Mending Christians (Part Two)

Galatians 6:1-2

Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (CSB).

In our last post we saw that we need to be gentle restorers of believers that have been overtaken in any wrongdoing. Second, we need to be cautious restorers (6:1b)

The cautious restorer realizes that vigilance over one’s own soul is a crucial part of helping someone else. This is important for at least two reasons. First in seeking to help someone up, we watch out that we do not fall. When we seek to restore someone, we will come into contact with their sin to some extent. Sin spreads. Evil seeks ways to corrupt others, perhaps by taking advantage of a casual or overconfident attitude. We all should learn from the lifeguard’s method of rescuing a drowning swimmer. Keep your heart a safe distance from exposure. In this Covid-19 era, we can illustrate by saying, “Use the mask of the shield of faith.” Keep your spiritual armor on. Second in seeking to help someone, be careful that you do not complicate their problem. Physicians of old time who did not know about bacteria would treat wounds with unclean hands. If you try to treat someone else’s heart with spiritually unclean hands, you could introduce another serious infection into the person you’re attempting to help. For example, if you lack joy in the Lord, you might inject a gloomy outlook or cold discipline into them as a supposed new normal.

The cautious restorer considers the danger of temptation. Immature believers have poor spiritual vision. They see the evil of sin but fail to perceive the dangers of events that lead to sin. They suppose restoration is an easy matter, grow careless in spiritual duties like private prayer and self-examination, and are suddenly entangled in the sin themselves. The mature believer clearly sees where temptation can lead, and so they strive to avoid it (Matthew 26:41). As medical people in our day face great danger from disease in helping the sick, so spiritual restorers face all the evils of contamination from the new paganism of our day.

Third, we need to be burdened restorers. (6:2) Restoration is a difficult work. It is not a job for those who confuse Christianity with a life of ease and pleasure, which is free from pain and suffering. Satan’s great lie to the church has been that salvation is a vacation from service to God and others.

The burdened restorer accepts the burdens that must come on them when they help someone. Frankly, the task can be wearisome, because you find that when you lift the load off your brother or sister’s back, you must carry it on your own. It will cost you time and pain. Some of these burdens, besides being heavy, are also distasteful. Think of a nurse who must change dressings on wounds. It is ugly when you discover that the person whom you have been serving in love has fallen into the sin again and their situation has moved from being complicated to complex. Note very well: We do not overlook the burdens of the fallen, but we try to unburden them, so that they can stand again.

The burdened restorer finds that in doing this, he or she fulfills the law or instruction of Christ. They imitate Christ and discover that Christ’s ideas, attitudes, words, and actions have been learned by them in a new way. They make progress and learn more of the Lord’s joy in serving others. They see his peace “flowing through their fingertips” as their burden lifting touch brings restoration. Through faith they learn obedience to the Lord.

Christ’s law or “binding instruction” emphasizes love for one another. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34 NIV). My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12 NIV). This verse “shows that to love one another as Christ loved us may lead us not to some heroic, spectacular deed of self-sacrifice, but to the much more mundane and unspectacular ministry of burden-bearing” (Stott).

It is time for the church to stop wishing things were better and to begin to follow God’s plan for change. This means we must be gentle, cautious, burdened restorers of our fallen brothers and sisters. We must help them recover the strength to stand by faith in Christ, to walk again, and then to become those who can help others.

Grace and peace,
David

Mending Christians (Part One)

Galatians 6:1-2

Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (CSB).

This world is a place of where everything continually needs repair. Oh, that everything would stay in a “brand new” condition! But cars, clothes, furniture and homes all require repair work.

People, yes, Christian people, need restoration, too. And as a faithful servant of God, the apostle Paul sought to mend the broken churches of Galatia. John Flavel said the following well. “And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labors, as the loss of them, that kills us. It is not with us, as with other laborers: they find their work as they leave it, so do not we. Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yea, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness: but welcome all, if we can but approve ourselves Christ’s faithful servants.”

In pursuit of this goal, Paul gives some positive, practical steps the church, meaning the people of God and not an institution, must take, as it seeks to keep in step with the Spirit.

In this post we will consider the first of three qualities of a Christian who mends other Christians.

