Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Word of the Lord is POWERFUL!

Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the Word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3)

This chapter sees Paul and Barnabas in the city of Iconium preaching in the Jewish synagogue. The Christian Standard Bible boldly starts verse 1, “The same thing happened in Iconium...” While this bit of commentary is not fully justified by the underlying text, it is insightful. On Cypress they encountered opposition but God’s word triumphed in Proconsul Sergius Paulus’ conversion. Even more dramatically in Antioch in Pisidia – Paul preaches the Gospel, both Jews and Gentiles are converted, and then due to jealousy, those unbelieving are moved to persecute Barnabas and Paul.

Indeed – In Iconium you see a great multitude of Jews and Gentiles believed (Acts 14:1), and the unbelievers stirred up the Gentiles against them. Verse 3 is a powerful example of God’s Word accomplishing its purpose.

And consider this – because of the poisoning of their minds, Paul and Barnabas grew bold and set the lion out of the cage. God’s Word is a two-edged sword, and we far too often leave it sheathed when it is able to reach deep into the souls of its adversaries. Paul describes this in 2nd Corinthians 10:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

 
Paul’s boldness was due to his confidence in the word of God and God honored that confidence since signs and wonders were being done by their hands.

Let us resolve to call upon His name trusting in His holy Word - for our God is mighty to save!

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing
.” (Zeph. 3:17)

 For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it
.” (Isa. 55:1-11)

Let us resolve to call upon His name trusting in His holy Word - for our God is mighty to save! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The unpardonable sin

(This message was preached at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 12/6/2017)

THESIS: The unpardonable sin is a great warning to all men. Yet the truth of forgiveness in Christ can still ring true in your life! (Heb. 3:15)

This evening we’ll be considering Mark 3:22-30

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”

23 So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”—30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 

The subject of our focus this evening is just the last 3 verses of the passage in question. The unpardonable sin is one of those gotcha texts of the Scriptures. We read a text like this and find ourselves thinking of all the sins of our past, or wondering if by chance this one got us years ago and we’re doomed. Grim thoughts – so I’d like to demystify this sin. When this message is though, you should have a very clear understanding of exactly what this sin is and who is being warned of it. I’d also like to say that what I’ll be pointing out has not come by simple measure. This is probably the most difficult message I have ever prepared.

 

To begin with, let’s consider the negatives – what this sin is not. First of all – this sin is not tied to any of the warning passages in Hebrews. Both Hebrews 6 and 10 are passages which warn of apostasy. But this sin references blasphemy – a very different thing. And the audience of Hebrews is not at all the same as the audience to whom Jesus is speaking. In Hebrews the audience is Jewish Christians – who are thinking about the cost of this commitment.

 
Neither is this sin the same as that we read of in 1 John 5:16.

If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.

Again let me stress that there is a difference in what John is speaking of and what we are considering before us tonight. John’s audience is clearly believers. And contextually, we all know what John tells us in 1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us… John’s whole letter is there to help us distinguish whether we are Christians or not. Christians do sin – but they can have forgiveness for their sin, justly because of the loving sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross. The sin unto death referenced in 1 John 5:16 is something that a Christian brother could commit – whatever it is, death is the result, but here’s the key – The Christian has forgiveness for even that sin. He might pay with his life in the here & now, but his eternity is secure through the blood of Christ.

Finally – as we are thinking about what the unpardonable sin is not – it is not the rejection of Christ. To reject Christ until one’s death is surely a fatal end – but it is not the unpardonable sin. Christ is very specific as to this sin – as we will see in a moment. But ultimate rejection of Christ to the point of one’s death is not what Christ is speaking of in context. It cannot be the unpardonable sin to reject Christ until death – for it to mean that is to make Christ’s warning nonsense – those being warned were living men and if this were the interpretation, it renders Christ’s warning senseless.

