You May Already Be Qualified

Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians.  “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks.  While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified – unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God.  If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it.  What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?

Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”John 3:1-3

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”Acts 16:30-31

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – that’s it!

This is the culmination of a long process.  God created man (Genesis 1:27) in a perfect state, but man chose to sin (Genesis 3:1-7).  There were stiff consequences for that sin (Genesis 3:16-19), but in the serpent’s curse, God alluded to His plan (Genesis 3:15).  Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies were made concerning the Messiah, both literal (Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53) and figurative (Leviticus 4).  Jesus came, born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), and lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) while ministering on earth.  He was crucified (Matthew 27:22-26), but resurrected from the grave (Matthew 28:1-7) and ascended to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:6-11) until He returns to call His own home (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today.  Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife – twice! -  (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel.  Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.  David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king.  Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.

Were these people hypocrites?  Some may say “yes.”  The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime.  As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth.  Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength.  We will get better, but we will never be perfect.

This is also a great example of God’s redemption.  The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!”  When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life.  These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!

(A note on leaders – Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13).  James echoes this along with a warning.

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways.James 3:1-2a

These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership.  The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)

How, then, do we get qualified?  That’s just it – God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.  If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified!  Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus.  If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification.  There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study.  God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family!  All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.

Come as You Are, Grow Where You’re Planted

Today, we are looking at an interesting passage; it reflects a cultural issue within the early church, but the principle is as relevant today as it was then.

17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.  This is my rule in all the churches.  18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised?  Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision.  Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised?  Let him not seek circumcision.  19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.  20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.  21 Were you a bondservant when called?  Do not be concerned about it.  (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)  22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord.  Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.  23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.  24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews, and much of the Old Testament law is built on circumcision.  Jewish children were to be circumcised 8 days after birth, and converts to Judaism, mirroring Genesis 17:10, were circumcised as adults.  With both Jews and gentiles being added to the church, circumcision had become quite the divisive issue.  In the passage above, Paul writes that there is no need for the circumcised to try to alter that, nor is there a need for the uncircumcised to become circumcised.  In Romans 2:29, he wrote that circumcision doesn’t even mean what either side thought that it did.

29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.  His praise is not from man but from God.Romans 2:29

Paul also dealt with the issue of slaves.  Slavery was much more common in that day than it is today, and was not viewed as the moral abhorrence that we have come to realize that it is.  In some cases, entering into slavery was a way to pay off a debt.  In other cases, it was a way for someone to attempt to better their lives, by living as a slave for a period of time.  However, there were some slaves who, upon their period of slavery being fulfilled, chose to stay and work in their master’s house.  These were called bondservants, and that title represented a lifetime choice.

Just as with circumcision, Paul emphasizes that one’s status regarding slavery has no effect on one’s ability to serve, and that coming to Christ does not require a change in status.  In verses 19, 22, and 24, Paul zeroes in on where the focus should be.  Circumcision and slave status are side issues, distractions from the “main thing.”  Keeping God’s commandments is the focus, and slave status can be flipped either way in Christ.  The summary, in verse 24, tells them (and us) that in whatever condition we were when we were called, we should remain there – but in God.

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, recently put it this way:

The person who tries to clean themselves up before coming to Jesus is like the gunshot victim performing surgery on themselves before going to the hospital.

He’s right – there is no reason for anyone to try to clean themselves up before coming to Christ.  This runs against the way we normally think.  We clean our houses before we have company – there are even people who clean before the housekeeper comes – because we do not want to expose our literal “dirty laundry” to others.  However, Jesus already knows what we are, how we think, and what we have done; He knows all that, and still offers us His payment for sin, free of charge.  All we must do is answer His call.

The set of people who God calls is as diverse as the set of people He created.  There are Christian businessmen, MMA fighters, actors, retail workers, athletes, motorcycle customizers, landscapers, and on and on.  God’s desire is not for every person, once saved, to go into full-time Christian service.  He cares about all people, and by having His representatives in all these various fields, these people can tell their peers how their relationship with Christ has changed their lives.  God doesn’t want to change your job; He wants to transform your life.

If you have never answered His call, today is the day!  Take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, and begin your relationship with Him.  If you are a Christian, consider where you are.  Barring sin issues, you are where God wants you to be.  He has chosen you because of your abilities and place in this world; use that for Him!