We need to be gentle restorers (6:1a). The atmosphere in the Galatian church had been that of “law keeping for acceptance”. This produces a harsh and judgmental attitude among people. “It is easy for certain types of religious people to sit in judgment on one who has suddenly yielded to some moral temptation, to make their disapproval manifest, but this is not the way of Christ” (Bruce). Let me be so bold as to put it this way. I wonder if some pastors and teachers have real difficulty understanding why the Holy Spirit directed the apostle to write the last two chapters of Galatians. Patience requires much more than talking to a person once about their “sin problem” and then demanding immediate change. If you truly want to help restore others, you must learn a few “four letter words”, like love, time, hear, care, wait, feel, and pain. This is not a task for someone who wants to resolve everything in thirty minutes like TV sitcoms.

How can people be helped properly (and therefore best) in such a situation?

The gentle restorer recognizes that other believers struggle with sin. His own sins and failures remind him that other saints stumble also (cf. Matthew 7:2-5). “Sin” is a trespass, a stepping aside out of the way, rather than keeping in step with the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5). Shocking as it might sound to the self-righteous and those pleased with themselves, the Lord’s followers can find themselves “caught” in a trespass. It is easy to wander off the right way.

The gentle restorer knows who can help and how they can help. Let’s think of both aspects.

All Christians (“you who are spiritual”) can help (Romans 15:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Certainly, those who are most skilled can help the best. I would not disagree with the concept of training Christians to help others. I have been trained and constantly help train others in my teaching ministry. The idea is not to do an end run around the pastors and teachers that Christ has placed in his church. And we have different spiritual gifts that enable some to do what others can’t do. But too often in a professional therapeutic culture we can miss the big idea that restoration is much more than giving “expert” advice or counsel. It is not a simple matter of the pastor and elders meeting with the one in need of restoration. (By the way, in our time, pastors and elders have more training and interest in leading a “church” in numerical and financial progress than in the wise restoration of believers.) Full restoration of those overtaken by wrong doing requires the input of the whole body of believers. Kind words and actions from new or unskilled believers can be used by the Spirit of God to bring healing to the heart of the one in need of restoration.

Mending is a work for gentle hands. “To gain this object he explains the purpose of godly reproofs, which is, to restore the fallen and make him sound again. This will never be accomplished by violence or a spirit of accusation, or by fierceness of countenance and words. It remains that we must show a calm and kind spirit if we want to heal our brother” (Calvin). In my years of ministry I have encountered many who were grievously injured by harshness when gentleness could have brought about restoration.

It has been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. Needless to say, this ought not to be. Our model is the Lord himself, not self-righteous leaders who suppose they have some cause or movement or their own reputations to protect. We need to follow the Lord very closely in this matter. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11 NIV). A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3a NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 14 (Part Four)

Will evildoers never understand? They consume my people as they consume bread; they do not call on the Lord. Then they will be filled with dread, for God is with those who are righteous. You sinners frustrate the plans of the oppressed, but the Lord is his refuge (14:4-6 CSB).

In this psalm we see that God’s people may have problems now from the ungodly, but these problems cannot be compared with those that the ungodly face. How is this so? The Lord is opposed to evildoers. Usually they do not think about their condition before the Lord. (Remember that they suppress the knowledge of God.) But there comes a time when the living God steps into their lives and upsets their world. David tells of us this time and its effect on the unrighteous. Then they will be filled with dread… People cannot escape their accountability to God, and when it finally comes upon them, dread overcomes them, since they have no hope. Weep for the hopeless sinner.

What causes their dread? For God is with those who are righteous. Those whom they had oppressed and persecuted are finally recognized to be the favored ones of the Almighty; in fact, God takes his place among them. What is the sinner’s fear is the saint’s comfort. Why can we have confident assurance when all seems to be against us? By faith we know that the Lord of Glory has decided to live with his people. He is not far away; he is present in our company, whether we perceive his presence or not. Let us then lay hold of this truth by faith and so live in hope!

Those who do evil are a source of frustration for the saints, here called the oppressed. There are many things that we would like to see different in the world around us, but evildoers act to oppose and to ruin. What can the saints do? Rest in the Lord. He alone is the refuge of the saints.

Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (Psalm 14:7 CSB).

