One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

TOMS: Acts 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 30, 2007

This chapter starts out with the story of Ananias and Sapphira. This is a very strange story, and I think the significance of it has to do with establishing the church. God wanted a pure church, and He decided to make an example out of two people who seemingly made such a little deception. But there is no category of sin with God. I think the most important verse in this section is verse 11: "And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things." Why else would God do this, if not to make them an example? There's people who do lots worse in churches today, and nothing happens to them. But one day, God will hold them accountable for their deceit and pride.

The next section seems almost unbelievable: "And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed." (Acts 5:14-16) This was the high point of miracles in the church. Peter apparently was doing more spectacular miracles than Jesus did. But the problem you run into is when people assume that this is the natural order of the church for all time, when clearly this is not the norm. There are a few that claim to perform miracles in this day and age, but many of those have been proven to be frauds or they are healed of depression or some sort of thing that people can't see. God never promised to maintain the special gifts He gave to the church for all time. These miracles were given primarily as a sign to the Jews that the church was a legitimate work of God.

An even bigger miracle happened next, when the Jewish leaders arrested the apostles and then an angel freed them. They were furious when they found the apostles not in jail but back in the Temple teaching. They brought them before the Council and after hearing another sermon from Peter about how they crucified the Lord, they were ready to kill them.

But then a voice of reason speaks up: "But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, 'Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!'" (5:34-39, ESV)

It is interesting to note that Gamaliel had a certain pupil by the name of Saul. He will become more significant in the coming chapters.

Humanly speaking, Gamaliel could be credited with saving the church. Of course God would never allow the church to be destroyed, but this was as close as the devil ever got to wiping out the church. John's Gospel tells us that God allowed the high priest to prophesy while he was speaking in the council. Probably this is another example of how God used an unwilling and likely unwitting vessel to carry forth His plan.

Friday, May 29, 2015

TOMS: Acts 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 29, 2007

This chapter carries forward the story of the early church. The Jewish leaders were afraid of what was happening. They thought they were rid of Jesus and the threat He posed to their religion and way of life. And then here come His disciples, proclaiming the Resurrection and claiming that Jesus had established a new faith. They weren't afraid of stooping  to murder to get rid of Jesus; they were beginning to think they would need to do something similar to His disciples.

The miracle Peter and John performed had all of Jerusalem in an uproar. They were all talking about what they did and how they claimed to do it in the name of Jesus. The men of the council had Peter and John arrested and brought them in, demanding to know what they were doing. Peter preached them a short sermon, ending with this: "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (4:11-12)

I'm sure the members of the council were furious with Peter and John, but they kept their cool for the time being. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus." (4:13) The leaders could not think of anything to say publicly against the disciples. They had an irrefutable miracle standing in front of them, and even those who did not believe in Jesus were excited about the things that were happening. They did command them to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John pretty much said they were going to ignore the command and preach anyway.

The disciples came back from their grilling and continued to praise God for what He was doing in their midst. And they prayed for boldness to continue the work.

The chapter ends with an introduction of Barnabas. Luke reiterates the conditions in which the church lived, how they had all things common. I don't know how this worked. Obviously God was blessing them, but we are not told how long they kept this up, whether it was a few months or a year or several years. Eventually, famine and persecution ravaged the church in Jerusalem to the point that we find many of Paul's epistles where he mentions a huge ongoing project to raise money for the saints there. I have heard some people say that the failure of this communal experiment is proof of the folly of such living. Don't be so sure about that. We do know there was a serious famine in Judea that affected everyone. And Jerusalem was not exactly the best place to proclaim Jesus and keep a good job or gain influence in society. The Christians were severely persecuted there, which meant they were already in a financial hole when the famine struck.

Anyway, Luke records that "Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostle's feet. (4:36-37, ESV) Barnabas would become a significant figure over the next few years, and this is how we first get to know him.  Here is Barnabas giving to the church, which probably desperately needed the money. No wonder he was called a son of encouragement. Barnabas' name was changed that day. His given name, Joseph, is never recorded again in Scripture after this gift to the church.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

TOMS: Acts 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 24, 2007

This chapter starts out with Peter and John healing the lame man. He was lame from birth, and he sat by the gate of the Temple asking for donations. Peter simply says, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" (3:6) Now we cannot do this today. This was a special time in the history of the church. There was no New Testament scripture. All the church had was the Apostles. They were fighting a major uphill battle in trying to establish Christianity. God chose to allow the Apostles to perform miracles so that their legitimacy before God could be established in the eyes of those who were willing to acknowledge it.