That Seems a Little Drastic

I was recently asked what kind of God tells His people to kill their intransigent children.  I knew the answer, but it’s a long one, so I decided to move that over here, because it’s an interesting study on one of the more hard-to-believe rules that God set out for the Israelites.  This command is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”Deuteronomy 21:18-21

At first glance, this appears to be pretty drastic; and, as with many first impressions, this does not get much better.  This passage provides a plan for parents to deal with sons who did not respond to their rearing or their discipline.  They are required to “purge the evil” from their camps.  However, this is not the preference, as we’ll see towards the end.

First up, let’s look at the plan.  If parents had a son, and this son rebelled, and they tried to discipline him to correct his behavior, and he still didn’t respond to that correction, the parents were expected to make a tough call.  If they felt that he would not respond to their correction, they were to go to the elders of their son’s city and inform them that their son was rebellious and impenitent.  Then, the elders would listen and, if they agreed, they would go get the son, take him outside the city, and stone him to death.  The son’s behavior was a violation of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), and this penalty directly implemented the inverse of the blessing promised in the last half of that verse.

That was the plan, but equally important is what the plan was not.  First, this is not something that parents do to a young child, out of the frustration of childish rebellion.  Notice that these parents are to go to his city’s elders – the son in this scenario is not living with his parents, and may be living in an entirely different city.  It is a last resort for parents who had done their dead-level best to rear their son in the way the Lord had commanded, but despite their best efforts, their son chose not to follow his upbringing.

Second, this outcome was to be prevented if at all possible.  Twice in Proverbs, Solomon exhorts parents to do what it takes to make sure their direction to their children sticks.

18 Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.Proverbs 19:18

13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.Proverbs 23:13

Third, this outcome was not intended to be used very often.  According to the end of verse 21, the reason given for this is that “all Israel shall hear, and fear.”  Just as many of our laws are written so as to deter the behavior they punish, that is the case with this law.  God did not want to see large mounds of dead sons outside every city; He wanted people to see that He was serious about His commandments.  Sometimes, the only thing that keeps people doing the right thing is the knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

The plan is a tough one, but the goal is even tougher – “purge the evil from your midst” (v. 21).  This is not the first time we see this in Deuteronomy; in fact, there are 7 instances of that phrase.  What 6 other things are considered evil that needs to be purged?

  • False prophets (13:1-5)
  • Worship of other gods (17:2-7)
  • Failure to accept legal decisions (17:8-13)
  • Malicious witnesses (19:15-20)
  • Disgracing the family name sexually (22:13-21)  (Note that this was not automatic; 24:1-4 gives an alternate way to handle this)
  • Slavery through theft (24:7)

In each of these cases, the offense can be traced back either to a direct offense against God Himself, His appointed legal or parental authorities, or those who attempted to unjustly affect or subjugate the life of another.  The son would have run afoul of both God and his parents.  God was serious about not keeping bad influences around that would pull His people astray.  This sentiment was echoed at least twice by Paul in the New Testament.

33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”1 Corinthians 15:33

11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”1 Corinthians 5:11-13

While a purge was commanded, the preference is much different.  We’ve already seen that the Bible told parents to do whatever they could to make sure that this outcome never occurred.  God’s desire was not to have a bunch of dead kids and sad parents; His desire was to have a people who were following Him, free from corrupting influences of those who were not interested in following Him or doing what He commanded.

This punishment was harsh, no doubt.  This harshness illustrates God’s lack of tolerance for sin.  However, this should also make us even more grateful for the grace that He provided through His Son.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, if we accept His payment for our sins, we are no longer under the law.  Although a large part of the Mosaic law is no longer actively enforced, it has never been struck down (according to Jesus Himself).

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:17-20

How can our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees?  There is no way we can do that in our own strength; in fact, that was the key problem with the scribes and Pharisees.  They were so focused on the letter of the law that they had completely missed its spirit.  (They also had some pride issues.)  The only way to live up to verse 20 above is to truly know Jesus, and accept His payment for your sins.

Parents are still to do their best to rear their children, and even Israel no longer enforces this law.  This is now quite literally up to God; He is now the one who decides when a son has had enough time to repent.  The recorded law exists to give us an insight into His view of sin, how serious He considers it to be, and as a reminder to us of the amazing grace that is available to us today, free for the asking.

