Teaching by the Lake

Luke 5:1-3

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat (5:1-3 CSB).

Years ago when we were young and our children were younger, two very good friends paid for our way to a Christian camp located on Kelly’s Island on Lake Erie. The camp was next to a beautiful bay on a narrow peninsula, and it was a great place to see tremendous sunsets. It would be very easy to talk a lot about the wonderful times and the fellowship we enjoyed there. But to keep our blog post to a readable length, I’ll only mention one thing. The chapel of the camp was located a stone’s throw from the shoreline, and as you listened to the message with your ears, your eyes could survey the beauty of the lake.

When I read these verses, I can easily picture what it was like to listen to Jesus as he stood by Lake Galilee (Gennesaret is usually called Galilee.) Yet, this scene was different from our blissful days at camp. Jesus was near Capernaum, where he had been doing good works (Acts 10:38) of miracles. The people of the area were very excited about the miracles and his teaching. So, they looked for Jesus and when they found him, they crowded around him. Think of the excitement of that day! People crowded around Jesus and wanted to listen to him! They longed to hear Jesus tell them words of life!

During my sophomore year of college, I was a new follower of Jesus Christ. It was quite a remarkable time in the early 1970s. Many other people became believers in the Lord in those years. I attended a church on Sunday evenings in the next town from where the college was located. We had to get to the evening service forty-five minutes before it began to get a seat. Thirty minutes early merely to get into the building. And we sang for joy while we waited for the meeting to begin, and then we sang some more. We all were eager to hear more about the Lord Jesus, the gospel, and his saving grace. I doubt that few of you have seen that week after week after week. 

About five years later, I taught a Bible study on a secular college campus near where I lived. We met in a room in a college building at eight o’clock on Friday nights for two hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Eight o’clock on Friday nights for two hours with college students, who preferred to gather to hear God’s word rather to go out partying. I worked for a general contractor during those days and would start work early on Friday, work hard on the job, get cleaned up, and go to the Bible study. I was tired out by ten at night, even as a young man. The students kept asking questions about the Scriptures well after ten. At times, I would be walking down the steps from the third floor to go to my car, and they would still be asking me questions on the way. Thank you, Lord, for such hunger for your Word.

Jesus experienced that constantly in his earthly ministry. It got so crowded as he taught, that it made it difficult to teach. For this reason, he got into a boat (Simon Peter’s) and asked him to move out a little bit from shore. There, he could more easily teach and the people listen. He loved to tell them the good news of God and his kingdom, and they loved to listen.

My friends, what has happened to people who claim to love the Lord and Savior? We have lost the excitement to hear about Jesus Christ. I do see this in some people, as I did in my Bible study this morning when we looked at Isaiah 53. However, many church buildings are nearly empty from fear. Please don’t excuse yourself because you’re afraid of Covid-19. Early Christians in Rome hid among the catacombs so that they could meet together and worship. They hungered for the Word at the risk of death! Plus, I seriously doubt that you can catch Covid-19 through an online, remote meeting! Yet far too many claim that they are “Zoomed out”. But they will still watch endless shows on their television or other digital devices, and that requires them to look at a screen.

My dear friends, I think we all need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Our current decline is not because of Covid-19. Nor is it because we are “Zoomed out”. I think there is another reason. Let us listen to the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV).

Do not fret about persecution closing churches. Christians are doing a more than adequate job of closing churches by their own laziness and indifference.

May God restore us!

Grace and peace,

Evil Questioners

Matthew 22:15-40

In our Bible studies, we encourage people to ask questions. This increases understanding, as people explore the passage or subject under discussion. Hopefully, they learn how to put the teaching into effect in their way of life. We ought to always remember that the teaching of the word is not simply to gain factual knowledge, but to increase wisdom and the personal application of the Word to our lives. We also should remember that doing is much more important than knowing. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22 CSB). It is good to memorize Matthew six, but it is better not to worry and to trust God.

In our text, Jesus received three questions from people whose motives were evil. They spoke evil from the evil in their hearts (Matthew 12:34). None of them wanted to learn, so that they could repent (change their minds) and then live for the glory of God and good of others. Their goal was to make trouble for Jesus. Let’s look at each.