Having dealt with the negatives let’s go back to the passage and positively identify the sin at hand so that we can make a proper application to ourselves. Our passage begins in verse 22 with the Scribes who had come from Jerusalem stating that he is possessed by Beelzebub and that it was with this power Christ was casting out demons. But the specifics are found in more detail in Matthew 12:22-32

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”[3]…… 31Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

The healing of a demon possessed man – and not just any demon possessed man, but one who was both blind and mute. Whether the blindness and muteness was due to the demon possession we are not told. We are told that all of this man’s ailments were resolved. He was no-longer demon possessed, and could now see and speak. It was so dramatic that those who saw this miracle were beginning to suggest that perhaps Jesus was the Son of David, by implication the Messiah! This is the backdrop of the Scribes and Pharisees saying “He is possessed by Beelzebul!” and “By the ruler of the demons he expels the demons!”

Doesn’t this strike you as odd? It should! These men are laying a charge against Christ for healing a man?! For freeing a man from demons?! Yet this is exactly what these Scribes were doing! And this is what elicits from Christ the some of the strongest language so far against them.

But before we think about what Christ says – let’s consider the charge. Who is this Beelzebub? If we look to the Greek word and the history, etymology of the word there is a potential reference to the god of Ekron in 2 Kings. It may reference the idea of Baal worship. But we really don’t need to get into all that. A simple grasping of the charge the Scribes lay against Christ is all we need. Whatever the history of this word, by the time of Christ and the Pharisees, they assert that Beelzebub is prince or ruler of the demons. And we know who that is – Satan.

Those of you who were present the last time I spoke may recall that it was the outlandish claim that Christ was in league with Satan which was a backdrop to the families’ charge that Christ had gone crazy. And I noted then that it really was the Pharisees who were the insane ones. Yet it really isn’t only simple insanity which drove these Pharisees to say these things. It was jealousy. They could see the people reasoning out this amazing miracle and wondered rightly – Could this be the Christ?
But the Scribes and the Pharisees accusation isn’t as simple as a onetime comment. The verb ‘said’ in verse 22 is in the imperfect tense. This verb type indicates continuous action in past time. We might read the verse, And the Scribes kept saying, “He has Beelzebub.” They kept saying, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” This is an active continual accusation – not a single settled statement. Really it’s an intentional murdering of the very character of Jesus!

In response to this very evil accusation Christ first speaks in logical fashion to the issue laid out before the people. But the text says something interesting – Christ called them to himself. In a rather intimate manner Christ begins to destroy their accusations. We read in both Matthew and Luke’s account that He knew their thoughts (Matt. 12:25; Luke 11:17) and this is why he began to expose the foolishness of their hearts. Luke’s account includes some very pointed comments, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.  20 But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

In verse 28 Jesus vocalizes this great sin. I want to point out to you the very familiar prefix – ‘Assuredly, I say to you’. This phrase has special meaning. It’s rendered ‘Verily, I say unto you’ in the KJV. Several translations put it, ‘Truly I say to you’. This preface tells us – Take Note! Listen! What is about to be stated is very important.

All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation

One matter to be aware of is the Greek word for sins in verse 28 is NOT the usual word for sins employed by NT writers. In fact Mark alone has this unusual variant for ‘sins’ which specifically focuses on individual acts of sin. This variety, hamartēma, occurs only 4 times in the NT whereas the more common hamartia occurs 174 times.  The overwhelming majority of the time when ‘sin’ is referenced it is used in a more theological manner. In other words, the Bible is more interested in our sin condition than the specific sins we commit. We might say that finding a resolution for sins in someone’s life is not so important than dealing with the underlying root problem of sin. Sins are only the symptom of the deeper root problem.

But in our passage alarmingly, Christ speaks of a certain unpardonable sin. An act so evil that it was unforgiveable. So we can’t dodge this so easily. We have to deal with the text rightly.

