Posts Tagged 'Faith'

Mystery of the Trinity, Part 1

If you like mysteries, then you’ll enjoy studying the Trinity! There is only one God and only one Trinity and it might well be the most difficulty concept to explain. It is, however, a vitally important doctrine to get right. Church history is littered with churches and groups that got it wrong. There’s an obscure verse is Psalm 50 that shows us why we all need to think correctly about our God:

When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you. (Psalm 50:21 | TNIV)

It offends God when we think wrongly about Him. In fact, it’s idolatry to worship a God we have invented in our minds, no matter how sincere we may be. Thinking rightly about God leads to eternal life:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 | TNIV)

And knowing God should be the life-long goal of every Christian, not just the eggheads and theologians among us:

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 | TNIV)

You may wonder how it is possible to know and understand God, after all, He is God and the finite mind cannot possibly hope to comprehend that which is infinite. Paul taught as much when he wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” [36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33 – 36 | TNIV)

But at the same time, God is understandable to man.

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—these things God has prepared for those who love him”—for God has revealed them to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit within? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9 – 11 | TNIV)

Clearly, there are some aspects of God’s nature and character that will never be known to us, at least as long as we are on earth in the flesh. But God has revealed as much of Himself as He deemed necessary and it’s up to us to study the Word to discover the wonder of our God. The more we know about God, the easier it will be to live in obedience to His will.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 | TNIV)

Only one God

The Jews call these verse the Shema and they form the foundation of the Jewish and Christian faiths:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 | TNIV)

As we try to understand the Trinity, we need to keep these verses mind. There is only one God, not three. In fact, the word “trinity” means “tri-unity.” But there are different kinds of unity; absolute unity and compound unity. For example, here is an example of compound unity:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 | TNIV)

The “one flesh” is a compound unity because we know that when a man and woman get married, two people are involved but they don’t really become a single person in the literal sense.

A completely different word is used to describe an absolute unity, which suggests absolute oneness. Here’s an example:

Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us. (Jeremiah 6:26 | TNIV)

And another:

For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. (Proverbs 4:3 | TNIV)

Can you see the difference? “Absolute oneness” refers to a son, for example. He is related to both his parents; he came from both his parents, but he is his own person. That particular Hebrew word is never used to describe the Trinity.

The unity referred to in Deuteronomy 6:4 is compound unity because the word used for “our God” is Elohim, a Hebrew word written in the plural. So our “compound God” is “one God.” The doctrine of the Trinity teaches the unity of God as a compound unity, made up of three Divine Persons united in an eternal, essential unity.

The Shema was key in Hebrew theology and philosophy. Everything descended from the fact that there was only one God, not many gods. Jesus was confronted by some religious folk who intended to trap Him. Read the exchange, and remember that Jesus is the Son of God:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Mark 12:28, 29 | TNIV)

As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was telling the religious leader that there was only one God, not multiple Gods. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, helps us understand what Jesus was getting at.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4 – 6 | TNIV)

A problem had popped up in the Corinthian church concerning some members eating food (meat) offered to idols. Other members thought they shouldn’t be doing that because it was offered to idols. As far as Paul was concerned, where the food came from was of no import because the idol it was sacrificed to represented nothing because, as the Shema says, “there is no God but one.”

People may think there are other “gods,” but in truth there is only one. Other pagan religions have their so-called gods, but they are unreal and they are all subordinate to the only real, supreme God. The one real God is the Father, the source of all there is, and Jesus Christ is the one through whom creation sprang.

Three persons

There is an incident in the life of Jesus that gives us a glimpse into the working of the Trinity and the relationship that exists between its Members.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”. (Matthew 3:16, 17 | TNIV)

The things that jump off the page are the vision and the voice. The vision was the Spirit of God, in the form of a dove, coming down from heaven and lighting on Jesus. The voice boomed out, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The former showed where the power Jesus would exercise during His earthly ministry would come from, and the latter an assurance that He was truly the Messsiah. The audible voice of God showed that the Father was pleased with His Son’s obedience, both to His will in being baptized by John, and ultimately in the Cross, the culmination of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

As far as the vision of the Holy Spirit goes, it’s debatable whether anybody but Jesus saw this. However, there is very compelling evidence that suggests Jesus saw it and John the Baptist saw it. The latter so that he would truly believe that his cousin was indeed the Messiah. It’s fitting, really, for the Holy Spirit to appear “as a dove.” The Holy Spirit, as mighty and as powerful as He is, is gentle.

The unity of the Trinity may be a bit of a mystery, but it should be something we believe in. Paul gives us an idea of this mysterious unity in his benediction to the Corinthian church:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14 | TNIV)

As you can see, Paul knew that the members of the Trinity were all involved in various aspects of the lives of God’s people. Keep in mind that Paul wrote his letters and this benediction long before the Church wrote up any kind of formal doctrinal statement concerning the Trinity. From the Son comes grace. From the Father, Love. And the Holy Spirit creates a partnership in life among the believers. The members of the Trinity – all working together to support believers, both individually and corporately.

Distinctiveness

The fact that there is a union of three distinct Persons working together as Paul noted in passing is an important bit of theology. In the early 1900’s, a movement was spreading through the Church known as the “Jesus Only” movement. It was particularly strong in some Pentecostal denominations, where it was known as the “Oneness doctrine.” This doctrine stressed that there was only one person in the Godhead, Jesus. One version of the heretical “Oneness doctrine” held that the Father became Son who became the Holy Spirit. In other words, instead of three separate and distinct Persons who exist simultaneously, the Oneness people viewed the three Persons as consecutive, not simultaneous. A variant of this idea said that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all just manifestations of one God that take place different times and situations.

Though initially this heresy thrived in Pentecostal churches, many of those churches have vanished and others have renounced this heresy.  However, there are still evangelical churches today that preach a version of Oneness Pentecostalism. TD Jakes is a well-known denier of the Trinity. People like Jakes often use the word “trinity” but they don’t hold a traditional, Biblically orthodox view of it. Many Apostolic and holiness churches are non-trinitarian.

The Bible teaches that the Trinity is three separate and distinct Persons, yet one. Each member of the Trinity is the Godhead, yet conscious of the other Two. The Trinity is an eternal fellowship that has existed before the universe was created. God was never alone. That’s not to say there are three Gods. There aren’t. There is only one. The three members of the Trinity work together with a single mind and purpose. In that sense, the three are truly one. While the Father creates; the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies, all three are present and working at the same time.

Yes, the Trinity is a mystery. It’s like trying to grasp a ray of sunshine. But at the same time, the word “trinity” is a product of man, concocted to try to understand this part of God’s nature. Before the Church invented the word, the Trinity was alive and well. It is in that sense, a revealed doctrine. How else could man understand it if God Himself hadn’t revealed it to him?

for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16 | TNIV)

 

 

 

 

 

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Just Say Yes, Part 4

Faith may be defined as saying “yes” to Jesus.

