Jesus at Nazareth (Part Two)

Luke 4:16-30

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written… (Luke 4:16-17 NIV).

The Scriptures teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is both divine and human. In the above words we read of a very human Jesus. He had been brought up in Nazareth, which speaks of normal human development. He attended the synagogue, as he was accustomed to do. This means that he would walk to the meeting place, like everyone else. He would talk and exchange greetings with others. He and they would continue in their usual order of worship. (We do not have much information about first century synagogue services. What is usually written about them is actually information from a later century.) If things were similar to later times, they would read from a section of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve).

If so, by standing up, Jesus sought permission to read and speak from a passage from the Prophets. We do not know if the following passage was scheduled to be read for that Saturday or if they asked him to read it, or if Jesus selected it. Regardless of the reason, Jesus was involved in a very human action. He had to unroll the scroll of Isaiah to find the passage. (We all can pause briefly to thank God that we have books rather than scrolls, and that we have chapters and verses in our Bibles to enable us to quickly find passages. By the way, this is a very practical reason to memorize the order of the books of the Bible. It also helps to know the general content of the Biblical books.) Notice that Jesus was involved in the very human activity of finding a passage in the Bible. He didn’t command the scroll to unroll to the selected passage. He unrolled it. His very humanness set up the amazement by the congregation of which Luke later wrote (4:22). Though the hometown folks had heard of the signs and wonders he had done elsewhere, Jesus simply acted as an ordinary person as he stood before them.

Isaiah 61 is the fifth of what are called by scholars “Isaiah’s Servant Songs”. They are called this because of their poetic form and because they talk about the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. These Songs are found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 52-53, and 61. When Jesus stood up to read that day, he read Isaiah 61:1-2a. He didn’t read the whole Song. He read what was important for his purposes that day. While I think it is profitable and wise to preach or teach through an entire book of the Bible for several reasons, this practice is not required of pastors and teachers by God’s Word. What is demanded is that we handle the passages properly.

Notice the verse in Luke’s Gospel after his reading. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him… (4:20 NIV). He read only what applied to the Servant’s ministry that day. Then he had to do a couple other human actions. He rolled up the scroll of Isaiah (taking care of a valuable copy of God’s word), gave it back to the attendant who was in charge of the scrolls of Bible books, and he sat down (taking the position that religious culture expected from someone speaking about God’s Holy Writings.) Again, these were all very human actions that displayed reverence for God and his Word. None of this would have prepared those in the synagogue for the teaching he was about to give.

God has communicated his Holy Word to us through people and he uses people to preach and to teach from it. The Lord Jesus himself demonstrated his humanity as he spoke. His human actions set the stage for the words of divine sovereignty he was about to speak.

Grace and peace, David

“Jesus Is Passing By!” (Part Three)

Luke 18:35-43

“Receive your sight.” Jesus told him. “Your faith has saved you.” Instantly he could see, and he began to follow him, glorifying God. All the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God (18:42-43 CSB).

Lastly, we see the happy outcome (18:42-43): Jesus caused the blind man to see. This was the last of his healing miracles in the Gospels. As he drew near to Jerusalem, his action demonstrated that the Lord, the Great I Am, had come to his people. The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower. It will blossom abundantly and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; he will save you.” Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped (Isaiah 35:1-5 CSB).

He healed by word alone. Notice that there was no set pattern for the way that Jesus gave sight to the blind. The power was not in his method but in his ability. What we need in our local churches is not a successful method. We need only to see the Lord act in his sovereign mercy. We should become serious about asking the Lord Jesus to act for his glory among us. Is there any outlook that the western church of our time will recover the conviction that the Lord Almighty acts when his people pray? Now we hear of demographics, polished programs for children, nice facilities, worship bands, skilled communicators, etc. as churches try to get religious consumers to buy their pretty spiritual package they are marketing.

He healed the blind man immediately. There was no question about whether the man could see or not. Can you hear the man shouting? “I can see! I can see!”