So what is this unforgivable sin? We might look at the very thing these Scribes and Pharisees had done. This Holy Spirit work which Christ had done – casting out a demon and restoring sight and speech to this man – was being credited to Satan. Aside from the very ridiculousness of the accusation – consider what is really happening in this accusation. This great miracle – this good deed was being called a wicked deed – done for wicked motives actually.

They were saying that Jesus’ motives were not right, that He had ulterior motives. To say that His motives were impure and wicked speaks more to their carnal eyesight than anything about Christ. Remember how I mentioned that Matthew references He knew their thoughts? The Scripture never says that they knew His thoughts. Yet they boldly asserted themselves as though they did!

And think about the goodness of this miracle for a moment. Here we have a person not only without the means to see – but also unable to speak. Christ frees this one so that he can indeed see and speak! His bondage to the demon broken! This very person could be a type of all men before conversion to Christ. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Blind to our condition – unable to remedy ourselves. We don’t even see how bad we are. John describes the Church in Laodicea as wretched, miserable, poor and blind (Rev. 3:17) – which very aptly describes all unconverted souls.

And this healing – this conversion if you will permit – the Scribes call ‘of the devil’.  There is a very real sense that all conversions get under the skin of the devil. He is a defeated enemy. And Christ, in raising men and women from the deadness of their 1st estate, is plundering the house of the strong man, that is to say, Satan.

So exactly how would I define blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It is to so twist the work of God into an evil act that one can never really see the work of God in the first place. We read in Isa 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! The Scribes knew better! These were the very men to teach the people what Messiah’s coming would be like. The very comment of the people, Could this be the Messiah actually condemns the Scribes. To admit that these miracles may indeed point out the Christ as Jesus of Nazareth meant that they would have to submit to Him. These men were never going to submit! That’s why they HAD to speak against Christ. But their continual accusation that Jesus’ miraculous power was demonic at its source also betrayed what they knew to be true – This man indeed was the Messiah.

Since it is the blasphemy of the Spirit that these Scribes were guilty of, I want to share with you just 3 verses that demonstrate the Work of the Holy Spirit in Salvation. Consider Ezekiel 36:26-27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Or John 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Finally also in John, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” I quoted those verses to demonstrate the critical part the Spirit of God plays in regeneration. Dead men cannot believe and those who deliberately malign the work of the Spirit are in great peril for their lives, even though they don’t see it!

Let’s look at some of the actual motives of these Scribes. The Gospel of John is a great place to see many of the motives of those who encountered Jesus. Just listen as I read some potent dialogue from John chapters 7-11. John 7 – teaching in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles:

25 Now some of them from Jerusalem said, “Is this not He whom they seek to kill? 26 But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ? 27 However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.”

28 Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. 29 But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.”

30 Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. 31 And many of the people believed in Him, and said, “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?”

John 8 – again teaching in the Temple:

46Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

48 Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. 50 And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. 51 Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

52 Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ 53 Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”

John 9 – the man born blind:

30 The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. 33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

34 They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.

John 11 – the case of the raising of Lazarus from the dead:

45Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”

In every example I just read the motive of the scribes was to protect themselves. They were more concerned about their own power and prestige than godliness and truth. Jesus is the promised Christ – all the signs demonstrated it. The Scriptures attested so (John 5:39). But they were so twisted that they would now call good evil and evil good. Rather than release Christ – they went so far as to convince the crowds to release a murderer! This is the essence of pure evil. And this is where these Scribes ended up going – they attributed to Satan the good works of Christ in order to defame Jesus and keep their own place.

The miracles of Christ are not in the Scriptures as freak side shows – They were the very essence of the identity of the Messiah. They fulfilled the Scripture in identifying Jesus as the Christ. Yet the very men who ought to have pointed the people to Jesus actually did the very opposite.

But what about us? We’re in this sanctuary, how does any of this information become useful? Why do we consider a warning to the Scribes – probably the strongest warning ever – as relevant to us? Or so what?