David concludes this psalm with a prayer that expresses the deepest longing of the elect of God. How we who have been saved by grace look for the fullness of what has been freely given to us by God! The source of change is the Lord himself. When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people…. God himself will set things right for those he loves. What we have in our position, he will make sure that we possess in our condition.

The psalm closes on a high note. King David calls the saints to rejoice and be glad. There is hope in the future for the called. Let us set our sights on that day!

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 14 (Part Three)

Will evildoers never understand? They consume my people as they consume bread; they do not call on the Lord. Then they will be filled with dread, for God is with those who are righteous. You sinners frustrate the plans of the oppressed, but the Lord is his refuge (14:4-6 CSB).

Now that we have heard both sinful mankind’s view of God and God’s view of sinful people, David presents what life is like for rebellious people, and how their lifestyle affects the people of God. The psalmist wants us to know that their way of thinking controls their way of living. People do not merely hold to theories in their heads. They live those theories, and the kind of life flowing from their hearts touches others.

David has stated under inspiration that no one understands. Now he asks a question, “Will evildoers never understand …?” Here we may see a great problem of the unregenerate mind. Having rejected the absolute God, and as a consequence the possibility of knowing absolute truth, they descend into irrationality. Humans were made to live in the truth like fish live in water, but since the Fall, the bias of the heart for evil and against righteousness makes the sinner pursue what is evil. Sinners may say that we ought to treat all people with respect and kindness, but their evil heart forces them into endless contradictions and wicked behavior. You need only consider the American political scene to see how people vilify, belittle, curse, and mock other people, when they had hypocritically declared that all people have worth and dignity.

Verse four provides us with two descriptions of their conduct. First, evildoers are against the godly. They consume my people as they consume bread. The people of darkness hate the people of light. In his holy wisdom, God decreed at the Fall that he would put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. How so? Using Romans 1 as a pattern, God justly gives sinners over to the evil in their hearts, which naturally leads to violence. Why? I suggest a couple reasons: To show the true nature of evil to the righteous; to prevent the righteous from growing too close to evil people and becoming corrupted by them, and to provide opportunity for the righteous to display their character as children of the merciful God.

Observe how completely natural it is for the evildoer to persecute the righteous. It is like seeking to satisfy one’s appetite. “As pikes in a pond eat up little fish, as eagles prey on smaller birds, as wolves rend the sheep of the pasture, so sinners naturally and as a matter of course, persecute, malign, and mock the followers of the Lord Jesus” (Spurgeon).

God’s chosen people need this song, because it is too easy to allow yourself to forget the true character of unsaved people around you. “Oh, how few consult and believe the Scriptures setting forth the enmity of wicked men against God’s people” (Stuckley). Since God the Spirit may be restraining their evil for our good, or they fear the punishment of government, or they may not yet have come into conflict with us because of righteousness, they may act in a civil or kind manner toward us. But when the battle lines are drawn it is another matter! Consider the examples of Haman (Esther 3-7), King Saul (1 Samuel 18:6-12), Herodias (Mark 6:14-29).

 “The world pretends to hate the godly for something else, but the ground of the quarrel is holiness… If the world hated Christ, no wonder that it hates us… John 15:18… this shows the world’s baseness, it is a Christ-hating and a saint-eating world” (Watson).

Second, evildoers do not call upon the Lord. They have an anti-God bias in their hearts that leads them to follow a different course of action from God’s chosen ones who do call upon the Lord (Luke 18:7; etc.) A Christian view of life sees God constantly involved in life, and so it is natural to call upon him for help. Since the evildoer suppresses the knowledge of God, he will not think of calling on him in a time of trouble; in other words, he does not honor God as God, but tries to live self-sufficiently. Therefore, they will think it strange when we suggest that God is involved and that he is able to help.

During this time of Covid-19, we do not see people turning to God in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins. That idea is mocked. God and his people are despised. People who are prejudiced against the true and living God will constantly refuse to call upon mercy. So then, what hope is there for them? It is only in the Lord Jesus Christ and the grace of the gospel that comes through him.

