Friday, May 11, 2018

Why Miracles?

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[d] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:11-20)
What is the point of the many miracles in the Scripture? What is the design of the Lord in the recording of so many, throughout biblical history? OK – perhaps that’s too big a subject for one 800 word blog post, so let’s limit our questions to this account in Acts 19.
Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:11-12 NKJV)
My first observation is the word ‘unusual.’ This really is a dramatic statement. By definition miracles are not ordinary. They are extraordinary and unusual acts of God. God suspends the natural laws, and we see a miracle. Yet Luke tells us that these miracles were unusual. This is a significant emphasis.
But also note the source of these miracles. Though Luke tells us that they were by the hands of Paul, he earlier says that “God worked.” So it was Paul who was the means of God’s work in these highly unusual miracles.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)
This tells us that when made a believer in Christ,

God has work for us to do – His work – but we are to do it. No one else is appointed to these good works but whom God intended.

From where did this authority come?

So when the 7 sons of Sceva tried to do Paul’s works – it was the relationship to God which mattered. The demons knew who Paul was, by virtue of his appointed effectual works. And all demons know of the living God, and tremble (James 2:19).
This is reminiscent of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24) who thought it was all a matter of money. In Christ’s upper room discourse we read a bit of the relationship our Lord has with his children, and some of the benefits.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
These charlatans thought that they could call out Paul and Jesus’ names like some magic spell and that they would be all the more powerful.
How often do we claim authority which we have not received? Do we ever think we have permission to act apart from Christ and his specific instruction?

The grace of God abounds to his children.

Beloved, our Lord is not evil in any way. He is merciful to all, and with his children he shows himself especially gracious (1 Tim. 4:10) – but let us never presume upon our Lord because he is slow to become angry.
We should with great reverence hold our Lord's name.  I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Actually what they did was to break the 3rd commandment in taking the name of the Lord in vain. Sometimes God punishes such infractions by the means of another, such as this demon.
Interesting how God uses a demon prevailing over these 7 vagabond priests to bring men and women to repentance. And just why did this demon prevail? It did so because the only one to whom the demon must obey is God, and those whom He designates. And God is not compelled by any to do anything.
Mercy abounds in the hand of the Lord – no doubt some of those punished like this were among those who got their magic books and burned them. When God is exalted like this (Acts 19:18-19), we see that men confess their sin and repent even to the point of financial hurt.

So what it the conclusion of the matter?

The unusual miracles God was doing at Paul’s hands, to what purpose were they? All for the great glory of God. In every way let us be careful to not only esteem his name and person, but even to extol him to the highest position before all people, nations and languages! (Dan. 4:1-37)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Ears to hear?

(This message was preached at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 4/4/2018)
THESIS: To explain the nature of the Word of God, and His intentionality to us. To answer the following question – What are God’s purposes regarding His Word, and what are the warnings all must consider when His Word is presented us?

21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

24 Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”[1]


Today is the third of 5 messages on the parables of Mark chapter 4. In the first message we defined the parable, and how and why Christ used them. Chiefly stated, parables illustrate truth and test those who listen. The primary theme of the parables here taught is on the nature of the Kingdom of God, and this is the subject matter of the next 2 messages. Today however, we’ll take note of certain warnings to heed the Word of God. Exactly what are those warnings and what are our responsibilities?


A-   All that is hidden will one day come to light!

a.     Everything today which is hidden will indeed be revealed. Parables speak to the fact that men walk in darkness.


Think about how many Scripture passages there are about light or lamps or lampstands and how such passages are used. The Greek word for light here, φανερός, primarily means evident or manifest. Its use is not first of all to make brighter as though you were to turn on the lights, but to enlighten as in to reveal truth. Lights do make it easier to see in the room and reveal things. So we can grasp the understanding. Using a lamp as a teaching aid Christ extends the revealing lamplight to the revealing eyes of God. He asks us to consider why a light is employed.

b.     The double negative in verse 22 teaches us that there is an emphasis we dare not overlook.


Verse 22 is interesting. One of the questions I had was why the double negative? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. Why not simply say ‘everything hidden will be revealed’? I never like the double negative. What does such a construct force you to do? THINK! We have to reason the sentence out. People use the double negative to add weight or emphasis to what they are saying. And sometimes, to be truthful we are lazy and don’t like to think. 


