now, here’s what I find to be the most amazing thing about this whole exchange.

 

                Nobody is marveling over the fact that a blind man has received his sight. Nobody is giving glory to God for the miracle of healing.

 

                Instead, they are engaged in a debate about the propriety of healing on a Sabbath.[5] And this conversation about Sabbath theology is taking place with the formerly blind man standing right there.

 

                As far as the Bible tells us nobody even said, “Congratulations! Happy for you!” to the man who can now see for the first time in his life. Talk about world class insensitivity.

 

                Finally, the Pharisees turned to the now-seeing man and asked his opinion of the Man who had opened his eyes.

 

                [17] So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.” (And what did we expect him to say? Jesus had given him his sight, after all.)

                But the Pharisees weren’t satisfied that Jesus was a prophet from God or anything of the sort.

 

                Seeing wasn’t believing for them anymore than it had been for the friends and neighbors and they looked for ways to deny the miracle.

 

Parenthetical: Meet the Parents (vv. 18-23)

 

                [18] The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been born blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, [19] and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?”

 

                The first question was easy and the parents answered, “Yep, this is our son.”

 

                The second question - “How does he now see?” was tougher.

 

                Maybe they really didn’t know how he had received his sight. If so, their response isn’t unreasonable, although it does sound a little odd.

 

                [20] His parents answered them and said, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; [21] but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”

 

                Did you notice how curt, how short, their answers are? It’s not what I would have hoped for from the parents of a blind son who can now see. I’m surprised that they didn’t say, “Yes, he can see! Isn’t it great?”

 

                We keep reading and discover the reason why they were so restrained in their responses.

 

 

                [22] His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews (meaning the Jewish leadership – Sadducees, Pharisees, chief priests, scribes); for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. [23] For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

 

                The parents’ reluctance to answer the Pharisees’ questions is due to the Pharisees’ new policy. Anybody who crossed over to Jesus’ side was to be excommunicated.

 

                To be “put out” was serious business.

 

                If you were “put out” of the synagogue, you would be treated like an unclean leper and would be excluded from the community’s social life.

 

                You wouldn’t even be admitted into the temple or the synagogue for worship. You would be talked about as if you were dead. And when you did die, you’d receive a dishonorable funeral.

 

                This is first century persecution for aligning with Jesus. This may be THE first time that people were made to suffer for siding with Jesus. What is happening in our day began in John, chapter 9, while Jesus was still alive.

 

                And with that kind of a threat, the parents weren’t very excited about answering a lot of questions posed by the Pharisees. They just put the ball back in their son’s lap. “Ask him. He is of age.”

 

                This whole scene doesn’t leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling, does it?

 

  • We would have rather seen Mom and Dad stand up to the Pharisees, and support their son even at the risk of excommunication.
  • We also would have rather seen friends and neighbors glorify God that the blind man sees, but that didn’t happen, either.
  • And we would sure have rather seen the Pharisees view the miracle as a sign that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah.

                Sadly, though, while one man who was blind can now see, others who can see are as blind as bats to the wonder-working power of God.

 

                And as the drama continues, the next scene gives us front row seats to a Pharisaic interview that has turned into an inquisition.

 

                They have confirmed that this man really had been born blind. There’s no arguing that. But they demand that he revoke his comment about Jesus being a prophet.

 

                The Pharisees’ “put out” the former blind man (vv. 24-34)

 

                                Urging the man to condemn Jesus (v. 24)

 

                [24] So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.”

 

                According to their logic, Jesus MUST be a sinner. After all:

  • There was to be no work done on the Sabbath. (Exodus 20)
  • Mixing spit and dirt is work. (according to them, not God)
  • Jesus mixed spit and dirt on a Sabbath to heal a chronic condition (also a Pharisaic violation of the Sabbath)
  • Therefore, Jesus sinned.

 

                Air tight logic (except for the faulty presuppositions), right?

 

                And the man whose healing had sparked all of this controversy replied with a wonderfully dry wit.

 

                                I know what I know (v. 25)

 

                [25] He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

 

                Wow! Somebody ought to put those words to music in a song!

 

                This is a great testimony. He describes his own irrefutable, personal experience.

 

                Now bubbling with frustration, the Pharisees attacked the man again, this time with a question.

 

                                Condemning Jesus, take two (v. 26)

 

                [26] So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”

 

                Listen to the man’s hilarious response.

 

                                Explanation, take three (v. 27)

 

                [27] He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”

 

                While we may think that’s pretty funny, the Pharisees weren’t laughing. They had no interest in being Jesus’ disciples, and said so.

 

                                We choose Moses (vv. 28-29)

 

                [28] And they reviled him, and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] “We know that God has spoken to Moses; but as for this Man, we do not know where He is from.”

 

                Moses had the weight of fifteen hundred years of tradition behind him. Moses was a tried and true commodity. They sided with Moses.

 

                And with that, the formerly blind man has had enough. His next words are intended to be inflammatory. And they were.

 

 

 

 

 

                                The healed man preaches! (vv. 30-33)

 

                [30] The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will He hears him. [32] Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

 

                That little speech took guts. For the first time in his life, he is able to look at someone eye to eye. And on this day he looks at the most powerful men of his day and tells them, “Your unbelief is more of a wonder than my sight.”

 

                A lesser man would have buckled under and agreed, “He is certainly a sinner, whatever you say.”

 

                But, this man who had not had sight his entire life had developed backbone in sight’s absence. He doesn’t care all that much about what the Pharisees had to say or about what they thought. And, now that he can see, he is not about to condemn the One who gave him his sight.

 

                He sees the Pharisees and he sees them for what they are. His thinking is clear. His testimony is powerful. His healing is irrefutable.

 

                But the Pharisees aren’t about to be lectured by this guy.

 

                                Power, run amuck (v. 34)

 

                [34] They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.

 

                And with that, the man was summarily tossed out of the synagogue, and from the communal life of Israel.

 

                He is among the first people to ever suffer for aligning with Jesus - and he did suffer greatly.

                From this man forward we can trace an unbroken line over the last two thousand years of men and women who have willingly lost social status, jobs, family ties, friendships and even life itself for the sake of Jesus.

 

                This man and the Twenty One and others have concluded that Jesus is worth living for, suffering loss for, and dying for. At the end of this day, this man has lost substantially for choosing Jesus.

 

                It’s been quite a day. Have you ever looked back at a day and thought, “Well, that was a big day!”?

 

                This guy has had a big day.

 

                Early in the morning, he had known his place in society. It wasn’t much of a place - He was a blind beggar. But, at least that was his place. He fit.

 

                Now, late on the same day, he has no place in society. Friends haven’t stood by him. Parents have hung him out to dry. Leaders have excommunicated him.

 

                AND, he’s not blind anymore. He can see. What a dramatic change and reversal of fortunes.

 

                And now that the Pharisees have put him out and the commotion has all died down, he is alone. I picture him all alone. While he was all alone, Jesus went looking for him. I love that.

 

III. Opens the Hearts of the Blind (vv. 35-38)

 

                [35a] Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him…

 

                This Jesus we meet in the Bible is a relentless Pursuer. He searches for the lost and the least and last and the lonely.

 

                When Jesus found him, He asked a question in a voice the man would have instantly recognized.

                [35b]…He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

 

                Notice that the first thing Jesus says is not, “I’m sorry that you were excommunicated. I’m sorry you were ‘put out’.”

 

                The biggest thing going on here was not that he can now see flowers and people and a temple. The biggest game in town is not that he had lost something.

 

                Having received his sight, the biggest game in town was what it had always been: “What are you going to do with Jesus?”

 

                That’s always the biggest game in town. It was then and it is now.

 

 

                No matter what is going on in our lives, the God-question is always the most pressing. Not excommunication. Not health. Not wealth. Not popularity. Not promotion. But this: “Do you believe in Jesus, the Son of Man?”

 

                And for any of us, anything - a scary diagnosis or a surprisingly clean bill of health, a reconciliation with a long-time enemy or a relational earthquake, a financial windfall or a job loss - that forces us to face the question, “What will I do with Jesus?” is a blessing because there is no more important question than this, “Do you believe in Jesus?”

 

                Jesus had asked His question. Now the former blind man, having never before seen Jesus, has his own question.

 

                [36] He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

 

                To which Jesus was only too happy to answer, [37]… “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”

 

                And here is the man’s short, sweet response - [38] And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

 

Conclusion:

 

                Two blindnesses were removed from a man on one day. His physical blindness was the most obvious one. And Jesus dealt with that blindness and proved Himself to be the God-in-the-flesh Light of the World.

 

                But, the second blindness - his spiritual blindness - was a far more serious condition. With this second blindness intact, the man would never have a chance at life with God, no matter how well he could see flowers and trees.

 

                In calling the man to faith in Himself, Jesus removed the scales that blinded his spirit. And, in doing that, He proved Himself to be, not only the Light of the World, but also the Savior of the world.

 

                This man knew and the Egyptian 21 knew and our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world know today that THIS Jesus, the One powerful enough to open eyes and hearts, to give sight and to give eternal life to those who believe, is worth dying for.

 

                And if He is worth dying for, He is worth living for.

 

                Once we decide what we are willing to die for, it becomes pretty clear, pretty quick, what we are going to live for.

                Live for Him at home. Be the loving, faithful, generous, hospitable man or woman you were saved to be. Whether living alone, with roommates, married, with or without children, live for Jesus at home.

                In your life outside your home, be it school or work, part-time or full-time, outside or inside, be Jesus’ light to a dark world there.

                The Jesus who laid down His life for you and who calls you to be willing to lay down your life for Him, now calls you to take up your life and live for Him.


[1] Some might have said that the man was blind because his mother sinned. The apostasy of a rabbi of Jesus’ day was attributed to his mother’s involvement with idolatry while she was pregnant with him. Or maybe his father sinned, and God was punishing the father by the blindness of his son. In Israel, until age 13, children were thought to be an extension of their father, and so, answering for his sins.

[2] Unlike the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, John 5, who didn’t know who it was who had healed him.

[3] No doubt, the man had not been begging on this day, as it was illegal to beg on the Sabbath. As well, I am certain that Jesus purposefully performed this miracle on the Sabbath - as He did frequently - to expose the hypocrisy and cruel insensitivity of the Pharisees.

[4] Not even this disapproval of Jesus was unanimous. (v. 16) Some Pharisees sided with Jesus because He performed a miracle only a man of God could have done.

[5] Mixing dirt and spittle was seen as work by the Pharisees, although not by God’s Law. This ridiculousness was purely an invention of men.  God’s Laws for the Sabbath were designed to free, not enslave.

Apr 2, 2016

Real Talk with Roderick
Called into Conflict for Christ (Acts 6:8-15)

Introduction
When we receive Jesus we receive pardon, we receive purpose, and we receive the Person of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Once He has come gone are the days of being without power, without counsel, without comfort, without companionship (John 14:15-18). Through the Holy Spirit the Lord keeps His promise to (1) never leave us nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) and (2) enable us for amazing acts of service. But with His coming also comes the unresolvable conflict that results from being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. When the Jesus follower surrenders gladly and becomes Spirit-filled he also becomes, from the world's perspective, as irritating as Jesus.

While we should always endeavor to promote peace, love our enemies, and be a blessing to the community - we should not be surprised when living like Jesus brings out antagonism. Some believers, having failed to see or accept this truth, are working in vain to make peace with the world. They have a great zeal for Jesus. But the same believer is terribly wrong in thinking that their white hot faith is compatible with a society that is surrendered to Satan. The story in Acts, with the focus on Stephen, shows as much.