The first group tried to cause political problems for Jesus (22:15-22). The question concerned paying taxes to the Roman emperor. They attempted to soften him up with flattery. It seemed that either way that Jesus answered, he would have serious problems. If he said yes, the Jewish zealots could condemn him as traitorous, and he would lose the support of the crowds. If he said no, the Romans could condemn him as rebellious, and the Romans had a habit of crucifying Jewish rebels. Jesus’ answer put the burden on them. Would they fulfill their duty as Caesar’s subjects? More importantly, would they give themselves to God?

The second group tried to embarrass Jesus with a question that seemed that any answer would make him look ridiculous (22:23-33). They presented an improbable scenario from the inheritance laws of the law covenant to make the idea of a resurrection appear unbelievable. (The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, 22:23.) Jesus responded that they were the ones with two serious problems. First, they didn’t know the power of God to resurrect people and to provide them with a higher level of life. Second, they didn’t know the Scriptures. Jesus took them to the account of the burning bush, in which God said I am (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though all had died hundreds of years previously.) How could they be religious leaders if they did not believe in God’s power and word?

The third group tried to drag Jesus into religious controversy (22:34-40). That the Pharisee had an evil intent is made known by the word “test” (22:35). The rabbis held a variety of opinions about the greatest command in the Torah. Whatever answer Jesus gave might entangle him in debates with the other rabbis and their followers, causing Jesus to be discredited as a prophet in the eyes of the people. This time Jesus answered in a way that exposed them to discreditation. If they denied the first great command, they would be denying God’s supremacy. If they denied the second, well, Jesus had already taught them a few lessons on their need to love their neighbors and show mercy to them.

It is good to ask questions, if we desire to know and love God, his word, and people better. It is evil to ask questions that attempt to show up the teacher or to entrap him. And let’s ask ourselves, “Why do I want this question answered? Do I want to see Biblical change occur in my life? Do I want to walk in love? Do I have a teachable spirit, or am I trying to show off?”

Grace and peace, David

Exploring Matthew 11-12

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30 CSB).

These are some of the most beloved words of Jesus. By the Spirit, countless people have been brought to faith in Christ through this “great invitation”. It was one of the passages through which the Lord first spoke to me. It has spoken peace and spiritual refreshment to generations of followers of the Lord Jesus.

Yet how much do we know of the other passages in Matthew 11-12? Through many years of preaching and teaching God’s word, I cannot recall anyone ever saying that their soul was restored and reinvigorated by reading Matthew 12. I do know that the earlier parts of Matthew 11 have caused debate and that parts of Matthew 12 have garnered what little attention they have received for that same reason. While some sections of the Scriptures are hard to understand, we should still receive hope, joy, and peace from our meditation on them. So then, let’s go searching for what the Spirit can use to strengthen us. At a recent wedding I attended, the appetizers were at different bars around the entrance to the dining room (salad, pasta, mac & cheese, etc.) In this article, I want to point out where the “bars” are, with the intent that you will approach each one for spiritual nourishment.

Before I point out the “bars”, and I know some of you are looking for the dessert bar already, we should think about what the Spirit has breathed out in these chapters for our benefit. Chapters 11-12 develop the teaching in chapter 10 about varying responses to the good news about Jesus. Matthew chose several incidents that show questions, opposition, and acceptance to the message. All this will lead into chapter 13, where the Lord will explain what happens when the message of God’s kingdom is proclaimed. The two chapters are a bridge between what is taught in chapters 10 & 13.

The “bars” or records of responses to the Messiah are arranged in three groups of three. The last in each group provides a message of salvation and hope to followers of the Christ. Let’s take “a stroll around the room” to see what’s there.