A vast majority of the miracles in the Bible occurred in three eras: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha and Christ and the Apostles. Moses and Joshua were leading the Jewish nation out of bondage and establishing a new nation. Elijah and Elisha were trying to bring back an apostate nation. Christ and the Apostles were establishing a new religion.

The second half of the chapter is a sermon by Peter. This passage is very indicative of Peter's typical sermon to the Jews. "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus," (3:17-20, ESV)

Peter said it didn't matter if they had crucified Jesus. God still wanted them to repent of what they did and turn to Him for salvation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

TOMS: Acts 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 23, 2007

This is a controversial chapter and one of the main reasons the whole book of Acts is misunderstood.

This chapter begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He came down and manifested Himself as "mighty rushing wind" and as a tongue of fire that appeared on every believer. Then they all began to speak in other languages.

Here is something I had never noticed before: the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is what drew the crowd that day. I always pictured this first part of the chapter happening the night before or something, or at least in a private setting. But look at the text: "And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?'" (2:6-8)

So the commotion created by the Holy Spirit is what drew the crowd to hear God's word. And yet some of them were skeptical, saying, "They are filled with new wine." (2:13) At this, Peter responds and defends his brothers: "For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day." (2:15) I've always thought that was a funny remark. This is not the argument a self-righteous tee-totaler makes. Peter basically said these people aren't drunk, it's 9 o’clock in the morning.

But Peter is not done. He preaches a very profound sermon, reaching back into the Old Testament and proving that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. And he did this in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had been crucified less than two months ago.

As rich as Peter's sermon is, it's honestly not that controversial, so let's move ahead to a very controversial verse. As many in the crowd fell under conviction, they asked Peter what they needed to do. He responded: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (2:38)

It seems that Peter is equating repentance and baptism as playing equal parts in salvation, but let's step back into the first century and see what that meant to the crowd. I know I discussed this earlier when we talked about the ministry of John, but it is worth repeating. Baptism was very common among Jews at that time. The Jews were busy proselytizing Gentiles into their religion, and baptism was the symbol of their renunciation of their old religion and acceptance of a new way. Then John came and started baptizing Jews who repented. Now Peter is demanding the same thing. He is appropriating the symbol of baptism for the church. All that was and is and ever will be necessary for their salvation was for people to believe. But they would need to publicly acknowledge their change of belief through baptism. The clear teaching of scripture is that baptism is not a necessity of salvation, but it is an outward public confession of Christ and an affirmation of the believer's faith on the part of the church.

The chapter ends up with a description of how the church in Jerusalem lived: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (2:44-47, ESV)

Some use this passage as a justification for governmental socialism or communalism within a local assembly. Like I said before, the book of Acts was never intended to be an absolute guide how the church is to be run. It is a reflection of the times and it is a record of what happened. I think the Western church has a lot to learn from the way the early church handled this, but it's written as a description instead of a command for how the church is to be run.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

TOMS: Intro to Acts and Acts 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 22, 2007

The Acts of the Apostles is a controversial book in our world today. It was not always the case, but it is now. The most important thing you need to remember is that Acts is a history book. It tells the true story of what happened in the first 30 years or so of the church. It is not intended as a theology book or as a blueprint for how the church should operate today. Lots of people look at the miracles and the other supernatural things that happened and say that God is still the same and intends for us to do those things today. While of course it is true that the Lord never changes, the way He deals with people does change.

Acts was written by Luke and is addressed to Theophilus, the same person to whom Luke's gospel is addressed. Much of the second half of this book is firsthand knowledge. Luke talks a lot about "we" did this or that. We assume the first half is based on his research with those who experienced it.

Luke opens his book with the Ascension of Jesus. This means Luke is the only author who mentions the Ascension. His Gospel is the only one that mentions it, and we find it again here. The Ascension is significant only for the reason that Jesus did not disappear and leave the apostles in the dark. They knew exactly where He went.

The rest of the chapter has to deal with the choice of Matthias as the 12th apostle. The section starts with an important look at who was there for some of the first meetings of the church: "All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." (1:14, ESV) While Jesus was alive, His family, or at least his siblings, did not believe Him. But at some point very soon after His resurrection, they realized who He really was. They certainly had a better insight than most into Jesus' personal life. They knew He was not a hypocrite.