The narrative about Stephen constitutes a major turning point in Acts. It ends a series of three trials before the Sanhedrin. The first ended in a warning (4:21), the second in a flogging (5:40), and Stephen’s in his death.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 183). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

In the few verses under consideration today we see the consequence of becoming irresistible.

Called to Conflict (Acts 6:8)
Luke has presented the Lord and His apostles as having power to perform signs and wonders (Luke 2:40; 4:1,14-15; Acts 2:43; 5:12). Now, for the first time in the records of Luke we are hearing of wonders and signs among the people being done through someone other than the Lord or one His apostles.

He was the first other than the apostles to be described as working miracles.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 184). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

A naive reading of this verse begins to cheer about this new thing: regular people of faith are doing great work. But do not miss the fact that Stephen has already been introduced as a (1) a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), (2) man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). If you are mindful of his introduction the words of Acts 6:8 seem odd. You might think, "Okay. He was full of the Holy Spirit. It has been said three times. Got it!" But this third mention should make me ask if the author is trying to tell me something through the pattern of words (full of the Holy Spirit) and their rapid repetition (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). What do we find in the writings of Luke:

  • Before Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness (Luke 4:1) - These words are used before Jesus enters terrible conflict with Satan. He is victorious but certainly worn down and needed refreshing.
  • Before Jesus Rejection at Home (Luke 4:14-15) - These words are used before Jesus' claims cause anger in his hometown synagogue. He is successful in demonstrating the nearness of the kingdom but they try to kill him by throwing Him down over a cliff (Luke 4:28-30).
  • Before Peter Preaches to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-12) - These words are used before Peter indicts the court and makes one of the most inflammatory remarks of Scripture - especially to a group that had just murdered the Messiah.

It does not take a Bible sleuth to see that where these words occur in the writings of Luke we can expect to see conflict that cannot be resolved. The Spirit-filled person was called to it! The story with Stephen is no exception. Indeed, because of the threefold mention of his filling with the Spirit we expect unprecedented animosity.

Irresistible Witness (Acts 6:9-11)
9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
The great wonders and signs among the people has the effect of drawing much attention to Stephen. And with the increased attention come the questions about what how he has done these things. We can be certain that the Spirit of Christ was at work to produce the miracles in order to gain this audience. And when Stephen was questioned the answers kept coming back Jesus. His infiltration of the Hellenistic synagogues with indisputable power and irresistible wisdom were quickly making him unpopular among the zealots of these other synagogues.

The Greek of v. 9 is notoriously obscure and could refer to as many as five synagogues. In fact, there are scholars who represent every point on the spectrum between one and five. Content suggests one synagogue (named “Freedmen”) with the four national constituencies in its membership, although grammatically two synagogues has strong support—(1) Freedmen, with Alexandrians and Cyrenians, and (2) a synagogue of Asians and Cilicians. A poorly attested textual variant reads “Libyan” instead of “Freedmen” (Libystinōn for Libertīnon), and Moffatt’s translation adopts it, but its authenticity is highly unlikely.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Could Stephen have avoided his conflict with the Synagogue of the Freedmen? Was it possible to prevent the problem caused by his witness? The answer will be found in considering the other times where the Spirit is filling the witness. Could the Savior have avoided the conflict in the wilderness with Satan? Only in disobedience to the Spirit's leading. Could Peter have avoided the conflict that led to his arrest by the Sanhedrin? Only in rejecting the command to feed Jesus' sheep and refusing to accept his own identity as a witness. Stephen cannot avoid this conflict - he is called to it!

The members of this synagogue were from three divergent areas—North Africa (Cyrene and Alexandria were two of its leading cities), Asia (the western portion of modern-day Turkey), and Cilicia. Possibly this was the assembly Paul attended because Tarsus was located in the province of Cilicia.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 368). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

We can no more avoid the conflict that comes with being filled with the Spirit of Christ than could Jesus, or Peter, or Stephen - not without being disobedient. It is part of the work of being a witness. But we need not worry.

The Spirit will both do the work and provide the witness. What is needed more than anything else is a willingness. In that moment where we relinquish ourselves to being used by God for His glory and the good of His people there comes the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus on Trial - Again(Acts 6:11-14)
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. 13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”

Stephen is on the edge of known theology. Some of what he is saying has not even been written down by the apostles. One cannot help but wonder if he has not come to understand some things that will not be formally acknowledged by the twelve or Paul until later. Christians today have great difficulty with the concept of covenants and the changing role of the law in the life of the believer. Before Saul becomes Paul and writes to the Galatians against legalism and Judaizers this man foresees that some aspects of the Mosaic system are going away altogether. Why? How? Jesus said that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18). He also said that He came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill. He did (Romans 10:4).

In the background to v. 14 stands the charge of blasphemy directed against Jesus at his own trial when he was accused of threatening to destroy the temple (Mark 14:57–58). Luke did not include that tradition in the narrative of Jesus’ trial in his Gospel, but its inclusion here is highly significant. It put Jesus back on trial once again.25
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 186). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The false witnesses were not necessarily outright liars. Stephen had probably said the things they accused him of; however, they misrepresented the intentions and imports of his statements (cf. Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58; John 2:19). The Lord Himself predicted the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1–2; Mark 13:1–2; Luke 21:5–6), though He never said He would do it. The other half of the allegation against Stephen involved the temporary nature of the Mosaic system. Undoubtedly he saw the theological implications of justification by faith and the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. Furthermore, if the gospel was for the whole world (Acts 1:8), the Law had to be a temporary arrangement.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 368–369). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

In an attempt to rid their synagogues of this wonder working man with irresistible wisdom they resorted to the same scheming that they used against Jesus - false charges and misrepresentation of the message.

The Reason for the Radiance (Acts 6:15-7:1)
15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. 1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
The face of an angel is undoubtedly a description of radiance. But why did his face shine? It shone because of God's indwelling presence. It shone as a sign that He must be heard.

The radiant face of Stephen recalls that of Moses when descending from Sinai (Exod 34:29–35) and of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:29).
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Conclusion
Conflict comes with the calling of the Jesus follower. When it comes do not think it strange but count it all joy.

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4:12-16)

Questions for Review

  • What am I inclined to do when I sense conflict coming because of my association with Christ?
  • Can the conflict be avoided?
  • What prices are going to be paid for following Christ?
Mar 24, 2016

Real Talk with Roderick

Concentration and Focus (Acts 6:1-7)

Focus on the Main Thing (Acts 6:1-4)

1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Caring for the poor is found throughout the Scriptures (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Esther 9:22; Psalm 14:6, 41:1; Proverbs 14:21; Matthew 11:5, 19:21; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; Luke 14:13, 21).  It is one way that people in the community of faith show honor toward God (Proverbs 19:17). The poor are made in the image of God; showing kindness to the poor is a way of showing respect for His image while also providing compassion where it is needed. Within the group of society regarded as poor there is a subsection that is especially dear to God's heart: widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18, 14:19; Psalm 68:5; Proverbs 15:25). The early church is mindful of the needs of its poor. Widows were particularly vulnerable to poverty and were looked after in special ways. 

The care of the widows is good. But when the care is not done carefully it can cause hard feelings, discontent, and even division. Although the number of disciples was multiplying not everyone was feeling good about how their fellowship was treating the poor - especially the widows. A particular problem had gotten so bad that it was brought to the attention of the apostles as a complaint: "Sorry to bother you guys with this but the Hellenists are upset because their widows are neglected by the Hebrews in the daily distribution. That is, when the food pantry or clothing is given out the Greek-speaking widows typically get less or are left out altogether." But who are the Hebrews and who are the Hellenists?

The main distinction between the two groups was probably linguistic: the Hellenists were Jews whose habitual language was Greek and who attended Greek-speaking synagogues; the Hebrews spoke Aramaic (or Mishnaic Hebrew) and attended synagogues where the service was conducted in Hebrew.

Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 120). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

(Acts 6:2) Some will see in the solution of the apostles a condescending attitude toward others in the congregation. Some will read this passage and get the impression that the apostles believe themselves to be above serving. However, they have been trained to serve (Matthew 20:28; John 13:1-17), charged to serve (Luke 22:26; John 21:17; 1 Peter 5:3), changed in order to serve effectively (John 14:26; 15:26). In seeking to understand the response of the apostles we must prayerfully consider their calling. The apostles were to have a special foundation-laying ministry of preaching, teaching, and penning the word. (Mark 3:14; Matthew 10:14; John 15:20; John 14:23-26; John 21:17).

It is with their calling in mind that they must say no to the request for their personal oversight of the distribution to the poor. They say no in order that they would concentrate in the area of their calling. For the apostles to personally prevent the problem that has been presented they would have had to take an enormous amount of time away from prayer and the ministry of the word. That would not be desirable.

Excellence is never an accident. In order to effectively bring forth fruit you must focus. And there will be no casual completion of the great calling that is on your life. You must concentrate (1 Timothy 4:15).

What can I do to become more fruitful? Three things:

  • Get Clarity on Your _________ (Mark 3:14; Matthew 10:14; John 15:20; John 14:23-26; John 21:17)
  • Regularly Review your _________ (Psalm 1; Joshua 1:8)
  • Delegate Some _________ (Exodus 18:1-27)

 

Story - Will you continue serving with this ministry? Will you be our media guy? Will you go over to this church to help? Will you be at this church to lead a men's ministry?

 

Watch God Work (Acts 6:5-7)

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

There are times when the work of God is hindered by my unwillingness to let things go. But there are people around me willing and waiting to use the gifts that are in them. Such was the case with Stephen. He was ready! Full of faith and the Holy Spirit he was an untapped resource for the kingdom of God. By delegating some duties the apostles released into the kingdom the help of a man that was prepared by God to get it done.

 

Questions for Study

  • What do these passages tell us about the calling on the lives of the apostles? (Mark 3:14; Matthew 10:14; John 15:20; John 14:23-26; John 21:17)
  • What do you believe that God has called you to do lately?
  • Are you focused on the fulfillment of that calling? (1 Timothy 4:15)

 

Feb 17, 2016

To Boldly Go (Acts 4:23-31; Matthew 28:18-20)

Sharing Problems with People of Faith (Acts 4:23-24)

23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,

Immediately upon their release the apostles Peter and John go to their own. [The word companions (NKJV) or friends (ESV) has been added for readability. However the text only says they went to their own.] In the company of their fellow Jesus followers they begin to share their experience. The threats of the chief priests and elders were reported to their fellowship.

 

Jesus followers should be intentional and inclined to keep close company with committed Jesus followers... especially when they are being persecuted for Jesus following. (Psalm 1:1-2; Acts 4:23-24)

 

The companions of Peter and John are said to have raised their voice to God with one accord. What does this mean? Were they were all saying the exact same thing at the exact same time? The word rendered with one accord (NKJV) or together (ESV) is an adverb that literally means with one mind (ὁμοθυμαδὸν). It is likely that as one in the group was praying the others were sounding in their agreement and support for the words they both heard and understood. We do this by saying "amen" as a person speaks to God on behalf of the group (1 Corinthians 14:16). One accord praying happens when the Lord's people convene in His name to make requests (Matthew 18:19-20). Where the prayers of a single righteous person are effective (James 5:16) there is a special presence and power associated with the gathering of God's people to pray:

 

  • The One Accord of God's People for His Purpose is Indicative of a Special Anointing (Psalm 133:1-2) - 1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.
  • The One Accord Praying of God's People for His Purpose is Accompanied by Special Attendance and Special Action (2 Chronicles 7:14; Matthew 18:19-20; James 4:3) - 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

 

Based on the promise of Jesus the unity of this group in purpose and prayer will get results. As we consider the prayer we should note that it is very Jewish. It sounds like the worship literature of their Scriptures (Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 146:6); it begins with an acknowledgement of God's power and role in the universe - Sovereign Creator.

