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,

Jesus at Nazareth (Part One)

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 (Luke 4:16 NIV).

I was born in a town in western Pennsylvania, but I never considered that place my home in any sense. It was more an item from a curiosity cabinet that a person looks at occasionally and quickly forgets. I grew up in northeastern Ohio. When I was three months old, I urged my parents to leave PA and move to Cleveland (just kidding), where we lived for a while and then out to the country suburbs. I was brought up in Streetsboro; its chief claim to fame when I was very young was Exit 13 on the Ohio Turnpike, one traffic light, and one truck stop. When I moved there, a couple hundred people called it home. When I graduated from high school, there were over eight thousand residents. It was a growing village in a very disorganized way. If I was named like many people in ancient times were, I would be David from Streetsboro.

Nazareth was an unremarkable little village. Its chief claim to fame was that Jesus grew up there, though he was born in Bethlehem of Judea. When he reached adulthood, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus worked with his adopted father Joseph as a construction worker. It wasn’t glamorous, but it helped pay the family’s bills. A family of at least nine would have its share of those. I imagine that Jesus did his fair share of “go fer” work during his first years on the job. He knew what it was to sweat, and… his hometown folks had seen him do all that stuff. He worked manual labor just like everyone else. He was nothing special in their eyes. Then one day he left it all and went to listen to a country preacher called John the Baptist. You can hear the middle-aged and older men of Nazareth talking in the village square, “There’s too many young men running off to Judea to hear that Baptist. You can mark it down today; nothing good is going to come of it. Jesus should know better. He’s about thirty years old. Should’ve had a wife and kids by now.” The opinions of people about Jesus in a rough, working-class town would not have been kind or polite.

After some time in Judea, Jesus returned to Galilee with a group of disciples (learners). The construction worker had become a rabbi (teacher). He went to a wedding in Cana with his family and disciples, and reports circulated about a miraculous sign that he had performed there (John 2:11). After a brief visit in Capernaum (John 2:12), he went to Jerusalem for the Passover where he performed several miraculous signs (John 2:23). Jesus toured throughout Judea and Galilee, and even Samaria, for a while, before he returned to his hometown. But now he is known as a rabbi (notice those disciples following him) and a miracle worker. We need to have these things in mind to comprehend what happened during this visit to Nazareth.

Luke placed this account after a summary statement about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:14-15). Jesus had done many mighty works, and he had taught in the synagogues. Jesus made it his habit to attend the visible gatherings of the professed people of God. Knowing the response of the people to his message, it was not a requirement that those with him in attendance were spiritual people. (To answer a question before it’s asked, what about us? We ought to look for a place where Christ and the gospel are believed and preached, and love to God and one another are plainly seen. Don’t look for a perfect church. It only takes three visits or less to discover many imperfections in the best local assemblies.) Jesus went among the people of God to honor God and to seek to do good and to tell others the good news. He was sent by God to teach and preach.

Jesus took advantage of their custom that allowed visiting rabbis to read and to teach on a passage of Scripture. I can’t imagine this happening today for several reasons, some very good and some very bad. But Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in the town where he had been brought up. This means that as a boy and young man and a man, he had sat in this same synagogue and listened to rabbis reach and teach. Finally, it was his turn. What would the “hometown boy” say? Having been in this situation, well… let’s simply say that it is not the easiest audience to speak to, if you want people to respond to God’s Word. The people have other things on their mind than the worship of God and their own repentance and faith.

Practically, how do we listen when we worship with others? Is the worship of God topmost in our desires? Do we want to be transformed by God’s grace as we listen? Do we want to encourage others in the faith? Or do we attend with a self-centered, critical, prideful attitude? Let’s examine ourselves, since joy in the Lord and in others should be our spiritual pulse.

Grace and peace, David

Following a Good Example (Part One)

img_10002 Timothy 3:10

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness… (ESV).