Why the disciples chose to go through this exercise of drawing lots to replace Judas as an apostle is beyond me. Maybe it had to do with Jesus' promise that the Apostles would sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel. Interestingly enough, there are several people not on the official list in the Gospels who are mentioned as apostles. Paul, of course, spends much of his time in his epistles defending his status as an apostle. In Galatians, Paul calls Jesus' brother James an apostle. And there are others. I'm sure Matthias was a good man and there is no doubt we will see him in heaven. But like I said before, Acts is a historical record. There is no evidence that God commanded for this to happen. It does not mean that God disapproved or approved what happened, but it did happen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

TOMS: John 21

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 21, 2007

This chapter is kind of an epilogue to John's Gospel. John is the only one who mentions this story. The disciples were sitting around, and Peter said, "I am going fishing." And the rest of them say, "We will go with you." Now a lot of people make a big deal out of the fact that Peter and the disciples go fishing. They say the disciples were abandoning Jesus. I don't think that's necessarily the case. After all, this is after Jesus had appeared to them at least twice. More likely they were just bored, since Jesus apparently wasn't around all the time, and they were looking for something to do. Also, they were probably broke. When they were with Jesus, they lived off the contributions people gave, and they may have had some of their own money as well. But now, Jesus wasn't doing His regular ministry, and they needed to make some money.

Anyway, they were out all night fishing, and caught nothing. They see a man on the shore asking if they have caught anything. They were probably used to people coming in the morning and asking if they caught anything. Then Jesus says "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." (21:6) John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," first recognizes that it's Jesus. Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to the shore to meet Jesus. That's not the reaction of someone that had abandoned Jesus in disappointment.

After they have breakfast, then comes the confrontation between Peter and Jesus. Jesus asks, "Do you love me more than these?" and then twice asks "Do you love me?" Lots and lots of people make a huge deal out of the fact that Jesus uses the word "agape" for love in the first two questions, and then Peter responds with the word "phileo." The last question, Jesus uses the word "phileo." If you've heard sermons on this passage I'm sure it's been explained to you, but just in case, agape is an unconditional love, and phileo is a fraternal love between friends or family.

First of all, throughout his writings John interchanges "agape" and "phileo." Secondly, and I admit this is not that great an argument, Jesus and Peter would not have spoken Greek to each other. They would have spoken Aramaic. But anyway, I think it is more significant that Jesus asks Peter three times, the same number of times Peter denied. John mentions that "Peter was grieved" (21:17) when Jesus asked him the third time. Jesus then gives a prophecy about Peter's life: "'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.' (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)" (21:18-19) "Stretch out" was a term for crucifixion among 1st century Jews. Christian tradition tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome upside down. Jesus' words here seem to confirm that.

Then Peter gets busy to change the subject. He points to John and says, "Lord, what about this man?" (21:21) Jesus doesn't humor Peter that much: "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (21:22, ESV) It is easy to be jealous of others. We think God is being unfair to us when something good happens to someone else. But God has an individual plan for each of our lives. Instead of trying to right the world, we need to just follow God's plan and do what He wants us to do. God will set things right in the end. He doesn't need our help or advice. If we believe God is loving, sovereign and just, we will trust Him to bring the right circumstances in our lives.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TOMS: John 20

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 19, 2007

This chapter tells the story of the Resurrection. John repeats a certain phrase, which must have struck him as being very important: "So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead." (20:3-9)

This passage gives us the best insight as to how the Resurrection actually happened. Jesus' did not have to unwrap Himself, the cloth was still there, intact. And the cloth was not gone, as it would have been if someone had stolen the body. Jesus apparently just passed through the cloth as if it were nothing.

You should notice what John says about himself and the other disciples. They did not understand what was happening. They had no clue Jesus was going to rise from the dead. Also notice another reason I say John was probably a teenager. He outran Peter, who we know was already married, to the tomb.

I think you know the basic story, but Thomas is always intriguing. Thomas was not there when the disciples saw Jesus, probably on Sunday night after the Resurrection. John is the only one who mentions this story, by the way. Jesus does not criticize Thomas. He tells him, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." (20:27) Thomas does not need to feel. He has seen enough. He says, "My Lord and my God!" (20:28) Of course, Jesus pronounces a blessing on all who follow: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (20:29) Of course Jesus is talking about us, those who follow in the footsteps of the disciples.

