Start the Year with Praise

1 Timothy 1:17

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (CSB).

At the conclusion of every year, most people conduct at least a casual evaluation of what kind of a year it was for them. Answers range across the whole spectrum from “horribly terrible” to “most excellent”. I can understand the reasons many say, “I’m glad this year is over! I hope the new year will be much better!” My wife and I went through a series of years (2010-2015) that we were glad to see end. Looking back now, I think we can see the hand of God’s blessing on us at all times during those years, even though we suffered. Our Sovereign God was very merciful when it was hard to discern his hand of blessing. And we’re thankful!

Regardless of how you and I evaluated the past year, I know how we ought to begin 2020: with joyful praise to the Lord our God! If you had a difficult year, remember to keep the living God in your focus in the new year. If you think last year was great, don’t forget the Father in heaven who has loaded you with benefits.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, a godly response will require ongoing repentance and faith. By this I mean that we will need to have our thoughts of the true and living God transformed by his word, and then to trust him each step of the way. It is important to both have our minds renewed (Rm 12:1-2) and to commit ourselves to the Lord. It doesn’t do any good and even is spiritually harmful to say, “I will trust God better this year,” if we have wrong ideas and thoughts about God. For example, can you trust God if you have doubts about his wisdom or control over all things or his kindness or his love? The answer should be obvious. Can you trust God if you wrongly imagine that you have the right to decide what is best for you, or if God is required to make your life pleasant? Not at all!

So then, how can we have right ideas of God and attitudes about him, so that we desire to praise the true and living God? I think our text highlights some characteristics of God that will transform our minds and hearts.

  • God is King. He’s the Boss. He directs all things according to the counsel of his own will. While he joyfully includes us in his work, he doesn’t ask for our advice. This is rather difficult for people to accept who want to be directing life in this world. I hear too much about people asserting that “we have a free will”. I’ve never heard anyone ask, “Does God have a free will?”
  • God is immortal. He’s not affected by time, human events, and human opinions about him. He never changes in his glorious, holy essence. He is God, and there is no other. He will be the same holy and loving God for us throughout the year.
  • God is invisible. He is spirit, and we cannot perceive his presence with our physical senses. People long for various physical signs that God is present. That makes idolatry extremely popular. Too many contemporary churches try to make the spiritual physically apparent by the use of lights, fog machines, and the interior design of their buildings. This is not different from churches in the past that used paintings, sculpture, stained glass windows, and soaring architecture to try to achieve similar results. But God is invisible. You must trust his revelation of himself. The Spirit of Glory resides in every believer, but we do not have halos or a supernatural glow!
  • God is the only God. He has no equals or competitors. He is unique; he is holy. This truth demands that we set our minds and love on him above all. It also requires us to rejoice that he is God and not we ourselves.

May God give us the grace to think and live in conformity with his revelation of himself. Then we will be able to praise him during 2020.

Grace and peace, David

Reactions to the Birth of Christ

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV).

During this Christmas season, our granddaughter, who is almost three, learned the first stanza of the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings”. I think we all rejoice when young children can use their voices to sing the praises of the King of kings. It is always good to sing praises to the Lord, especially when we sing about one of the important events in the history of redemption.

When a child sings, it is interesting to listen carefully to their words, since they usually vary from the actual words of the song. When Elise sings this carol, she says, “We five kings….” We smile at her artistic license in departing from the traditional text. She makes no change to the Biblical texts in the number of kings (actually Magi), since Matthew only refers to them in the plural without counting them. Her devotion to singing to the Great King is an example to us all.

So now let us turn our minds to worship and consider four reactions to Christ’s birth. One of the key words in our text is the word “worship”. Let’s look at the people mentioned in the text and see how many of them desired to worship Jesus Christ the Lord.

Many people were disturbed (2:1-3). The source of much of this disruption came from King Herod. When an oppressive ruler is stirred up about something, others have reason for concern. King Herod had murdered his wife, three sons, a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law, an uncle, and many others. He would tolerate no opposition from anyone under his authority. Nor would he allow any potential rival to his throne to live.

The people of Jerusalem were caught up in the unrest. With a man like Herod in power, the people would be very concerned about what might happen from the appearance of these visitors with their scary question. What might Herod do? Who might get caught by his suspicious inquisition? Yes, the people had sufficient reason to be troubled. Did they pray for God’s protection from the king’s cruelty? Did hope arise in their hearts because of this news of a newborn? We do not know. None of them appear to have had any public interest in the birth of a Messiah. Fear ruled over worship. We need to show hope to a troubled world, because we know that God’s King has been born.