First triad (11:2-30)

  • John the Baptist sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah (11:2-19). This also has three parts: the apparent doubts of John the Baptist (or perhaps his disciples had doubts and John sent them to Jesus for answers), the testimony of Jesus about John, and the rejection of Jesus and John by the people.
  • The lack of repentance by towns in Galilee (11:20-24). Notice that in Jesus’ opinion, which is correct, their rejection of Jesus put them in a worse spiritual position than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom!
  • Encouragement to Christ’s little ones; that is, those who trust in him as Lord and Savior (11:25-30). This encouragement is provided in three parts: teaching about God’s sovereignty in salvation, the glory of Christ, and the great invitation.

Second triad (12:1-21)

  • Rejection of the Messiah as Lord over the Sabbath (12:1-8). Notice how Jesus claims to be greater than the law covenant and its temple.
  • Rejection of the Messiah as the compassionate physician (12:9-14).
  • The Messiah is the humble Servant of the Lord, who will bring God’s victory to the nations (12:15-21). The opposition of the world cannot defeat the plan of God. Christ’s people can be sure of his tender care.

Third triad (12:22-50)

  • Controversy about how Christ did his mighty works (12:22-37). Notice that when the people started to think of Jesus in messianic terms, their religious leaders could not deny his power; they only railed against it. Jesus calmly answered their criticism.
  • Controversy over the Sign of Jonah (12:38-45). The religious leaders would not recognize the clear proofs that Jesus gave of his identity (cf. 11;4-6), yet they asked for another sign. Jesus had no reason to start a circus, so he told them to wait for something that would demonstrate that he is the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord.
  • Jesus’ true family (12:46-50) is not a matter of physical relationship, even close physical kinship, but depends on a believing response to his teaching that results in the doing of God’s will.

We have walked “around the room” and have seen where the various “bars” are located. Now, it is up to you to walk up to each one and learn from the words and actions of the Lord Jesus. As you do, be sure to see his glory displayed throughout these chapters.

Grace and peace, David

Invited to Dinner

dscn1542Luke 7:36

Sharing meals is an important part of being human. From our earliest days, we quickly learn the joy of sitting down at the table with other people. We also learn that there are some people that we would rather eat with than others. No one enjoys eating with disagreeable people, regardless of how fine the meal might be. This transfers to other aspects of human experience, whatever the purpose of the social gathering. Someone might not know another person, so they ask a friend, “What kind of a person is he or she?”

What kind of a person was Jesus? The Bible does not directly answer that, but he was often invited to dinners and other social gatherings. What we do read are presentations of a man of integrity who was very likeable. Let’s reflect on the kind of man that Jesus was, and is. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8 ESV). Jesus was and is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

View Jesus as a gracious man. At a wedding, he supplied the need for wine. He welcomed a man with many questions at night. In fact, at evening he healed many who gathered at his door. He wasn’t bothered when most people want to be left alone. He spoke kindly to a woman at a well that other people despised. He reached out to tax collectors, whom most people hated. He did not turn his back on people with terrible diseases, but rather healed them and shockingly touched them! When a woman interrupted Jesus while on the way to heal a sick girl, he stopped to care for her. He came upon a funeral procession. A widow’s only son had died, leaving her helpless. He stopped, told the woman to stop weeping, raised the young man, and gave him back to his mother. He called a blind man to him, when everyone else told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus. He welcomed little children and blessed them, though the disciples tried to keep them away. Jesus called the weary and burdened to him and promised them rest. He wept over the city of Jerusalem, not because he would die outside its walls, but because its people would perish because they rejected himself, God’s message of grace to them. Jesus was a very gracious man!

View Jesus as a man of truth. His whole public life was devoted to telling people the message that God the Father had given him. He would teach people all day without complaint. Though he sought rest for him and his disciples, he would happily teach the gathered crowds who pressed upon them. Jesus would speak the truth and act the truth, although he knew that people would rise against him. Think of his boldness at his home town of Nazareth, when they sought to kill him for what he said. Other times, he would tell people their sins were forgiven or their withered hand was healed or they could walk again, although the religious leaders were infuriated by what he did. Jesus welcomed sinners to himself, but he also proclaimed judgment on hypocrites and swindlers that tried to seem very religious. His truthfulness exposed everyone else for what they were, including a Roman governor who sentenced him to death. Jesus boldly stood for God’s truth!

