Monday, March 12, 2018

Seeker sensitive?

So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him…” (The Apostle Paul in Acts 17:27a)
There is in this world and perhaps I should say in the realm of creation a witness to the creator God. And this witness is a large one. God is. Moses was told the name of this One as ‘I am that I am’ (Ex. 3:14). That God is, is so apparent to all men at every level of society (whether in the jungles of South America, or in the laboratories of Europe studying DNA) this world screams that He is. The witness is so complete and clear, yet only men (all humanity) seek to suppress the witness. (Rom. 1:18-32)
And we have all kinds of reasons to discount His very existence – chiefly our sin. No other creature even fancies otherwise. But of this witness there is one thing which is lacking. That God is and is the creator of heaven and earth and all that is in it – is all that it can say.
It is enough. Enough that is to bring to men and women a knowledge of their creator – and seeing this -  we all know intuitively that we, being part of this creation, are responsible to our creator for all that we do or do not do in this world.
And this is the rub.
We don’t like this. We want to be our own masters. To acknowledge that God is – it is too great a matter for us. Once we see that we owe our allegiance to another – and especially one so great as to create all heaven and earth as well as every living creature – we find ourselves doomed. We have already failed.
Worse – this knowledge is only enough to condemn us. There is no hope delivered in such a message – only an impending doom that we have to answer to Him for our use and abuse and all our actions as a part of this world he created.
In theology we call this natural revelation. The created realm testifies to the existence of a Creator and the very complexity, beauty, and wonder of the world testifies to His Omniscience, glory, and holiness. The very immensity of the world, both in its expanse (as we look to the furthest most galaxy) and its complexity (as we consider the smallest components of matter – electrons, neutrons, quarks, as well as DNA) speak to His omnipotence and His omniscience.
So we can know that not only is He, but He is all-powerful, all-knowledgeable, and all glory – and He will be to us all calamity – because we are not as we were created, but have left our first assignment to get a name for ourselves.
Natural revelation is good…
…but it alone can never save a man.
Our hope must be found only within the very One we have offended, for there is no other who is greater who might provide to us a way out.
Paul tells us in Acts 17:27 that men should seek the Lord. Natural revelation tells us enough – that we know we should. But who is this God Who is? And how can men discover Him?
Exactly as Paul does here in the Areopagus. He preaches to them Christ and the resurrection of the dead. In Romans we see the reason – How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:14-15)
There are none who seek after God – not one[1] but there are many who seek a way out of their dilemma – their responsibility toward the creator. Paul’s statement in Acts 17:27 speaks not to the idea that men are natural seekers (and that we as churchmen should be sensitive to draw them). Rather the guilt which drives men to find relief is only relieved through the preaching of Christ and Him crucified – now risen and seated at the right hand of the One of Whom we have offended.
May we seek to proclaim Him faithfully – for the glory of God alone!

[1] Psa. 14:1-14, 53:1-3; Rom. 3:10-12.


Monday, February 19, 2018


Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”  4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:1-5)
These verses present a challenge to me. Not that I am a hyper-calvinist, but there are times we do not know the ways of God. These verses are like that. To read of Paul persuading some of them sounds a lot like the Arminian call to believe. But is this what is really going on?
As a Calvinist, we believe in a call to repentance and a reasoned faith. That is to say, we believe our faith is rational, or better, logical. But such faith does not rise up from our mental faculties. Indeed – if it were up to us alone, and our reasoning abilities – we would never buy the argument. Yet here we are, Children of God by faith.
And that is the key. Whose faith is it? Or stated differently, from where did our faith arise? We read in Eph. 2:8-9 that faith itself is a gift of God so that we do not boast.
Consider this – if my adoption into the family of God, my membership into the body of Christ was up to me alone actually, then what are some conclusions about that which I might draw?
Ø  I could indeed boast. My superior reasoning faculties were the strength of my confession.
Ø  Further, it means that if those with superior reasoning, such as I have, only seriously consider the evidence – then they too would believe.
Ø  It follows that those whose mental faculties are not up to the challenge could have no hope whatsoever of salvation.
The truth of the matter is that there are men and women of great minds who, having examined the faith rejected it. Examples might be Aldous Huxley, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Strauss, Bertrand Russell, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking.
Yet apart from such examples the Scripture says, And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. (Verse 4)
We read in verses 2-3 that it was Paul’s reasoning & demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead. So how do I explain this (apart from the usual Deu 29:29 cop-out)?
In Isaiah 55 we read one of my favorite Old Testament passages. God reasoning with us,
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me... (Isa. 55:1-3 a)
It is God Himself who is a reasoning God. Even from the very introduction of Isaiah we read,
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isa. 1:18)
So when we see Paul ‘reasoned with them on 3 Sabbaths from the Scriptures’, we can see he did so on good authority – and with power,
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:11)
Paul’s reasoning with them was not a human task. The Arminian likes to use (at times) human efforts and tools to persuade – soft music and emotional appeal. But we persuade men by the Word of God and when they are persuaded, it is not their great reasoning power, nor the eloquence of the preacher (For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)). Instead it is the efficacy of the Word of Life which has its way!