Finally, John gives us the purpose of his book: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (20:30-21, ESV) John is never shy about telling people they need to believe. That's why I say John has the most editorial content of the Gospels. John is writing this book with a specific purpose in mind: these people saw Jesus say and do these things, and they believed; you need to believe, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TOMS: John 19

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 18, 2007

This chapter tells the story of the Crucifixion. There's not a whole lot that can be said that hasn't already been said about the most important event in human history. And of course I have already commented on it three times.

I have always been struck by the irony of verse 12: "From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, 'If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.'" The Jews hated the Romans, and the Romans hated the Jews. The only reason the Romans were there was because Palestine was a strategic link between Asia Minor and Egypt, which were much more important priorities for Rome. For the Romans, Palestine was a dreadful place filled with delusional people. That's why about 40 years later the Romans got tired of them and destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews all over the empire. The only time the Jews were interested in being a friend to Caesar was right here.

Another detail that John gives us, because he was there, is this tidbit: "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." (19:26-27) This is rather shocking to me. We assume Joseph, Jesus' earthly father, was dead, since he is never mentioned in any of the Gospels during Jesus' adult life. But Jesus had at least three half-brothers who are mentioned in the Bible. Why didn't they look after their mother?  

I don't know, but this could explain why John is not mentioned much in the book of Acts. He would have been taking care of Mary (and presumably raising his own family) during the years that Peter and Paul were doing great exploits. It wasn't until much later, when John became the elder statesman and the last of the apostles that he writes his Gospel, epistles and of course the Revelation.

Another thing John mentions that no one else mentions is the role of Nicodemus in Jesus' burial: "After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight." (19:38-39, ESV)

This passage is the main reason I think Nicodemus was born again, either during his conversation with Jesus, part of which is recorded in John 3, or at some other time before this. Someone who is truly born again will eventually show some fruit, and here is Nicodemus, coming in at a time when even His disciples had forsaken Him, and buying spices to bury the body of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

TOMS: John 18

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 17, 2007

This chapter tells how Jesus was betrayed and arrested. John gives us more details than the other three Gospels. John is the only one who mentions that Jesus asked the crowd that arrested Him, "Whom do you seek?" They replied, "Jesus of Nazareth." When Jesus said, "I am he," they fell backward to the ground. John also records the name of the man whose ear Peter cut off: Malchus.

Honestly, my theory of Judas' reaction and my theory of Peter's reaction are similar. Peter and probably all the disciples were thrilled with the Triumphal Entry. Here it was the Passover, and all Israel was in Jerusalem. And here comes the moment they have been waiting for: the Messiah coming to set up the kingdom. When it became obvious that Jesus was not going to claim the kingdom, Peter and the disciples want to claim it for Him. But Jesus tells him, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (18:11)

And of course we have the story of Peter denying Jesus. I really like Michael Card's take on Peter's denial. It's not that Peter was afraid or ashamed; it's that Peter was disappointed in Jesus. They were so convinced that Jesus was going to set up the kingdom, and now here He is offering no resistance as He is being arrested. Peter was saying, "I don't even know the man anymore."

Whatever the motivation, it should be said that Peter's denial is not in the same league as Judas' betrayal. Judas' denial was premeditated, pre-planned and coldly calculated to inflict the most damage upon Jesus. Peter was caught in a moment of weakness. He certainly had no plan to deny Jesus - in fact, a few hours before he had been boasting that he would follow Jesus even to death. It is instructive, I think, that all four Gospels mention Peter's betrayal. It is a comfort to all who fall short in their faith in a moment of weakness or persecution. Peter was restored, and we can be too.

After Jesus was questioned by the Sanhedrin, He was taken before Pilate. Here John gives us a detail that Mel Gibson missed in his movie and the irony is so rich that it should have been mentioned in the movie: "Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover." (18:28) As I remember it (and I admit it's been quite a while), the movie shows the Jews, including the council members right in the courtyard of Pilate's house. Here is the irony: they were busy committing the greatest crime of all time, and they were worried about keeping clean for the Passover. So they all congregated in the street outside Pilate's house. Pilate had to go out, probably to a balcony facing the street, to where he could talk to them.