 

By starting prayer with a recognition of God's role in Creation the person praying declares the Lord's right to rule and their own obligation to obey.

 

Seeing Life Through the Lens of Scripture (Acts 4:24-30)

24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

The followers of Jesus are not confused by recent events. They are not tossed about by adversity and left to wonder about what is happening. There are two reasons for their sound understanding of their circumstances. First, Jesus told them these things would happen (Matthew 5:11-13; 10:23; 23:34; Luke 21:12; John 15:20) . Second, they have learned to see life through the lens of Scripture; they have a biblical world view. As they review the recent persecution of their Rabbi they realize, owing to the Spirit's leading, that it was all according to plan. Here is what they see in Psalm 2 and recent events:

 

  • Why did the nations rage? - The apostles and their companions can see that two nations have been enraged: (1) the nation of Israel and (2) the Gentiles as seen in the Romans role in mocking and crucifying Jesus.
  • And the people plot vain things? - After the raising of Lazarus the Jews began to plot how they might put Jesus to death (John 11:45-53).
  • The kings of the earth took their stand - King Herod, knowing that he had no right to the thrown and fearing the rise of the promised Messiah, took His stand against the Christ in two ways. He murdered the herald and then consented to the mistreatment and murder of the actual King of the Jews - Jesus.
  • And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ - The rulers conspired together and Jesus both in their plotting and in their unjust punishing of Jesus.

 

This part of their prayer comes from God by the mouth of [His] servant David. They not only see through the lens of Scripture (Acts 4:27-28) they pray using the words of God Himself.

 

Persecution of the early church drove it not to programs, petitions, or powerful politicians but to prayer. In the wake of threats they threw themselves before the throne of grace pleading for help with the words of God Himself. Our prayers will have more weight when we follow their example and pray to God Himself with the words of God Himself.

 

Seeking Support to Boldly Go (Acts 4:29-30)

 29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

In the latter part of their prayer the apostles and their companions call the Lord's attention to the threats issued by the priests and the elders: look on their threats. The charge of the risen Lord was fresh in their minds. They were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  His commissioning was not to be subverted by cowardice or the desire to avoid conflict. Remembering their own innate frailties and tendencies toward fretting, they called upon God to make them able:

For your own glory give us the disposition to boldly go where no one has gone before with a message that no one has heard before validated by works that no one has done before.

We must be especially aware of the reason for their prayer. They did not ask for a way out but for the strength to press in.

 

The prayers of the early church look very different from our own. We beseech God to give us better stuff where they asked to be made better; they asked for boldness for the one thing: witnessing. We want healing in order to be comforted in our affliction apart from our calling but they asked for healing as a help for the one thing: witnessing. We seek signs and wonders as a means of creating buzz about ourselves. They asked for the same thing but for an entirely different reason: witnessing. Their praying was for the resources needed to accomplish the mission of making Him known - for witnessing. (Isaiah 43:10; 44:8; 49:6; Acts 1:8)

 

Supernatural Confirmation (Acts 4:31; Matthew 28:18-20)

31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

The answer from Heaven was immediate. As if to say "Let's shake things up" the place where they were assembled together was perturbed. It says that they were then filled with the Holy Spirit and began to operate in the boldness that they had requested. But one might ask, why was the building shaken and why is that not happening today when we ask for boldness.

There are times in Scripture where a sign is used to indicate that something spiritual has taken place without seeking to make it normative. That is, there are instances of God performing a work in a special way so as to reveal how He will work in the future - even without the sign.

God is listening now for prayers to answer. Prayers for boldness in the face of persecution. Prayers for validation when confronting vicious opponents of the gospel. Let the church convene, call out to God for help, in order that we might succeed in our commission - witnessing.

There are three things that we can do with the expectation that God is going to hear. There are three things that should come into our prayer life and we can do them with the expectation that God is going to help. 

  • Pray Biblically
  • Pray for Boldness
  • Pray with the Right Basis - In His name means for His glory and the good of His mission.

 

Feb 10, 2016

Real Talk with That Guy

Stay on Target (Acts 5:17-21)

 

The Reaction of the Religious (Acts 5:17-18; John 12:42-43)

17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.

This is now the second time the Sadducees have been goaded into action by the preaching and teaching ministries of the apostles. In the first instance the marvelous healing and subsequent rejoicing of a well-known temple beggar occasioned an inquiring audience. Peter and John ascribed the miracle to the power of the risen Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:12-16). In the preaching that followed the captain of the temple seized upon them and put apostles in custody until the next day (Acts 4:1-3). When brought out for a trial Peter did some seizing of his own; he seized the moment for the glory of God. In his response to the question of how the man was healed he (i) indicts Israel's leadership for the murder of the Lord (Acts 4:10), (ii) declares the resurrection of Jesus and His position of prophesied importance (Acts 4:11) , and (iii) promotes forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Himself (Acts 4:12).

 

In that first case the Sanhedrin did not repent. Instead they commanded the cult leaders to stop witnessing for Jesus. Peter made it clear that he was not going to keep that command (Acts 4:19-20) and so... they threatened him and then let he and John go (Acts 4:21).

 

Acts 5:17 Here we are again. But it is worse this time. The same group that does not believe in the coming of a messiah, angels, spirits, or resurrection has been watching as their command went unheeded. Teaching and preaching just kept right on going. And now more people than ever know the truth:

 

  • The Truth about the Messiah - God has sent Messiah in accordance with prophecy. He was born of the seed of David, in the town of Bethlehem, through a virgin. He was the rabble-rousing rabbi from Nazareth: Jesus. He was crucified but was raised from the dead on the third day.
  • The Truth about His Murder - When the leadership could not stop the growing influence of Jesus they colluded to have him put to death - the aforementioned crucifixion. Although he had committed no sin he was sentenced to die as a criminal in the shameful and painful death of a cross. The Roman official Pontius Pilate, realizing that Jesus was innocent, tried to let him go but the religious leaders guided the people into demanding his death.

 

It was too much for people who were preoccupied with the self-promotion and protection of their own vain glory (John 12:42-43). Upon hearing the truth about their villainy they are filled with indignation (ζήλου).  They cannot bear the assertions about the ousted Rabbi and are wholly unprepared for the brazen disregard for their authority, the bold disrespect of teaching a forbidden doctrine in their house, and the lambasting declaration that they are murderers.

 

Notice that in the company of people coming into Solomon's colonnade is the high priest himself. He is not delegating this one to the temple captain and his law-enforcing cohort. His anger is so hot that he has personally come to help make the arrest and make sure that they get all of the apostles - not just Peter and John.

 

Acts 5:18 Having apprehended the rebellion leadership they put them into the common prison (τηρήσει δημοσίᾳ). It could be that the prior place of imprisonment was full or not large enough for the twelve. However, I believe that likely it was an attempt to make a public example of the apostle's defiance. This will prove to be a monumental mistake.

 

The Relevance in the Rescue (Acts 5:19-20)

19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

An angel of the Lord briefly enters the narrative. The coordinating conjunction of Acts 5:19 tells the reader that his actions are to be seen as a response to the imprisonment. Who is he? Luke is especially frugal in describing their visitor. There is no mention made of his name, no intimation of a shining face (Matthew 28:3), and no hint of amazing apparel (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10). But what he does say goes beyond the mere relating of historical events to challenge and encourage us today. The angel was relevant.

 

  • He was Real in their Misery - They have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And so they are not alone (John 14:18). And the Lord has the power to speak a word and make something happen from a distance; the prison could have been opened remotely. And the message given them could have been communicated with dreams and visions. But at this time these men do not need a vision; they need a visit. Their public incarceration was personal. More than a vision they need a visitor. Someone needs to go out of their way to see them in person.
  • He Released Them - The ministry of this ministering spirit goes beyond an appearance and words of encouragement. Their problem is not psychological. Our apostles are not theologically incarcerated. These men of God are actually incarcerated and what they need, in order to be effective witnesses at this time, is to be released. These men do not need hypothetical help or mere words; they require a release. The angel brings actual aid in the form of a real release.
  • He Reminded Them of Their Mission - Spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. And where it seems unnecessary to say certain things it is certain that certain things need to be said. Perhaps some of these men have never been to jail. And maybe some of them have never been handled roughly. It would be easy for them to get caught up in the turmoil of their own emotions and take some time to recuperate. But Heaven has a point to make and these men need to make their appointment. The world has need of their words.

 

It is not enough to tell people that we are praying for them. It is not enough to wish that people get well, or to want them to be encouraged during their incarceration. It is not enough to send money. There comes a time for those who name the name of Christ to get up from the pews and go to the place where their brethren are being held to just be there with them. To remind them that they are loved on earth as well as in Heaven.

 

The Righteous Rebellion and the Clueless Council (Acts 5:21)

21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

The visitation was not in vain. They heard the words and heeded them. There would be no retreating to recuperate. Instead there would be a relentless charge against the gates of hell through the gospel. The lesson of Lazarus was with the Lord's men. And they are now living in the fulness of a righteous rebellion. And what about the hard-nosed high priest and his council?

Feb 6, 2016

1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. 5 And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. 6 But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. 7 ‘And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’ 8 Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. 9 “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. 11 Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. 13 And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. 15 So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. 16 And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. 17 “But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18 till another king arose who did not know Joseph. 19 This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. 20 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. 21 But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. 23 “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. 25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’ 27 But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons. 30 “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. 31 When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, 32 saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. 33 ‘Then the Lord said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.” ’ 35 “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ 38 “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’ 44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house. 48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, Or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?’ 51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Jul 24, 2015

Northwest Community Evangelical Free Church

Dave Smith 

THIS Jesus - Jesus, King Over Nature                                                          Study #3 (John 6:1-21)

Introduction: Chronological snobbery…

               You may have heard your friends dismiss the stories of miracles recorded in the Bible. If you have, they may have done so on the basis of the supposed gullibility of ancient peoples.

 

               Your friends may say, “People who lived a long time ago were so gullible they’d believe anything.”

 

               Thanks to C. S. Lewis, we have a term to describe this reason for disbelief. Lewis called it “chronological snobbery.”

 

               The term actually refers to the temptation to believe that all new ideas are better than all old ideas. But the term can easily be applied to a consideration of the miracles we find recorded in the Bible.

 

               Of the miracles, someone might say, “Well, ancient peoples thought that thunderstorms were the result of battles between the gods. We know the science behind storms. Ancient peoples were stupid.”

 

               Or, “Show someone from the first century what a smart phone can do and he’d say, ‘IT’S A MIRACLE!’ because he doesn’t know about cell tower technology and microchips. We know it’s not a miracle because we know that there is science behind it (even if we, personally, don’t understand the science behind it).”

 

               But the argument against belief in the Bible’s miracles on the basis of ancient people’s lack of scientific sophistication breaks down when we note the miracles that are actually recorded.

 

               Among the miracles recorded in the Old Testament, we read of:

·        people with leprosy who suddenly don’t have leprosy anymore;

·        a body of water parting for the Jews to pass through and closing over the Egyptian army;

·        fire falling from heaven and consuming sacrifices on an altar.

 

               Stuff like that. And stuff like that isn’t just incredible for ancient people. It would be incredible for us, too, if we saw it.

 

               The miracles of Jesus are just as miraculous.

 

               If we watched water become wine today, we’d call it a miracle. If a man who had been lame for thirty eight years jumped up and walked after nothing more than a word from Jesus, we’d call that a miracle, too.[1]

 

               This morning we are going to explore a couple more of Jesus’ miracles (what John calls “signs”).

 

               While exploring, we’re going to avoid the mental crime of chronological snobbery. We’ll read these signs carefully to see what they tell us about Jesus and His ways.