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 14 (Part Two)

The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one (14:2-3 CSB)

Having expressed mankind’s view of God and the conduct that flows from that view, David shows us God’s view of mankind. God is revealing what he thinks to us! The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race… What a picture of the infinite and holy God, as if bending down to examine his creatures closely. God is letting us know that his verdict has not been reached by mere hearsay, but that he himself has examined the human heart and the way of life that comes from the heart. As in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord presents himself as a righteous Judge, establishing the facts before bringing judgment (cf. Genesis 18:20-21.) God watches us, and he knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1-6). Now to be examined so closely may comfort us or cause us to feel most uncomfortable, depending on our relationship to the God who knows us.

What has God looked for in his examination? The answer is given: to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. Sin has darkened human understanding. Although God’s revelation of himself is very clear and mankind was created with the capability of understanding it, sin has so affected people that no one understands (Ephesians 4:17-19). In addition, this search of mankind reveals that “no one seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Notice that modern evangelicalism has often denied the truth by claiming that people everywhere are seeking God, or the “Christmas card theology” of “wise men still seek him.” Wise people might, but all sinners are foolish, as we have already seen. What people fail to comprehend is that the sinner wants nothing to do with the true God. He or she will never seek the Holy One. The sinner may seek religion or some kind of a false god, but the God who judges righteously is far from their desire.

Someone might object: “But I know of someone who told me that they looked for God for many years before they found him.” We answer: Let God be true and every person a liar (cf. Romans 3:4). They may have been looking for some way out of personal difficulties or a burdened conscience because of sin, or looking for some kind of spiritual experience, but they were not seeking the true and living God. Instead, the Savior has told us that he is the one who seeks the sinner (Luke 15; 19:10).

Verse three records the condemning result of God’s investigation. While we “listen in his court,” the holy Judge of all announces three charges against all people everywhere:

  • All have turned away… Sinners have turned aside from God himself and from the laws he has commanded us to obey. God himself is the highest good in the universe, and his laws proclaim the best way to live. Yet such is humankind’s perversity that sinners constantly turn aside from good to pursue evil.
  • Notice that the idea of the first phrase of these verses quickly becomes the practice of this second phrase: all alike have become corrupt…” Humans cannot live in a moral vacuum. Having rejected what is good and glorious, sinners seek what stinks with corruption. We may not realize the extent of the corruption, like the person who works where there is objectionable odors often becomes used to them. But the stench is still there! Observe that sinners join in this practice of corruption together (cf. Romans 1:32).
  • As if to make sure that no one wiggles out, David adds in his song, “There is no one who does good, not even one” We often hear of a person doing some noble deed, and may be tempted to think that there might be an exception to this rule. But when we understand that all good actions must proceed from a heart of love for God and others and from a desire to glorify God and to help others, we know that all have failed miserably (Romans 3:23).

Let us not lightly dismiss the words of this psalm. In the words of Spurgeon, “This is the verdict of the all-seeing Jehovah [Yahweh], who cannot exaggerate or mistake… Do we not confess that we by nature are corrupt, and do we not bless the sovereign grace which has renewed us in the spirit of our minds, that sin may no more have dominion over us, but that grace may rule and reign?”

Grace and peace
David

Study of Psalm 14 (Part One)

The fool says in his heart, “There’s no God.” They are corrupt; they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good (14:1 CSB)

This psalm and Psalm 53 are twins; most of Psalm 14 is repeated in Psalm 53 with just a few minor variations. Paul quotes from this psalm in Romans 3:10-12 to prove that all people everywhere are sinners.

Few songs are written like this one. Some have thought that the best music is simply praise or worship songs, usually very upbeat. Others like “therapeutic” music, composed to soothe the soul and to give encouragement. There is nothing wrong with either, as long as you do not restrict your musical diet to either option. The Holy Spirit obviously disagrees with a limited viewpoint. Compare Ephesians 5:19 where the Spirit commends all kinds of music: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (NIV). Our music ought to be doctrinally sound and deep. Shallow music that says little, while fine for little children, only promotes a nebulous, empty Christianity that is not equipped to stand in the day of evil. Read Ephesians 6:10-18 to refresh your memory about the war we are in. In Psalm 14 we find the “sweet psalmist of Israel” singing about the radical corruption of mankind, and as God’s king and prophet, he directed that it be used in public worship. We need to broaden modern worship to declare musically the whole counsel of God.