What a happy day had come for the former blind man! He went from darkness to light, because he met Jesus the Son of God, who acted with power in his life. Has that happened to you? Have you by faith met the Lord Jesus? Can you now by faith see the glory of God in Jesus Christ?

God received praise because of Jesus.

The man became a follower of Jesus. And what did he do? He praised God. Isn’t that what followers of Jesus should do? God’s first purpose for us is worship. It’s not about you! It’s about the living God. When we join to praise the Lord, it’s not a matter of what we like or don’t like. It’s all about exalting God, whether a song was written in the 1730s or in the 2010s. We ought to magnify God with all our hearts. Lift up your voice and say, “Praise God, I can see! I can see! I can see! Praise his glorious name!” Don’t sit so silent. Or are you still blind?

The watching crowds also began to praise God. It’s hard to argue when you see a blind man receive his sight. The greatest attraction a church can have is to have the Lord changing people. “Look how they love each other!”

Grace and peace, David

“Jesus Is Passing By!” (Part Two)

Luke 18:35-43

Then those in front told him to keep quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to him. When he came closer, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord,” he said, “I want to see.” “Receive your sight.” Jesus told him. “Your faith has saved you.” (CSB)

Next we hear the blind beggar’s interview with Jesus (18:39-42). He had a problem getting to the interview. Was it a lack of transportation or a scheduling conflict? No, people tried to hinder the man from meeting Jesus (18:39).

They may have had various motives, such as self-centeredness or prejudice or disagreement with him. The incident is sort of an acted parable for what happens countless times. If someone starts to become interested in Jesus Christ, other people will try to hinder him or her from meeting Jesus. Many times this hindrance will come from family members: husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, cousins and in-laws. People don’t like anything that might interfere with their weekend beer parties and pleasure trips. If someone really meets God through Jesus Christ, they’re sort of ruined for weekend carousing or leisure, which is all most people lust after in some form or the other.

Their opposition did not stop the blind beggar. He understood his desperate condition. He was blind and he wanted to see. And the only One who could help him was now very close. He couldn’t let this opportunity pass by. Jesus might never be this near again. So he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” People don’t like the ruckus that people who really believe that Jesus is the Messiah make. They have various objections: It’s not necessary; it’s not proper; it’s too loud; it’s disruptive, etc. etc. Guess what? The blind man wanted to disrupt the whole parade into Jericho. He had one thing on his mind: He wanted to see and Jesus could make him see. If you get around people who want to see and believe Jesus can do just that for them, you’re going to learn something. They will disrupt your quiet little parades into Jericho.

We need to have our quiet little walks into Jericho (metaphorical for a quiet, orderly church services) disrupted by some blind people who want to see. How much are you willing to see your sweetly ordered, neatly packaged walk through life disrupted? Your answer will reveal how much you want other people to see Jesus or perhaps it might reveal that you yourself have never seen him. When people who have lived years in sin come to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior, their change of world and life view will disrupt their family and their friendships. An old chorus written by Stanton W. Gavitt said, “Things are different now, something happened to me, when I gave my heart to Jesus. Things are different now—I was changed, it must be, when I gave my heart to Him. Things I loved before have passed away, things I love far more have come to stay. Things are different now, something happened to me when I gave my heart to Jesus.”

Jesus talked with the blind man (18:40-41). Jesus took charge of the situation and ordered the blind man to be brought to him. Jesus directed the blind man to his source of hope—Jesus himself. “What do you want me to do for you?” Any mercy coming to the blind man will be coming from Jesus Christ, the Son of David. He did not volunteer to be a medical advisor concerning ways that the blind man could restore his own sight. Jesus was examining the man’s faith in him.

What would you really like Jesus to do for you? What would you like Jesus to do for the church you attend? I would like to see the Lord Jesus giving spiritual sight to those who are spiritually blind, wouldn’t you? The blind man told Jesus that he wanted to see. Notice his respect for Jesus. He called Jesus “Lord”. The Spirit of God was at work (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3). Has the Spirit of the living God ever worked in your heart (your inner being), so that you cried out, “I want to see you, Lord?”