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. (2 Cor. 5:11)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Parable

(This message was preached at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 1/31/2017 Listen here; Watch here.)

THESIS: To define the use of ‘parable’ in the Scriptures and to explain the purpose of parables so that we might rightly grasp the parables Christ presents to us and apply them to our lives.

And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:

10But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that

‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,

And hearing they may hear and not understand;

Lest they should turn,

      And their sins be forgiven them.’” [1] (Mark 4:1-2, 10-12)

Introduction – “You might have noticed I skipped the parable itself. But for us to grasp the idea of the parable, I felt it important to deal with this as a concept and Mark conveniently gives us material to do so here. This evening is the 18th time I will be speaking to you on the Gospel of Mark. We began to study this book just over 2½ years ago!  The message tonight is not so much expositional as it is topical. Many of you may have a title, or a chapter heading in your Bibles, something to the effect of ‘The Parable of the Sower’. We read that and think, ‘Ah! Let’s see what this parable is all about. What does Mr. Cox think?’ – All the time not realizing we have a very flat understanding of this term, parable. At the end of this study I believe you will be far more ready to study the parables as you come across them in your studies. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll see what the Parable of the Sower is all about.

Notice that when Christ first uses the word ‘parable’ is when the Pharisees begin to call Christ’s ministry demonic (Mark 3:23). The whole concept of parables are just now being introduced in Mark. The word does not appear before this event in Mark and in Matthew. But it does occur frequently afterward.

1)     Biblical etymology

a)      The Greek παραβολή parabole is found in the gospels 48 times and 2 other times in the NT. It is a compound word; para – alongside and ballo– to throw. It means to throw alongside as a tool for comparison.

b)     The Hebrew equivalent is מָשָׁל mā·šāl is found in the OT 39 times; 19 times as ‘proverb’, and 18 times as ‘parable’ in the AV. You see it in Numbers in the account Balaam, also in Job, Psa., Pro., Eze., and a few other places.

2)     Defining a parable theologically

a)      The Breadth of meaning

i)        A saying - This could be also called a proverb.

ii)   A parable proper

(1)A similitude – John Butler defines as a comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude[2].  We sometimes think it equivalent to a simile, but this is not a good comparison. A simile is as simple as, ‘He’s as stubborn as a Mule; I’m as blind as a bat.’ A similitude goes a step further.  Dr. S. Lewis Johnson says that a similitude gets at the definition from a functional point of view.[3] This word is a bit more complex. You will see when we look at the examples later.

(2)A story - a narrative…by which either the duties of men or the things of God…are figuratively portrayed.[4] 

iii)  Examples of each, contemporary and biblical: A saying or proverb

(1)You get what you paid for; You snooze, you lose.

(2)Luke 4:23, And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’”[5];

iv)   A similitude

(1)Contemporary usage is primarily found in the scientific realm. “Similitude is a concept used in testing of engineering models…Similitude is defined as similarity between model and prototype in every respect.”[6]  Now let me just elaborate for a brief moment on that. Engineers are using models in development. Think of it this way – Just as we know certain properties about the model, and thereby have a reference point to observe the reality.  Folks – These engineers are really doing a similar thing as our Lord. He is teaching us Spiritual realities based upon physical ones. Consider the Scriptural example.

Mark 2:19-22, And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” [7]

v)      A story  

(1)An Aesop’s fable would be a great modern example.

(2)Mark 4:2-9, The Parable of the Sower.

3)   The reasoning and motives behind Christ’s use of parables.

a)      What his motives and reasons are not:

i)        Fatalistic hopelessness.  When I say this I mean to say that our God is not capricious in any way. And we might get that idea if we read, “to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’” Putting the negative another way, it is not the Lords intent to deliberately blind those who truly desire to know the truth. James Brooks comments on the phrase ‘so that’ in verse 12,

“[T]he Greek word hina…(Translated ‘so that’) at the beginning of v. 12 ought to be translated “as a result.”

The passage would likely read as follows, And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 resulting in people to whom this is true, ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.