Most of us are familiar with the old nighttime prayer said by children, written by Joseph Addison in The Spectator, dated March 8, 1711:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to His care;
when I awake, I give my self up to His Direction,
Amen.

Now, if that sounds the slightest bit off, you’re probably thinking of the version that would appear a little later in The New England Primer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

That’s not a bad prayer if you mean it when you pray it. Otherwise it’s collection of words that are easily said because they are easily memorized.

But I prefer the words of Gerhardt Tersteegan. Not sure who he is? You’re in good company. Tersteegan was born was born in Moers, Germany in 1697. As a young man, he was a very successful merchant, but gave it all up to move into an isolated cottage to search for God.

In 1727 a revival took place and Tersteegan’s time of solitude took a new direction as people from all over began coming to him for spiritual guidance. Before long he was giving personal counsel from morning to night. The numbers seeking his guidance grew to the point that he was forced to move out of his small, isolated cottage and into a large house that suited his ministry. Thousands came to Tersteegen for spiritual counsel, many traveling great distances and sometimes waiting for hours in order to hear his words for a few minutes. One of his teachings was glommed onto by Kierkegaard, who popularized it and it’s simply this: Christians are simultaneously great and small, rich and poor at the same time because they are in a relationship with God. Our greatness, our wealth, our wisdom, our righteousness comes from Him.

In 1731 he published his first collection of hymns, The Spiritual Flower Garden. These hymns were so popular that they were sung at weddings, social gatherings, and even spoken as greetings. Here are some lines from one of his classic hymns, “Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God”:

Upon God’s will I lay me down,
As child upon its mother’s breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed,
Could ever give me such deep rest.

Thy wonderful grand will, my God,
With triumph now I make it mine;
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes
To every dear command of Thine.

And that pretty much sums up the idea of saying “yes” to Jesus; “yes” to God’s will. You can’t go wrong when you say “yes” the Lord.

Previously, we looked at the blind men, followers of Jesus, who said “yes” to God’s mercy (Matthew 9:28); the disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 13:51); and the foreign woman said “yes” to being a dog! In other words, she said “yes” to Jesus’ estimation of her: she was a Gentile – one who needed Him and was in desperate of what only He could do for her (Matthew 15:27).

The fourth person who said “yes” to Jesus was a hard-working woman whose name was Martha:

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

That’s something you and I would have no trouble saying. It’s obvious, after all. Jesus Christ IS the Son of God. We all know that. But Martha didn’t. She didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian culture to fall back on. She didn’t have hymns and sermons to remember and she didn’t have the Bible to read or K-LOVE playing in the background to constantly remind her that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. She came this conclusion all on her own. And she came to this conclusion after the worst week of her life: Her brother had just died.

The death of Lazarus, John 11:1 – 16

We all know about Lazarus. Every kid who ever went to Sunday School knows the old, old joke: “Jesus called out: Lazarus, come forth! Well, he came fifth and lost the job.” That was James Joyce’s paraphrase of the story. It’s funny but not at all accurate in the case of the Biblical Lazarus. He did come forth, but he came forth a winner; he came forth alive after being dead for days.

This has been described as the greatest miracle of Jesus’ life and career and it illustrates perfectly what our Lord Himself said in the previous chapter:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 | NIV84)

The story is found only in John; none of the other Gospels records it. In fact, Lazarus, who was apparently a good friend of our Lord’s, isn’t even mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. Of course, Jesus raised other people from the dead during His earthly ministry: Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son, but here the stakes were high.

Having heard about the dire circumstances of Lazarus, Jesus’ reaction was, to say the least, curious indeed:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5, 6 | NIV84)

Lazarus is what Alfred Hitchcock might have referred to as “the McGuffin” in the story. He’s totally passive; the only reason he’s mentioned is because he was sick and died! His sad end was merely an excuse for Jesus to teach an important lesson, which had nothing to do with Lazarus, but everything to do with Jesus and the two sisters, Mary and Martha. It’s all about them.

The dreadful sickness of Lazarus is really the condition of every single human being without God. The sickness of the human race is sin and everybody is afflicted with it.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

Every human being without God is dying, and there is no hope for them.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in a Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Some people with tender hearts have real difficulty with what seems to be a paradox. If Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so much, why did He not rush off to see him? We are people who are mired in sentimentality, but our Lord was not. Everything Jesus did and said were designed to teach people something. One scholar noted this and remarked:

Because the Lord loved the family He went at the exact moment when His visit would be most fruitful, and not just when He was invited.

God’s timing is always perfect. When we pray about something, we expect God to hop to it and answer it, post-haste! But that’s not how He works. God knows the beginning from the end and He knows what you don’t. For example, in this story, Jesus knew this:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4 | NIV84)

But of course, Lazarus did die, didn’t he? So what was our Lord getting at? Simply this: Jesus knew the death of His friend was merely temporary for He knew what God would do. Second, Lazarus was sick and would die temporarily to glorify God. And, lastly, the cure administered by Jesus would result in the people seeing God in action, giving Him the glory.

Another tidbit about this incident, and it’s only noted here in John’s Gospel, is this:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place c and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48 | NIV84)

The raising of Lazarus was a catalyst for the occasion of Jesus’ trial and death. There’s a big picture we never see. We may have our needs and offer up our prayers – as we ought – but there is a much bigger picture that we can’t see, but that God sees.

Saying “yes” when you don’t want to

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17 | NIV84)

Jesus finally got there, but by all appearances He was too late. His friend was long dead and Martha was not happy, but she still had faith.

Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21, 22 | NIV)

Martha had faith – even though Lazarus had died, she knew that he would rise again at the resurrection. That’s the equivalent of saying, on the occasion of a loved one’s passing, “I know I’ll see him in heaven.” It’s one of those sentimental elements of faith we bring up at the right time, but we otherwise don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not real to us most of the time. But to Jesus, all elements of our faith are important. For Martha, her faith exceeded her grasp. In other words, she knew the words – she knew the right thing to say – but it wasn’t real to her. In a few days, she’d stop thinking about Lazarus like that and accept the fact that he’s gone.

Jesus, though, wouldn’t let this go, though. And that’s the whole point of the story.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26 | NIV84)

Jesus needed to make Martha’s faith real. She needed to know that she was in the presence of the Resurrection. Martha thought the resurrection was an event that would happen at some time in the future; an event at which everybody would be passive participants; that the Lord would do the work of bringing us all back. But the resurrection is not just an event. The Resurrection is also a Person, and He was standing right beside her. It is impossible for death to prevail in His presence. This is not a doctrine or an idea or a hope. It is a personal reality. Anybody, Lazarus included, who has faith in Jesus Christ, is living eternally already. He may pass through something called “physical death” but it is impossible for him to die eternally because of Jesus Christ. As Godet wrote,

Jesus means: In me the dead lives, and the living does not die.