We can briefly outline Psalm 14 this way.

I.          The world’s foolish creed and lifestyle (14:1).
II.         God’s view of human corruption (14:2-3).
III.       The hope of God’s people in spite of evildoers (14:4-7).

David began with rebellious man’s view of God. He did not pull any punches as he described what all people everywhere are like apart from saving grace. Lost people are fools, because they reject and suppress the knowledge of the true God. Then they exchange the knowledge of God for the worship of idols (Romans 1:18-25). Yet only with the knowledge of God may anyone be wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10 CSB).

The foolish person has a simple creed, “There’s no God.” This is the confession of faith that they say in their own heart. The word used here for heart refers to the totality of a human’s inner nature, mind emotions and will. Notice that we talk to ourselves, but what foolishness we can deceive ourselves with! Someone might object, “But aren’t people everywhere seeking for God?” No, not at all! See the next two verses. People may be religious, but that does not mean that they have any room in their religion for the true and living God (cf. Psalm 10:4; Jeremiah 10:1-10). People may profess anything they choose outwardly, but a lie holds the inner person of the heart. The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV).

We should understand that all sin (rebellion against God, transgression of his laws, falling short of his glory) has an element of practical atheism in it. When we sin, we say in our practice, “There is no God, no Holy One to whom we must give account.” It is like saying to the sun, “I have closed my eyes and I will act like you do not give light on the earth.” But such denials do not change the facts.

The sinner’s problem is basically moral, not an incapability of understanding the truth of God’s existence. God the Spirit communicates in plain, understandable words. People say in their hearts that there is no God, because they have another agenda. Sinners desire to follow their own ways and not walk according to the will of the Lord. David provides us with a description of what life is like when it is lived apart from God.

  • They are corrupt… People are ruined by sin; it destroys those who commit it. One of the great lies of sin is the belief that it will bring true happiness, but the actual result is destruction. Notice that the person is corrupt, and not just the actions. The bad record of activity comes from a bad heart (cf. Mark 7:20-23).
  • The lifestyle is also wrong. The Spirit says it strongly “they do vile deeds” or “detestable actions.” God has no pleasure in our sin; in fact, sin disgusts him.
  • They are unable to perform what is good. There is no one who does good.” Weep for the religious sinner who thinks he or she can be saved by doing good deeds. They cannot! What a ruin is the heart of rebellious people. They do not do good, but they do what is detestable.

Who can find any hope in the sinner? Salvation is found only in the blessed name of Jesus Christ the Lord. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12 NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

After the World Changed (Part Three)

John 21:1-14

The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer clothing around him (for he had taken it off) and plunged into the sea. Since they were not far from land (about a hundred yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. So Simon Peter climbed up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish—153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:7-14 CSB).

After God changed the whole world at Christ’s resurrection from the dead, his disciples had to adjust to living in this new reality. They had already seen Jesus a couple times, and Peter himself had seen Jesus already at least three times (on Resurrection Sunday morning or early afternoon after Mary had met the risen Lord, on that Sunday night, and one week later.) When Peter dived into the water, he was very excited to see the Lord Jesus for the fourth time! Think how you would be in his situation. He had failed the Lord, because of his pride and prayerlessness. But Jesus had been ready to receive him back along with the others and had already recommissioned them (20:19-23). That included Peter. Whatever sorrow Peter still had, and a tragic failure like his would take time to recover from, he still had a great desire to be with his Lord. We should learn from his example. Do not allow your sins to hinder you from returning to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness. He died that we might be forgiven. It is one of the great blessings of the new covenant sealed with his shed blood. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12 NIV).

As Peter swam quickly to the shore, his friends followed in the boat, bringing the net full of fish. The Spirit has not recorded what quick conversation happened between Jesus and his learner (disciple), but can you picture the scene. Peter comes up out of the water dripping wet to appear before the Risen Lord of Glory! It has to make you smile. We can come as we are to Him who sits at the right hand of the Father. We ought to have a bold faith.

When the disciples were on the shore together, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. The Lord Jesus had already started breakfast for his hungry followers. Jesus told them to bring other fish that they had caught that he had provided (both sides were true). Their meal was to be a joint endeavor. This is what the Christian life is like: the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake (Romans 1:5 NIV). We trust the Lord to provide, as we do what his word directs us to do.

