Archive for August, 2009

Hidden Wisdom

August 31, 2009

Title: Hidden Wisdom

Text: Matthew 11:25-26

Date: August 29th, 2009

 

One of the realities of Christian conversion is that it can’t happen by “talking someone into” becoming a Christian. The most frustrating things of all in the Christian life is trying to explain the gospel to someone who just doesn’t “get it.” You can start with the paradise garden of Eden and explain how God made everything and everyone good at the beginning. But how our original parents Adam and Eve chose to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit, which resulted in the Fall. You can explain how we all today are born with a sin nature because of the Fall and how we soon too begin to sin on our own also in life, making us both guilty and headed for divine judgment. You can then show how Jesus Christ came to take our place on the cross by paying for our sins, taking our judgment and giving us his righteousness in exchange for our simple trust in him. When we confess and repent of sinfulness and sin, when we turn away from a self-centered life and turn to God in humble faith we are declared forgiven and made righteous through Christ. Apart from Christ we can never justify ourselves before God no matter how hard we try, no matter how holy we live our lives. Only through Christ can we obtain salvation and eternal life. This all makes perfect sense to a convert to Christianity, but it makes no sense to an unbeliever, which is why it’s so frustrating to share the gospel with someone who either doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to get it. It’s as if the truth of God is hidden from them, put out of reach of their comprehension. Well, it really is the case that the truth of God is hidden from them, because the Bible teaches exactly that in Matthew 11:25, “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.’”  It seems as if non-Christians can’t understand because they have been kept from understanding by God. It seems as if the gospel is hidden from unbelievers because, well, it has been hidden from them by God. The gospel and all of God’s truths are hidden behind their own pride. We’ve all heard the expression “blinded by pride,” well that’s exactly what this passage is describing in respect to salvation. People could be saved except for their pride. Everyone who is saved is saved through humility. There is a notion that is floating around in Christian circles today that says if only the church would make the gospel and the Bible clearer, then people would understand and believe. Or if only Christians would try harder to make the Bible more relevant and speak in more contemporary terms, then people could be saved. So then, under this kind of thinking, it’s mostly the church’s fault, it’s mostly Christians’ fault that people are not coming to the gospel and being saved. But this is naïve thinking because we can explain the gospel and the Bible with absolute clarity using the language of our times and perfectly relevant, yet people will still not understand or accept it. Why? Because it has been hidden from the proud; only the humble receive it. Let me try to explain this passage by breaking it down into three parts and analyzing each part. I hope by the end we can all appreciate how much a miracle salvation really is, and never take it for granted if we ourselves possess the miracle of salvation. (more…)

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Tough Talk From Jesus

August 28, 2009

Title: Tough Talk From Jesus

Text: Matthew 11:20-24

Date: August 23rd, 2009

 

Today, we come to a passage where we hear some tough talk from Jesus, or it you prefer, tough love from Jesus. In Matthew 11:20-24, in only five verses, Jesus talks about three topics that are hardly ever heard in Christian churches today – repentance, Judgment Day and hell. Now you may hear one of these tough topics talked about on Sunday once in a while in church, but it’s very rare that you’d hear about all three. Today, there seems to be a strange aversion to these tough topics by preachers; they simply don’t talk about them very much. Why is that? Because people have told their pastor they don’t like to hear about such negative things on Sunday morning. Think about it. A family rises early to get ready for church. Then they all pack into the car and make the trip to church. Then they finally take a seat in the church and are ready to be inspired, uplifted, encouraged or in some way lifted up, rather than put down, depressed, discouraged or dealt with negatively. People have communicated in more ways than one that they’d rather hear positive messages of inspiration, rather than a negative message of warning. So pastors, always sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of the people, simply omit or neglect preaching on such negative topics as sin, repentance, judgment or hell. That’s the way the people want it, so that’s the way he does it; everybody is happy. Wrong! Everybody is not happy, because God, who is the most important church member or part of the Divine/human equation which is the church, isn’t pleased when pastor and people omit important aspects of biblical truth. If God communicates his will to people he expects them to listen and receive it, and he definitely doesn’t approve of churches omitting or neglecting some truths because they are too “hard” or “negative” or “difficult” for the sensibilities of modern people. Nevertheless, in most Christian churches today, the so-called hard truths of the Bible are rarely dealt with, and when they are mentioned they are usually watered down or soft-peddled or trimmed or softened so that people don’t get upset, or worse yet, leave the church for good. But the curious thing about all this is that Jesus never worried about offending or alienating people when he spoke or taught. He was more concerned about getting out the truth in order that people might be saved and enter into the kingdom of God. We have a perfect example of this in Matthew 11:20-24, where, like I said before, Jesus talks about almost all the modern day church taboo subjects of repentance, judgment and hell. He didn’t seem too overly concerned about offending or alienating his audience as he warned them of the consequences of sinful disobedience. Maybe we should follow the example of Jesus in our churches today and present the plain truth no matter who might take offense. After all, in the end, isn’t God the one we should most fear offending and not so much our fellow human beings? With that as an introduction, let’s listen to some tough talk from Jesus concerning repentance, judgment and hell. Matthew 11:20-24 (read). (more…)

Restoring a Great Man’s Reputation

August 14, 2009

Title: Restoring a Great Man’s Reputation

Text: Matthew 11:7-19

Date: August 16th, 2009

 