The question Jesus put to Martha penetrated to the heart of the matter. Like so many others, she may not have grasped the total meaning of what Jesus had just said, but she accepted Him. She confessed that Jesus is the Christ.

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

So while we give Martha credit for giving the right answer, Mary and the others weren’t quite there yet, as evidenced by what happened at the tomb:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:32, 33 | NIV84)

Jesus wasn’t upset that Lazarus was dead. He shuddered and was full of grief and even anger because of what He saw: All of Lazarus’ friends and Mary, weeping and full of sadness and sorrow and grieving for no good reason. He was standing face-to-face with people who had no hope because of unbelief. Jesus didn’t cry because He loved Lazarus so much. He knew Lazarus was on his way out of the tomb, alive. He cried because of what unbelief had done to these people.

Unbelief is what kills hope and robs faith of its power. Lazarus fared well. He left that tomb alive. His sisters and his friends realized who Jesus was. For Martha, all it took was a simple confession of faith and saying “yes” to Jesus.

Just Say Yes! Part 1

In his book “Yes Man,” Danny Wallace wrote this:

Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.

That could be a true statement, depending on what you said “yes” to in the first place. For me, saying “yes” to a spicy Italian foot long sub at 11 pm is most definitely not a good thing, the consequences being dire, indeed. But for the Christian, faith could be defined as saying “yes” to the Lord. Or put another way, obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. When we say “yes” in fulfilling the conditions of the Lord’s promises, He in turn says “yes” to our prayer requests.

Of course, saying “yes” the Lord often involves some kind of risk; the risk of embarrassment, for example. Or the risk of being let down. Back to Danny Wallace, he did get one thing right:

maybe sometimes it’s riskier not to take a risk. Sometimes all you’re guaranteeing is that things will stay the same.

In the New Testament, there are several people who said “yes” to the Lord and they got exactly what they needed and wanted. In saying “yes” to Jesus, the lives of these individuals forever changed.

And maybe that’s your problem; maybe you haven’t said “yes” enough to the Lord and your Christian experience has grown stale. God never intended the life of a believer to be boring, and yet so many of us find it so. If that describes you, then maybe it’s time for you to say “yes” to the Lord and allow Him to make your life into something meaningful and, yes, even exciting. One more quote from “Yes Man” to set the table as we turn to the Word:

The fact is saying yes hadn’t been a pointless exercise at all. It had been pointful. It had the power to change lives and set people free… It had the power of adventure. Sometimes the little opportunities that fly at us each day can have the biggest impact.

Jesus wants all believers to be “yes men and women” when it comes to serving Him. The blind man in Matthew’s Gospel never regretted saying “yes” to Jesus, and you won’t either.

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:28 | TNIV)

Matthew and his Gospel

Nobody knows for sure when Matthew wrote his Gospel, but most scholars agree that it was written very soon after the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Like the epistles in the New Testament, Matthew wrote this Gospel to somebody, or a bunch of some bodies, probably Greek-speaking, Jewish-Christians. Anybody who went to Sunday School knows that Matthew presents Jesus Christ as “the King of the Jews,” the legitimate heir to David’s throne. And yet, when we read Matthew, Jesus comes across, not as royalty but more of a teacher. No wonder Matthew’s Gospel became the most popular of the Gospels once all four of them went into circulation, and when the New Testament began to take form, the Gospel of Matthew found its place at the head of all the other Gospels and epistles.

Matthew himself was a tax collector, chosen specifically by Jesus to follow Him. Oddly enough, “Matthew” means “the gift of God,” an interesting name for one whose career was taking money from others. Here was a disciplined disciple if ever there was one. And, because he was a tax collector, he was also despised by his fellows. Yet Jesus saw something in Matthew that He needed for the Kingdom:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 | TNIV)

As far as we know, Matthew had never met Jesus, although it’s hard to believe he wasn’t at least vaguely aware of this radical rabbi. What’s really interesting is that Jesus went to where this despised tax collector was. Nobody wanted to go near Matthew, sitting there in his toll-collecting office for fear that the few dollars they may have had in their wallets would be confiscated by this representative of Rome.

But Jesus walked right up to him and said two words: “Follow me.” Incredibly, without any hesitation at all, Matthew got up and simply followed Jesus. He did what Jesus wanted him to do. Bonhoeffer wrote about how big a step this was for this one-time tax collector:

The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus).

And in case you think Matthew leaped before he thought, the very next thing he did was throw a dinner party in honor of his new life:

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”. (Matthew 9:10, 11 | TNIV)

Matthew wasn’t afraid to invite his shady friends to a party and introducing them to his new-found friend, Jesus Christ. Of course, the Pharisees weren’t impressed. Jesus’ fraternizing with “sinners” – people with reputation problems, may have caused the Pharisees to be critical, but for Jesus, this was an opportunity to teach His disciples something very important: Followers of Jesus need to go where they are needed most. People in the dark need the light and followers of Jesus are the light-bearers. People who are sick need healing and followers of Jesus are agents of healing. People who are lost need to be lead and followers of Jesus are those who find the lost and lead them to Jesus.

A series of miracles

That’s the first half of Matthew 9. The second half of Matthew 9 concerns a group of miracles, all designed to drive home the point our Lord was trying to make. Here we see Jesus going to where He was needed the most.  The first two miracles are connected even though they don’t seem to be.

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. (Matthew 9:18, 19 | TNIV)

Mark tells us the synagogue leader’s name was Jairus and that his daughter was almost dead – she was about to take her last breath. Mark and Luke, filling in the blanks, tell us that while the group was on its way to the house, it got the bad report that the girl had passed.

So now it’s up to Jesus, not to heal the girl, but to raise her from the dead. No pressure there! But, wait! On His way, this happened:

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”. (Matthew 9:20, 21 | TNIV)

On His way to perform one miracle, an opportunity presented itself to perform another. What she wanted from Jesus is barely expressed in the word “healed.” The verb used here is sozo, and the KJV gets closer to its meaning when it translated it, “be whole.” It is used frequently in the Gospels and Acts of “physical healing.” But in the epistles, it is used almost exclusively for salvation. Here’s the interesting bit: The Greek words for “Savior” and “salvation” are from the same the root as sozo, emphasizing “spiritual health” or “wholeness.” So just what was this wanting of Jesus? Maybe both; to be saved spiritually and, if He would do so, healed physically.

What would Jesus do? How determined was He to get to Jairus’ home? Here’s the teachable moment:

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:22 | TNIV)

Our Lord took the time to respond to her faith – He gave her exactly what she asked for: sozo. But it wasn’t the touching of Jesus’ robe that healed her, it was her faith. But it wasn’t her belief that resulted in her healing, it was her faith (her belief) expressed in action. She did two things that demonstrated her faith: she sought Jesus out and she reached out and touched Him. Her actions manifested her faith. Put another way, she did something to show our Lord that she had an inner belief in His abilities to give her what she needed.