My comments are divided to two different parties. Perhaps you’re here and you have had a secret dread in your heart over this warning. Let me encourage you! I cannot say it better than J. C. Ryle:

Ryle’s famous words are great reassurance to any who might be anxious about this sin: “There is such a thing as a sin which is never forgiven. But those who are troubled about it are most unlikely to have committed it” (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [New York: Revell], 2:59). On the other hand, those who actually do commit the sin are so dominated by evil that it is unlikely that they would be aware of it

. (Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 645–646.)

 
On the other hand – it may be that you have never considered this because you never read it before. Are you reading your Bible? The fact that you are not likely to commit the unpardonable sin should not be a great comfort to you. There are a great many sins you can commit to damn you to hell. But it’s not the matter of sins – rather it is sin which must be dealt with. We never want to cure only the symptoms (which is moralism) we want to cure the disease (which is salvation).

I would rather warn you to examine yourself, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11, to see if you are in the faith or not. Do you go to church only rarely, or only to sooth a guilty conscience? Or are you committed to a group of believers in covenant with them and ready to be where they are as often as possible?

I am not looking to lay heavy guilt on you – I love you. It takes a lot to stand up here and challenge people I care about with hard things.

So if you are thinking to yourself – I’m ok, I’ll never do that – I’ll never say a good work is evil. I’m not as bad as the rest. You are indeed as doomed as the Scribe who committed the unpardonable sin. You however have some hope. But such hope could extinguish in a moment. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. The Scripture says that today is the day of Salvation.

Please do not leave here leaning on hope, but not doing business with God.

Amen.
 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Did God get the Glory? (Acts 12:1-18)


Now at that time, Herod the king laid hands on some of those from the church to harm them. So he executed James the brother of John with a sword. And when he saw that it was pleasing to the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (Now this was during the feast of Unleavened Bread.) (Acts 12:1-3)

Let’s try something. All things are for the glory of God. We say that we believe it. We find it in many places through all the scriptures. Can we see it here in this account of Peter's imprisonment and release?


Here we have a pagan King – Herod Agrippa – causing much grief to the church; first by killing James the brother of John in a horrendous way and then by arresting Peter. I suspect he would have killed Peter immediately also, but the timing of arresting Peter was too late, the days of unleavened bread had already started. But this would in no way dissuade this evil man – he simply planned to kill Peter after Passover.


I want to ask, How is it that James’ death glorifies the Lord? At this point first let me quote a verse from the Psalms,
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Ps. 116:15)
 

Herod meant for evil, and to set himself in a better place with the people (when he saw that it was pleasing to the Jews), yet God always gets the glory! As Joseph said to his brothers,

Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen. 50:19-20)

Earlier in Genesis we read,

God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:7-8)

It may have pleased the Jews that James was killed but this is unimportant…it pleased God to take him. He was the first of the Apostles to die. He had a Ministry for about 14 years before the Lord called him home. To the Saints – his death was a call to prayer for Peter. Peter had been in prison along with all the apostles in Acts 5:17-18, but found angelic release in Acts 5:19. So the Saints perhaps had reason to think he'll be freed soon. Yet no promise was ever given that such would be true, and seeing James’ martyrdom reminded them they have a part in intercession!

In fact when John’s gospel is closing we read the account of Peter and Jesus where Peter was seeking the destiny of John. Christ’s response was that we should not concern ourselves with such things:

Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22)

In the Book of Matthew we also read of an account where the sons of Zebedee were seeking a glory not promised (through their mother)

And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matt. 20:21-23)

Indeed both the sons of Zebedee suffered martyrdom (or in the case of John he was twice, but survived both and due to double jeopardy laws was set free and lived out his life to a very old age in Ephesus) for all things do accomplish the glory of God – regardless of the intent of the human instrument.

Consider these passages - Hover your mouse over each of these Scripture references: 1 Chr. 16:23-29, 29:10-13; Ps. 86:8-10, 96:1-9; Isa. 43:5-7, 55:8-11; Dan. 4:34-37; John 13:31; Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Cor. 8:6, 10:31;Phi. 1:9-11; Col. 1:15-18, 3:17; Heb. 2:10, 13:20-21.