This is a well-established meaning. Jesus did not speak in parables for the purpose of withholding truth from anyone; but the result of his parables, the rest of his teaching, and even his miracles was that most did not understand and respond positively. He did speak in parables to provoke thought and invite commitment. Therefore parables are more than mere illustrations.”[8]

Alexander MacLaren also states,

The statement of His reason for the use of parables is startling. It sounds as if those who needed light most were to get least of it, and as if the parabolic form was deliberately adopted for the express purpose of hiding the truth…The primary purpose of all revelation is to reveal. If the only intention were to hide, silence would secure that, and the parable were needless.”[9]

b)   Christ’s motives are not to hide the truth

i)     William Barclay says that Jesus’ statement is clearer in the parallel passage in Matt 13:13, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”[10]

ii)     The very quote in Isaiah 6:9-12 illustrates this for us. Isaiah is told to preach to people who would NOT listen.

And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 “Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, 12 The Lord has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

R. Alan Cole explains,

In spite of all their looking and listening, some people will not really see or understand; if they did, they would turn to God for forgiveness. Isaiah was describing a hard-hearted people who had turned their back on God and stubbornly refused to listen to him.[11]

iii)  The Mystery of the Kingdom is not a mystery to everyone. Timothy Geddert puts it this way, “Is Jesus announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom? Not overtly. Not for those who do not have ears to hear what he is really saying. Not for those who do not have eyes to see what he is really doing. But if those around Jesus allow their ears to truly hear and their eyes to truly see, they will discern in Jesus’ words and deeds the arrival of God’s kingdom.”[12]

c)    What those reasons are and what they teach us about our God

i)        The purpose of teaching in this way was to not only deliver truth in a unique way, but also to test those who heard it. (Rodney Cooper)[13]

ii)     John Broadus commenting here, “While illustrating the truth to those who were spiritual and eager to know, the parables would make it obscure to those who were unspiritual and unwilling to be taught. Upon such persons this use of parables was a judgment. Matthew Henry quaintly says: “A parable, like the pillar of cloud and fire, turns a dark side toward Egyptians which confounds them, but a light side toward Israelites which comforts them, and so answers a double intention.””[14]

iii)  Another commentator puts it well, “The parable is not so much a crutch for limping intellects as a spur to spiritual perception.”[15]

d)     Our Lord cares about everyone! Even those who rejected Him were presented with truth they had to reckon with. Last April we studied Mark 3:1-6, the account of the healing of the man with a withered hand. If you recall we saw that though Christ knew the thoughts of these Pharisees – he still didn’t begrudge their attitude. They asked, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ a question which betrayed their real motive of trying to pin our Lord down. Nevertheless, he continued teaching just as though their motives were genuine.

e)      The Parable of the Rich man & Lazarus informs us. In Luke 16:27 and following we read,

27 Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

If we consider what is said here, Christ uses the name of a real man who later was to die and be risen from the dead – and what was the result? Those disbelieving not only continued in their disbelief, but now sought to kill Lazarus as well! He who has ears to hear…indeed!

i)        Other Scriptures which have bearing:

(1)At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. (Matt. 11:25)[16]

(2)The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Cor. 2:14.)[17]

(3)Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isa. 1:18)[18]

f)       Notable Examples

i)        Parable of Samuel to instruct David (2 Samuel 12:1-7) Thou art the man!

ii)     Parable of the vineyard (Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)

iii)  Parable of the two debtors (Luke 7:39-47) 41 There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”[19]

4)     What’s our take away?

a)      Christ is a master teacher. His message always demands a response.  Do we read the Scriptures with a view to the fact that not only did Christ speak this parables for the listeners of the 1st century, but also for the readers of the 21st century and beyond? If our Lord was thoughtful enough to consider us, ought we not be reasonable enough to ask how do these words apply to me? Have I been in unintended sin? Do I now feel the pangs of a guilty conscious having had my sin exposed? Am I ready to do business with the Savior?

b)     We must take very seriously what He says, for there are eternal ramifications to all he says! Next week, Lord willing we will investigate the Parable of the sower. Some of us may be convicted, as we let the Savior reason with us. Let’s always be ready to let the Word of God have his way with us, since we say we are people of the Word!


[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 4:1–2, 10–12.
[2] Ibid.
[4] John G. Butler, Jesus Christ: His Parables, vol. 3, Studies of the Savior (Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 2002), 15–16.
[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 4:23.
[6] Notes titled, "Hydraulic Similitude: Dimensional Analysis, Similitude and Model Analysis." uploaded by Anas Ratth on Scribd:
[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 2:19–22.
[8] James A. Brooks, Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 83.
[9] Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Mark 1–8 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 140,141.
[10] The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series. -- Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 99.
[11] R. Alan Cole, “Mark,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 958.
[12] Timothy J. Geddert, Mark, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001), 95.
[13] Rodney L. Cooper, Mark, vol. 2, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 67.
[14] John A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1905), 33.
[15] A. M. Hunter, Interpreting Parables, Interpretation, 14:1 (January, 1960), p. 74.
[16] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mt 11:25.
[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 2:14.
[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 1:18.
[19] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Lk 7:41–47.

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