In Pilate's house, Jesus does nothing. He talks about His kingdom not being of this world and bearing witness to the truth. Pilate seems amused by this and asks the rhetorical question, "What is truth?" (18:38, ESV) It's not that Pilate did or did not believe Him. It's just that most people don't deal in truth. Jesus did, but truth is not very well defined. Politicians like Pilate certainly did not deal in truth. Politicians deal in consensus and compromise. Here was this man spouting all these things about truth and a spiritual kingdom as he is being arrested (I'm talking from Pilate's perspective here) what else would you say?

Monday, May 18, 2015

TOMS: John 17

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 16, 2007

This chapter is one of the deepest passages in all the Bible. I have always wondered how John heard this. I understand he was inspired, but like we wrote about earlier, inspiration does not necessarily imply that God spoke to the person and told them what to write (of course there are exceptions, such as much of the material in the prophetic books). In most cases, it means God guided them as they wrote to make sure everything they wrote was true and was what God wanted. So was John eavesdropping on what Jesus was praying? Or did he receive this by special revelation? We don't know for sure, but we can be sure of its inspiration.

Anyway, this is the true Lord's Prayer. This is Jesus longing to be home with the Father and praying for His disciples and for all who would follow them.

This is so rich it's really hard just to pick out a few quotes and comment on them. The theme of the first section is the glory of Christ and the glory of the Father. He knows the end is about to happen, and He is longing to return to the Father.

The next theme is who the disciples are. Read the quote very carefully. I know it's long: "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." (17:9-15) Notice that Jesus is saying that the disciples belong to the Father, and the Father gave them to Jesus. Jesus says that He is going to be busy for a while, and that the Father needs to take care of them. He says the Father should not take them out of the world, but that He should keep them from the power of Satan. That's really a neat passage.

The overarching theme of the prayer, however, is unity. "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (17:20-21, ESV) When we look at the world around us, it is obvious the church is not one in outward form. It's the situation we have to live with. Two thousand years of church history has resulted in a fractured visible body.

But in a larger sense, the church is not divided. There is still one body of saints in Christ. Christ's prayer has been answered. Yes, there are times when members of the body are in sin. There are times when they are hateful toward one another. But thankfully Christ is still at work to build His church, against which the gates of hell have never and will never prevail.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

TOMS: John 16

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 15, 2007

The first section of this chapter completes the thought from the end of chapter 15. I hope you understand that the chapter and verse divisions were added later, mostly for convenience. It seems a lot of times whoever introduced the divisions actually interrupted a thought rather than keep it together, and this is one of them.
After completing His thought about the world hating the disciples Jesus returns to His discussion of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes a surprising statement: "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged." (16:7-11)

The Holy Spirit does a lot in this world that we don't understand. He is not only indwelling believers, but He is at work in the greater part of the world. Paul indicates in Thessalonians that He who hinders will be taken out of the way at the beginning of the tribulation. This is apparently a reference to the Spirit, who is an unseen force for good and against Satan in the world as a whole in addition to His work in the life of believers.

This next part is purely my opinion, but when Jesus tells the disciples, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (16:13-14), He was speaking directly and only to them. They were responsible to pass on Christ's doctrine to the church. A lot of people use this verse as a justification to bang people over the head and say, "Well, the Holy Spirit wouldn't lead me to believe this if it wasn't the truth." That's usually the last thing they say after they have lost an argument. Someone who thinks this way is overestimating the work of the Holy Spirit. He does not work against our own will in what we want to believe. I think if we come to Him with an open mind He will guide us, but don't confuse what you have always believed with the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. And, I seriously doubt that the Holy Spirit is at work when we use Him as a weapon against a fellow believer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

TOMS: John 15

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 14, 2007

Here we are again. This is another chapter of discourse either in the Garden or on the way there.

The first half of this chapter is the discourse on the True Vine. The main controversy about this section deals with two verses: "Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (15:2) "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." (15:6) There are good commentators who believe the branches that are taken away and burned are unsaved people, and there are just about as many who believe they are Christians. I guess the question is what it means to abide. I happen to think the most consistent position, especially based on the rest of John's writing, is to say that those who do not abide are lost. John makes these sort of contrasts between the saved and lost all the time, especially in his first epistle. But if you think the branches that do not abide are believers, I'm not going to start a fight over it.