Meanwhile, when He finally reached the home of Jairus, Jesus was faced with quite a display:

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes…. (Matthew 9:23 | TNIV)

It must have been quite a contrast: Calm, cool, and collected Jesus walking among a gaggle of hired mourners. They were sure it was all over except for the mourning, but Jesus viewed death as a temporary thing, and taking the girl’s hand, He lifted her up and restored her life.

News of this miracle spread like wildfire. And while most people view the miracle of a restored life as the main point of this story, the disciples are learning not only what Jesus can do, but how He viewed the human condition. Not only did Jesus go to those who needed Him, but the disciples also learned that He is greater than a long-term illness and that there is life after death – a life brought about by an act of the Lord. They are also learning something of this mysterious thing called faith. The bleeding lady had it. Jairus had it. And even Matthew had it. And now we’ll meet two blind men who followed Jesus. They had faith even though they, for the moment, had no sight.

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:27, 28 | TNIV)

Right away I am struck by the faith these blind men had. Their faith, first of all, was in Jesus “the Son of David,” not Jesus the miracle-working rabbi. Somehow these two blind men saw something in Jesus that nobody else did at this time. The knew, somehow, His royal pedigree. And that is a very big deal, especially in this Gospel which presents our Lord as the King.

The other thing that strikes me is that they didn’t really ask for healing, they asked for mercy. Filsom commented,

They accept him as the expected Messiah leader who will do wonderful deeds of mercy mentioned in Isaiah 35:5.

In case you forgot what Isaiah 35:5 says, here it is:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. (Isaiah 35:5 | TNIV)

In crying out to Jesus for mercy, these unfortunate men were really asserting their faith, and in response, Jesus said this:

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:29 – 31 | TNIV)

“According to your faith, let it be done to you.” If Jesus were to come up and say that to you, what do you think would happen to you? Anything? Would anything at all happen to you? This simple statement made to these men stands as a challenge for all Christians today. Since we can have what we believe for as we learn to say “yes” to Jesus, what would happen if Jesus said, “According to your faith, let it be done to you?” Sadly, many Christians would receive exactly nothing because they don’t have faith that says “yes” to Jesus. They’re content with knowing, however vaguely, that they are going to Heaven after they die, but beyond that bit of faith, they have nothing for Jesus. How unfortunate for them; they are missing out on so much. Consider what we’ve learned about the people that said “yes,” implicitly or explicitly to Jesus in this chapter:

Matthew. He said “yes” to Jesus by getting up and following Him. He became one of the 12 apostles, lived a life of serving the Lord and wroteaa a piece of literature that has endured two millennia.

Jairus. He said “yes” by seeking out Jesus to heal and restore his daughter to health. Jesus raised her from the dead because of her father’s faith.

The bleeding woman. She said “yes” to Jesus by reaching out to touch His clothing. He restored her health.

The blind men. They said “yes” literally and figuratively and they received their sight.

There’s a pattern here, if you’d take the time notice it. Learn to say “yes” to Jesus and see what He will do for you!

The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Part 2

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Our first greatest story was the story of Noah and the Flood. In that story we read about the very first covenant God made with a man:

Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22 | NIV84)

That was the first of many covenants God made with people over the centuries, but the greatest covenant in the Bible is the one He made with a fellow named Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3 | NIV84)

Some ten generations had elapsed between those two covenants and both Noah and Abraham were men of distinction. Noah, of course, because was the only decent man alive on the whole face of the earth at the time, and Abraham remains one of the most important figures, not only in Scripture, but in the overall history of the earth. He was the father of the Israelites through Isaac and the father of the Arabs through Ishmael. He is the ancestor the Messiah and the spiritual father of all believer who share in his faith.

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11-12 | NIV84)

And God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17, etc.) is far reaching. It promises the preservation of Israel as a nation, the Millennial hope, and even the ordering of world affairs at the end of the age.

Hearing and obeying

The story of Abram, later Abraham, begins at the tail end of Genesis 11 –

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. (Genesis 11:31 | NIV84)

So verse one of chapter 12 was probably the second time God came to Abram to call him to leave his relatives and the pagan culture in which he was living.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1 | NIV84)

The first call came while he was in Ur, this second call while he was in Haran, after the death of his father, Terah. Some people find it amazing that God would actually speak directly to human being, but what’s truly amazing is that this human being not only heard God speaking to him, but did what he was told!

So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. (Genesis 12:4 | NIV84)

Just like that, a 75-year-old senior citizen started life all over again, based on a covenant made up of three essential components. Two of those components sounded pretty good and would have made complete sense to old Abram: (1) Abram’s name would be great. Who wouldn’t want to be considered “great” among all the people of the world? Abram was already wealthy, but if he kept up his end of the covenant, he would become influential for all time; (2) God would make Abram a blessing to others. That’s a good thing too. It must have made Abram feel good to be told that he would a blessing to others! But it’s the first stipulation of the covenant that would have been a little hard for this senior citizen to swallow: (3) God would make Abram into a great nation. From the purely human perspective, that seems ridiculous. Now, it is true that Pierre Trudeau, a former Canadian Prime Minister, fathered a daughter in his early 70’s, but that’s an exception. Or exceptional, if you like. So the fact that God would think that Abram would go along with that part of covenant speaks volumes about how God viewed the man’s character. Abram was by no means perfect, but his heart was right.

Paul viewed justification by faith as the key blessing Israel has given the world. Yet wherever the Jewish people have traveled and lived, they have been a blessing to those around them. Think about this:

  • There are some 18 million Jews worldwide, or about 0.2% of the world’s population. Yet Jews make up 54% of the world chess champions, 27% of the Nobel physics laureates, and 31% of the medicine laureates.
  • In America, Jews make up a mere 2% of the population, but 21% of the Ivy League student bodies, 26% of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37% of the Academy Award-winning directory, 38% of those on a recent Business Week list of philanthropists, and 51% of the Pulitzer Prize winners for non-fiction.
  • Within Israel itself, Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial centers – a new Silicon Valley in the Middle East! For example, Intel is the number one employer in Israel, with more than 8,000 employees. The Israelis are responsible for much of the microprocessor innovation over the last two decades.
  • According to David Brooks: Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any nation on earth. It ranks second behind the US in the number of companies listed on the NASDAQ. Little Israel, with 7 million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. During the most recent world-wide economic downturn, Israel thrived by raising some consumption taxes but lowering the rest. Barclay’s stated that: “Israel is the strongest recovery story in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
  • Finally, the nation of Israel is nothing short of astounding in terms of its creativity, scientific genius and technological savvy. For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the US. Saudis registered 171. Israel registered 7,652 patents!! The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with its economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. There is indeed some evidence that this is already occurring in Jordan and in the West Bank. An astonishing example of this innovation is the Israeli company Netafim, a company that produced the world’s first drip irrigation system, which consists of a series of plastic pipes with small holes that lie on the ground. This system revolutionized the way Israel made its desert bloom so that it became a leading supplier of fruits, vegetables and flowers to the European market. Today, Netafim is the number one provider of drip irrigation to the world and conducts business in 110 countries spanning five continents. This highly efficient system has helped nations produce 50% more crop yield while using 40% less water. Nations such as India, Vietnam and Philippines all benefit from this technology. However, nations such as Iran and its terrorist allies, Hezbollah and Hamas, despise the success and innovation of Israel and seek to destroy it. (http://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2013/06/13-06-01-1/)