 

               First, though, an IOU. I owe you a pastoral apology for a sermon error last week.

               You may recall that last Sunday we explored two of Jesus’ miracles. First, He healed a nobleman’s son in Capernaum (a long-distance healing from Cana) and then He healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.

               If you remember that you may also remember that I said that this was the only example of two miracles appearing back-to-back in the Gospel of John.

               And that is true - except for the two we’ll see today (and any others I have may have forgotten about). Oh well…

By way of review…

               So far in our look at THIS Jesus, we’ve seen three of His “signs.” These signs have all told us something about His power and His mission that we wouldn’t have known without them.

               Turning common water to wine says that He intends to turn you and me into stunning trophies of grace.

               Healing a nobleman’s son AND a lame beggar tells us that He loves the spiritually alert and the superstitious, the morally upright and the not so much, the socially connected and the poor.

               Today’s two signs will tell us something else profound about Jesus’ mission.

               Now, so far in John’s Gospel, Jesus has moved back and forth between the regions of Galilee in the north and Judea in the south, with one brief stopover in the in-between land of Samaria.

               John starts off by telling us the where and the when of Jesus’ next actions.

 

Galilee at Passover: The Where and the When (John 6:1-4)

 

               Geography and chronology (vv. 1, 4)

 

               [1] After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee (or Tiberias)…[4] Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.

 

               The Sea of Galilee[2] was (and is) the predominant geographical feature of that region. For thousands of years, it has been the area’s center for commerce and population.

 

               Most of His disciples were familiar with that region, and with the sea, as well, as several of them were fishermen. Galilee was Jesus’ own boyhood stomping grounds.

 

               Mountains rise from the Sea of Galilee to the east and west, while the Sea itself is much longer, north to south. It is, from all reports, beautiful.

 

               And, John tells us that it was Passover season, not far from the season in which we find ourselves this morning. It is springtime. The weather is warming. Everything is in bloom.

 

               Jesus is right smack in the middle of all of this natural beauty and He is about to be surrounded by large crowds of people.

 

               The company He keeps (vv. 2, 3)

 

               [2] A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. [3] Then Jesus went up on the mountain[3], and there He sat down with His disciples.

 

               His decision to climb a mountain looks a little bit like an evasive maneuver, like He’s trying to get away from the crowds. That is possible, but if that was the case, it was a very unsuccessful attempt, because up the mountain the people came.

 

               Philip was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, and Philip hailed from the village of Bethsaida, a fishing village close to the mountain on the east side of the Sea where they were.

               Jesus turned to Philip and asked a question that pointed out a problem caused by this approaching crowd.

 

The Feeding of the Five Thousand (vv. 5-15)

 

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (vv. 5-9)

 

               Jesus and Philip (vv. 5-7)

 

               [5] Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”

 

               If anybody knew where was the closest HEB or Taco Cabana to find some good food, quick, for the hungry crowd, it would be Philip.

 

               Now I believe that Jesus asked this question of Philip early in the day, while the crowd was just arriving. He is planting in Philip’s mind the fact that the growing crowds represent a growing crisis.

 

               The people will be with them all day long. There will be hours of teaching and healing before any action is taken to address the lack of food.

 

               Philip hears Jesus loud and clear with an assessment of the resources it would take to feed a crowd this large.

 

               [7] Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.”

 

               That’s a lot of money - and they didn’t have anywhere near that much money. Philip knew that no matter how they sliced it, they didn’t have the resources to feed this many people.[4]

 

               Then, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, contributes to the conversation, but his comment is a throwaway. Even as the words leave his lips he knows he’s not being helpful.

 

               Andrew’s report (vv. 8-9)

 

               [8] One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, [9] “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”[5]

 

               And just so that we’re clear about the amount of food that Andrew is talking about, the “barley loaves” he mentions are like undersized tortillas and the word “fish” describes a sardine-sized tidbit.

 

               Andrew’s point is NOT to suggest that he has a solution to the problem. It is to say that there is NO SOLUTION to this problem.

 

               John has already told us[6] that Jesus knew full well what He was intending to do and that His question to Philip was to “test him.”

 

               We wonder if Philip and Andrew passed the test. We don’t know. We are not told. We never get to see their report cards.

 

               But, it is at least clear that they believed this big crowd was in big trouble and that there is no solution. It never dawned on them that Jesus was the Solution.

 

A Miracle of Multiplication! (vv. 10-13)

               Seated (as if) for a meal (v. 10)

               [10] Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

               That’s five thousand, only counting the men. Add in the women and children and there are easily fifteen to twenty thousand people present.[7]

               This whole scene reminds us of a giant, spring picnic. The weather is perfect. The grass is green AND there are no fire ants.

 

               But this would have been a really tough assignment for the disciples to carry out because they were seating people as if for a meal - and there is no food.

               Hold on. Food’s coming.

               The miracle-working hands of Jesus (v. 11)

               [11] Jesus then took the loaves and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.

               The miracle is recorded very matter-of-factly. Nothing dramatic. No thunder in the background. No rising crescendo of music as the scene unfolds.

               Jesus simply offered a simple prayer of thanks to the Father for what has been provided, and then passed out the multiplying fish and loaves, until everybody had their fill.[8]

 

               Now, despite the fact that the Bible records this event as a Class A miracle, some, in reading it, have concluded otherwise.

 

               Alternative understandings…

 

               I have read that what we have here is a miracle of sharing.

 

               That is, when the grown-ups saw the generosity of the little boy who was willing to share his lunch, they all got out their hidden stashes of food, so that everyone had enough to eat. (This is actually the version I was taught in the church of my youth.).

 

               I have also read what is called the “sacramental” interpretation.

 

               According to this view, what happened was that the boys’ fish and chips meal was enough to give everyone a taste in this, the world’s first communion service. (So, how was everyone “satisfied”?)

 

               Neither of these two alternative explanations work. Why would all four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - record such a routine event?[9]

 

               Clearly, John wants us to understand that what happened here was a miracle. It was also, just as clearly, a watershed moment for the apostles.

 

               What Jesus has done here was imprinted in their minds for the rest of their lives and it impacted them for the rest of their lives.

 

               Jesus actually multiplied the two fish and five loaves of a boy’s lunch so that thousands and thousands of people had all they wanted to eat.

 

               There were even leftovers, which Jesus saw as important enough that they should not be wasted.

 

               Leftovers! (vv. 12-13)

 

               [12] When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the left-over fragments so that nothing will be lost.” [13] So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.

               John doesn’t tell us when the disciples got to eat these leftovers, nor if they complained when they were later served the leftovers, nor if they eventually got all moldy at the back of the refrigerator.

 

               But, the fact that there were leftovers is not minor and the note about twelve baskets is not coincidental. That’s one basket of leftovers for each of the twelve apostles.

 

               By this sign Jesus gave them an edible picture of His ability to provide all the resources they would ever need to provide for the needs of people who would come to Him.

 

               In the years to come, Simon Peter, John, Andrew, Philip, and the rest will face enormous difficulties. They will face huge spiritual and human need.

 

               But, they will always have the memory of their own, personal basket of leftovers to remind them that Jesus will provide what they need to do all that He told them to do.

 

               And, of course, multiplying two sardines and five tortillas to feed thousands of people proves what all of the signs prove. They prove Jesus’ power, here His power over nature.

 

               Nor was such a display of power lost on the multitudes. After all, they had been hungry and now they weren’t. With bellies full and tight, they shout out their praise.

 

King Jesus, Indeed… (vv. 14-15)

 

               The crowd presses in, thinking “crown” (v. 14)

 

               [14] Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet[10] who is to come into the world.”

 

               I don’t know what you make of their immediate, gushing praise of Jesus, but I’m not terribly impressed. The praises of crowds are fickle.

 

               The people now know that Jesus is something very special. Maybe He’s the long foretold Prophet, the Messiah.

               Whatever - He’s certainly the kind of Man they are willing to follow, at least for as long as He keeps filling their stomachs.

 

               So what does Jesus do now, at the moment of His greatest popularity 

 

               Well, every ruler who has ever ruled knows exactly what to do in a situation like this. You keep climbing to the top of the heap. You milk the moment for all it’s worth.

 

               Everybody knew that - except Jesus. Jesus left.

 

               That’s right. With the crowds praising Him for His provision, as they were ripe to eat right out of His hand, Jesus got up and left.

 

               Jesus leaves, thinking “cross” (v. 15)

 

               [15] So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

 

               Jesus was a King, but it wasn’t time for Him to be crowned King, so He left. It is getting real close to the time for Him to go to a cross, but He’s not currently in the market for a crown.

 

               This whole scene has taken place somewhere on a mountain that rises up from the Sea of Galilee, perhaps at a flat spot midway up a peak.

 

               Jesus has turned on His heel to walk farther up the mountain, away from the crowd and its praise. Within minutes of the feeding, Jesus was long gone.

 

               As well, the thousands of people who had just witnessed and taken part in a miracle were fat and happy, too, making their way down the mountain, heading home.

 

               And the disciples? They were each staring at their own personal basket of leftovers, full of food and full of confusion.

 

               Confusion because moments earlier, they had just been witness to - and a part of! - the most thrilling event of their lives. They had seen a miracle on a grand scale. It was a God sighting to end all God sightings!

 

               In response to the miracle, they had heard a huge crowd chant the name of the Man they had each decided to follow.

 

               The crowd wanted to make Him King. They’ve come so close to seeing the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth that they could nearly touch it. The next moment, it’s all over. Their Rabbi has just let the throne slip from His grasp.

 

               Name any emotion you might wish to - disappointment, frustration, confusion, anger. I’m pretty confident these feelings were all living uncomfortably in the disciples’ hearts.

 

               So, it’s small wonder that they, too, got up and left. Without Jesus. By themselves. In their boat.

 

Walking On Water (vv. 16-21)

 

A Parting of the Ways (vv. 16-18)

 

               Leaving Jesus behind (vv. 16-17)

 

               [16] Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, [17] and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.[11]

               Now, when Matthew and Mark tell of this incident, they record that Jesus sent the disciples away.

 

               John, who was actually there on that day, doesn’t. He only tells us  that they left without Jesus, almost as if they got tired of waiting for Him.

 

               Jesus certainly did tell them to leave. But I’ve wondered if John’s telling of the story reveals that they weren’t all that unhappy about leaving Jesus behind, given the offering He had just squandered.

 

               It is almost as if they were about as eager to get away from Him as He had been to get away from the crowd. If so, they are about to learn that Jesus is a Pursuer. Jesus is not so easily left behind...

 

               Off they go, into the boat, onto the sea, for a crossing from east to west, near the north end of the Sea of Galilee.

 

               They are mostly experienced fishermen and are very comfortable on the water, even at night, since that is when much of their fishing was done.

 

               Not long after they launched, though, trouble strikes.[12]

 

               Troubled waters (v. 18)

 

               [18] The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.

 

               These men would not have been surprised at a sudden squall forming on the Sea of Galilee. They were well acquainted with its weather patterns and knew that violent storms could form quickly.

 

               The Sea of Galilee sits at seven hundred feet below sea level, but the mountains on the east and west create a wind tunnel effect, and the ferocious storms that kick up are legendary.

               This night crossing got dicey. If they weren’t facing one of these legendary storms, they were at least fighting contrary winds.

 

               It was a long, hard row of several miles. So, with their backs bent to the oars, they were facing the direction from which they had just come.

 

               And after having rowed for hours, when they looked up from their rowing, what met their gaze but Jesus, coming right toward them -  not rowing, not swimming. Walking.

 

Jesus on the Water, Prompting Fear (v. 19)

 

               [19] Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.

 

               At the point of this crossing, the Sea of Galilee is several miles distance and the disciples had already rowed over halfway to the seaside village of Capernaum.