Especially look at verse 8: "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." I think this is the key verse. Jesus seems to say in this verse that all of His true disciples will bear fruit, and the earlier verses are clear that none of the branches that bear fruit are taken away. But they are pruned, and that can be tough. We don't like to experience these things, but they are for our benefit.

Here is a famous verse from this chapter: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." (15:13) Contrast this with I Corinthians 13, where Paul says it is possible to give your life without love. I think if we put these two together, you end up with the old trite but true phrase: you can give without loving, but you can't love without giving.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." (15:16) I couldn't let this one pass by. We don't understand what we are involved in with salvation, or at least I don't, but I am thankful that the Lord made the choice, and that He chose me.

The conclusion of this chapter has Jesus warning the disciples that the world will hate them: "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." (15:20-21) Jesus promises there will be persecution from the world. I don't think I have experienced much of it, and that's probably a sad commentary on my Christian life. But I think too many times people confuse a natural reaction from people with persecution. If you are obnoxious, people are going to be offended, but not because of the Lord Jesus. Persecution and opposition for Jesus' sake will be rewarded. Mistreatment for stupid behavior is just a stumbling block in the way of everyone.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

TOMS: John 14

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 13, 2007

Well, if you haven't noticed, I've started posting these things in the morning. I find it's a lot better. There are a couple of unrelated reasons but there were lots of times when I got home late or tired and didn't feel like sitting down at the computer for 1/2 an hour.

Let's dig into Chapter 14. Remember this is after the Last Supper, which was in Chapter 13. That means this discourse happened either while they were still in the Upper Room or on the way to the Garden. The chapter ends with Jesus saying, "Rise, let us go from here." Whether that means they were leaving the Upper Room or if they had stopped along the way is not clear. And not all that relevant really. The important thing to remember is that this was the last night before Jesus' death.

Jesus begins with the famous discussion of heaven. "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." (14:1-4) This should have been a comfort to the disciples, but instead they were listening to what He said about where he was going: "Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?'" (14:5) They knew something was up. They had no idea that by that time tomorrow Jesus would be dead, but they were aware something was different.

Of course Jesus responds with ""I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (14:6) Certainly this verse speaks to the exclusivity of the Gospel. But in context, Jesus is telling Thomas and the rest of the disciples that they don't need to worry about doing something special or mystical to see the Father. All they need to do is follow Jesus. And that is all we need to do today. Man has added so much to Christianity from all the Catholic superstitions to the health and wealth gospel to fundamentalist legalism. Christianity is the simplest religion in the world. It is just submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and letting Him bring about His will in our lives.

Jesus then tells the disciples about the Holy Spirit: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you." (14:15-17) I don't pretend to understand everything the Holy Spirit is and does. I do know that He is God and He indwells every believer. He is at work in our lives, urging us to live godly lives and helping us when we do the right thing.

The last part of this chapter continues the discussion, but it also sounds a lot like John's first epistle: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (14:23-26, ESV) 

Whether that last sentence is directed specifically to the disciples, who were taught directly by Jesus and were responsible for establishing the doctrine of the church, or if it applies to all believers at all times, I am not sure. I do know that if it is a promise for us today, that is just one more encouragement to be in the Word constantly. And I think it can apply to us today, although it certainly applies more specifically to the Apostles. Have you ever met someone whose life is so saturated with the Bible that they can seemingly open it anywhere and start teaching or commenting? I'm a long way from that, but I would say that is one of my goals. I could tell you some stories about some people like that in my life. I learned so much from them, and I thank the Lord that He brought them into my life.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

TOMS: John 13

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 12, 2007

This chapter tells the story of the Last Supper. Remember that John does not finish telling us about Jesus' death until the end of Chapter 19. So we have about 7 chapters based on one approximate 24-hour period. John's record of the Last Supper is very different. He does not mention the institution of the Lord's Supper. I guess because that was already a well-established tradition based on the records of the other three gospels and Paul's instructions in I Corinthians 10-11.

John does not mention it, but the other three gospels mention the disciples were arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom. When we remember that, what John does record Jesus doing next is all the more poignant: "Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." (13:5) Jesus began to wash the feet of the very people who were arguing about who was going to be second-best in the kingdom, behind Jesus. Of course Peter objected. Peter was the conscience of the group. He would no doubt have been embarrassed by the sight of Jesus doing this lowly task.