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart; I want to see You; I want to see You: To see You high and lifted up shinin’ in the light of Your glory; pour out Your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy” (Michael W. Smith).

Grace and peace, David

“Jesus Is Passing By!” (Part One)

Luke 18:35-43

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Hearing a crowd passing by, he inquired what was happening. “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” they told him. So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (CSB)

One summer we took a “presidential vacation” in Ohio, visiting various historical sites of Presidents McKinley, Hayes and Garfield. As we were concluding our visit at Garfield’s estate, a woman from the museum came up to us and asked if we would like to meet the great grandson of President Garfield. We were able to talk with him, and he autographed a book that I had purchased about his great grandfather. That was unusual, but then a day or so later as we visited my parents in Dover, Ohio, our then current president passed through Dover on his way to a meeting in Cambridge. My uncle and aunt went downtown with many others to see the President of the United States pass by. Yes, people are interested in meeting famous people or their relatives, even in the twenty-first century. So it should not surprise us that in the first century, a time with far less distractions, people eagerly thronged to see Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Prophet of God and worker of miracles. Let us consider what happened one day.

A blind beggar heard about Jesus approaching Jericho (18:35-38). Think about the sad condition of this man. Until we suffer, most people just coast through life, unaware of the challenges that other people face.

  • He was blind. The tragedy of not being able to see is a great disability in any day. But in the first century, there were no forms of public assistance. In a dark world, the blind were totally dependent on other people.
  • Most disabilities were accompanied by poverty, and here we see this man reduced to the task of begging. None of us can understand the degradation that this brought to the blind in that day.
  • He was dependent on others for information about what was happening around him. Since we are created in God’s image, we want to know about the world he has made and what is happening in it. Clearly, this man had heard about Jesus, and had done a lot of talking and thinking about the identity and significance of Jesus.

Think about the drama of this situation. Jesus was on his way to Jericho and from there to Jerusalem to offer the final Passover sacrifice—the sacrifice of himself for sinners. Only twelve men besides Jesus knew what is going to happen; actually, Jesus told had told them, but though they knew, they didn’t understand. All that the crowds knew was that the amazing Teacher and worker of miracles named Jesus was passing through their town and they wanted to be part of the event.

The blind man, however, could not figure out what caused all the commotion. He could hear the noise of the crowds and he knew that it was not normal. So he used what resources that he had available. He asked, what is happening?

Now, we are not given any background information about what this blind beggar may have heard about Jesus. Obviously, he has heard some positive information about Jesus and what Jesus is able to do. But in his inner being, his thoughts about Jesus had generated some ideas, and he made a remarkable deduction: Jesus is the Son of David.

Dr. Luke has already taught us the underlying issues in this theology book that we call the Gospel of Luke. Think of Luke 4:17-21; 7:20-23; 9:18-20; 11:29-32.  What the man did was reason through the acts of Jesus in the light of the interpretative framework of the Scriptures and then he came to the conclusion that Jesus must be the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the Son of David. And if he is the Messiah, then he would able to help him out of his suffering. So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What is your view of Jesus? That is a very significant question to have answered. Until you have true and adequate answers about his identity and significance, you will never depend on him for forgiveness and eternal life. Do you think that Jesus can help you out of your troubles?

Grace and peace, David

Jesus Explains God’s Plan (Part Three)

Luke 18:31-34

Then he took the Twelve aside and told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” They understood none of these things. The meaning of the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (CSB).

Jesus’ teaching was not understood by the disciples. We, very sadly, have a “superstar” mentality in the American church regarding preachers and teachers. People assume that if they had a mega-gifted pastor that both they and their church would be much better. That assumption is wrong for several reasons, but notice in this text that the disciples understood nothing about what Jesus had taught them. None of these things! Now Jesus is the Teacher. Obviously, there are other factors than a great teacher in our growth in grace and knowledge.