 

               That’s when they saw Jesus coming toward them and John wants us to know that this is a miracle over nature. This is another sign.

 

               However, as with the feeding of the five thousand, there have been those who suggest that this was not a miracle at all.

 

               For those who resist the idea that this was a miracle, the main alternative is that Jesus wasn’t walking on water. The disciples only thought He was walking on water. He was walking on a sand bar.

 

               Right.

 

               And the disciples who made their living on the sea rowed their boat right up to a sandbar without knowing it.

 

               And, what is even more troubling, Jesus allowed them to believe that He had walked on water when in fact He had not.

 

               I think it is much more reasonable to simply believe the miracle than to try and concoct another explanation.[13] The disciples’ fear is best explained by the fact that Jesus was walking on water.

 

               John tells us that the disciples were afraid - and so much for chronological snobbery! Who wouldn’t be afraid!?

 

               These days, anybody can walk across Medina Lake. Medina Lake is empty! (actually 3.2% full) But back when it actually had water in it, YOU would have freaked out if someone had come walking ON Medina Lake toward you!

 

               The disciples weren’t at all afraid of a strong wind on the lake in the middle of the night (something that would terrify me!). They were terrified of the raw power of Jesus, displayed in His sovereignty over nature.

 

               So, while standing on the waves, Jesus spoke to His disciples.

 

Jesus at the Boat, Building Faith (vv. 20-21)

 

               The presence of Jesus casts out fear (v. 20)

 

               [20] But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

 

               Consider those words.

 

               The disciples saw Jesus and were frightened. They weren’t frightened before they saw Jesus. It was the appearance of Jesus that frightened them. Why?

 

               It is possible that they perceived Him as a ghost. In which case, Jesus is saying, “I’m not a ghost. It is Me, Jesus. Don’t be frightened.”[14]

 

               That is a reasonable explanation, but I don’t think it is the whole of it. John doesn’t mention that they thought they were seeing a ghost. He says, “they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”

 

               Maybe an amplified understanding would read something like this:

 

               “Guys, it’s Me. You aren’t seeing a vision or a ghost. It’s really Me, so there’s no reason to be afraid. I am the same Jesus who, just yesterday, multiplied fish and bread to feed thousands. I am THAT Jesus, the King of creation.

 

               “Remember how the crowds wanted to put  crown on Me. Well, I am a King - but I don’t need a crown. You can see now, again, that I am the King. The Sea of Galilee works as well for me as a sidewalk. Follow Me and don’t fear. Don’t ever fear.”

 

               In a couple of other watery scenes in the Gospels, Jesus stilled the storm on the sea. Here, by these words, Jesus calmed the storm in the disciples’ hearts.

 

               The disciples’ faith-full response (v. 21)

 

               [21] They were willing therefore to receive Him into the boat; and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

 

               The signs we have seen today say something profound about Jesus and His ways. First, they speak of His power.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Power!

 

               Only God-in-the-flesh could do what Jesus does here.

 

 

               By the alchemy of turning water into wine, He changed the essential nature, the quality, of something common into something rich and noble and by the feeding of the five thousand He multiplied the quantity of something very small into something enormous.

 

               By the healings of the nobleman’s son and the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, He showed His power to restore to wholeness things that are broken and by walking on water He show His ability to not even break the surface tension of the Sea of Galilee and to transcend all physical barriers.

 

               These signs shout that Jesus’ claim to deity is legit.

 

               But then, for those of us who are following Jesus and for those of you who are considering following Jesus, these signs signal something else, something more.

 

Remember the leftovers!

               Taking today’s miracles in reverse order, the miracle of Jesus walking on water established Him as wholly other. Nobody walks on water.

               The disciples had seen Him in lots of different scenarios and settings, but they had seen nothing like this view of Him walking toward them on the open water of the Sea of Galilee.

               That’s transcendence, personified, and that’s why they were frightened.

               “THIS Jesus is not who we thought He was when we answered His call to follow. A great teacher - yes. A wise leader - yes. A miracle worker - yes. Sovereign over nature - no, we never saw that one coming.”

               But that understanding of Jesus - as unsettling as it was[15]  - was a critical follow-up to the message embedded in the previous miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.

 

               Let’s call that embedded message, “The Lesson of the Leftovers.”

 

               Remember that Jesus spoke to Philip as the crowds were approaching and asked, [5]... “Where are we (“WE” - not “Where am I...”)  to buy bread, so that these may eat?”

 

               Jesus didn’t take on the sole responsibility for feeding the crowds. This was intended all along to be a “Jesus and” mission. Jesus and the disciples.

 

               He gave thanks; they seated the crowd. He multiplied the fish and loaves; they handed out the food. He was supply; they were distribution.

 

               The twelve were an integral part of His plan to meet the needs of the thousands of people who had climbed the mountain to be with Him.

 

               And the enduring lesson of the leftovers is that His work of bringing spiritual and material help to the people He loves continues to be a Jesus and mission. Now it is Jesus and you. His strategy has never changed.

 

               The sign of the feeding of the five thousand (and the subplot of the leftovers) says that we are able to do more than we are capable of because He who walks on water enables us to do what He commands.

 

               No, He won’t always multiply fish and loaves. But He will faithfully empower us to love and to serve and to give to help needy people in His Name.

 

               God has all the resources necessary. He is looking for available vessels to fill with His strength. He supplies and leaves us to deliver.

 

               If it is resources of strength and stamina, love and generosity, encouragement and hope that you are in need of to meet the needs of those around you, take heart.

 

               If your personal resources seem to be as inadequate as two sardines and five tortillas, relax. Jesus will provide the resources you need to respond with grace to meet the need of the hour.

 



[1] Wand, Jesus’ miracles are recorded in Gospel records between twenty (Matthew and Mark) and fifty (John) years after they occurred. If they hadn’t actually occurred, witnesses would have certainly spoken up and said, “Nope. That’s not what happened.”

[2] The Sea of Galilee was also called “The Sea of Tiberias” and in Old Testament times, The Sea of Chinneroth.

[3] The reference to “The” mountain may indicate that Jesus and His disciples were familiar with this place, possibly as the site of the Sermon on the Mount. So Deffenbaugh, Murray.

[4] Philip, a faithful disciple who has been with Jesus for some time now and has seen several miracles already, doesn’t even consider the possibility of a miraculous provision for the needs of the crowd. The people in the crowd, though, had come to the wilderness setting on the mountaintop precisely to see a miracle.

[5] Barley cakes were the food of the poor. This was not intended to be a lavish banquet. Jesus is simply concerned to meet the needs of hungry people.

[6] [6] This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.

[7] There would have been nothing sexist about only numbering the men. It was simply easier to number the heads of households.

[8] There is a story of a similar miracle of increasing provision of oil for the widow of Zarephath in the Old Testament. (1 Kings 17:8-16)

[9] The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle (except for the resurrection) that is recorded in all four Gospels.

[10] This great Prophet is spoken of in Deuteronomy 18.

[11] Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus sent them away. John doesn’t include this detail.

[12] As a friend suggested recently, Jesus, looking down from the mountain said, “Storm, you did a great job when I hurled you against Jonah. I’ve got another job for you here.”

[13] To suggest that it was not a miracle assumes a certain dishonesty in Jesus, as He never dispelled the disciples’ perception that He was performing a miracle.

[14] This view is validated by the explicit account of Matthew and Mark (Luke doesn’t record this incident), who mention that they thought they were seeing a ghost - albeit a ghost who looked like Jesus.

[15] A good friend and member of the church from a few years ago used to use the word “disequilibration” to describe what these disciples were feeling at this moment. Good word.

Jul 16, 2015

Real Talk with Roderick

The Consequences of Keeping Company with Christ (Acts 4:13-22)

 

Introduction

Every sequence has a consequence. If we eat bad food, smoke, drink excessively, fail to get enough rest, and expose ourselves to lots of drama, we age faster and live less time. This has been proven by numerous studies. 

Conversely, if we eat healthy, exercise regularly, drink in moderation (1 Timothy 5:23), and avoid stressful people and situations we tend to be healthier and live longer.  Generally speaking, the quantity and quality of our life on earth is predicted by the nature of the things we put in it. Every sequence has a consequence.

There are consequences to spending time with people. We are influenced by the people we interact with. In the interactions of work, leisure, and love they rub off on us. The company we keep eventually and invariably contributes something to our conduct, to our conversation, to our contemplations, and to the essence of who we are - our character  (1 Corinthians 5:6, 9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Timothy 2:22). Consider the words of the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. He says, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'" And the converse is also true. That is, there are tremendous benefits to spending time with a good person.

People who consistently keep company with Christ are radically changed for the better. In His fellowship they receive His uncanny manners, His determination to win, His commitment to the Father's will, and His love for the lost.  Such people eventually become chief change agents in Heaven's charge against the gates of hell.

Today's message will be show us what happens to fallen people who follow Jesus. They become courageous, more capable, and the cause of change.

 

(Acts 4:13-17)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

The confidence of the apostles could not be missed. However, it looked nothing like the confidence of the council (Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:3-6; Acts 22:3). They were proud of their great learning, their positions as spiritual leaders, and their associations. These fishermen had none of those things and yet stood before them without fear. Although they lacked formal education they were not afraid to go into the temple and teach and could use logic and Scripture to defeat an opponent (Acts 2:16-22; 2:25-35; 4:11). Although they were not schooled in the work of leading the congregation they had no problem calling for people to repent and follow Christ.

As the council marveled at the boldness of the Galileans they suddenly became aware of the cause of the confidence, the basis of the boldness, and the source of their abilities: they had been with Jesus.

  • Jesus Exhibited Learning Beyond Explanation (Luke 2:41-47; John 7:15)
  • Jesus Easily Defeated His Enemies in Arguments (Matthew 22:15-22 - Jesus uses Scripture and logic to defeat the Pharisees and Herodians; Matthew 22:23-33 - Jesus uses only the Pentateuch to prove resurrection and defeat the false doctrine of the Sadducees; Matthew 22:41-46 - Jesus proves that his enemies' have a model of messiah that is too limited and that it cannot be reconciled with Scripture.)
  • Jesus Used Miracles to Prove His Message (Matthew 9:1-8 - the raising of the paralytic proves His claim to having the power to forgive sins; John 8:56-9:11 - the healing of the man born blind proved his claim to deity; John 11:1-44 - the raising of Lazarus proved His claim to be the resurrection).

The rabble rousing rabbi from Nazareth had left a painful impression on the religious leaders of His day. His disciples' were leaving the same impression. F.F. Bruce says it this way:

None could match him in his sure handling of the scriptures, his unerring ability to go back to first principles for the confirming of his own teaching and the discomfiture of his opponents. And plainly he had imparted something of that same gift to his disciples. Not only so, but he had supported his teaching with the mighty works which he performed; now Peter and John were doing the same.

Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 95). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Jesus pattern of life, poise under fire, and power to effect change for good was not forgotten. The memory is fresh in the minds of the men who murdered Him. And now they are confronted by a motley crew of men that are just like Him.

The consequence of keeping company with Christ has caused the disciples to have His character. They look like their Leader.

The apostles, men who once fled in the face of fierce opposition, now stand toe-to-toe with their enemies. They are confident, they are capable, and they are causing a change for good. Why? Even their enemies cannot deny the effects of spending time with Jesus. Robert Coleman, author of the classic Master Plan of Evangelism puts it this way

Jesus chose from the larger group about him the Twelve “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14; see Luke 6:13). He added, of course, that he was going to send them forth “to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils,” but often we fail to realize what came first. Jesus made it clear that before these men were “to preach” or “to cast out devils” they were to be “with him.” In fact, this personal appointment to be in constant association with him was as much a part of their ordination commission as the authority to evangelize. Indeed, it was for the moment even more important, for it was the necessary preparation for the other.