Last week we thought about following bad examples (models, patterns). In our text from this week’s Bible reading, we read of a good example to follow. (A gentle nudge: please join us in our weekly Bible readings. Replace a half hour of television each day with the Holy Scriptures.) You will notice the dots above at the end of verse. Paul went on to talk about his example of suffering persecution, but addressing that now would make this article rather long. Let’s concentrate on the parts of his good example to Timothy and others listed above.

Every believer in God in this new covenant age is, of necessity, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Other verses make the same point. But as I have written other times, the Lord also provides other people to be good models for us. For this reason, Paul did not hesitate to affirm Timothy in following him, because Paul followed Christ. Timothy had rejected the evil examples of most people who live in the last days (3:1-9). Notice this. Timothy had been a faithful co-worker in the gospel for many years, since the early days of Paul’s second missionary journey. Yet Paul did not hesitate to encourage his friend. Life in the difficult times of the last days (3:1) requires us to build up and to encourage each other. Paul did not hesitate to encourage a minister of the gospel, which Timothy was. Well-meaning believers wrongly suppose that they encourage the minister in their local church or the leader of their small group by saying, “That was a nice message or good lesson!” That is part of the wrong thinking that pervades “edifice” or “institutional” churches. Fellowship (sharing of life) requires much more than saying pleasant phrases to each other, however kind the intent. Every believer needs to be encouraged in the ways of the Lord. We all need to be in small groups in order to share life and not mere clichés.

Paul commends Timothy for seven ways he followed him. Notice the repeated “my” that lays emphasis on each item he mentions. Each part is essential to the whole. The Christian way of life is not cafeteria or buffet style. It is comprehensive, which accounts for some of its difficulty and need for the Spirit’s power. It is relatively easy to persuade someone to make a few changes to his/her way of life where they recognize the need for change. But minimal, selective change is insufficient.  Such a person lacks understanding of what it means to follow Christ. Our Lord never says, “Pick a few items off this list that you feel you like or might be able to accomplish.” He demands that we follow him completely and from the heart. If you have halted in your growth in grace, it is not because you think what Christ is too hard. In fact, you have underestimated its difficulty. It is impossible (cf. John 15:5). You need to draw fresh strength from the Lord to follow him in every area. We’ll start with comments of the first two ways.

  • “My teaching” – The necessity of sound teaching is disregarded in our time. Many want what is inspirational, exciting, stern, humorous, chic, cutting-edge, traditional, or mysteriously spiritual (“it felt like God was there”). What each of the preceding doesn’t want is teaching that challenges and changes the way they think! It is part of the anti-God way of “the flesh”, which hates God’s words. There is far too much love of the opinions of the world. Paul’s teaching was built on and around the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel (good news). Timothy grasped this and his thinking was transformed by the truth of Jesus and the gospel. God changes us as the Holy Spirit takes the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and uses it by his power to change the thoughts and ideas and attitudes of our hearts. Apart from this change, we easily drift back into our former ways. We must have teaching, not to accumulate information, but to develop practically the ways of Christ’s new kingdom in us. His teaching builds Christ-like character as we learn from him.
  • “My conduct” – The Greek word used occurs only here in the New Testament Scriptures. It has the idea of a kind of life or conduct that results from a particular upbringing. Paul was brought up in the gospel after his conversion and led by the Spirit to conduct himself in a gospel-formed way. Timothy followed Paul in that same upbringing. When we are “baby Christians”, we need to be brought up in new conduct. Yes, honest inquirer or new believer, a person’s conduct can change.

I often walk at Valley Forge Park. If I park my car in the parking lot nearest my house, the trail to the trails starts with a long, steep climb. It can look discouraging the first few times. But repeated walks help the walker to know that the trails are doable. Following Christ and the apostles and others following Christ might seem intimidating. But the Holy Spirit is the believer’s friend and uses these examples to transform us. Would you like to take a walk?

Grace and peace, David