Israel, one of the smallest nations on the planet, has made incredible contributions to humanity. Is it because the Jews are smarter than the rest of us? Or is it because of the covenant God made with Abram?

Abram stepped out in faith, but it was an imperfect faith to be sure.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit a my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1 – 3 | NIV84)

It’s hard to believe the same man said this:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:22 – 24 | NIV84)

Yes, Abram had faith but time was marching on and, at least in private, Abram began to have his doubts. But he did exactly right by confessing them to the Lord. It’s not unusual for God to delay an answer to prayer until a situation appears utterly hopeless; then a solution will have to be of God’s doing and all the glory will be His and His alone.

Confirmation

In chapter 15, Abram addressed the Lord as “Adonai Yahweh,” or “Master Covenant Keeper.” The NIV translates the name as “Sovereign Lord,” and it tells us that even though the man had doubts, he still viewed God as trustworthy and dependable. And yet, Abram’s faith was conditioned by what he saw, or rather, what he didn’t see. He still had no children. Given that, he reasoned that one of his servants would have to do. How often do we limit God by our own reasoning? When we do that, we really short change God because we limit Him, or we put limits on Him. God is so much bigger and so much more powerful than we imagine.

Instead of chastising Abram for what seemed like a lack of faith, the Lord did something astonishing:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4 – 6 | NIV84)

God would do something for Abram that the man could never conceive of: Give him natural descendants as numerous as the stars.

The patriarch trusted that God would keep His word and God considered that an act of righteousness – Abram was righteous because he simply trusted the Lord. This wasn’t the first time Abram exercised extreme faith in God. Here’s what Hebrews says:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8 – 10 | NIV84)

Abram, who later became Abraham, was a man of simple faith. He may have been had fleeting doubts which led to bad decisions, but his act of trusting the Lord’s word is legendary, and is considered righteousness, and as Paul would later write, an example of what justification of faith is all about (Romans 4 and Galatians 3). Salvation is an act of simple faith, just as Abram’s trusting God to keep His word was.

Your Amazing Faith, Part 3

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How amazing is your faith? It’s so amazing only you and other Christians possess it. No unbeliever has faith. Only Christians have faith because faith comes with a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. No unbeliever has a relationship with God. Granted, an unbeliever may say he believes in God – and he may mentally assent to the existence of God – but believing in God isn’t the same thing as being in a relationship with Him. I believe that Kim Kardashian exists, but I don’t have a relationship with her. This is the essence of Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

So, faith comes from hearing the Word of God; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When you couple that verse with another one, you’ll understand why unbelievers don’t possess faith:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | NIV84)

That’s why faith comes from the Word of God. And that’s why the unbeliever doesn’t have it; he doesn’t have the Word and therefore he can’t have faith.

Faith also has nothing to do with what you think or feel. Nor does it have anything to do with the circumstances you may find yourself in. Faith exists outside of your mind, emotions, feelings, and circumstances. Paul discovered that –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Paul, in the midst of a life-threatening storm at sea, was able to say that because his faith wasn’t in the sailors or the ship he was on or in his hope that the weather would change; his faith was in God. Too many Christians haven’t figured this aspect of their amazing faith out. They foolishly think that their circumstances indicate how much faith they have. Or, they allow their feelings to dictate how much faith they have. So when times are good, they “feel” like they have a lot of faith but during bad times, they “feel” like they have less faith. That’s crazy thinking. Our amazing faith has everything to do with God, not us or our circumstances. Our faith is objective, not subjective. And the Object of our faith is God.

That brings us to the third aspect of our amazing faith, and it’s found in Galatians 2:20 –

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | KJV)

This single verse is the most significant theological statement on the new birth in the Bible. Let’s take a look at why Paul wrote it in the first place. The reason behind the verse makes it even more profound.

The old switch and bait

It all started back in Galatians 1:10 –

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 | NIV84)

Not only the Galatian Christians, but those in other churches of the day had been accusing the apostle of sacrificing the truth of God or of sugar-coating the Gospel so that he might win more people over to his way of thinking. In other words, Paul was being accused of lowering the standards of the Gospel of salvation; of making it too easy for Gentiles to become Christians.

The fact was, at one time Paul really did try to “please men,” particularly when he was running around persecuting Christians. But he stopped that when he became a servant of Christ. After his conversion, his concern was pleasing God, not man.

The essence of Paul’s preaching was freedom from sin – salvation by grace. Sinful man is freed from the clutches of this evil world by the power of Christ alone. You’d think people would be clamoring to hear a message like that. Some were, but many wanted him to shut up and keep his grace and freedom to himself. They did that by lying about what he was saying.

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 | NIV84)

That’s his defense, and it’s a simple one. Not only was Paul not trying to please man in his preaching, but his sermons didn’t come from any other man’s notes and he didn’t learn it in school. His sermons – his message of grace and freedom in Christ – came directly from the Source: Jesus Christ. Beginning on that dusty road to Damascus and continuing through three years of seclusion in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17, 18). Paul was in no way a bandwagon preacher, glomming onto the popular ideas of the times and incorporating them into his preaching and writing, as happens so often today.

Now, he wasn’t the Lone Ranger evangelist, either.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19 | NIV84)

So Paul made it clear that while he wasn’t a loose canon, but his preaching wasn’t influenced by anybody or anything, either. He preached Christ and Christ alone. His credentials – his apostleship – didn’t descend from the mother church back in Jerusalem. He was called to preach by Jesus Christ. For Paul, Christ was truly was his all-in-all.

Peter’s problem

But not all the apostles were like that. Take the case of Peter. Paul certainly did and he raked his friend over the coals.