Jesus' words are rebuke enough after He is finished washing their feet: "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." (13:12-17)

Then we have the betrayal by Judas. I said this before, but I think it bears repeating. This is just a theory, but in Judas' mind, I don't think he thought he was doing something so awful that his name would be synonymous with "traitor" 2,000 years later. I think he was trying to hurry up the kingdom, even if it meant he would be left out. It was disappointing seeing Jesus preach harsh messages that sent people away and seeing Him act like He did in the Upper Room. He was the Messiah. He was supposed to redeem Israel and usher in a glorious, everlasting kingdom. So Judas thought he would force Jesus' hand. He thought that if he could get Jesus arrested in Jerusalem during the Passover that Jesus would be forced to do something miraculous to get out of the situation. Jesus could then rally the people to His cause and lead them to victory. At least my theory explains why Judas was so remorseful immediately after Jesus was arrested and he realized Jesus was not going to resist. Of course God had everything planned out, but I think that may be what Judas was thinking. At least it makes Judas seem a little more human.

After Judas leaves, Jesus gives a new commandment: "Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (13:34-35, ESV) This is a very instructive passage. Loving one another is the ultimate testimony. Often times that is the hardest thing to do. I'm thinking primarily in a church setting. Churches are often a breeding ground for jealousy, bitterness and rivalry, but this is not the way the Lord planned. I am not saying that every time someone leaves a church or starts a new one they are in sin. I hardly think you would call Luther or Calvin sinners for leaving the Catholic church. (I know, extreme example.) But on the other hand, too often churches do break up or people leave over the most piddly things. The church is supposed to be a place where people love each other unconditionally. It sure gives the lost world something funny to talk about when churches squabble. I have heard it, and I know you have too. Love overlooks a lot of minor personality defects and says "you are my brother in the Lord, and I may not like you all the time, but let's never let that get in the way of our friendship."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TOMS: John 12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 11, 2007

This is a great chapter. It covers a wide range of topics. It starts with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointing Jesus with the ointment. This is a different episode than when the former prostitute came in to anoint Jesus. This time it occurred at a supper at Lazarus' house. The other time it happened at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Judas criticizes Mary, saying "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" (12:5) John immediately points out: "He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it." (12:6) Remember that a denarius was the standard wage for a laborer, so in our money that would make it about $50. So this vial of ointment was worth about $15,000, at least by Judas' evaluation.

The next section reveals the degeneracy of the human heart: "When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus." (12:9-11) Talk about wicked people.

Scenes such as this one are why it is important that we understand the culture of Bible times. There was very little privacy, even in one's own home. If something was going on, people just came right in to see it. That's how Jesus could draw huge crowds just by coming to visit someone's home. Also remember that most people lived in what could be described as family compounds. When another son got married, he would add another set of rooms onto the complex that was usually situated around a courtyard with a gate at the far end from the head of the family's house. It was the height of rudeness to keep the gate locked during the daytime, and even at night if there was a big event, such as the banquet Jesus was attending, you were expected to allow people to come in and see the guests and listen to the conversation. Thus Mary's act of devotion and Jesus' words would have been seen and heard by quite a number of people, which was the reason for the religious leaders' consternation.

John only briefly mentions the triumphal entry, or Palm Sunday. But John does give us some insight into why the people celebrated Jesus' entry: "The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign." (12:17-18)

The next section includes the famous statement by Jesus, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (12:32) John points out that Jesus said this to show how He was going to die. Many of the people refused to believe, and John says this is a fulfillment of prophecy: "Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 'Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?' Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.' Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him." (12:37-41, ESV)

Notice that very last verse. The last quotation from Isaiah is from Isaiah 6:10, immediately after Isaiah's vision of God. Note that John states that Isaiah not only saw God, but uses the pronoun "him" referring to Jesus. This is an excellent passage to prove Jesus deity. Isaiah clearly says in chapter 6 that he saw God, and John here says that Isaiah saw Jesus.

Monday, May 11, 2015

TOMS: John 11

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 10, 2007

This chapter has the story of Lazarus being resurrected. I assume most of you are familiar with the story, so I won't delve too deep into the details. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were good friends of Jesus. Remember that it was common in Israel at that time for large families to live together in one big house, or in connected houses on the same property situated around a courtyard. Perhaps Lazarus and his sisters were married to people who are not mentioned; we don't know for sure.