There are almost endless examples of God’s glory in the scriptures, for in the end, and even in the present he is to be praised!

 Praise the Lord!
Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Reflections on God in Psalm 44

             Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor,
And do not go out with our armies.

 You cause us to turn back from the adversary;
                        And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.

 You give us as sheep to be eaten
                                And have scattered us among the nations. (Ps. 44:9-11)

 These verses sound like charges, even accusations against the Lord but notice this - it is only by such an intimate relationship that such a volley of statements could be made. If the psalmist had not learned what a good God and what a gracious God he had, he could have no platform for complaint, nor any confidence that his complaint would be addressed much less heard.
We do indeed serve and love a living and gracious God! For though everything be against us - God is for us. Though we see all hell break loose against us, like Job in the first two chapters of his book, let us resolve to trust Him regardless.  If I were to put a structure to the whole song I would say:

Part A - Our good God
   1 – 3: You have been good in the past.
                4 – 8: I trust you to be good now.
Selah
Part B - Our difficult God

9 – 16: Accusations to our God
              17 – 22: Defense of our allegations
              23 – 26: A call – a plea – To the goodness of our merciful God.

There is only one musical pause [Selah] in this psalm. It breaks up the song into its two component parts. We look at the second part from verses 9 through 26 and read a strong complaint against the God of Grace. It’s not a complaint with no validity, but its validity is only due to the limitations of our human estate, for our God is Lord of all – even the evil which comes our way is by the permissive hand of God – but always for our good.

What is the characterization of these accusations (vs. 9-16)? First of all, they are not against His decision to treat them this way. How do I know this? Verse 12 tells me.

               You have sold your people for a trifle, And have not profited by their sale. (Ps. 44:12)

We see the psalmist seeking to reason it out. Why has God allowed all this hard way? In other words, the psalmist knows God is indeed good, which we see in Part A, yet he trusts God to be just in spite of seeming injustices.

And yet he never calls God unjust. He only records what God has allowed and his (the psalmist’s) thoughts concerning these events. Verses 12 and 15 show a little of the psalmist’s reasoning on these events.

In all this he never doubts God’s goodness. He is a man simply seeking to reason out the apparently unreasonable. But apparent circumstances are not the whole of the matter.

We do not know the mind of our God in all things. We do know that He is good and never changes and we do know He is for us. At times we must rest in such as these.
--------------------------------
Lord, Help me to trust in your perfect unchanging love. And may I never rebut you in character or actions while I wait upon you.
Amen

Monday, October 23, 2017

To God be the Glory!


Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:32-35)

It was 38 A. D. Aeneas had been sick – paralyzed in bed for years – 8 years according to Acts 9:33. Which tells us that from the very beginning of the Christ’s earthly ministry healing and preaching – Aeneas was waiting. Lydda, where he was, was only 32 miles from Jerusalem. He had heard of this healer. All men were talking about him – so much was going on that even the Scribes and Pharisees sent down delegations to see this teacher and healer from Galilee.

But this was now years ago. He had waited over 3 years when he heard about the crucifixion. It hadn't made sense to him – but his own troubles kept him from thinking about the incongruity of it all.

Enter Peter. This disciple of the Savior who was not. Peter said some astounding things – things which had given Aeneas new hope. He had once lived in hope that the Savior would visit Lydda and he’d find healing and redemption. But for 5 years such hope had been quelled.

Yet in 1 sentence Peter revives that hope!

And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately. (Acts 9:34)

Not only was the Savior alive – he was still healing and his disciples were preaching the gospel!

He arose immediately. The result of this was amazing. All who saw Aeneas healed turned to Jesus the Christ - the Healer whose power was not abated.