Coleman, R. E. (2006). The master plan of evangelism (p. 35). Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

The point is summarized in Mark 3:14

14 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach

Much time alone with Jesus is the secret to becoming like Jesus.

Conclusion

What are we to do in the light of the truths advanced and affirmed by this passage? Going beyond mere intellectual ascent to these facts how should we then live? We must wholly reject the idea that we are condemned to the the criminal behaviors of our past. The notion that we can never have the skill and courage to explain the truth, defend the faith, or help do great and lasting good must be regarded as lies from the pit of hell. We have the mind of Christ and are destined to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). The key to better character is Christ. That is, if we are to escape in practice the gravity of our depravity we must spend time with the Lord Jesus Christ. How?

  • Request His Presence - Pray for His leading. Speak to the Spirit of Christ and ask for Him to be at work in your times of reading, meditation, and worship to show you the truth and guide you in worship.
  • Read His Word - Spend time in the Scriptures (1 Peter 2:2). But do not do it as a mere academic activity. It has to be more than muddling through the morass of words in commentaries, dictionaries, and the endless lectures of seminaries. Reading His word means coming to Him in prayer and staying in dialogue with the Lord as you read.
  • Write It Down - Write your observations down. Write down your questions, consternation, and concerns. In the writing of your questions you formalize your thinking and prepare yourself for better praying. God wants you to come to Him with your questions.

In His grip by His grace,

Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.

Jul 8, 2015

Real Talk with Roderick
Feeling Inadequate?

More important than the capabilities of the person called is the Caller Himself and the content of the person's calling. Your talent, or lack thereof, becomes irrelevant when you are summoned to serve; where we lack His grace is sufficient.

Jun 22, 2015

Real Talk with Roderick

Doing What Daddy Does (John 5:19-21)

 

Exegesis (John 5:19-21)

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.

 

5:19 The Then Jesus answered (Ἀπεκρίνατο οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς) of John 5:19 introduces the Lord's response to the accusation of sabbath breaking. To understand the answer the reader must look back to prior discussion and in particular the murderous intentions of the religious leaders. His opponents have hurled two charges at the itinerant rabbi: sabbath breaking and blasphemy (John 5:18). But Jesus' response is best seen as being His apologetic for healing a man on the Sabbath and not as directly defending His claim to deity. He does not at this time take up the opportunity to argue His deity but uses the assumption of that truth when battling the censure of healing on the Sabbath.

 

Most assuredly (ἀμὴν ἀμὴν) reveals the weightiness of the words that follow and the solemn tone that comes with an answer to accusations of being a law breaker. And then Jesus explains the actions that brought on the dispute.

 

What is His explanation for healing on the Sabbath? Simple: The actions of the only begotten of the Father are also begotten of the Father. In effect, "I cannot do otherwise as I am a Son by nature bound to follow the leading of my Father. People, I am just doing what my Daddy does (John 5:17). My Daddy does not cease from the work of doing amazing good for those in need on the Sabbath." In His defense of His actions Jesus says that He is operating according the leading of His Father and normal living of His Family - the Godhead. The problem is only apparent and results from failing to regard His deity. Or the problem is in the Parent since the Son does not act apart from the Father. "You are upset with me because of what My Father has led me to do. But if you would just calm down and consider the fulness of my identity you would see that there is no blasphemy. ...and I cannot do otherwise."

 

Can do nothing, nothing at all, denotes not only the dependence of the Son on the Father in His working, the negative side of obedience, nor only His imitation of the Father, the formal side of obedience, but also His working at the motion of the Father. The Father is the limit or the law, the Father is the example, and the Father is also the motive, the impulse of His action. The action of the Son is at every point begotten by the action of the Father. The negative side of the obedience of Christ consists in His being unable to do anything of Himself; the positive side consists in His seeing, His intuitive perception of the initiative of the Father (βλέπειν, comp. chap. 8:38, and ἁφʼἑαυτοῦ chap. 16:13).

Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (pp. 187–188). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

 

The Jews were perfectly right when in v. 18 they understood that Jesus made himself “equal with God.” This very relation of the Son to the Father makes it simply impossible (οὑ δύναται) that Jesus should do (ποιεῖν, now or ever) anything “of himself,” ἀφʼ ἑαυτοῦ, so that the thing would emanate from him alone and be done by him alone, separate and apart from the Father and thus deviating from and contradictory to the Father’s will—even as the Jews charged that Jesus was breaking God’s Sabbath law. Such a thing is possible for men; even Moses thus did a thing “of himself” (Num. 20:11, 12): but in the case of the Son, since he is the Son, this is absolutely excluded.

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel (p. 379). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

 

 

5:20 The Father shows the Son His actions with the intent of moving His only begotten to do likewise. In revealing His works to the Son the love of the Father is shown to the Son. In doing the will of the Father in the way of the Father the love of the Son is shown to the Father. Chronologically the hotly debated actions of the Son are always after those of the Father. In this sense His works are begotten of God the Father and reveal what the Father is doing. Never does the Son of God move ahead of the Father. He is a leader that must, out of their relationship, be led. In this sense, for those who can resist the urge to ruthlessly refute strong statements, the Servant is not greater than His Master or the Father is greater than the Son (John 13:16; 14:28).

 

What Jesus says next is quite remarkable. Instead of trying to downplay the works that are so offensive to the religious leaders He says there are more to come. Who is to blame? Jesus says that the Father is going to show His Son greater works, knowing that imitation is inevitable, with the intent of causing the Son's critics to marvel. Do not miss that the goal of God the Father is not to move them to believe but to being bewildered.

 

5:21 Finally Jesus provides an example of the principles that He has been presenting. Jesus healed a man of his paralysis. But he also forgave his sin. In the latter work was the raising of the dead and the giving of life and the proof of His claim to be able to forgive sin.

 

Exhortation

•     Some Jews are so serious about seeing the sin that they cannot hear what the sign is saying. It says Savior.

•     His enemies are so mad about the miracle performed on a man on the Sabbath that they cannot begin to make out the meaning: It means He is Messiah.

•     His foes are so fervent in their zeal to find fault that they have no time to form faith.

 

Jesus' ministry on earth was not random acts of kindness cut off by His courageous embracing of crucifixion. Whether we see Him turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), healing a man full of leprosy (Luke 5:12-16), raising a man four days dead (John 11:1-44), saving the life of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), or rebuking the hypocritical leaders of His day (Matthew 23)... His actions were the outworking of the leading and example of His Father.

 

I have six boys. And I can tell you that a boy's behavior is determined primarily by one thing: the father's example. The son imitates him whether he wants to or not. It is in his nature to fixate on the living of his father or male role model and then start doing what Daddy does. Jesus said as much concerning His own life:

 

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. (John 5:19, NKJV)

 

As Jesus deals with his angry detractors He explains his angst-causing actions as being the consequence of doing what His Daddy does. Dads, if we want to have a helping hand in the raising of men and women that can stand up for good in the face of growing opposition there is nothing better than showing them the way. The homily of our words is not nearly as loud and does not last nearly as long as the sermon said through our works. If we really want to help move our children in the direction of being honorable adults in a crooked and perverse generation we must exemplify honorable adulthood. What does that look like? Here are five things that will go a long way in helping show the way:

 

1.   Fess Up and Forsake Sin - When you make a mistake make no excuses for it. Confess it and then repent. In the humiliation of confessing your crime and making restitution you will teach courage, humility, and the importance of holiness. Your children will see that integrity means more than image. It means I know that I will be remembered by some as the man who did not always make the right decision. But I am determined to be remembered by sons as the man who always endeavored to live in the light and make it right.

2.   Forgive - Forgive people who fail you. Forgive people who fight you. Forgive your inveterate foes. Do not do it for show but do not fail to show your kids that Daddy is not going to hold grudges or get back at the people that hurt him. But go beyond sentiment and exemplify the character of God by doing something nice for the people that did you wrong. In the forgiving you will cast vision for character and conduct that counters the bitter racism of our own day and that will eventually conquer evil.

3.   Help the Fallen - Be careful but also be intentional in providing real help to those who have screwed up real bad. Never wink at sin. But also never walk away from the person who is willing to change. Let your children see you associate with the fallen in a genuine effort to grieve with them, restore their spirit, and push them back into serving God effectively. (God Almighty, thank you for the saints who did this for me!)

4.   Fight for Family - Generally speaking it is easier to destroy than create. And any fool can find a reason to forsake his family. But it takes real fortitude and faith in God to fight for something that is flawed, feeble, and yet the means by which God raises godly generations. Sometimes Mommy and Daddy will not be able to work it out. But real men have a real role in the raising of their own kids. You cannot be there often? That suck! But be there as much as you can. Christians are always complaining about taking how they are taking "Our Father who art in heaven" out of school. Much more damaging is the father who ain't there at all. Be there as much as you can, man!

5.   Forge Ahead - What does this mean? This means never giving up. This means never giving in.  Because winners never quit and quitters never win. (caveat lector: If you read it right it rhymed.) No matter what happens, Fathers, keep the faith. No matter how many times you fail show your children the excellence of being exceedingly determined to follow Jesus (Micah 7:8; Psalm 37:24; Proverbs 24:16; Job 5:19).

 

If you do these things there is no guarantee that your children will appreciate it immediately. But one day they will. One day the son that refused to preach will take up the example of his role model. (Thank you, Grandad.) One day the boy that rebelled against your every word will remember your determination to help him succeed... especially through the pain of chastening. One day, without realizing it, lessons that could not be taught will have been caught and your children will find themselves doing what Daddy did.

 

In His grip by His grace,

Flawed Dad

 

 

Jun 17, 2015

Real Talk with Roderick

(Acts 3:1-10)

 

(Acts 3:1-3)

1 Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; 3 who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.

3:1 We have seen these two men together in the past. When the Lord is transformed on the mountain Peter and John are there with James. They are together with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We see them running together to the tomb of Jesus when the women say that the body is missing. And they are together in a boat when Jesus appears to them on the shore after His resurrection. Finally, when Jesus would talk with Peter alone these two men are not entirely separated; the disciple whom Jesus loved was compelled to walk nearby. And so we are not altogether surprised to see that Peter and John will be frequently found together in The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:1, 3, 11; 4:13, 19; 8:14).

 

They are a dynamic duo. Peter tends to be the speaker but John is always there, also with power, supporting the actions and words of his friend and fellow apostle. Their pairing may have been merely the outworking of their friendship. More likely it was also their commitment to the earlier commands and ministry conventions of Christ; He sent them by twos (Luke 10:1). And it is by twos that they are going to pray... and to preach if given an opportunity. It is by twos that Peter and John, still Jews and still practicing Judaism, are going to the second and last offering of the day. It would have been about 3:00 PM.

 

    The time of the apostles’ visit was the “ninth” hour, three in the afternoon, i.e., the hour of prayer. It was also the time of the evening Tamid, one of the two sacrifices held daily in the temple.3 These had become prescribed times of prayer, and people would come to the temple at the sacrifice times to observe the ceremony and pray.

    Polhill, John B. (1992). The New American Commentary: Acts (Vol. 26, p. 126). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

    The apostles continued to live as observant Jews, attending the set services of worship in the Jerusalem temple. The two principal daily services accompanied the offering of the morning and evening sacrifices. One afternoon, as two of the apostles, Peter and John,6 went up the steps leading from the outer court to the inner courts,7 in order to be present in the Court of Israel for the service of prayer which accompanied the evening sacrifice (about 3 p.m.),8 they were arrested by the sight of a cripple who lay begging at the “Beautiful Gate.”

    Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 77). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

Throughout the narratives of Acts, especially when Peter is present, their will be a problem and a display of apostolic power, a dilemma and a dispensation of spiritual truth, an evil adversary and actions of courage and correction. Get ready!

 

3:2 Luke introduces another character and thereby the problem: a certain man lame from his mother's womb. In the gospel of John we were introduced to a man with the problem of blindness from birth (John 9:1-7). In that record we are witness to the power of the Lord to help or heal in a way that was (1) unprecedented (John 9:30-33), (2) readily recognized as a sign, and (3) the cause of controversy (John 9). This man, carried to the temple to beg, was laid at gate of notable beauty. As people entered the temple to pray and to observe in reverence the sacrifice many would have had a heart that was prepared to honor God in giving to the poor (Proverbs 19:17; 28:27). This man's placement and timing was aimed at making the most of the moment.

 

They say that beggars cannot be choosers. However, those that would beg successfully must be careful in choosing the time and place when asking for alms.

 

It was prime time for receiving alms. The rabbis taught that there were three pillars for the Jewish faith—the Torah, worship, and the showing of kindness, or charity.4 Almsgiving was one of the main ways to show kindness and was thus considered a major expression of one’s devotion to God. With their minds set on worship, those who entered the temple for the evening sacrifice and prayer would be particularly disposed to practice their piety by generously giving alms to a lame beggar.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 126). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

3:3 The man, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked them for a gift. It is certain that he did not expect anything more than financial assistance (Acts 3:5). But for that he had petitioned the wrong men (Acts 3:6).

 

(Acts 3:4-8)

4 And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” 5 So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.

Peter's eyes are fixed on the man. Why? Because he has been with Jesus and has learned to look at things differently. Where some will see only the obstacle Peter has learned to see the opportunity. Where some see only the problem Peter has learned to see the possibility. Where some see only a crippled man asking for a handout Peter sees the chance for Christ to provide some help up. The big fisherman can remember leaving the temple with Jesus and coming across a man who was born blind and seeing his Teacher make the most of that moment (John 9:1-11). 

 

It was not too long ago that his Teacher taught him that the tragedy of a congenital defect can become the triumph of Christ's power on display. This apostle sees that this man's handicap is not a burden but a blessing because the glory of God's ability to help or heal is seen most clearly in the ones that are hopeless or dead.

 

    The fact that he was born lame makes his healing all the more remarkable (cf. 4:22).

    Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 126). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

The reference to “the name” is not incidental. In the biblical sense a name is far more than a label. It represents a person and is an extension of that person’s being and personality. To invoke the name of Jesus is to call upon his authority and power.10 In a real sense, then, Jesus through Peter continued his healing ministry. With a healing touch common to miracle narratives, Peter grasped the man’s right hand and lifted him up.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 128). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

Day by day he sat there at the threshold to the place of worship, but he could not enter. He was lame, blemished, and denied access to the inner courts (cf. Lev 21:17–20; 2 Sam 5:8).13 At this time not only had he received physical healing, but he had found spiritual acceptance as well. For the first time he was deemed worthy to enter the house of worship.

Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 128). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

On the present occasion, the very conduct of the former crippled man was itself a token, to those who had eyes to see, of the advent of the new age.15 Of the new age it had been said long before, “then shall the lame man leap like a hart” (Isa. 35:6).

Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 79). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:6, NKJV)

 

Jun 15, 2015

Northwest Community Evangelical Free Church

(March 1, 2015)

Dave Smith

 

Sermon Series: THIS Jesus!

 

Water to WineStudy #1

(John 2:1-11)



Introduction: Searching for the REAL Jesus…

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey describes an oil-based painting that hung in the church of his youth. It depicted Jesus with long blonde hair and blue eyes. Jesus is drawn as a shepherd with milky white skin gently holding a small lamb.

Yancey remembers that when he was a child he felt comforted by that image of Jesus. He liked to think of himself as that little lamb, cradled in Jesus’ arms.

From the perspective of adulthood, however, Yancey has come to have a very different “take” on that image. He now refers to it as a “Mister Rogers Jesus,” a Jesus with no hard edges. And, in retrospect, he recognizes that it is neither a very compelling nor a very biblical picture of Jesus.

There are lots of other images of Jesus out there.

A variety of Jesus’...

 

Some today view Him as a Che Guevara figure who is out to overturn the world’s governments by revolution.

Others see him as less aggressive. In one famous painting, Jesus is pictured knocking on the United Nations building, the Answer to international tensions, if anyone would just let Him in.

Modern opinions of Jesus hold Him to be a either a Galilean charismatic or an unorthodox rabbi, a Pharisee or an anti-Pharisee, an unkempt, radical, counter-cultural misfit or an hallucinogenic leader of a sacred mushroom cult.

There is truly no shortage of ways to view Jesus.

Near the end of John’s Gospel, we read that if all the things that Jesus did were written down, even the world itself would not be able to contain the books (John 21:25). Thousands of books have been written about Jesus - many of them very good books.

But except for a few scant references from the secular writings of His day, we all rely on the same basic source material.  And the best and most reliable source material for learning about Jesus remain the four Gospel accounts found in the New Testament.

And frankly, we wish the Gospels gave us more.

 

About THIS Jesus...

 

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us very few details about His family life, childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood.

We don’t have a clue as to His physical appearance - except that He certainly was not a blue-eyed, blonde-haired male with milky white skin. We don’t know His height, weight, or muscularity.

In His lifetime, Jesus spoke to fewer people than have been in any of hundreds of stadiums Billy Graham has filled to preach about Him. And yet, today history divides by “before Christ” and “in the year of our Lord.” Today, people worship and curse in the Name of Jesus.

If you can gauge the size of a ship that has passed by the wake it leaves behind, then the ship of Jesus’ life was, without question, the largest ship in history.

 

Looking for THIS Jesus...

 

For every reason we could list, it is worth our while, every once in a while, to clear away the fog, do away with that Jesus and that Jesus and that Jesus and investigate THIS Jesus, the Jesus of the New Testament.

That’s because, of all the reasons to believe in Christianity, He is the most compelling.

It is not evidence for creation. It’s not the increasing  archaeological evidence for Noah’s Ark or for Moses’ Exodus or for the downed walls of Jericho that drives us to embrace the Christian way.

It is the Person of Jesus.

A right understanding of Jesus draws us to faith, while the biggest show-stopper to faith is a faulty view of Jesus.

So, I propose that over the next several Sundays we allow the Apostle John to lead us into the understanding of Jesus he obtained via firsthand exposure. From now through the Sunday after Easter, we’ll be looking for evidence of what Jesus was really like from John’s Gospel.

John’s record of Jesus begins differently from the other three.

Matthew and Luke give us genealogies and birth narratives and the launch of Jesus’ ministry with temptations in the wilderness. Mark skips the birth stories and goes right to the temptations.

The other Gospels give us the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, and parables. John gives us none of that.

What John does do, however, is give us a very tightly focused picture of Jesus, and He begins at the beginning, the very beginning.

Listen closely to John’s opening. His first words have more in common with Genesis 1 than they do with Matthew 1 or Mark 1 or Luke 1.



Prologue to Consideration of a Saving Lord (John 1:1-51)

 

The Prologue (vv. 1-18)

 

Meet “the Word” (vv. 1-5)

 

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God.[3] All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. [4] In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. [5] And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

 

You and I hear the word “Word” and think, “A word.” Big deal.

 

But to John’s audience, the “Word” was a very big deal. The world was created by the Word of God. When the prophets thundered their messages, they would often begin, “The Word of the Lord…”

 

The Word is the communication and the revelation of God.

 

But John’s Word is more than that. The Word IS God. Not “godly.” Not “god-like.” Not “a god.” GOD. The Almighty.

 

And, in the Word was life.

 

Not dependent life, like ours. Independent life. The Word is the source from which all creation draws life.

And the life within the Word serves as a lighthouse, directing us to God’s life.

 

So John has introduced us to the Word. The Word is an eternal, creative, cosmic life force.

 

He now brings us in from eternity and infinity, crashing back in to the flesh and blood world of planet earth.

 

Meet John (vv. 6-8)

 

[6] There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. [7] He came as a witness, to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. [8] He was not the light, but came to testify about the light.

 

This is not John the author, the Apostle John, but the other John - John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a untamed and untamable man who dressed in unclean animal skins and ate locusts and honey. He is among the most intriguing characters in the Bible.

 

He enters the story of Jesus from the deserts to the east of Palestine, calling people to repentance by baptism in the Jordan River.

 

John was a no-nonsense ascetic. Leather-skinned from exposure to the wilderness and leather-lunged to condemn sin, he was all zeal and thundering passion for God.

 

John was a man sent from God, but John was not the star of the show. He was the prequel. He came to bear witness of the light that the Word shines into the darkness.

 

John, the author, shifts back to a focus on the Word now, emphasizing that the Word is a Person.




Meet the God-Man (vv. 9-18)

 

The rejection of the true Light (vv. 10-11)

 

[9] There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. [10] HE was in the world, and the world was made through HIM, and the world did not know HIM. [11] HE came to HIS own, and those who were HIS own did not receive HIM.

 

The transcendent, eternal, creative Word is a Person. And by the time we come to verse 11, we can’t resist the temptation to draw the line between the Word and Jesus!

 

Jesus came home to the Jews, His own people, who should have welcomed Him the way we welcome returning heroes. By and large they didn’t.

 

BUT those who did not reject Him found life, abundant, free, and eternal.

 

The reception of the true Light (vv. 12-14)

 

[12] But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, [13] who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [14] And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Very briefly we’ve traced the Word’s story from creation (“In the beginning was the Word…”), to a birth at Bethlehem when the light first shined (“the Word became flesh”) to Calvary where the light was rejected.

 

John’s Prologue gives us the heart of the Christian faith, and it is this: That the Word of God took on flesh for our salvation, in the Person of Jesus.

 

During the three years John spent as an apostle of Jesus, He lived with the Word. He walked the streets of Nazareth with the Word. He watched the Word’s healing hands at work and he heard the Word’s life-giving message.

 

When we think of seeing God’s glory, we may think of visions and miracles and spectacular shows of power. John says that in all human history, the glory of God was most clearly seen during the thirty three years of Jesus’ life when He lived “in the flesh.”

 

And THIS that we now read is the vision the Apostle John wants us to take forward into our exploration of Jesus.

 

Grace upon grace… (vv. 15-18)

 

[15] John testified about Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” [16] For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. [17] For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. [18] No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

 

Anyone who believes in Jesus receives grace upon grace upon grace upon grace, wave upon unending wave of grace, from God.

 

On the day you trusted in Jesus for your salvation and passed from darkness into light, God gave you the gift of grace. The angels were jumping up and down, shouting, “He is forgiven! He is forgiven!!”

 

And on every day that follows, when you sin, because you are child of God through faith in Christ, the angels continue to shout, “He is forgiven! He is forgiven!!”

 

The wonder of grace never fades because we remember the enormous problem that our sin caused and the lengths to which God went to solve our problem.

 

He sent His only begotten Son, the eternal Word, to earth to be clothed in flesh and to offer Himself as a sacrifice on a Roman cross so that we could become children of God.

 

That’s John’s opening salvo, his Prologue. He continues the story of Jesus, tracing the most private season of Jesus’ early public life.

 

After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, He began to collect disciples.

 

These first disciples included two from among the ranks of John the Baptist’s disciples, one of whom was Andrew. Then Andrew brought his brother, Simon (Peter), who followed Jesus. Then Jesus found Philip, who followed. Philip brought along Nathanael, who also followed.

 

So, by the time we come to the end of John’s first chapter, Jesus had five disciples.

