Who, Then, Is This? (Part Four)

Luke 9:18-27

While he was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”They answered, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, that one of the ancient prophets has come back.” “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah” (9:18-20 CSB).

It’s time for a brief review. Recall the question of Herod that Luke uses in this chapter to direct our thoughts (“Who, then, is this…?”, 9:9). He wants us to ask that question for ourselves and find that the answer is “Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” In our three previous posts we listened to the first part of Luke’s presentation. Jesus has a great message, a great vision, and he provides great satisfaction.

In this second section, Jesus asked a similar question, and we hear three answers: that of the crowds, of the apostles, and of the Lord Jesus himself. Let’s think about these three answers.

This section in Luke’s Gospel immediately follows the feeding of the five thousand. But from a study of the other Gospels we know that some time had elapsed between these two events. (Luke arranges his material in a ‘theological’ rather than a strictly chronological manner.) Therefore, people have had time to reflect on the significance of a number of Christ’s miracles, especially the feeding of the five thousand, which Christ prodded them to meditate on (Matthew 16:5-12). Jesus had already challenged them about their commitment to him (John 6:66-71). Now the Lord Jesus brought all to a climax. So he asked, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

First, let’s consider the incorrect answer of the crowds (9:18-19). The crowds answered from their religious tradition, which was old covenant Judaism. They had the words of the prophets written down in the Scriptures. They could read about how prophets had acted, and so it was easy for the to connect the dots.

  • This is the usual way that people answer. “What does my religious background tell me to say?” On the other hand, Christianity demands that we listen to the truth and think. True Christianity boldly walks into the marketplace of human opinions and says, “Let’s look at and think about all reality. Have you seen and thought? Then know that the only answer is found in the living God and the way to him is through Jesus the Messiah.”
  • The answers they gave seemed to honor Jesus. “Surely Jesus is a great man. At the very least he is one of God’s prophets!” The problem is that seeming to honor Jesus is incorrect. We must know who he really is. When we think about who Jesus is, a partial answer can be spiritually dangerous or fatal.

Second, the crowds gave the wrong answer for various reasons.

  • Some who thought Jesus was John the Baptist either failed to notice that John and Jesus were contemporaries or paid no attention to what John said and the Scriptures said. John’s whole message was Christ-focused (cf. John chapters 1 & 3).
  • Some who thought Jesus was Elijah failed to understand the Scriptures. The Elijah to come was only a forerunner or herald of Christ. Jesus himself had explained that John the Baptist was the Elijah to come (Mt 11:11-15).
  • Some who thought that Jesus was one of the prophets returned to life had no Biblical warrant for that opinion and failed to listen to what the Scriptures said about Christ.

Each of these groups shared two common failings. First, they failed to listen to what the Scriptures said about the Christ. What about you? Do you listen to what the word of God says about Christ? You say you want to know him. Then how much time to you spend thinking about him?

Action Step: Read the Gospel of Mark through carefully ten times asking God to reveal Jesus Christ to your heart. (Yes, ten times! You have the opportunity to do this during our current “stay at home” order.) Listen carefully to every title or description that Mark uses to reveal the full identity of Jesus Christ to his readers.

Second, they had failed to comprehend what Jesus had done and explained. He did many miraculous signs, ending disease and suffering. In a couple years, the lives of many people had radically changed. He told them about God’s kingdom (his saving reign) and how it had entered the human condition with his arrival. He had told them that he was the bread of life (John 6:35). But people had rejected his message about himself. Therefore, they had a wrong view of Jesus.

Action Step: Read through John’s Gospel, meditating on each of the seven miraculous signs and the I Am sayings.

There is an old saying that “close enough” is “good in horseshoes and hand grenades”. But close is not sufficient in matters of truth. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV). Do you know him? Have you come to the Father through him?

Grace and peace

Heaven (Part Two)

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24 NIV).

Since heaven is not presently accessible or visible to us, we should expect many honest questions on the subject. All that we can know is what God has chosen to write in the Scriptures, and in his word, we are not told many details. This can be somewhat frustrating, but this is the will of our Father in heaven. I think it is useless to speculate about God’s reasons, but since he is holy and wise, I’m sure that his reasons for not telling us more are best for us and most for his glory. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:3-4. The apostle Paul said by the Spirit, And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (NIV). God does not permit knowledge about heaven outside of what is written in the Bible. For this reason, do not be led astray by these supposed accounts of people that claim to have seen heaven’s glories. In this and a couple posts to follow, let’s consider various questions sincere questions that believers in Jesus have about heaven.

Is heaven a place or a state of mind?

Many outside the sphere of Bible-believing Christianity deny that heaven is an actual place, and they consider it to just be a state of mind. However, we do not determine truth by the opinions of people, but on the authoritative word of God. We have clear evidence from the Scriptures that heaven is an actual place that can be inhabited by physical beings.