If you remember last week I talked about John the Baptist and his doubts or questions whether Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah. I shared how when I first encountered the account of John the Baptist doubting Jesus or questioning his identity as Messiah, I was a little disappointed. Why couldn’t this great prophet of God clearly see this spiritual truth, like the Apostle Peter did, for example in his statement to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of Living God,” Matthew 16:16. After all, wasn’t it John the Baptist who first introduced Jesus as the Messiah to the people of Israel and baptized him? Hadn’t he seen the sign from God of the dove descending upon Jesus indicating that he was indeed the Christ? And didn’t he point out Jesus as the Messiah to his disciples? So why now was he doubting all of this and needing further assurances and confirmation? But then I shared how John the Baptist had been thrown into prison by Herod and was facing execution for confronting the king of his sin of adultery. John must have felt alone and abandoned and discouraged. But the big problem John had was that Jesus wasn’t acting fully like the Messiah he and all of the Jews were expecting. In all the miracles of Jesus, he hadn’t performed the most important miracle as far as the Jews were concerned – liberating God’s Chosen People from the pagan Roman oppressors. Isn’t that what the Messiah is supposed to do? Wasn’t that the hope of Israel? Wasn’t that part of the prayer for the coming of the Messiah in the first place? But Jesus wasn’t fulfilling that part — at least not yet. John and the Jews were counting on the Messiah coming and doing his full work in their lifetime, but what they didn’t count on was the Messiah accomplishing his work in two stages. The first coming was for the purpose of dealing with the real problem of all men and women, both Jews and Gentiles, and that was the problem of sin. Jesus came to make atonement for sin, according to the prophecy found in Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. The second coming of Jesus would accomplish the liberation of God’s people and judgment upon earth of their enemies. But the Jews weren’t looking for the Messiah to work in two stages, and neither was John. That’s why the Baptist was having his second thoughts and doubts about Jesus. Jesus reassured John that yes indeed he was in fact the Messiah by pointing out the many supernatural signs and wonders he performed which had been prophesied in the Old Testament the true Messiah would do. But now in the passage for today, Matthew 11:7-19, Jesus attempts to restore the reputation of John the Baptist as a great man even though he questioned and doubted. We are not to think any less of John the Baptist because of his questions concerning the identity of Jesus as Messiah. What Jesus says next about John increases our respect for him, not diminishes it. Matthew 11:7-19 (read). Jesus’ attitude towards doubt is also revealing. It shows that from God’s standpoint, doubting isn’t the worst thing one can do, stubborn unbelief is. That should give us comfort today, especially in our skeptical and doubting age. Better to deal with doubters than outright unbelievers. Better to work through our own doubts than to fake belief yet really be unbelievers. Doubting can actually be the prelude to greater faith – if we process out doubts in a godly way. Let’s look at what Jesus says about John and see what we can learn. (more…)

Dealing With Doubts in the Christian Faith

August 9, 2009

Title: Dealing With Doubts in the Christian Faith

Text: Matthew 11:1-6

Date: August 2nd, 2009

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been teaching about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. Today, I’ll get back into the Gospel of Matthew where I was moving through verse-by-verse for the year. Actually I’m picking up in Matthew at a good place, on an appropriate topic, especially after dealing with objections to the Bible over the last few weeks. I’m dealing with the topic of doubt in the Christian life. Why am I dealing with that topic today? Not that I have any particular doubts about the Christian faith in my life, but we see here in the passage for today, Matthew 11:1-6, that John the Baptist seemed to have his doubts or at least questions about whether Jesus really was in fact the Messiah. We pick up the scene with John the Baptist in jail. If you remember the biblical account, John got himself arrested for speaking out against the adultery of King Herod. He confronted the king and told him that according to the law of God he was living in sin for taking the wife of his brother Philippe. As you can imagine this message didn’t go over very well with Herod and his wife Herodias. So John was arrested and kept in prison. While he was rotting away in prison it seems that he was having his doubts about Jesus – or at least was questioning whether Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah. He knew that he might be facing death through execution soon and so he probably wanted to know whether he was correct in identifying Jesus as the Messiah publicly or whether he had been wrong. Now when I first read this account in the New Testament of John’s doubts and questions I was a little disappointed. I couldn’t believe that a great New Testament prophet like John would doubt for one minute what God had so clearly showed him. For example, in John 1:29-33 says, “The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me. “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’” So I was shocked when I read that he began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. But then I realized that John was made of flesh and blood. He also was a Jew with the typical Jewish Messiah expectations of a conquering hero in the style of King David to overpower the Romans and re-establish the Jewish state in the Holy Land. When that didn’t happen right away I think John was a little discouraged. So he sends some of his followers to Jesus with one simple question, “Are you really the Messiah or should we look for someone else?” We all face doubts about our faith sometimes. It might be about the Bible or it could be about God’s active presence in our lives or maybe about God’s love as we go through a tough time. For some people, there are doubts about God’s plan for the world or about the practicality of the Christian faith in our modern world. Some have intellectual doubts, while others have existential or emotional doubts. While still others just have questions, not so much doubts, but questions about the ways of God. But whatever form or doubts or questions take, we can learn how to deal with them by seeing how Jesus responds to John. Let’s take a look and see how it might help us too when we have our doubts. Matthew 11:1-6 (read). (more…)