Religious scholars were disinterested (2:4-6). They knew the facts about the promised Messiah. They knew what God had said through the prophet Micah some seven hundred years before. They certainly knew the other prophecies about the Messiah that were written by David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, too. To men well taught in the Law and the Prophets, this was an easy question.

Yet they lacked a zeal for discovery. All Jerusalem was buzzing over the inquiry of the Magi. They should have wondered what was happening when the Gentile king ruling over them asked about their Messiah. But they were not stirred to pursue these matters. They knew a lot, but they lacked any deep, life-changing interest. So it is with many religious people. Perhaps they will have heard or will hear later the story of Christmas. But will they seek to know its meaning? Will they strive to know more about the newborn King? We ought to model the right kind of interest, rather than being content with correct information that the Savior was born over two thousand years ago.

King Herod was deceitful (2:7-8). He played the religious game carefully. He did not want to arouse speculation about the coming of the Messiah among the people. So he had to act quietly. He did not want to make the Magi suspicious before he gained some more information about how to identify the newborn King. Clearly, he was unaware of the nature of the star, inferring that it was simply some mumbo jumbo of astrologers. For this reason, he pretended to be a devout worshiper of the Lord.

His intent was far from worship of the Messiah. The sequel to this account shows what Herod intended. It was murder. Let us stay far away from his spirit. Let us love God’s peace.

The Magi were delighted (2:9-12).

  • They acted on the information they had received. It was meager compared to the riches of God’s word that we now have. But they made a long journey that cost them money, hardship, and time in order to find the baby King.
  • They rejoiced when they saw the star. They experienced God leading them when no one else could or would. It is not certain what this star was, but it was clearly special, since it led them to the house where Jesus was.
  • They worshiped and honored the baby king. Filled with joy, they gave him rich gifts. In response to God’s great gift of his Son, have you given him yourself? He wants you most of all. He welcomes you to know his surpassing greatness and love.

We should not be surprised when we encounter different reactions to Christ and Christmas. Besides the above mentioned, people may react in other ways. Most people are mired in the responses of unbelief, regardless of their form. They have been part of the human situation since the first Christmas.

In this account we learn anew how God can supply for his people in surprising ways. In this text we see a few of them: a star for the Magi, gifts for the young family, which will help them during their escape to Egypt, and dreams to provide a special warning for the Magi and to give Joseph direction to protect his family. God is active in our lives, whether or not we recognize him.

God’s love is seen in his willingness to send his Son to be the Savior of sinners. God sent his Son to save oppressors and the oppressed, the disinterested and those ready to listen, the deceivers and the deceived, those far off and those who are near. It matters not who we are and what we’ve done, Christ was born to save people like us. How deeply are you interested in the birth of Jesus? Yes, you are reading this post when you could be wasting your life on frivolity. Obviously, you have some kind of interest. But that isn’t the question. Are you interested enough to dig deeper, to learn more? Or have you grown too accustomed to these words to be stirred by them?

Grace and peace, David

Be Thankful

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15 NIV)

Thanksgiving. Most think of it as the holiday that kicks of the Holiday season. It features food, family, food, friends, food, football, food… Well, you get the idea. If you wanted to add a “spiritual sounding” word, you could have added “fellowship”, but often that sounds like “food” to many Christians. (The “Fellowship Hall” in the church building is where you eat, right?) Sadly, to many people, Thanksgiving is the time when you gather for feasting and hopefully fun, and there is NOTHING wrong with feasting and fun. But feasting and fun is all that is thought about, except for a quick prayer before the meal.

However, those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ have a higher and wider perspective. We know the One to whom we surely must give thanks. So, on the special day set apart for giving thanks in our culture, we will be thankful! Let’s think about some matters for which to give thanks. Feel free to use these suggestions, and develop your own.

  • We thank God for God himself. Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name (Psalm 103:1 NIV) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his faithful love endures forever
    (Psalm 107:1 CSB). Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds (Psalm 9:11 NASB). For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 NLT).
  • We thank God for saving grace. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:2-3 ESV). Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV). Giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light (Colossians 1:12 CSB).
  • We thank God for our family. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord (Proverbs 19:14 ESV). Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him (Psalm 127:3 NIV)
  • We thank God for other believers. But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13 CSB). I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints (Philemon 1:4-5 ESV).
  • We thank God in all circumstances. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NIV). Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening (Acts 16:25 NLT).

So then, we have much for which to give thanks, and the above mentioned is only a starting place. As you read God’s Word, look for what the Spirit mentions that God has given to us, and then make those items on your praise list. Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace and peace, David

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