Once, on a visit to the church’s headquarters in Jerusalem to justify his ministry among the Gentiles, Paul dragged poor Titus along as an illustration of the kind of preaching he engaged in:

Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. ˻This matter arose˼ because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. (Galatians 2:3-4 | NIV84)

And herein was the problem. These false brothers – Jewish troublemakers – thought that Paul should have been preaching elements of Judaism along with Christ to the Gentiles. These people – false brothers – believed that while law-keeping didn’t save a sinner and wasn’t necessary, it did bring about a higher state of perfection. That’s the point behind this verse in Galatians 3:3 –

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:3 | NIV84)

This was a big problem in the early church and the Judaizers, the false brothers by name, could have ruined the fledgling church by intimidating its members and it’s preachers into caving into their demands to introduce elements of Judaism, particularly circumcision, thereby making Christianity just another sect of Judaism.

Sounds crazy, right? Who’d be foolish enough to go along with that? Remember the aforementioned Peter? He was one who was intimidated by these Judaizers. Here’s how Paul dealt with Peter’s problem:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:11-13 | NIV84)

Paul opposed Peter in his unseemly behavior. I’d love to have been a fly on the way when that happened! Here was Peter, one of those closest to Jesus, the one so brash and rash in the early days of his faith, now cowering in the face of these false brothers. It’s astounding that a such a minority of people could wield such influence over so many. But that’s the way it’s always been with false teaching and certainly it’s the way it is today.

That’s the background in behind the verse that opened this message:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

Paul’s perspective

Here’s the thing. Unlike Peter, Paul never gave into these Judaizers for a second. Paul’s perspective was the right one. He had a new life under Christ. He wasn’t that man that persecuted Christians years ago. This new life in Christ set Paul free from the hindrances of the law – that law that encouraged him to persecute Christians; the same law that insisted Gentiles be circumcised or obey other stipulations of Judaism!

That first phrase, “I have been crucified with Christ” sets the foundation for Paul’s perspective. When a person becomes a Christian, he is identified with Christ – His life and His death. This isn’t a clever turn of phrase, it’s a statement of faith. By faith, a sinner makes Christ’s death his own. What that means is profound. In the future sense, it means that a redeemed sinner will never face eternal death for his sins. Somehow, when Christ died on then Cross, so did the sinner. This spiritual fact is something we take on faith.

The present benefit is astounding. The power of sin is broken in the believer’s life because he died to sin with Christ. As Christ died to the world around Him, so we died to world around us. Our old, inner self, hopelessly addicted to sin and depraved by sin, doesn’t exist anymore. That’s an objective truth that must also be taken by faith because more often than not it feels like our old self is still alive and kicking. It isn’t. But sin still is and it’s up to us to live in such a way as to put truth to the spiritual fact that our old self is dead and gone.

The counterpart to dying with Christ is the second phrase: “Christ lives in me.” Paul and all believers are living a new life.

just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4 | NIV84)

Death to sin – death to the world around us – opens the door to this new life in Christ. The Greek is far more emphatic than our English translations. Here’s how one Bible scholar paraphrased what Paul was trying to get across:

I live no longer as I once did, but in a new way – no longer I. Now Christ lives in me – He is the Lord of my life.

I like that. Paul wasn’t the same man he was before he fell off that donkey on the road to Damascus. He was different; he was different because he was no longer running his life. Christ was now in charge of Paul the apostle.

In spite of that, he still needed faith. This wonderful new life in Christ is lived in the here-and-now, or “in the body,” as Paul put it. And to live a life worthy of Christ takes faith. Paul was justified by faith and now he must live by faith in Christ. Think about what that means. First, everything in the believer’s life comes from Christ. He is the source. In fact, His love for sinners caused Him to die for them. But secondly, Paul discovered that while salvation was free and and the result of God’s amazing grace, living the Christian life was entirely up to him. He couldn’t’ afford to attempt to live righteously by simply obeying a bunch of man-made rules or regulations. He wouldn’t do it, and he wouldn’t tell others to do it. Paul had discovered something every believer in Jesus Christ must: we live by faith in Jesus Christ and in what He did on the Cross.

Your Amazing Faith, Part 1

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Faith, it is said, can move mountains. But can it really? Have you ever tried to move a mountain with your faith? Of course, we know that when Jesus spoke those words in Mathew 17:20, He wasn’t referring to real mountains. He was referring to metaphorical mountains. With faith the size of a mustard seed (that’s a tiny amount of faith), a believer is able to move mountains of – you name it – pain, illness, debt, emotional problems, marital problems. And yet, if you’re like me, and you have that little bit of faith, you also have mountains that never give way to it.

Was Jesus wrong when He said that faith can move mountains? We know that can’t be true because Jesus is the Son of God and that fact precludes His being wrong or telling a fib. So He must mean something else. But what? Studying faith is like trying to dribble a football (that is, an American football). Just when you think you can, you find out you can’t. Just when you think you get a handle on what faith is all about, you discover you don’t. And it’s back to the drawing board you go.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to explore Biblical faith. What it is, and what it can add to your life. And this will be an important study because of this single verse:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 | NIV84)

If you’re a believer, then you probably want to please God. You need faith to do that, therefore you need to know just what Biblical faith is.

In Romans, Paul wrote about faith, and in his opinion faith isn’t something normally present in a person. It’s not native to a human being.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

The word “consequently,” or “therefore” in the KJV, links verse 17 to something preceding it.

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”. (Romans 10:16-17a | NIV84)

So Paul was quoting from the book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 53:1, when he referred to faith resulting from hearing a certain message. What message? What is the message both Paul and the Old Testament prophet thought was so powerful that it literally brings faith into the hearts of those who just hear it?

Let’s take a look at the context of Romans 10 and we’ll discover the basis of our faith.

Two kinds of people

Here in Romans, Paul has in mind two kinds of people: the zealous Jewish moralist and the believing Gentile. The key to understanding the quandary of faith is understanding what Paul wrote in chapter 9 –

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. (Romans 9:30-32a | NIV84)

In other words, there were zealous, well-meaning Jews who had spent a lifetime pursuing holiness and righteousness before God yet accomplishing nothing of eternal value because they were using the law to obtain that which can only be obtained by simple faith. But on the other hand, there were Gentiles, who had never heard of the law or tried to obey it, yet they had obtained righteousness because they had faith.

How is this possible? How is it possible to be righteous through faith and not through good works? It’s because – as Paul had argued in the first eight chapters of Romans – all men are sinners and simply cannot approach God on the basis of good works.

Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” (Romans 9:32 | NIV84)

So these zealous, misinformed Jews thought they could become holy, righteous people simply by obeying a list of do’s and don’ts. This, Paul maintains, is impossible. Only through faith can a person become righteous in God’s sight. The sad but sincere Jew Paul had in mind, was so busy minding the law that he literally tripped over Jesus, whom Paul refers to as a “stumbling stone,” as he again quoted from Isaiah –

As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”. (Romans 9:33 | NIV84)

That’s actually God speaking through the prophet. God set a “stone” in Zion – in Israel – that caused Jews to stumble and fall down. Jesus, our Savior, became “like a stumbling stone or block” in that Jews who were busy minding the letter of the law missed Him completely or tripped over Him as one would trip over an inconveniently placed stone on a path. Because they were so focused on themselves in relation to the law, they couldn’t see Jesus and they couldn’t hear His message.