After the fish were cleaned and cooked, Jesus invited them to the meal. “Come and have breakfast.” Fellowship with the Lord and one another is a great blessing. Like any other men at such a time, they would have enjoyed the food, talked and joked and laughed, as they shared life with each other. Christ wants us to share and enjoy our lives with him. There are times to celebrate in the life of faith, and we ought to join in the celebration! Having dinners with your whole church or with your small group is not a gimmick to enlarge your group. It is sharing our common humanity to the glory of God.

Notice also that Jesus gave them bread. This would have sent off echoes in their hearts about how he had done this on other occasions (cf. Luke 9:16-17; 24:30-32). This whole incident proclaims that the Risen Jesus they ate breakfast with that morning was the same Jesus they had always known. Christ is risen indeed! Life after the world changed ought to be sharing our lives with our Risen Lord!

Grace and peace
David

After the World Changed (Part Two)

John 21:1-14

After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples were together. “I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. “We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not know it was Jesus. “Friends,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?” “No,” they answered. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” he told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (21:1-7a CSB)

Sometime after Thomas’ confession of faith, we have this post-resurrection appearance that is recorded only by the apostle John. Because they had experienced that Jesus their Lord and Teacher was risen from the dead, they now had two major items on their immediate agenda: to meet Jesus in Galilee and then to return to Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit would be poured out on them. However, they did not know the details of either meeting. They had to wait in obedient faith for both. Waiting in faith is always difficult, even to people who have demonstrated great faith in the Lord. Plenty of examples are available from the lives of people like George Mueller and Hudson Taylor, both of whom daily depended on the Lord to meet their needs. We live in tension between confidence in the living God to supply our needs and anxiety about when or how or even if God will act for our good this time. If you are finding it difficult to wait for God’s answer to your prayers, know that you have many brothers and sisters in Christ that are in the same situation. I hope that does not sound like “misery loves company”; instead, I hope it sounds like this is a normal experience of the life of faith.

While they were in Galilee, apparently waiting to meet the Risen Messiah, Peter and some of his friends decided to go fishing. We are not told why he wanted to go fishing. Nor are we told the reason the others agreed to go with him. They are not blamed for this action. Men have things they like to do, just as women do. It is really okay to the Lord that we act like humans because he made us to be humans. There might have been any number of reasons for their choice, from the simple “they needed food to eat” to “they wanted to lend a hand to the family fishing business” (this is often overlooked by the critical) to “they wanted to relax out on the lake.” This is only to suggest three possibilities. The last is quite human, considering all the turmoil they had been through. If God gives me grace to get through this pandemic safely, I might either want to go for a hike in the nearby mountains (Mt. Joy and Mt. Misery) or go fishing myself. After a time of instability and upheaval, people need time to recover, to return to a normal routine of life, to rekindle relationships. Let us not give those early disciples a hard time, when the Holy Spirit does not in the written word.

When Peter and the others went fishing, I am sure they expected a successful night catching fish. But even the best fisherman does not always catch fish. I have never been a skilled fisherman, although my dad’s nickname was “Fishhook”. How he loved to fresh water fish! Anytime anyone would go with him, he was ready! (Ah, the memories! Excuse me while my eyes tear up for a moment.) He usually caught some fish, even if they were not keepers. My brother and I went fishing one day up in New York. We rented a boat for sixty dollars. We caught one fish. I assure you we had that fish for supper that evening. It was the most expensive fish dinner I have ever had. Anyway, the disciples, some of whom were professional fisherman, caught nothing that night.

But a man stood on the shore of the lake. He had been a carpenter by trade. From the shore he called out to the unsuccessful fisherman. Most English translations are rather formal and say something like “Friends”, as the way the man addressed them. To be more colloquial, we could translate, “Hey guys, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?” A line like this never makes any fisherman happy, but they politely answered, “No.”

The man then gave them some advice that was about to resonate in their hearts. For the same man had said similar words to them a couple years previously (cf. Luke 5:4-7). They did what he said, and immediately their nets were full of fish! Immediately, the disciple that Jesus loved (John) knew it was the Lord. What exciting news! The Lord over all creation had come to be with “his guys”!