Jesus was full of grace and truth. Do we resemble him? I mean this: We claim to follow him, but do we show forth his kind of character? Are we people of grace, mercy, love, compassion, patience, goodness, and kindness? Do we stand up for truth and tell others the truth of the gospel? We must understand that we cannot really claim to be his followers unless we imitate his way of life and walk in his steps. Jesus said many times, “Follow me.” Do we?

Grace and peace, David

An Unexpected Response

IMG_1957Luke 5:17-26

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law wanted to hear what Jesus taught to the crowds, not out of any desire to learn from him. They were concerned. Their gathering included men from every village of Galilee and Judea. Even the prominent religious leaders from Jerusalem came. They were very concerned! Early in his public ministry, our Lord had made claims that upset the religious establishment (cf. John 2). Jesus was being watched. The religious leaders saw that he was gathering a group of disciples around him and was proclaiming that God’s kingdom (saving reign) had arrived. So they watched him. As they watched, they would hear Jesus give teaching that would greatly trouble them. They had to watch him.

The crowds came to Jesus also, but not to watch him, but in order that their sick and disabled might be healed (5:15). The Lord did not disappoint the common people. Jesus healed them by the power of the Holy Spirit. (This is what the “power of the Lord” means, cf. Luke 4:18-19.) At this point, Jesus was in a house. Picture him sitting in a great room, surrounded by the home owners, some of his disciples, many Pharisees and teachers of the law, and as many common people as could push themselves in. See a narrow path from the door to Jesus, where people could lead their family and friends to Jesus for healing. It must have been a hot and exciting scene.

Some men carried a friend on a mat to try to get him to Jesus. Simply carrying a paralyzed man on a mat was a difficult task, but it became harder. When they reached the house, they could not get their friend inside because of the crowded conditions. Intent on getting their friend to Jesus, they decided on a bold plan. They carried the paralyzed man up on the flat roof, probably by using an outside stairway. (Sharon and I went up on a rooftop this way in Mali, West Africa during a visit to that country, though we weren’t carrying anyone). Next, they tore up the roof; the sounds and then the sight of this must have been startling to those inside the house. Imagine the debris falling into the room, along with the light and the much-need oxygen. With the roof opened, they lowered him on the mat right in front of Jesus. There was probably a lot of loud talking of various sorts going on throughout this process.

Finally, everyone became quiet, and all eyes were turned on Jesus. Picture the Messiah looking at the man, next up at his friends on the rooftop, back down to the room of people, and then back to the man. Everyone waited to hear and to see what Jesus would do.

Let’s pause the story for a moment. If this is your first time reading the story of Jesus, you might be expecting him simply to heal the man and send him back to his friends filled with joy. But some of us have read or heard this story so many times, that it does not excite us or fill us with wonder. We nod our heads and think, “Yeah, that’s typical Jesus.” We expect what Jesus said. And so the glory of the story doesn’t grip us. However, I assure you that no one in that room, including the paralyzed man expected what Jesus was about to say. Okay, let’s hit the “play button”.

 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20 NIV). This was very unexpected! I can feel their stunned silence for a few minutes. Think about this. Did the friends of the man decide to go to all that effort to hear Jesus say to him, “Your sins are forgiven?” Is that what the paralyzed man wanted to hear? If you had been on that mat, is that really what you would have wanted to hear at that moment? What of the homeowners whose roof was partially torn apart? Did the disciples expect Jesus to forgive instead of heal? It undoubtedly caught the Pharisees and the law experts off-guard, too, though Jesus (in their eyes) had just handed them a golden opportunity. Jesus did the unexpected. And it is his unanticipated responses that provide us with occasions to wonder and to worship.

As we conclude today’s article, I want us all to ask ourselves, “If I want something big, like healing from paralysis, would I be content if Jesus simply said to me, “Friend your sins are forgiven”? To be a follower of Jesus means that we learn from him, that we learn from him how that he is able to meet our greatest need. It means that we will learn to say, “Praise God, Jesus has done the best thing for me, even when I assumed he would do something else.” Please let this work into all our souls until next time.

Grace and peace, David