That’s the big problem with this legalistic approach to righteousness, by the way. Because man is a sinner, he doesn’t judge himself correctly nor does he see his own moral and spiritual shortcomings. He judges himself against other people, and supposes himself to be all right or as good or better than others. The odds are that a person who thinks this way will become proud and self-seeking, which is the root of all sin. People like this, and the church today is full of them, overlook or trip over God’s way of righteousness, which comes a gift given in grace: faith in Jesus Christ. It’s an ironic tragedy: these people so zealous for God were rejected by Him over their misplaced zeal. Yes, these moral legalists were and are sincere, but sincerely wrong. Here’s the rub: Sincerity is worthwhile only if you’re right. There are a lot of very sincere people who are wrong in their approach to God. They foolishly think they can earn their way through the pearly gates by doing good things or simply by going to church and believing the right stuff. These activities are good and are part of the Christian life, but salvation doesn’t come that way. A lot of churches, for example, make their young people pass a test before making them members of the church. That’s all well and good but that doesn’t make you a Christian.

The law versus faith boils down to a message

The whole point of this discussion is boiled down in these verses –

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:1-3a | NIV84)

So, where does the knowledge come from? You and I know this knowledge as the Gospel. Paul does too. But remember to whom he’s writing: Jews. That’s why he quotes so freely from the Old Testament. All through Romans 10 Paul quotes from the likes of Moses, Isaiah, Joel; all men held in high esteem by Jews. Paul uses what these men wrote and sums up his argument this way –

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13a | NIV84)

That last bit is a quote from Joel 2 and what Paul said here, though obvious to us, must have been a stunning declaration to the Jews of his day: God doesn’t distinguish between people when it comes to salvation. Jew or Gentile doesn’t matter because all people without Christ are lost and in need of saving. In our time and corner of the world today, we might say something like this: Whether you are a good person or a sketchy criminal type, you both need to be saved. God doesn’t prefer the good person over the bad. Both are sinners and God is the only one who can save them both.

The problem Paul sees is two-fold. First, how do we get this word out to people? And, second, who’s going to take it? Paul addresses this problem, and again he uses the words of Isaiah –

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15a | NIV84)

We’re getting close to discovering what “the message” is that produces faith one’s heart. There’s a lot going on in these two verses in the form of questions:

How can a person call on someone to be saved if they don’t believe in him in the first place? That’s a good question and points to the fact of the necessity of salvation. The “belief” here is not a mental exercise. A lot of people believe in Jesus Christ – that is, they believe He existed and so on. But that’s not what we might call “saving faith.” How can a sinner call out for salvation if he has no confidence or belief in the one to whom he is calling? If a sinner is to call out for salvation, then, he must have faith planted in him. Why? Because that faith isn’t there naturally; human beings aren’t born with “saving” faith in them.

The second question indicates the necessity of a sinner learning about Jesus Christ, the only one who can save. If a person hasn’t heard of Jesus Christ – or more specifically what Jesus Christ did for him the Cross – then he can’t be saved. Remember what Peter said in his famous Pentecostal sermon –

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 | NIV84)

What’s really interesting about Paul’s quote from Isaiah in Romans 10:15 is the context of Isaiah 52. The prophet has in mind the exiles in Babylon. Not all, but many of the exiles living in Babylon were faithfully waiting for the Lord to come to their rescue. Here’s the Word of the Lord to them as Isaiah proclaimed it –

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “At first my people went down to Egypt to live;lately, Assyria has oppressed them. “And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,”declares the Lord.“And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed. Therefore my people will know my name;therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it.Yes, it is I.” (Isaiah 52:4 | NIV84)

Tempted to give up and give in, these exiles stuck in Babylon longed to be set free. The exclamation, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” is what these sad and sorrowful exiles exclaimed when saw the messengers coming with the news and they heard that “good news” that their exile was over and that they could go home.

Such are the “beautiful” feet of Paul and the countless preachers and missionaries down through time who were called by God and went out to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the spiritual exiles longing to be set free. Our Lord put it this way –

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6 | NIV84)

In this first study of faith, we learn the powerful lesson that without Christ nobody can be saved; that it is faith in Him and His work that results in our salvation. But nobody can gin up the faith to believe in Him unless He puts it there first. The faith to believe comes from the message of the Gospel – the Word of God. And the Gospel came first through Jesus Christ and then through the innumerable men and women whom He called to take it to those who need to hear it.

Are You Swinging Your Crutch?

crutch free

James Stephenson tells this story:

When the German army, during the Franco-Prussian War, was proceeding towards Paris, they passed through many villages. At one of these villages the inhabitants went out to resist their progress armed with crude weapons of various descriptions. It is said that an old woman came out with a crutch, which she swung in the air. “Go back! They will think you mad,” her fellow villagers exclaimed. “I don’t care what they think,” said she, “as long as they know whose side I am on!”

No, that old woman wasn’t mad, she was fearless and full of conviction. Christians would do well to take a lesson from her. Here’s a question each one of us should be asking ourselves: Do our friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances know whose side we’re on?

That’s not an unimportant question. In the midst of our so-busy lives, we’re engaging in so-important endeavors, yet the most important thing is whether or not the people in our lives know we belong to Christ. Because in the end, C.T. Studd will be proven right:

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Our duty: Share the Word

Sharing Christ isn’t an option for the believer, it’s his solemn duty. It can be terrifying. A lot of us aren’t really confident sharing our faith. Part of that fear might be our temperaments. Let’s face it, some of us are shy, we’re not used to being personal with other people. We’re afraid of what they might say or think of us. And our culture has really screwed up our heads, too. At least a couple of generations have been taught that our faith in Jesus is a “personal thing.” But the Bible teaches the exact opposite; giving your faith away is an essential part of the Christian life.  Witnessing is such a vital part of your Christian experience, the apostle Paul wrote about a two-fold emphasis in Romans 10 –

But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:6 – 10 NIV)

Witnessing to the lost involves both your heart and your mind. But what does that mean? If you can understand what Paul is getting at, you’ll have more confidence than you’ll know what to do with. You’ll be a witnessing machine.