This event occurred very late in the life of Jesus possibly about a month before He died. That is why Thomas said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (11:16) The disciples knew that Jesus was under a lot of pressure, but it was a lot safer in Galilee, the northern part of Palestine, than Judea, the southern part where Jerusalem is. Now here goes Jesus back south to Judea, where the religious leaders want to kill Him.

When Jesus arrives, He finds a sad scene. Lazarus is dead, and most of the town has come out to memorialize him. Both Martha and Mary come to Jesus and ask Him why He hadn't come sooner, because if He had, Lazarus wouldn't have died. Even the townspeople feel the same way. John quotes them as saying, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" (10:37)

Imagine the scene when Jesus told Lazarus to come out. If you've always pictured a man quickly walking out of the tomb, you are mistaken. Remember the Jews would have mummified the body, wrapping it in strips of cloth. Even his face would have been covered. Also the body would have been packed with many pounds of spices to keep it from stinking. There is no way Lazarus could have walked out of the tomb. At best he could have bounced, but with his body being wrapped up tight and all the stuff wrapped up with it, it would no doubt have been next to impossible to bend his legs and arms in order to move. The people would have heard a rustling sound in the tomb, and perhaps a muffled cry. The people standing by would have then probably have had to either help him out or pick him up and carry him out. It would have been the understatement of the year when Jesus said, "Unbind him, and let him go." (11:44) Of course there is also the possibility that Jesus gave Lazarus supernatural ability to move, but the text does mention that his hands and feet were bound, and he still had his face covered. That would have been quite the amazing sight to see.

The last section of this chapter is a fascinating section. It is very long, but it is quite fascinating. John knew someone in the High Priest's house, and relayed to us the story of the conference of the Sanhedrin after this miracle. Caiaphas the high priest said "It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." (11:50, ESV) These religious leaders were under pressure, because the Romans did not like the unruly Jews under their control. The Sanhedrin saw Jesus as a threat to the nation. They were afraid Jesus' claims would give the Romans an excuse to wipe the Jews out of Palestine. It gives us a little bit of insight into what they were thinking, it makes them a little bit more human, but it does not excuse what they did.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

TOMS: John 10

For an introduction to this series, click here.

May 9, 2007

This is really a rich chapter, but I don't really want to split this in two, even if that means we don't really go all that deep. We'll see what happens.

The first section of this chapter is the discourse on the Good Shepherd. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and expands on that quite a bit. I'm sure you are familiar with it. A couple of things I want to comment on. "A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (10:5) This is a very important statement. True believers in the Lord Jesus do not follow blatantly false doctrine, at least not for very long. I hope you understand the difference between differences of opinion or application and blatantly false doctrine. I am a Baptist, and I believe that the biblical mode of baptism is by immersion. That does not mean a Methodist or Presbyterian who has been sprinkled is not born again. But a truly born again person will not be persuaded to follow Mormonism or some other such false doctrine. At least that is what I believe this verse teaches.

Second thing I want to point out is the exclusivity of the Gospel. "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." (10:9) You will find lots of people, even Christian leaders, who say God will honor the sincere efforts of those who follow other religions. While that sounds very nice, it is simply not the case, according to the Bible. It is our job to confront everyone with the truth of the Gospel. If God accepted those who follow other religions, why would He command us to preach the Gospel to all nations?

One last thing: "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (10:16) I think the primary interpretation of this passage is that Gentiles will be welcomed into the Church, and not only Jews. Of course, this is the passage that Mormons say teaches that Jesus went to North America after His resurrection and preached to the Indians. There's absolutely no anthropological or sociological evidence to support that story, but Joseph Smith wasn't exactly known for his honesty. Anyway, I want you to notice the tense of the verb Jesus used. Jesus says "I have" other sheep in a different fold. Jesus said this before a single Gentile believer was added to the church. That means you and I were already part of God's plan before we were born. That's really exciting to me.

Jesus goes on and says about His sheep: "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (10:29-30) Notice Jesus says that the Father has given all of His sheep to Him, already at that point in time. Jesus also blatantly says He is equal to the Father. It is fashionable among skeptics to say that Jesus never claimed to be God. This is not true. He claimed to be God numerous times, and here is an example. Note the Jews' reaction: "The Jews picked up stones again to stone him." (10:31) They knew exactly what Jesus was saying. They knew He was claiming to be God, and they were ready to stone Him for it.