Let’s learn some lessons about ourselves.

  • We are not nearly as smart and insightful as we give ourselves credit for being. Here were men who constantly heard the Lord Jesus teach for three years and who were eyewitnesses of many miraculous signs, and they didn’t understand any of this! How much of the Christian message can you explain to someone outside? Truthfully, what can you do? Picture yourself being asked tough questions by your friends. What can you tell them about God, mankind, sin, Christ and the way of salvation? If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for three years, you ought to be able to explain a lot!
  • We must not lose patience with one another in the church. We expect to say something once and everyone immediately understands. Peter, John and Matthew all wrote significant books in the Bible later on, but here they don’t know anything! However, we must apply ourselves to learning the Bible. Simply doing little devotional readings will not accomplish this.

Let’s learn some lessons about grace.

  • This text does not say who hid this from them or how it was hidden. Neither do the parallel passages in Matthew or Mark. So again, it is useless to speculate. Every Christian must learn to be silent where the text of the Bible is silent. That is a tough lesson to learn, because we have so many questions!
  • However, following on the heels of Christ’s instruction about the impossibility of salvation by human effort, we ought to think about how this lack of understanding can be corrected. This only happens when God teaches the truth to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit gave the New Testament Scriptures though the apostles and prophets, he explained the meaning and significance of the cross and the empty tomb to them. We have that explanation written in God’s word. We should praise God for this written instruction. But in another sense, we still need the work of the Holy Spirit, if we are to understand. Praise God; he can open minds darkened by sin to the glories of saving grace.

Has the Spirit of God given you an understanding of the sufferings and glories of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man? Are you relying on him for salvation? What is impossible for you is very possible for God.

Grace and peace, David

Jesus Explains God’s Plan (Part Two)

Luke 18:31-34

Then he took the Twelve aside and told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” They understood none of these things. The meaning of the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (CSB).

Next, let’s consider Jesus’ message and its significance. Here was God’s Prophet prophesying. I hope no one is thinking, “Oh, that’s nice. So what’s the big deal?” This is very significant! Christ is fulfilling part of his mission. He came as the Prophet that everyone must listen to. He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). And what did Jesus say? He told us how God can do the impossible and save people who cannot save or help save themselves. He told us God’s plan for salvation, and this plan is based on what Jesus, the Son of Man, would do. Here Jesus said nothing about being rich or keeping the commands. Instead, he turned the attention of the Twelve from themselves to Him (Luke 18:23-27).

The essence of true Christian preaching and teaching is to take your attention off yourself and to put it on God through Jesus his Son.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (NIV). To live godly in this age, we must have a Christ-focused mindset. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).

This was at least the third time that Jesus had told them these things. He had previously told them after Peter’s confession of Christ and after the healing of the boy with the evil spirit. Our Lord provided a pattern of gentle and patient instruction (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25; 4:2).

Today’s Christians are infected with the impatient attitude of our culture. We think that we should see instant results. Long term ministry is a recipe for disaster in such minds. “Why take the time to win friends? If they’re going to get saved, they’ll be saved in one week’s time.” Christians seem to be on an endless quest for some method that will produce instant revival. If someone won’t listen the first time, then we hear, “Well that didn’t work. What else can we try?” However, shouldn’t we imitate the Lord’s patience?

What was the content of his message (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-11)?

The sufferings of Christ – Jesus went into detail about these matters.

  • He talked about being handed over to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). Notice that the New Testament does not blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. Sadly, even thinking twenty-first century Christians must bear the appalling failures of Christians over the previous seventeen hundred years or so.
  • He told them some of the sufferings he would endure before his death: mockery, insults, being spat on, and being flogged. Jesus is bracing his followers against the storm that would soon break. He pointed out the first rumbles of thunder.
  • He would be killed. In this instance, he did not mention crucifixion, but since the Gentiles, meaning especially the Romans, would be in charge of such matters, it was easy to understand what was meant. There were too many crosses with Jewish victims on them around Palestine.