Non-believers are always needing to see before they’ll believe. In other words, unbelief in the Gospel message is made manifest when a person demands to have firsthand empirical proof of the Incarnation (“bring Christ down”) and the Resurrection (“bring Christ up from the dead”). The stubborn, unsaved heart needs to see the proof before they’ll believe.  But faith doesn’t work that way. Faith works with the divine Word of God – the witness of God Himself proclaimed in the message (the Gospel) of Jesus Christ. Therefore – and here’s the kicker – the faith to believe, which isn’t native to man, is immediately generated when a lost soul hears the Gospel! What that means is simply this: When a sinner hears the Gospel – when he just hears the Good News – the Lord imparts to his heart the ability to believe the message. Of course, learning more about Jesus comes later. But that historical knowledge, as important as it may be, is purely secondary and nonsalvific. In the very simplest of terms, you’re not saved with your brain, you’re saved when God enables your heart to believe.  The Word of God, not your words, does all the work. All you have to do when you share Jesus with the lost is liberally salt your words with His. Your words might pique your unsaved friend’s interest, but God’s Word, when you speak it, will save him. That’s your duty. You speak the Word from your heart with your mouth.

Our witness: Our word

So then, it’s the Word of God that does the saving. But quoting Bible verses at a lost soul will probably yield pathetic results. Or maybe a black eye. When we share our faith with the lost, our witness is our word – it’s telling them our story. There are five components to every believer’s story:

I’m a sinner. The only thing that separates you, a believer, from that lost soul you’re witnessing to is the fact that you’ve been forgiven and he hasn’t been. He needs to know that. He needs to know that you’ve been saved in spite of yourself.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8, 9 NIV)

And he needs to know that, too. You don’t confess your sins to him, you are saved because you confessed your sins to God, and that’s what he needs to do. Every Christian has had to do that. The sinner you’re witnessing to isn’t any worse than any other sinner; we all came to God the same way: Confessing our sins to Him!

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5 NIV)

I’m not perfect. You confess your sins to God, but to others, especially to that unsaved person you’re sharing your faith with, you own up to them. There’s nothing worse than a Christian who thinks they’re faultless. Unfortunately, much of the unbelieving world has been given that impression. It’s up to you to disabuse them of that falsehood! James 5:16 –

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Of course, you don’t go crazy with that; you just let him know you’re not perfect.

Jesus is for all. Here’s another thing every sinner needs to know: Jesus died for them. He didn’t die just for certain people, He died for all sinners. Now, not every sinner benefits from Jesus’ work; only those who do this:

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32 NIV)

The word Jesus used is “whoever,” not “some.” The lost soul you’re talking to is “whoever,” just as you were once. Nobody is so bad that they can’t come to Jesus or that He would turn them away. And nobody is too good for saving. Jesus makes a bad life good and good life better.

Jesus is God. This is obvious to you, but maybe not the person you’re witnessing to. This present generation is probably the most spiritually dull generation in American history. To many, “Jesus Christ” is just something you say when you’re angry or surprised. But He much more than that.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. (1 John 4:15 NIV)

To “acknowledge” that Jesus is the Son of God is more than just an intellectual exercise. It all goes back to “believing in your heart.” To “acknowledge” the divinity of Jesus is to believe by faith that Jesus is who He claims to be.

Jesus is Lord. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God is just be beginning; the foundation. Jesus Christ must also be Lord of your life.

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11 KJV)

When Jesus is Lord of your life, He’s the one in control. He’s the Sovereign, reigning on the throne in your heart. The lost soul needs to understand that. That means Jesus, the Savior, also wants a relationship – He wants to be the One to lead you through all the rough waters of your life. That’s what “Lordship” means.

Jesus is coming again. There’s a lot of talk about “the End of Days” being upon us, and the “Second Coming” may be close at hand. The truth is, we are living in the last days and Jesus is coming back, sooner rather than later. But something else is also true: we will all see Jesus face-to-face, either when He returns to earth as King of Kings or after we die and see Him in glory. There is no way to avoid seeing Jesus. It’s in the sinner’s best interest to see Jesus as Lord and Savior, not as Judge.

How to give your faith away

Here’s where the rubber meets the road: You know what to say, but when, where, and how do you say it? What’s the best way to share the Gospel with a lost soul? Volumes have been written about this thing called “personal evangelism,” but there are really five simple ways that have always worked.

Write or speak an encouraging word. Did you know most people are either discouraged, depressed, or frustrated? It’s true. We live in a negative world at a very negative time in history, and all that negativity rubs off on people. Nothing can lift a sagging heart like a note or email of encouragement or just a simple, sincere, “I’m praying for you” spoken in passing.  It can open the door to more later.

Carry your Bible. If you’re timid or shy, let the Bible open doors for you. Carry a small Bible in your car or in your back pocket, have one on your desk at work or in your locker. Read it at lunch time. It will open a door; somebody will say something, guaranteed. If you’re scared about approaching people, let them approach you.

Speak like a Christian. Christians are supposed to live differently. They should also speak differently. Sir Robert Peel, Conservative statesman who served two terms as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was also a strong Christian. One time he was having dinner with some Members of Parliament and was irritated by some of what he referred to as “improper language.” In the midst of dinner, Sir Robert called for his carriage and explained to the other “gentlemen” around the table, saying, “Gentlemen, I must ask you to excuse me: I am still a Christian.”  That took guts, but it is a form witness. Being mindful of what you say and how you say it counts for something. How you react to “improper speech” you hear is also just as important.  Let people know you’re different.  It will make them curious.  Or furious.  But a door will be open.

Say grace. Believe it or not, just saying grace is like killing two birds with one stone. You’re thanking God for your food and you’re witnessing to onlookers at the same time. Never be ashamed to bow your heard and say grace, wherever you find yourself at lunchtime or dinnertime. It’s harmless and unobtrusive. And it makes the sinner think.

Be baptized. Being baptized in water isn’t just a ordinance of the church, it’s a form of witness. Being baptized in water is a way to share your faith with those who may be watching it. It’s a drama in miniature of what Jesus did for you; it’s a way to openly testify to your friends and neighbors of your new faith.

If you are a Christian, there is no more important activity you can engage in than sharing your faith with one who is lost. Nothing. Not getting work on time. Not paying your bills every month. Not raising your kids. Nothing is more important than witnessing for Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14, 15 TNIV)

Let’s look at that word “preach.” Normally, when we see that word we think of the Preacher, or the Pastor. We equate preaching the Gospel with preaching a sermon, and that’s something the Pastor does every Sunday. That’s not the idea Paul is trying to convey. “Preach” comes from the Greek word kerusso, a verb. It means to “publish,” or to “proclaim” or “to make known.” The call to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ has been given to everyone who trusts Him. From God’s point of view, there is no division between clergy and laymen in this. All believers are alike in the sight of God and all are on the same level. It is true that God has declared that some members of the church should be set aside as elders to preserve order within His church, but no elder – no pastor – has special access to God, and most of all, no elder or pastor stands as a mediator between man and God.

The simple truth of the matter is this: All Christians have been called to take the Gospel to an unbelieving world. Like the old Parisian lady who swung her crutch over head to show the invading army whose side she was one, we need to ask ourselves: Do the people around us know whose side we are one? Are we swinging our crutches high enough?


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