Here’s an excellent example and explanation by the writer J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbit, “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. This was unexpected and rather difficult. There was some scattered clapping, but most of them were trying to work it out and see if it came to a compliment.”[2] This example is funny, but it’s also exactly to the point. Not only does the double negative require us to work a bit for the meaning, its work that will reward us in the end. Everything hidden will be revealed. Is that all that’s really meant? Not on your life. Instead the double negative itself is part of the metaphor! It tends to hide from the lazy what is plainly there. It’s no secret. If you can read, you can indeed work it out! You are simply required to consider it.


c.      The metaphor of lamps and reference to light make a clear case that Christ did not come to hide the truth.


When I spoke to you on the parable I mentioned fairly strongly that Christ did not intend any to misunderstand. Christ’s use of parable was primarily to reveal rather than to hide. I had a brother approach me afterward and he rightly stated that Christ did hide the truth from some. But my point isn’t that he did or didn’t, but that his intent is to reveal.


Let me explain in this way. In Matthew 25:14-30 we read the parable of the talents. The various servants all received something from the master. Five talents or two or even one. And the reward was given only to those who used what they were given. All three had something to use, but only two of them employed their faculties on the talents and had real increase.


We all CAN grasp the truth, but only those who desire to know the Lord move from blinded eyes to the light. In Romans we read that suppressing the truth in unrighteousness they are given over to their own lusts and passions and become blind of their own accord. So it is never the fault of God they do not understand.


Let’s look at the next enigmatic phrase – If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. It’s an interesting statement found only in the mouth of Christ. An exhortation that we see 6 times in the gospels and 7 times in Revelation. Really it’s in command form in the Greek. Let him hear! Very practically speaking it’s another point of emphasis. And to whom does He command? Who has ears?! Who has ears to hear references not all creatures with the ability to distinguish sound, but those who can take that sound and make sense of it with understanding or rationality. And hearing is not a passive listening we so often find ourselves doing at work or home with the radio or TV going in the background. It’s an intentional grasping of the thoughts of the speaker. Noodling what He says.


Who made the ear? God, of course. Psalm 94:9 tells us that the ear formed by God was made to hear BECAUSE He hears. We are made in his image, and therefore, all who are men have no excuse to being lazy. We cannot claim it is too hard.


How important is hearing? So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17)

B-    Since the light of judgment will surely come – it is imperative to take heed and listen! Such efforts will be rewarded!

a.     Consider the effort you use to comprehend the Word.


How much real work do you put into the Word? Do you passively look at it on your bookshelf thinking perhaps later I will peruse it. Don’t you think it’s worth the work? We hear the verse in church often enough, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.[3] But do you ever say to yourself, “What promises?” How are they ‘Yes and Amen’? This is the work of mining the Scriptures! And it is indeed work, and as I have said – worthy work!


As I was preparing the message one commentator used a rather comical example on verse 24 (Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.) I’d like to share with you.


Maybe you have heard the story about two men, one a baker and the other a butcher. Rather than charging each other, they would trade their goods to each other. But the butcher became angry because the pound of flour he was given for his pound of meat always came up short of a pound. He confronted the baker. The baker told him, “I don’t have a measurement on my scale, but a balance, so I always used your pound of meat on one side of the balance.” His point was clear. The butcher had been trying to cheat him by giving him less meat, but he did not want the same standard of measurement used against him![4]


Do you realize that the time you spend in God’s Word is time which will commensurately bless or curse you? This is again an example of the means of grace which we so often urge you to avail yourself. Do you want to be a holy man of God, or a holy woman of God? It won’t happen by accident! You must take heed to the Word! And be ready to reconsider your beliefs as the Spirit through the Word reveals truth. Truth indeed will separate the men from the boys, the ladies from the girls. Doctrine rightly divides – and among other things it will force you to see yourself in the mirror of God’s righteousness. Do you want God’s blessing and favor on your home? How much do you want it? Are you willing to let the sword of the Word pierce your soul and spirit? Correction is not an easy thing to take.


b.     The reference to you who hear, more will be given speaks to the weight of the teaching.