After the world changed, Jesus kept his word. The same Lord Jesus they had known and loved for years had come to meet them in Galilee. And he meet them where they were, doing something that they loved to do, and providing for their needs and wants. Hey guys, Jesus loves his people, even after the world changed. He still loves us today.

Grace and peace,
David

After the World Changed (Part One)

John 20:24-29

A week later his disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Thomas responded to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:26-29 CSB).

After the world changed? No, I’m am not referring to Covid-19 or predicting how the world will be different following it. This is a blog about the Scriptures, and our focus is on what is far more important: the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ by salvation through judgment. I leave speculation to those self-assured of their own insights. Yesterday, we remembered Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Now we want to think about how the world changed for his followers in the days and weeks following that great redemptive event. It marked the end of the old or law covenant and the old age. It brought about a new age with Christ’s new and better covenant. Now we live in a time of better promises and brighter hopes. However, it took a while for his followers to sort things out.

In today’s text, we read of the doubts of one of the struggling apostles, Thomas. His former hopes had been smashed by the cruel crucifixion of Jesus, because he did not listen to all the words of Jesus and the Scriptures that Christ would rise again the third day. After the resurrection, Thomas heard the testimony of the other apostles but he wouldn’t accept their words. He wanted to experience the resurrected Lord Jesus himself. It was good that he wanted proof, because the Lord does not call us to trust him apart from evidence. Thomas’ problem was setting the terms for what evidence he would accept. This is a continuing problem among unbelievers. They set themselves up as judges over what they want to accept about the world. They fail to realize that they are too small to take in all reality and that they at best can only achieve very limited experience and knowledge. Nor do they wish to accept the dreadful effects of sin on human ability to reason. Pride runs large in human hearts. We all encounter prejudice and anti-God anger, but fail to consider that we have been infected with the spiritually deadly virus.

Thomas suffered from this spiritual malady, and he was unaware of his condition. But suddenly Jesus appeared and transformed his world and life view. He entered the room where the apostles had sequestered themselves, even though the doors were locked to keep out unwelcome visitors. What were the apostles doing after the world changed? They hid. They had a message to proclaim (Luke 24:45-49), starting in Jerusalem. But they hid. They lacked something to be able to witness: the power of the Holy Spirit!

Please do not imagine that we would have acted differently. None of them did, and they were people that would one day, excepting John, who would die for Christ. They were new people in a new world, but they lacked the outpoured Spirit of God to help them in their witness.

Jesus had already told them that they needed the Spirit, but the Lord did not let this teaching opportunity pass. First, he corrected Thomas. This apostle had been faithless when they others testified to him. So Christ himself provided clear evidence to lead Thomas to a new vibrant faith in his Lord. Thomas joyfully responded to it and proclaimed his belief in Jesus as his Lord and God. Second, the Lord Jesus provided encouragement for those who would later believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, apart from actually seeing and/or touching him. He gave all us a special blessing! So then, what we lack in experience is more than made up by what we receive through faith. And like the early apostles, all believers in the Lord Jesus receive the promise of the now poured out Holy Spirit. He is a great blessing indeed!

Grace and peace
David

Then They Remembered

Luke 24:1-12

Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered his words (24:6b-8 CSB).

The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is crucial to the Christian faith. Let us make no mistake. It does matter what we believe about the resurrection of Christ. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19. This Resurrection Sunday, let’s examine Luke’s account of this historical event. As we read the Four Gospels, we can discern that each one is a genuine account. No attempt has been made to smooth out the details. People told what they saw, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded their testimony.

The twenty-third chapter of Luke’s Gospel ends on a somber note. Jesus died, was buried, and then his followers rest on the Sabbath. Death and bondage fill the air. But then comes Sunday and a new age begins! Let us worship with our minds as Luke presents three important facts that filled that Sunday morning.

There was doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Look at the identity of those who doubted. We might expect that Luke would record the unbelief of Christ’s opponents. But he does not. Instead, we hear of the unbelief of his followers!