 

The next chapter, where we’ll spend the remainder of our time today, begins with a time stamp (“on the third day” - i.e. the third day after the baptism), a place stamp (“in Cana of Galilee”), and an event stamp (“there was a wedding”).

 

The action takes place in the northern part of Palestine, in the region of Galilee, at the tiny town of Cana. Cana was a village located a few miles north of Nazareth (the city in which Jesus grew up) out on the plains mid-way between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean.

 

Transforming Water Into Wine (vv. 1-10)

 

A Wedding (vv. 1-2)

 

[1] And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there, [2] and both Jesus  and His disciples were invited to the wedding.

 

Wedding guests

 

You would not likely have found John the Baptist at a wedding. He was a man more given to fasting than to feasting.

 

But it’s not strange to find Jesus there. Trace Jesus’ life through the Gospels and you’ll often find Him at parties and celebrations.

 

I have wondered if Andrew, the former follower of John the Baptist who was now following Jesus, might have had some difficulty with his new Rabbi’s willingness to eat, drink, and party.

 

John and his disciples would have never been invited to a party or to a wedding. Jesus was, evidently, exactly the kind of guy you would want at a wedding celebration.

 

Not that Jesus was some wild party animal. Only that nobody would have thought, “Oh, don’t invite Jesus. He’s such a wet blanket.”

 

Jesus was no grim-faced ascetic. He brought joy and abundant life.

 

Those who were hosting this wedding feast knew that Jesus and His followers either had family or friendly relations with the bride or the groom, so they invited them.




Weddings

 

In ancient Israel, weddings generally took place late in the day and often after dark so that the processions through the city streets would be lit by impressive torchlight.

 

The wedding event itself would begin with a parade of the groom and his friends to the home of the bride.

 

Once at her home, wedding guests would give speeches and toast the couple. Then the wedding party would walk to the groom’s house.

 

There, they would hold a brief religious ceremony, to be followed by the reception and a wedding feast.

 

By the time we are brought into this scene, the wedding is over and the reception is on.

 

Unlike our wedding receptions, though, which may last for some hours, a Jewish wedding feast might last for up to a week. This one had been going on for some time when a problem - a big problem - hits.

 

A Wedding Crisis (vv. 3-5)

 

Mary’s motherly remark to Jesus (v. 3)

 

[3] When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

 

In the first century - and actually throughout biblical history - wine was a staple of the Jewish diet.

 

There have always been warnings against drunkenness, of course. But wine was a welcomed part of any celebration.

 

The guests at a wedding would taste the wine as they traveled from house to house. Sometimes, the couple would drink wine to seal their vows. And, at the reception (again, sometimes lasting for days), wine was served.

 

At this wedding in Cana, they have run out of wine. There is no telling WHY they ran out of wine, but THAT they ran out of wine was a serious problem. It was a breach of etiquette to stop serving wine.

 

When the wine runs out, the party’s over. When the wine runs out, the hosts have egg all over their faces. I read in one source that the couple could have actually been sued over the lack of wine.

 

So, this was a very sobering situation (sorry), and Mary let her Son, Jesus, know about it. It was, after all, only natural for Mary to look to Jesus at a time like this. She, of all people, knew who He really was and that He could do something about it.

 

While others may have had their doubts about Jesus’ identity, Mary was the one person who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God.

 

She had given birth to other children after Jesus. Those conceptions were quite normal. Only Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

 

Mary has been waiting a long time, all of Jesus’ life, thirty years by this time, for her Son to reveal His true identity. To this point He has not performed a miracle. This would surely have been a convenient time for Him to do something.

And Jesus had a response to give to His mother.

 

Jesus: “Lady, I know My business.” (4)

 

[4] And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”

 

By those words, Jesus made a dramatic turn in His relationship with His mother. No longer is she the one to whom He submits. He’s not her “little boy.” Now, He is in control, and He’s not taking orders from Mom.

 

His message is, “My timetable is My own. I’ll handle this. I don’t need your wisdom, your prompting, your suggestions or your nudges.”

 

When Jesus said these things, Mary graciously accepted her new role in her Son’s life. He is now her Lord - and she promptly spoke to the servants at the wedding.

 

Mary:  “Servants - do His bidding!” (5)

 

[5] His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

 

Now it might have appeared to us that when Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come” He was refusing to take action. Not so.

 

He was simply refusing to act on anyone’s timetable but His own. He will perform His first miracle when He has decided that it is time.

 

My own sense is that Jesus had not gone to the wedding intending to identify Himself as the miracle-working Son of God.  But He chose to do what He will now do in response to a need - and it won’t be the last time that Jesus alters His plans to meet someone else’s pressing need.

 

Mary seemed to know her Son well enough to know that He was going to do something and so she put the servants on notice that Jesus is, now, in charge. He is going to be giving them orders.

 

A Wedding Miracle (vv. 6-10)

 

The vessels for the miracle (v. 6)

 

[6] Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.

 

In the home where the wedding reception was being held there were six stone waterpots holding a total of at least one hundred and twenty gallons of water.

 

These were very large and heavy containers, not the kinds of pitchers that people would carry around. They were kept out of view of the guests and held water that was used for ceremonial hand-washing.

 

The Jews of Jesus’ day took great pains to avoid ritual uncleanness. One rabbinic book of the first century has multiple chapters on how and when a person was to wash his or her hands.

 

Seeing these large containers, Jesus spoke to the servants.

 

Jesus’ really unappetizing instructions (vv. 7-8)

 

Fill the waterpots (v. 7)

 

[7] Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim.

 

So, quick. What do you think was going through the minds of the servants when they heard this command?

I suspect that they were confused. They were wondering what in the world this Jesus guy has in mind.

 

It was their job to keep the waterpots sufficiently filled for various hand-washings, but now they have to fill them, and that’s going to be a job.

 

If you’ve ever had to haul water, you know that this would have taken some time and some effort. But they did what Jesus commanded and filled them all up to the brim.

 

Then, He gave His next command, which probably caused the servants to turn queasy.

 

Present it to the headwaiter (v. 8)

 

[8] And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.”

 

The headwaiter at this wedding was the one responsible for tasting the wine before it was served. So why in the world would Jesus want the servers to take the hand-washing water to him?

 

That water was fine for washing hands, but it wasn’t suitable for drinking. It wasn’t potable.

 

When I went camping to West Texas a couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law and I were hiking up a stream bed in a canyon. The canyon actually had flowing water that looked crystal clear, like you could just kneel down and drink.

 

We knew better. On a previous trip up this same canyon we had found that some wild donkeys (donkeys, by the way, who had a very diminished sense of personal hygiene) had made a filthy mess of the creek just upstream. The water wasn’t potable and we weren’t about to drink without treating or boiling it.

 

Of course first century Jews didn’t know about microscopic pathogens in water, but they did know that there was drinkable water and there was undrinkable water.

The water in the stone pots was not suitable for drinking - but Jesus had just told them to serve some of it to the headwaiter.

 

They must have thought, “I know what Mary said, but this Guy can’t be serious! When the headwaiter finds out it is only water - and that it is THAT water, he’ll have our jobs, or worse.”

 

Not one of the servants had a clue as to what Jesus was up to. He didn’t wave His arms over the waterpots. He didn’t issue a command to the water to turn into wine. He never touched the water or the pots. As far as they know, Jesus was instructing them to serve hand-washing water to the boss.

 

But, obey Jesus they did. They filled the waterpots. They dipped pitchers into the water. They walked over to their boss, dreading what was going to happen when he took a drink.

 

But as they poured from the pitcher to his drinking goblet, he and the servants saw not the dirty water they had poured in, but the deep blush of aged wine!

 

The headwaiter is impressed (vv. 9-10)

 

[9] When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom [10] and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

 

He is not impressed with the miracle, because he didn’t know that a miracle had taken place. He’s impressed with the quality of the wine.

 

There is no response recorded from the bride, the groom or the guests because what had really happened wasn’t widely known.

 

This miracle was like a lot of my jokes. Subtle. My jokes are often so subtle that nobody gets them. And nobody “got” this miracle, either, because Jesus did it under the radar.

 

He could have been dramatic about it. He could have waved His hands, muttered an incantation, and then presented the headwaiter with the water-turned-wine, Himself.

 

But He didn’t do that. Jesus minimized the exposure of His power in this first miracle so that the only ones who “got it” were His disciples.

 

And that explains the punch line, the point, of this water-to-wine event. John doesn’t wrap up with, “And they lived happily ever after”, but this:

 

[11] This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

 

Of all the responses they might have had, they believed.

 

They certainly might have become afraid of Him. They might have been impressed with Him. They might have sought to use Him (after all, someone who could do magic tricks could come in pretty handy.)

 

Instead, they believed in Him. They came to trust in Him more than they had before.

 

The end game of God’s work in the lives of Jesus’ followers is always that we would trust Him and our faith would grow.

 

So, the bottom line of this episode in the life of Jesus is what it says about Jesus. It is a “sign”, John tells us, pointing to something beyond itself.

It was a sign that shouted, “Trust Jesus! He is more than man. He is the God-man who can do what only God can do.”

 

Yes, this “sign” signals that Jesus is trustworthy. But as I have thought about the wedding in Cana this week, I have wondered if this sign signaled something else.



Conclusion:

 

Think of all the miracles Jesus performed and you’ll find that there is more often than not an element of genuine, deep, human need.

 

A crowd is really, really hungry; a little girl is at the point of death; a blind beggar is desperate to see; a demon-oppressed man needs freedom.

 

Here, there is none of that. The only pain likely to be caused by the absence of wine at this wedding is the pain of embarrassment. So why do it? Let’s read this sign carefully to see what it says.

 

Jesus turned hand-washing water into fine wine. He started with a most common element - H2O - made morecommon by its purpose (wash water), and transformed it into something noble.

 

THAT water was the very picture of drudgery and legalistic formalism. Jesus made it tasty. He took something that symbolized a pain and made it a pleasure.

 

That’s what Jesus does. He takes the ordinary and makes it shine.

 

He took plain and common people like Simon Peter, Andrew and Nathanael and Philip and turned them into courageous apostles whose lives were transformed by a transcendent purpose.

 

He’s doing the same thing today with you and me.

Now, I am a no-big-deal, hand-washing-water kind of a guy. I do very normal things. My job happens to be at a church, but I go to work every day, like you. I love my family, like you. I exercise, read, take out the trash, go camping, do yardwork, drive, eat. Just like you.

 

But because of Jesus, my everyday, ordinary, H2O life is layered with transcendent meaning and purpose. Same for you.

 

Jesus infuses every activity with richness. Every interaction with someone holds potential for a God break-through. Every event brings an invitation to pray to Almighty God. All day we are “on mission” for Jesus’ Great Commission.

 

And our H2O lives have become fine wine, transformed by the same Jesus who built faith into the first disciples at Cana.

 

And if you are doubtful that Jesus could ever or would ever do this with you, consider this “sign” one final time.

 

Remember that the headwaiter at the wedding wasn’t impressed that he was tasting wine. He expected to taste wine. He was impressed that the wine was so tasty. He expected poorer quality. Jesus created a better quality of wine than would have been expected at the tail end of a feast.

 

And how much wine was created? It was between one hundred and twenty and one hundred and eighty gallons. For the end of wedding feast in a tiny village. One hundred and eighty gallons of wine. Really?

 

That’s waaaay more than would have been required. But Jesus went overboard (just like He went overboard in the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 by providing more than enough food) to show that it is His desire and plan to bless and to transform extravagantly.

 

His grand plan is to make of you such a stunning and impactful player in His kingdom that people will look at you and say, “Look at what God has made out of her! Look at how God has used him!”

 

The same Jesus who turned hand-washing water into fine wine in Cana is actively at work, transforming you.

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