Stop Playing and Start Praying

“Tan!”  “I like it on the hook by the door!”  “I’m going to Kalamazoo for 32 days!”  These are some tame samples of some of the nonsensical things you might have seen on Facebook over the past few years, all coming back to breast cancer awareness.  Other diseases have their specific “awareness” advocates as well.

I mused on someone else’s status that I wish I needed a game to make me aware of cancer.  In the past few years, I have known people who have had to fight breast, liver, kidney, prostate, lung, and bladder cancer; some have won, some did not, and others are still fighting.  There are two big reasons that I’m so aware of cancer at this point.  The first is that some of these have hit close to home, striking friends and co-workers.  The second is through praying for those who have these terrible diseases.  While I don’t recommend the first, the second is where we’ll focus today.  Let’s start in Philippians.

6 …do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.Philippians 4:6

Here, Paul sets us up with a negative and a positive instruction.  The negative instruction, “do not be anxious about anything,” is a necessary reminder.  When we humans are dealing with troubling times among friends and family, we tend to worry for them, on their behalf; when we deal with troubling times in the world at large, our anxiety tends to be more focused on ourselves.  Neither of these are acceptable, and Paul continues by giving a solution that works in both cases – tell God about it.  However, this is not a heavenly-directed spleen-venting session.  Paul uses “prayer and supplication” to describe how we are to take everything to God.  Prayer is a reverent request, not a vent and not a demand; supplication carries the idea of a fervent, urgent request.  We are to reverently, but fervently, bring our requests to God.

However, there’s another piece – “with thanksgiving.”  Even in the most dire of circumstances, there are things for which we can be thankful.  We can be thankful that we have the ability to pray.  We can be thankful for our knowledge of the people for whom we are praying, and for the benefits we have seen in our lives from them.  We can be thankful for things that God has done in the past, and the opportunity to see what He will do this time.  Being thankful has two benefits.  First, it lets God know that we remember His blessings.  Second, it helps us; it’s very difficult to be worried or angry over something for which we are giving thanks.

This brings us to one of the most curious things about prayer that I’ve learned over the past few years.  Yes, prayer is important, and can lead to big changes in circumstances.  But, more than changing God’s mind, prayer changes the one who prays.  God, though prayer, can reveal His will, and give peace when His will is not the result we are expecting.  I think that the best example of this type of prayer was Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane.

39 And going a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.Matthew 26:39 (emphasis mine)

My suggestion, given the above, is two-fold.  First, if you are not aware of anyone with cancer, or whatever disease has your attention, remedy that; find someone (at least one, but more if the Lord leads) and start praying for them, and see if you don’t see the difference.  Then, instead of playing games that can be zany at best, and offensive at worst, post the details of the people for whom you are praying.  You’ll raise awareness, and you’ll be encouraging others to pray as well.  That sounds like win-win to me.

Politics and Biblical Authority

My wife and I are currently reading the book Family Driven Faith by Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.  Some friends of ours are fans of Dr. Baucham, and the book has, so far, been outstanding.  (We’ve made it to chapter 4.)

In doing research on Dr. Baucham and his ministry, I learned that he is the current pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and I also found the church’s sermon feed on SermonAudio.com.  I’ve been listening for the past several weeks, as he and Elder Stephen Bratton have been preaching a series on Romans.  (That alone is cool to me; I’ve never seen two people share a series before.)  When they arrived to Romans 13:1-7, they started a 4-sermon mini-series within their larger Romans series.  Let’s look at these seven verses.

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.Romans 13:1-7

One of the things that blew me away is that, reading this, realizing that this was written about the Roman empire under Nero.  Wow.

Other highlights from this series:

  • Christians should not be so quick to skip past the “submit” part.
  • If we choose to defy authority because we believe they are asking us to do something contrary to God, we must be willing to deal with the consequences of defying authority.
  • Government should not be used to push theology.
  • All laws are moral laws; the only question is whose morality will be enforced.
  • We must support our government, and we must be involved.

There is much, much more in these sermons, and nearly 4 hours of listening.  I’d recommend loading these up on your mobile music player and walking while listening; shape up physically while you shape up spiritually.  With the elections coming up next year, I would categorize this as required listening; we as Christians must know what is expected of us, and must make decisions based on our ultimate citizenship.