Lord, let us not forget how your healing power is still able to heal. And thank you that it is not restricted to physical maladies – but you heal the hearts of dead men - bringing them to new life in Christ.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Means of Grace to prevent unbelief

(This message was preached at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 10/4/2017)

THESIS: Unbelief makes fools out of the very most learned of men – seek Christ and be truly wise!

This evening we’ll be considering Mark 3:19b-35

And they went into a house. 20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”

23 So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”—30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”

33 But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”[1]

This evening we are presented with a literary tool that Mark uses quite regularly. You might have noted that the lengthy passage I intend to handle this evening. Fifteen verses is by far the largest grouping so far which I have attempted to tackle. But it is the way Mark handles the text that drives me to consider so large a passage. We will likely be visiting this passage 1 or 2 more times before we move on.

The literary tool Mark uses is called by a variety of terms (Chiasm or Intercalation), but I like the simple term insertion.  Mark takes one account and inserts it into another account. In our case the first account is of his own people seeking to take hold of Him. And the second account is of the Scribes who accuse Him of being in league with Satan. As for the meaning of insertion, there was some variation, but the intent was generally to tie the two seemingly distinct events together theologically. So what that means for us is that tonight we will be considering that theological base and what emphases it brings to the two accounts. In later sermons we’ll deal specifically with the Scribes and their accusation and also the sin of Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

But what do these two accounts share theologically? Consider the fact that Jesus was accused in both accounts. His family thought he had lost His mind, and the Scribes thought He was in league with Satan! Neither accusation was flattering. In both accounts, Jesus ably defends himself and even shows the weakness of their arguments.

The fact that Jesus was not at all out of His mind, is shown in his clear logical response to the Scribes. So the one account informs us on the other account. Jesus’ own family didn’t even know Him! They couldn’t grasp his purpose or plan. What most struck me is that fact that earlier in Jesus life, first while in the womb, and later at the temple when He was 12, Mary seemed to show to that of an understanding heart – however we see that it was not at all a clear matter to her. Who this son of hers was, and why He came was still a great enigma. We read that in response to the angel’s announcement in Luke 1:29 she was troubled and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be? When the shepherds came to worship the baby, we are told that she ‘kept all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19).  After Simeon came and blessed the child we read in Luke 2:34, “And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.[2]” Also when he was 12 and had been left behind in Jerusalem we read that his earthly parents didn’t understand him when he told them, Did you not know that I must be about my Fathers business? (Luke 2:49)

And by the way, what is so upsetting about his being in a crowd that He couldn’t eat? Let me remind you of the culture and place Jesus was ministering in. The darkness of Galilee – the demonic possession and great many illnesses people bore. Into this dark backwater place Jesus erupts on the scene with literal healing in his hands and even in the hem of his clothing. He made what seemed to be outlandish claims that prophecy was being fulfilled in their presence. He was identified as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by his cousin, John. And this drew crowds. But these were not those who knew him. What about those who knew him? What happened in Nazareth?

We read in Matt. 13:54 – 58,

When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” 57 So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” 58 Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.[3]

Unbelief had hardened them to the truth. Listen to the almost mocking way that his brothers speak to Him in John 7,

Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him.[4]

So is it any wonder at all that his family thinks he is going mad? They lived with him as a pious Jewish carpenter for 30 years. And even though there were some great and significant events in his arrival 30 years earlier, they were not reckoned as significant any longer – even in Mary’s heart and mind.

His family came to ‘lay hold of Him’ we read in verse 21. The Greek word κρατέω kratĕō here is a strong word often translated ‘to arrest’ or ‘to seize’.  They were coming for him – to do what a family might do – Let’s get Him out of there before he does something really crazy! In fact the next significant Greek word, ἐξίστημι ĕxistēmi means exactly that – they were afraid he’d gone insane! He’s bewitched by his own power and now isn’t even eating!

This is the backdrop Mark paints as he now begins to insert the Scribes and their accusation. And if the family paints a picture of Christ as insane – the Scribes go a step further and declare him to be the demoniac! By the prince of demons you cast out demons!