  • The women doubted (24:1). Their love and loyalty to Jesus is commendable, but not their unbelief. You can be sincere, but wrong. The women went to anoint a dead body (observe the spices), and not to greet a risen Savior on his triumph over death. They had death, not life, on their minds.
  • The apostles doubted (24:11). None of them made an early trip to the tomb in order to see if Jesus had risen, as he said. They were sure that he was dead and gone. They continued to doubt, after others claimed he was raised. You can almost hear them talking among themselves, “What crazy women… Old wives tales!”

People commonly whitewash the failures of founders of movements. “Look at what great people they were!” The Bible does not do that. When God tells us about the greatest day in history, he openly discloses the failure of his people.

Consider the significance of their unbelief. Christ’s followers were not under a delusion. Such people seek something to fuel their false hopes. These people had abandoned hope. Their King, Teacher, and Friend was dead and that was all they would believe. The disciples were not ready to believe anything. They were skeptics. They dismissed testimony with a wave of the hand. They required irrefutable proof to change their minds. We sometimes marvel at the faith of Paul: that he was turned from persecutor to apostle. But the change of mind of these people was also remarkable. What about you? Have you had a change of mind about Christ’s resurrection?

There was evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Some people play games with words. They say that no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead, and therefore it is a non-historical event. Such people are too clever by half. Suppose we have a corpse of a man before us, but no one saw him die. The corpse is proof that the man is dead, regardless of whether or not anyone saw him die. We would not say that his death was not a historical event, because no one witnessed it. Beware of deceivers! Instead, in a few words, Luke presents two lines of evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

First, there is the evidence of the empty tomb. A theft did not take place by the disciples. The Roman guard was there to prevent any such theft (Matthew 27:62-66). Besides, people do not venture everything and die for a known lie. Nor did his enemies steal Christ’s body. They would have produced the body of Jesus and destroyed Christianity in its infancy. A swoon did not occur. Jesus clearly had died. Skilled executioners pronounced him dead (Mark 15:44-45), and there was the spear thrust (John 19:34) that showed clear evidence that he had died. In addition, Jesus showed himself to his followers as Lord of life, and not as someone barely alive.

Second, there was the evidence of the empty grave clothes (24:12; cf. John 20:5-8). Consider the manner of burial (cf. John 11:44; 19:38-40). His body had been wound in strips of cloth with spices intermingled in them. The empty grave clothes provide witness that Christ’s body was not stolen (why would they take a mangled body and leave the strips of cloth that were wound around him. Also, Jesus Christ was raised as no one had ever been raised before him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; Colossians 1:18; John 20:19).

Those who oppose Jesus Christ have a major problem. Here is evidence that will stand the test in a court of law. The tomb where Jesus had been buried and which the Roman government guarded to prevent theft was empty, except for one thing. Inside that tomb were empty grave clothes. What group of fearful men or women is going to overpower trained guards whose life depends on preserving their watch? And if they could do that, would they unwind the grave clothes from the body, reform them to look like a body had disappeared, and carry off a mangled corpse? The idea is absurd. You have one good alternative at this point. Bow before the Risen Christ and confess that he is Lord.

There was testimony concerning the resurrection.

The angels testified (24:5-6). Their words convey a mild rebuke. Notice how they frame this rebuke. They do not ask why they seek the “risen” but the “living”. Do you look for the living in a cemetery? Consider Revelation 1:18. Every believer should realize that he or she is accountable to the living Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:24-27). Their words provided an explanation at the same time. He has risen! Death, that ancient foe of mankind, made its ultimate mistake. It met its Master!

Christ’s own words testified (24:7 cf. 9:22). His words spoke of divine necessity (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28). His words had foretold the key events that had happened: his suffering, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection. This should teach us the importance of knowing and understanding Christ’s words (Mark 1:15; Matthew 7:13-14; 9:37-38; John 14:3). They provide a framework for understanding life.

The women testified (24:8-10). Then they remembered Christ’s words (NIV). Suddenly, God the Holy Spirit helped them comprehend what Jesus had told them. For this reason, they went and spread the message of what they had seen and heard. Compare 24:22-23. All believers should provide a similar testimony.

Then they remembered Christ’s words. What about you? Do you know in your heart that Christ has been raised from the dead? How is the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection changing your life?

Grace and peace
David