A note – Dr. Baucham, in his three sermons in this series, made some pretty bold statements, but he backs them up; don’t hear him say something and cut off the message.

Part 1 – Politics, Government, and Politics: Part 1 by Dr. Voddie Baucham, 57 minutes
Part 2 – Politics and Biblical Authority Part 2: On Submission by Dr. Voddie Baucham, 67 minutes
Part 3 – Politics and Biblical Authority Part 3: On Exercise of Authority by Dr. Voddie Baucham, 56 minutes
Part 4 – Politics and Biblical Authority Part 4: On Support of Authority by Stephen Bratton, 45 minutes

9 Months of Silence

This has been an interesting year.  I have been sticking with the 1-year reading plan (for the most part, but catching up when I fall behind).  It’s been very enjoyable, but I almost feel like the pace is too fast to really let things sink in.  As I read, I’ve been making notes of certain verses that stand out, places to which I want to return and dig deeper.  Additionally, the Lord has provided some paid work (hallelujah!), which has taken up some of the time I would have used to formulate coherent devotionals.  Don’t take the lack of posts as a sign that this site has been abandoned; there’s a lot kicking around in my mind that I hope to unpack and explore in the next few years here.

As an aside – if you follow either my personal blog or my tech blog, you’ve already read the “We’re back on WordPress” posts.  This blog is included; it’s now back to running WordPress after a year on BlogEngine.NET.  All the old links should redirect to new ones, and the goal is that you wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said anything.

I leave you with a quick word of encouragement from yesterday’s sermon.

10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.John 15:10

Have a great [period of time until we meet again]!

A Year in the Word

On the suggestion of a friend, I subscribed to the Daily Audio Bible (DAB) podcast.  In this podcast, Brian Hardin reads the Bible through each year – 2010 is the fifth year.  It’s been a blessing to me to listen to God’s Word, as well as enjoy some of his comments as well.  (I’ll have to own up to skipping a good bit of the commentary, especially when I was trying to catch up a few days.)  It was great to be able to listen while I did other things; however, this was a mixed blessing.  I found that I would sometimes get distracted with the “other” thing that I was doing, and would mentally check out of the podcast.  During one of these distracted times, I felt the Lord telling me that it was time to take the next step.

For this reason, beginning 2 Jan 10, I’ll be beginning a 52-week Bible reading plan, reading it the old-fashioned way, off words printed on paper.  My main Christmas gift this year was an ESV Study Bible, and this will help put that to good use.  One of the aspects of DAB that I liked was the community; I knew that, although I might be the only one listening to my computer, there were thousands others that were listening to Brian.  Although my participation in that community could be described, at best, as a lurker, it encouraged me to have it there.  To help encourage others, I’ve created a group on Facebook called Read the Bible in 2011.  This group will function as a community where we’ll encourage each other along this journey.  I’d like to invite you, my reader, to join me in this journey.  The group is closed, but if you request access, just send me a separate message so I’ll know who you are.

While the goal is to read through the Bible in a year, we don’t want to go so quickly that we don’t have time to stop and listen to what God is trying to tell us in the passage of the day.  So, the stated goal of reading through the Bible in 2011 is not really the goal; it is merely the means to the greater goal of allowing God to speak to us.  I’m looking forward to it – won’t you join me?

 

Cross-posted at Daniel J. Summers

Where DWD Is Headed

I’ve been thinking a good bit about where this blog is headed, and I thought I’d share these thoughts with you.

When I started this, I had what turned out to be very lofty goals for it – a devotional week-in, week-out, well-thought-out and based on what I was currently studying in the Bible.  With other responsibilities and activities that I have, I simply have not been able to meet that goal.  This isn’t to say that the goal isn’t a good one; I just have fallen short of it.  Weekly devotions will remain the goal (and the name), but there will be a change.  While Wednesday at 7am will remain the unofficial schedule, each devotion will appear when I have completed it; if I complete it early, it’ll be on time, but it may be late.  The best way to keep up with this is via the RSS feed.  I also will post links via my Twitter account, and the NetworkedBlogs application automatically posts entries to my Facebook profile.