When I say that I mean to say that our God is a gentle God. He knows that we are but dust. There are many teachings found in the Word which are easy to bear. Some great promises are a huge blessing and they sit right near the surface, if you will permit the analogy, of a miner. When a miner goes to work, he expects to dig for his gold. And if he finds something near the surface he rejoices. God graciously provides for us a myriad of promises right on the surface of the Scriptures. Lately in my personal devotions I have been mining in Psalm 46 and Acts 17. Two very different mining efforts. Psalm 46 is rich and easy to reach. Acts also promises riches, but more digging is required. I have to consider the audience and time and location much more than in Psalm 46. I have to dig. To you who hear, more will be given is the same principle we see in 1 Corinthians 10:13. There Paul is speaking to the matter of temptation. But the same God who will not allow you to be burdened beyond what you are able to bear also will not burden your soul with weighty theological doctrine, if you aren’t willing to take the lighter stuff to heart.


c.      The question of the weight of the teaching speaks to our being a teachable people.


Are you acting on what you do know of God and His Word? If you don’t you cannot expect Him to address any questions you have. If you are not willing to take serious consideration His Word as it is in the Scriptures, then how do you expect Him to take seriously your requests and concerns? Do you let petty matters such as pride of heart blind you to the truth which is right before you?


Consider two Scriptural examples – one positive and one negative. The positive example is of Apollos in Acts 18. 24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.[5]

Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures, but he needed them explained more accurately. A proud man does not take correction. His pride is stung by the very act.


In the late 90’s I was teaching the college and career Sunday school class in Chicago for 3 years. And at one point one of the church leaders sat in to listen. After the class he gently rebuked me. And to tell you the truth, it was devastating. So much so that I doubled down and studied harder. And to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what I was teaching wrongly today. But I took it to heart.


That’s the right way to ‘hear’ the Word of God! Take it to heart! Get after it. If you are convicted, rather than go back on your heels in defense, listen. The Scripture tells us that if you rebuke a wise man, he becomes wiser still (Pro. 9:8). Even the rebuke of the wicked is worthy to be considered.


The second example is a bit more esoteric, but I think it is clear enough. It is the account of the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5. King Belshazzar gets a warning from God in literal words written by the finger of God on the wall of the room. Mene mene, tekel, upharsin. Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided. This wicked king was being given a grave warning. Daniel recounts to him all his great advantage – having seen all that Nebuchadnezzar experienced, and hearing the decrees he made concerning the most high God – Belshazzar should know better! Daniel interprets the words and instead of this king tearing his robe and throwing dust on his head (like the people of Nineveh did) he simply pays lip service to Daniel.


Do you do that? Do you sometimes pay lip service to God? I know that at times all of us do. Do you realize what that is like? It is like the man with one talent who says in his heart, I know you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. But this man became afraid – instead of considering the graciousness of the one who did indeed give his a whole talent to work with, he thought only of the harshness that such might exact if it was lost.


The Proverbs tell us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and to ‘lean not’ on our own understanding. This is the point where we come to our last comment.

d.     Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. The example of Judas.


Judas is an excellent example of one who had but really didn’t. He was not only a close disciple, but one of the twelve. He was able to heal and cast out demons like all the others. Christ even washed his feet! Yet what did Christ say of him? It would have been better that he had not been born. All the benefits of being with the very Christ of God for 3 whole years squandered for 30 pieces of silver. He never had it to begin with folks. There is a price to be paid for a wicked heart. God calls all men everywhere to repent!


So what is our 'take-away'? In the light of the coming judgment believers ought to be the most thoughtful of people. I have 2 points of application.


1- Men do walk in darkness - and we ought to consider that even as Christ does. How do we speak to unbelievers? Christ indeed spoke so as to be salt and light. We should do likewise. Our zeal for the truth should not be deliberately harsh, but neither should it be compromisingly weak. It's a fine balance. When a non-believer encounters us we should leave him with an impression of zeal that is informed and caring. This should be our intent. We may not know if that is how they leave us, but for our part we ought to care in such a way for their soul that they wonder to themselves, "How can he care more about my own soul than I do?"


2- We should be a teachable people. And this goes doubly so if we ourselves are teachers. We will bear the greater burden. Ask yourself if you really do listen when someone challenges what you know? Do you really care what the truth is, or are you interested only in defense of your stated position? We are human, and as the old saying goes, to err is human. Be willing to subject all you hold true to regular examination. You may find that though a position was true, it was still inadequately stated or taught. We must be teachable! If the Lord of the universe could condescend to live among men and be obedient to earthly parents and even to the point of the cross (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8) who are we to stand uncorrected? He who has ears to hear – Let him hear!


[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 4:21–25.
[2] The Hobbit. Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., 1977, p 253.
[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 2 Co 1:20.
[4] Rodney L. Cooper, Mark, vol. 2, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 70.
[5] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ac 18:24–28.

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.


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