Do you see how much more sinister the accusation made by the Scribes was? Here we have the very Son of God – the Anointed One of Israel in the flesh – and they can’t see the works as pointing out Messiah. But they see them as pointing out the Devil!  If the family was deceived by unbelief, how much more these Scribes by evil intent make their accusations!

It’s important to see the Scribes in this passage for what they were. These men had no excuse whatsoever for making their claims. As a matter of fact – the evidence of Jesus’ miracles, sight to the blind, healing of the lame, raising the dead – these very things – were to be the identifiers of the Messiah! I know that I tend to beat a dead horse on this but don’t forget what John the Baptizer was told when he inquired of Christ, Are you the One, or should we look for another? We read in Luke 7,

 And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. 22 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”[5]

These are the very same things he had been doing all over Galilee! It was this activity to which he referred when he declared in the Synagogue in Nazareth that Isa. 49:8-9 was being fulfilled in their hearing! 30 years earlier – WITHOUT all this evidence Simeon and Anna were waiting for Him in expectation. They knew what to look for!

That’s why I say these Scribes were without excuse! They had the prophecies, and the evidence was laid before them! They not only rejected it in unbelief, but they went further than that – they called him out as antichrist! You cast out devils by the prince of devils!

In the parallel account which we find in Matthew 12:27 Christ not only uses logic to destroy their accusation, he exposes their hypocrisy:

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.[6]

Why did they make such a foolish accusation? What drove such learned men to be such fools as to actually accuse the very Christ of God to be in league with Satan? Consider the following passages – John 7,

And many of the people believed in Him, and said, “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?”[7]

Matt. 12:22-24:

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

Do you see how the multitudes easily connected such a healing by Jesus to the Christ of God? They got it right. This teaching was not new. The Scribes themselves taught it!

Matt. 12:24 begins, Now when the Pharisees heard…They heard the multitudes reasoning out the matter and pointing to Jesus as the Christ. Then they made their blasphemous accusation. It was out of envy. It was out of malice. It was spite that drove them to such irrational accusations.
Folks – Don’t you see – His family came to get him because they said He is out of his mind, yet it was the very Scribes and Pharisees who were out of their mind! They were the insane ones. They were the ones to accuse God incarnate of being in league with Satan!


I began this message referencing a literary tool called insertion. Let’s now look at verses 31 – 35, and return to the primary or first account.

Jesus’ earthly family arrived but due to the crowd couldn’t even get close to him. Remember, they were there to arrest him as it were – to lay hands on him. But the crowd was actually Christ’s best defense!

So they send word through the crowd and Jesus’ response should actually warm your heart – if you are a believer. You see him look around at those seated at his feet – Behold my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God, He is my brother and sister and mother.

This leads me to my challenge to you this evening. Are you doing the will of God? And what – of all the things we could be doing for Him – is most important?

Look at the very familiar account of Mary and Martha. Both were busy about the Lord. One was seated at his feet studying Him, and one was serving Him. And we do tend to discount service sometimes because of Martha’s impetuousness. But remember, Christ never rebuked her work, he rather exalted Mary by stating that in His Kingdom – knowing the King was more important than serving the King.

In fact when I learned the answer to the first Catechism question, What is the chief end of man? I marveled at the answer, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. I marveled because in my mind I had answered the question like this, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to serve him forever. Do you see the subtle way we move into works and deeds?

And isn’t this reality of relationship put into great relief when we think of the Scribes and Pharisees and how of all men, they should have recognized him! They should have been at his feet! They should have been willing to be in the position of humility.

Brothers & Sisters – Can I ask you, Do you spend more time learning from and studying the Saviour – or is your hallmark staying busy for the Lord in service? Mary has chosen the better portion. Do you look intently into the Word of God, regularly or is something always sidetracking you? How’s your prayer life? Is it vital and living? Do you find it something you long to do, or is it a difficult matter? You see, a relationship takes work. And it is a two way street. We must listen to the Lord, and let the Word examine us – and we also must go to the Lord of that Word, to praise, adore and petition him.