  • The Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in his resurrection body (Acts 1:9-11; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 9:11-12, 24)
  • The Lord Jesus was seen in heaven by Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:55-56)
  • The Lord Jesus promised to prepare a place for us to be with him (John 14:2-3; cf. 17:24)
  • The Lord Christ will come from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

Where is heaven?

The Bible nowhere states where heaven is, and we have no way of finding out. In addition, we have no way of knowing how the universe will be formed after the reordering of all things in the new creation. Avoid empty on these matters.

Will we know one another in heaven?

Yes, we will. Why would we not? An example of personal knowledge is found in the account of Christ’s transfiguration (Luke 9:30-33). Peter could recognize Moses and Elijah, though he had never met either man. If we were not able to recognize one another in heaven, how could the words of hope and joy of the apostle be true (1 Thessalonians 2:19)? Clearly, the apostle expected to recognize his converts and to rejoice with them to the glory of Christ. Paul comforts us with the assurance that those who have died with Christ will be brought with the Lord at his return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Where would the comfort be if we were unable to know one another? The point of his comment is that we are not parted in fellowship forever. We will be with one another again!

Grace and peace, David

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

When God Seems Distant in a Broken World

SAMSUNGPsalm 10:1-11

As already remarked, Psalms Nine and Ten are companion songs or perhaps they were originally one psalm. As David meditated on God’s rule and the life of his people in a fallen, broken world, he presented two sides of reality. In Psalm Nine, David looked at God’s rule and supremacy over all, even when people are oppressed and afflicted. Next, in Psalm Ten his focus is on the suffering of people in this broken world. David wrote this psalm for God’s people in their worship and praise, and unlike much of contemporary Christendom where everything has to turn out “right” in our view, David willingly made known the heartache and pain of brokenness. People do not need religious fantasies.  We need to hear the truth about God and our brokenness. Then we will be prepared to understand and rely on God’s answer.

David had a privileged position in the purposes of God. The Messiah or God’s Anointed One would come from his line. He could face the future with some degree of certainty. Though this was true, David had to live through his then present, hard circumstances. This will always be the life of people of faith. We have great hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have difficulties in this present, broken world. “It is a function of the Psalms to touch the nerve of this problem and keep its pain alive, against the comfort of our familiarity, or indeed complicity, with a corrupt world” (Kidner, Commentary on Psalms 1-72).

David opens Psalm Ten with a question about God’s inaction during times of trouble. Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1 ESV). I’m sure we have all experienced David’s mood and have most likely uttered words like this to God. This is what life is like in a broken world. We dare to think that the Lord is standing far away from us, and when that doesn’t arouse him, we become bolder and accuse him of hiding himself. The living God is not playing a cosmic game of hide and seek with us. Yet we can feel like he is. The Holy Spirit, who inspired David to write these words, is not afraid of our worries or our brashness. He informs us that it is all right to state matters from our limited point of view. When two people can talk out their problems, we say that they have a healthy relationship, though the discussion might be painful. I am not hinting that we should be irreverent; my point is reality. It’s part of the boldness that belongs to everyone in God’s family. I make this point because I have heard a few people confess that they were angry with God. I have seen too many hide the pain of their hearts behind “church smiles”. We can tell the Lord what we think and feel about situations.

Next, David describes the condition of evil people that are a major problem in our broken world. He paints a general picture. Thankfully, not everyone manifests all these characteristics. But they do provide sketches of people who oppose God and his people.

  • They oppress the weak (10:1). Notice the vivid imagery. They plan (“schemes”) their downfall and pursue (“hunts down”) them to ruin. Wicked people despise weak people. They are targets for their own enrichment or for displays of their own power.
  • They brag about what they crave in their hearts (10:3a). This is ugly. Self-satisfaction at the expense of others is a way of life for the wicked. Think of the sex slave traders, the con artists, the identity thieves, and dishonest salespeople. Oh, and what about financial institutions that charge exorbitant fees and interest? Those profiting from such schemes laugh about their abuse of others.
  • Their values are reversed (10:3b). The wicked person blesses the greedy and reviles theLord (NIV). Greed is a serious sin (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). The wicked congratulates those who exploit others, and at the same time slander the Lord.
  • They have no room for God in their thoughts (10:4). Their view of reality is limited by their own senses, experiences, and opinions. They are too pride to seek God; they do not even want to consider God, because they grossly over exaggerate their supposed intellects. “We’ve got everything figured out. Needing God or gods is an indication of foolishness.” Yet a simple list of what they don’t understand could fill thousands of web pages. Here is the root of atheism or functional atheism. People have no room for God in their thoughts, nor do they desire to have room for them. We’ll see why in the next verses (10:5-11).

Invest time in reading this section. Any successful professional sports team understand the opposition. In order to reach out to people with the good news of Christ and salvation, we must know their condition.  Then we can speak with wisdom and compassion.

Grace and peace, David