We should not lose the horror of these words. The sacrifice of Jesus, our Great High Priest, was not pretty. It was not an art form to be admired. Sin brought death to the human race, and the bloody death of Christ satisfied God’s wrath against human sin. We do very well when we bow and worship the Lord. “Why should you love me so?” Worship is not about what you like; it is about what Christ did and your humble, believing response to redeeming love and mercy. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my God, should die for me?” Yes Lord, especially that cruel, accursed death on the cross!

The glory that would follow – In the midst of the deepest gloom, Jesus told the brightest hope—his resurrection on the third day. You cannot stop the Christian message at the cross and the tomb. The good news is not Mary mourning over her dead Son. It is not Christ’s followers wandering around saying, “We had hoped…” (Luke 24:21 NIV). No, no, instead it is the all-powerful Lord, ripping death apart in becoming Son of God with power. The earth is shaking, heaven is opened, and the Son of God brings many sons and daughters to glory! Amen!

Grace and peace, David

Jesus Explains God’s Plan (Part One)

Luke 18:31-34

Then he took the Twelve aside and told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” They understood none of these things. The meaning of the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (CSB).

Have you ever tried to explain something difficult to a three-year-old? “Today daddy wants to tell you how to write a macro in Microsoft Word. Now do you understand what a macro is?” You immediately hear a small giggle and a happy voice saying, “Macaroni!” You know you have a long road ahead of you.

Now consider the situation that Jesus the Son of God was in. He had just said to those who had heard his interview with the rich young ruler that salvation is impossible for humans, but very possible for God. Jesus wants to explain this to his twelve closest followers, so he takes them aside from the crowd to talk with them. Will they understand? Let’s think of Jesus’ method of explanation.

First, Jesus took the Twelve aside. He gave the secrets of the kingdom of God to them (Luke 8:10). The Lord makes the truth known to his people. He trained the Twelve to be his witnesses (cf. Acts 1:8). They needed to know what would happen, so when it happened, the Holy Spirit would be able to bring this to their memory. You’ve surely had the experience of someone explaining something to you. At first you couldn’t follow what was going on during the explanation, but when you begin to do what was explained, you suddenly realize, “I’ve got it!”

Jesus told his friends what would happen to him. Jesus knows what his friends need to know, as well as what we don’t need to know, in order to live by faith. But we should realize that he reveals things to us as his friends, so that we might know that the living God is our friend. What he doesn’t tell us is for our benefit. There is such a problem as information overload. We need to learn certain matters well, because they are crucial to the Christian way of life. Other things can wait, if we need to learn them at all.  For example, it is far more important for us to know how to please God now and how to tell others the good news than to know any of the intricacies of future events (cf. Matthew 6:34). They needed to know exactly what would happen to him. He prepared them to face very difficult events.

The Lord Jesus pointed the Twelve to the Scriptures (everything that is written through the prophets).

  • He had confidence in written revelation. He used it in his teaching. Jesus constantly modeled to people that we can build our lives on the written word of God. “Look at your life and the world from God the Father’s viewpoint.” I must speak bluntly. We live in an age when much “information” is simply human opinion without any regard for accuracy. People say and write things to manipulate, not to communicate what was formerly called “truth”. (Listen to how people talk; for example, “all things are relative.” We need the Scriptures to interpret life correctly (John 17:17).
  • He had a “Christ-structured” view of the Scriptures. He saw them as communicating a message about God’s plan in him. We do not understand the Bible properly unless we know and act on the fact that it tells about how God accomplishes his purposes of salvation and judgment for his glory in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you share Christ’s view of the Scriptures? When you encounter challenging situations in your life, do you choose to frame the solution in terms of the Scriptures or human opinion?

Grace and peace, David

Profiting from Teachers (Part Two)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus uses God’s word to equip the church for her spiritual progress. Along with the word, he has given us the Spirit of God, whom he poured out on his people. The work of the Spirit is essential for anyone truly to profit spiritually. And along with the Spirit and the word, the Lord has given us gifted men. How can you profit from these gifted men?