What are some of the ways you can use to establish a better relationship with the King? I would like to point you to 3 ways you can know our Lord better. Truthfully these are just some of the means of Grace.

1.      We have the Word itself. Read it. Study it. Search it out – live in it! Make the Scriptures the most precious thing you have! Think of how it would be if you had a friend who never let you get in a word? Doesn’t that frustrate the relationship? Yet God has spoken – all we need do, is listen.


2.      We have prayer itself. Tonight is the prayer meeting. Are you ready to call out to the Lord? Do you trust the Lord to hear your burdens and bear them for you? Or is your relationship to Him so thin that you don’t feel comfortable calling on Him. Brethren - If we can’t call on the Lord for help, we have no one else to turn to. I realize that some matters aren’t for the public prayer meeting, but you do have a time of prayer don’t you? The old KJV called it a prayer closet – a place where you can privately call upon the Lord. (Matt. 6:6)


3.      And 3rd we have the fellowship of the Saints. Do you make it your passion to seek out brothers and sisters to bless and be blessed by them? Do you try to make the attendance at Church a major priority in your life? You see, we have within this very body the ability to sharpen one another’s relationship to the King – but only if you seek it out. 1 John 1:7 tells us But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.[8]  Fellowship is tied to walking in the light – that is how it can be a means of grace.  Paul tells us in Colossians, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.[9]

Fellowship with one another is a means of grace to get to know the Saviour more intimately.

i)       In my last message we considered the selection of the 12 Apostles. And do you remember how I pointed out that the important factor in these men wasn’t so much their Apostleship, but that they were the foundation stones – Christ being the cornerstone and that we are the living stones, as we build the Spiritual house of God? Well, living stones in a building have communication with one another. To stretch the analogy a bit, a square brick has 6 sides and at least 4 of them are mortared to 4 other bricks. Do you have a few significant brothers or sisters to which you can share and fellowship in the faith? This can foster the relationship we have with the Saviour! Hebrews 10 tells us this in familiar words, And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another[10]

ii)   We ourselves practice this in our Lords Day morning worship service – every time we have our Praise and Testimony time. We give place and time in the service that we can minister to one another as we share with one another how the Lord is teaching us, or answering our prayers. (See also Eph 5:15; 1 Thes. 5:11; Rom. 1:12)

I have given you 3 means to help you in your relation to the Lord. If we are about knowing the Lord, we need to study the Word, we need to be in regular prayer, and we need each other in fellowship. There are more but these may be considered the chief means. Each of you may find certain of these 3 easier than others.

Let me request of you a bit of help – if there was one that for me was most difficult – it is this matter of prayer. I do not like to rush into the Lords presence without adequate preparation…but the result of this is that I do not so often avail myself of this very means of grace.

If I struggle with one – then surely so do you. Let’s exhort one another and not let ourselves fall into the error of unbelief! Such unbelief can even lead to a blasphemous end as we have seen with the Scribes and Pharisees. As much as I have excoriated these rulers because of their evil accusations, I would remind you that they surely started out better. But they left off true piety for the works of religion and ended up in accusing the Christ of being the devils tool!

The message I am trying to convey is that unbelief makes fools out of the very most learned of men – The essence of spiritual wisdom is found in knowledge of the Lord. As I close I can think of no other admonition to point to but that of the Apostle Paul in Philippians,

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:8-10)

Make knowing the Lord your chief concern!!!

Amen.




[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 3:20–35.
[2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Lk 2:33.
[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mt 13:54–58.
[4] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 7:2–5.
[5] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Lk 7:21–23.
[6] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mt 12:27.
[7] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 7:31.
[8] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Jn 1:7.
[9] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Col 3:16.
[10] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Heb 10:24–25.

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