Hopefully, you have a pastor-teacher that preaches and teaches regularly through entire books of the Bible. I will offer no objection to the occasional stand-alone message or even to occasional textual and topical messages. Sometimes there are glaring needs to be addressed in a local congregation. Sometimes a pastor and the congregation need a break from a long teaching series, like one through the book of Genesis or Acts. The people should not need to ask for a break. A pastor should be sensitive enough to lead his flock into other pastures for a short time. For example, I used to break from a regular teaching series in the summer, especially during July and August when people went on vacation. In the Bible studies I lead, we usually study an entire book of the Bible. For example, on Thursday mornings, we are going through the Gospel of John. But currently, we are looking at some of the Psalms during the summer months.

However, you may not have access to a sound teacher that leads you through whole books of the Book of books. And even if you do, you need to supplement such teaching with study on your own. To do that requires two actions that we might be reluctant to do: work and invest our time in the Scriptures. People use up too much time in “binge watching” TV shows and movies. I can understand the perceived need to escape from pressure by chilling in recreational activities. What would you do if you didn’t have such things and still had the pressure? Consider David’s thoughts in Psalm 19:7-11, in particular 19:8. The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up (CSB).

So then, how can you profit? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the text of a Bible book at least five times. Always begin with your personal reading and read slowly, attentively, and carefully. Look for words or ideas that are repeated, like in Christ in Ephesians.  Pay attention to connecting words, such as but, for, therefore, if… then, if, so then. Read by paragraphs to gain entire thoughts. What is the main point the writer is making? Read like this with a friend to gain their insights.
  • Have a good study Bible, like the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. As a pastor, I accumulated many study Bibles, and the notes in most of them are not worthwhile or are theologically biased. Doctrinal bias affects everyone, but unless you are well-versed in where the editors are coming from, you can easily be misled. You need a worthwhile study Bible for its introductory material about the particular book you plan to study, and for a good outline of the book. A worthwhile Study Bible will not only have an outline, but will point you to the book’s purpose and to its major themes.
  • Read a worthwhile book on Biblical Theology. This will help you grasp the overall message of the Bible while you focus on a certain book. I will suggest three: According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ from Beginning to End by Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum, and for the ambitious, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by James Hamilton.

This is a starting place to give you access to teachers of the Bible. But you must invest time and work into reading them. I try to walk outside a lot, when the weather permits. (My doctors tell me to avoid extreme heat and cold.) After years of experience in walking, I will testify that the hardest steps to take are those first steps to get up and begin walking. I have climbed mountains, and the sight of the elevation of the peaks seemed too difficult to make the attempt. But for the good of your soul, I plead with you to invest the time and the work to study God’s word and to learn from the wisdom of teachers that the Lord Jesus has provided for you.

Grace and peace, David

Profiting from Teachers (Part One)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus cares for his people, the church. The letter to the Ephesians displays the Lord’s love for us in numerous ways; one of these is the giving of gifted people in the church to help them serve. As all the people serve, the spiritual body of Christ, his gathering of people saved by his grace, is built up. Today, we want to focus on benefiting from teachers that Christ has given to us all, including teachers profiting from teachers.

The NIV translation follows the structure of the Greek text, which speaks of four types of gifted men, the last mentioned being “pastor-teachers”. It is too easy for us to want to read this fourth type through the grid of 2,000 years of church history and our denominational views that rigidly control our thinking. I also know that some want to divide the last mentioned into two kinds, pastors and teachers. Without getting hopelessly tied up in such disputes, I want us to recognize that the Lord Christ has given us teachers for our benefit.

During much of church history, Christ’s people could be helped by teachers in one of two ways, which are still available to us. They could listen to the teacher in person or they could read what the teacher had written or spoken. Hearing skilled and Biblically faithful teachers was limited by transportation issues. Even by the time of Whitefield (1730- 1760), people had to walk or slowly ride distances of five to ten miles to hear the famous preacher. That required a tremendous investment of time and energy for hardworking subsistence farmers and shopkeepers. By the mid-1800s, it was much easier for preachers like Spurgeon to travel around Great Britain for people to hear him personally. Before the printing press, access to the written word was limited because books were expensive to produce in time and money. The invention of the printing press dramatically increased the spread of Biblical teaching. God also used the skill of notetakers to record the spoken words of men like Luther and Calvin in those days, so that their sermons, lectures, and “table talk” were spread across Europe and eventually North America.

We ought not to underestimate how all this contributed to healthy, critical thinking about our faith. People could read many teachers that they never had an opportunity to hear personally. Coupled with the regular teaching by pastors through books of the Bible, a store of knowledge gradually accumulated on many books of the Bible. This was, and remains, uneven in accuracy and usefulness, but it still has aided the church’s overall knowledge of God’s Word.

Another help has been the study of the three Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) since the time of the Reformation, coupled with the discovery of many more ancient manuscripts than were available for about 1,400 years. This has enabled teachers to better understand what God the Spirit actually says in his word. Historical and archaeological research have also aided teachers in learning the Biblical message. In addition, the rise of Biblical theology (knowing the storyline of God’s revelation of his glory in Christ) has helped the overall interpretation of the Biblical text.

In this digital age of information, we have enormous and fast access to Biblical teaching from the early church to the present day. This is a great help, if we are wise and discerning. We must know the faith once delivered to the faith to be able to process this information accurately. The question is, “How is the typical Christian able to profit from all this information?” To provide a starting point, we will provide some suggestions in the next post.

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part Four)

Luke 18:18-30

Seeing that he became sad, Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God (18:24-27 CSB).

Jesus presented to all the necessity of God’s grace.

He illustrated how hard it is let go of an idol of the heart. The camel was the largest land animal of the area. The eye of a needle is a tiny opening. It is totally impossible for a large camel to pass through such a small opening! Jesus wanted everyone to understand that salvation is totally impossible through human effort, works, or merit. Since we are all so filled with pride in ourselves, we need to hear this over and over and over again. We cannot save ourselves!

Observe how Christ enlarged everyone’s understanding. To inherit eternal life or to have treasure in heaven is equivalent to entering the kingdom of God. The people of his time thought that riches were a sign of God’s favor. “If God loves anyone, he must love the rich! Look at all the wealth he gives them!” Jesus shocked everyone by declaring that riches are far from a sign of God’s favor and acceptance. In fact, it is impossible for the rich man idolizing and trusting in his riches to be saved. Certainly, people of God’s Word ought to know this. Psalm 73 wrestles through the problem of why the righteous suffer, while the wicked live affluently. King Ahab (among many others) had wealth, but he was far from God and an oppressor.

Those listening were stunned, and they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Notice that they understood that being saved was equivalent to entering the kingdom of God or having treasure in heaven or inheriting eternal life. They all mean the same thing. Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3 NIV). As Jesus went on to teach, this is the action of the Holy Spirit, far beyond human power.

Jesus taught the total necessity of God’s saving grace. It is impossible for a rich ruler or any other person to do anything to earn eternal life. No one can save himself or herself! Is there any hope for anyone? The good news is that what is impossible for all people everywhere is very possible for God. At this point Jesus does not explain to the crowd how God saves people. He merely points them to God. People must become God-focused in their thoughts and ideas. Jesus decided to drive this one point home with great emphasis. In the next section, we see that he took the Twelve aside to explain God’s way of salvation in more detail. That way is through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Do you realize your complete need of God, if you are to have any hope at all of salvation? Christ’s offer of eternal life is clear. “Come, follow me.” Why not change your mind about whatever has a hold on you and cry out to God through Christ, relying totally on him to give you eternal life and treasure in heaven? Your hope is not found in you at all. It is found in Christ alone.

Grace and peace, David