I’ve also been doing some research regarding versions of the Bible.  I still like the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but over the summer, I was introduced to the English Standard Version.  While the HCSB’s goal is a more contemporary English sentence structure, word-for-word for the most part but thought-for-thought where the word order may be confusing, the ESV is a literal word-for-word translation, similar to the way the King James Version was translated.  Far from confusing, I have found it to speak to me in a way the HCSB has not.  Beginning in 2011, I will switch to using the ESV as the default version for my devotionals.

I am grateful to have seen God use these devotionals to bless people that I have never met.  I will post what I feel He is leading me to post, when He enables me by providing the thoughts about which to write and the time to pull it together into a coherent post.  I pray that, as we head into 2011 and beyond, that God will use this site to bring others to Him, and encourage His own to a deeper relationship with Him.

How to Know Who Jesus Is

Today, our series “The 3:16s of the New Testament” reaches its other bookend (the end if you’ve been reading along, the start if you’re looking at it once it’s done), as we look at Matthew 3:16, presented here in context with verse 17.

16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven:

This is My beloved Son.

I take delight in Him!Matthew 3:16-17

This story is also covered in Luke 3:16, which we covered in .  This week, though, I’d like to focus on the One who was baptized – Jesus.  After He was baptized, the sky opened up, and God the Father was heard confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son; He also expressed his pleasure with Him.  This happened before Jesus was tempted, and before the Sermon on the Mount.  By allowing Himself to be baptized by John, He confirmed that John had been doing the right thing; He did the same thing that John had been telling the people they needed to do.  So how do we find out who Jesus is?  One of the best ways is to simply look at what He said about Himself, and what others said about Him.

First, Jesus said why He was here.

17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.Matthew 5:17-18

This was one of the first things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes.  This qualification was important for several reasons.  First, Jesus said it – that’s a given, but it is a good reason nonetheless.  Second, He was about to issue some pretty big clarifications to the law, and contradict some other teachings of the church of that day.  He was letting His hearers know that what was about to come wasn’t meant to tear down the law, but to fulfill it.  Third, this is early in His ministry.  People may have only heard rumors about Him up to this point, and He wanted to make sure that these seekers and followers knew what He was about.  Fourth, the current religious leaders were very strict legalists; they would react negatively to someone saying that the law was invalid.  (They reacted negatively anyway, but that’s another story.)  Finally, this lets us know, 2,000 years later, that everything we’ve read in our Bibles up to this point, the whole of the Old Testament through Matthew 4, is not null and void.  Rather, He was the One who had been foretold.  The law pointed to Him.

Jumping ahead, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”Matthew 16:13-16

At this point, Jesus had been at His ministry for a good long time; and, although He was very popular, it’s almost like they weren’t really hearing what He was saying.  John the Baptist had been jailed and beheaded; Elijah had been gone for thousands of years; Jeremiah had been gone for hundreds of years.  Yet people seemed to think that Jesus was one of these men, other than the Messiah, as He claimed to be.  Of course, we can’t be too hard on the casual observers – even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe Him when He said He was going to die.  However, the disciples were sure of His identity.  Simon Peter makes what is one of the most famous declarations of Jesus’ identity in response to His question.  Peter had the right answer, and the term Messiah was key in his response.  Jesus was the One who had been promised ever since man fell, just a few days after the creation of the earth.  All of the sacrifices were simply pictures of the Sacrifice to come; and, God could have made the sacrifices last longer than they did, but He wanted them to be continually reminded of what was to come.  It’s a shame that, by the time He did arrive, the Jewish religion had become more ritual than heartfelt.  (Is our religion today any different?  If it’s not, whose fault is it?)

We’ll finish this with one final statement from Jesus, which he said after arriving in Bethany and finding Lazarus had died.

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”John 11:25

Fulfilling the law is good, and being the Messiah is great, but this is the awesome result of that!  I’ve written in depth on this wonderful news when we looked at John 3:16 and Romans 3:16, so I won’t write a whole lot here.  I will point out, though, the center of the verse, where Jesus very succinctly says who may obtain this eternal life – anyone who believes in Him!  That’s it – it’s no more complicated than that.  If you have not accepted this free gift of His, and would like to know more details about how you can accept this gift, please read God’s Simple Plan of Salvation – it explains, in detail, our need for a savior, and how Jesus fills that.  If you have accepted Christ, rejoice in Who has claimed you for His own.  He gave His life so that we could live with Him forever – praise God!

How to Be the Kind of Person God Can Use

This week brings us to Mark 3:16 (shown below through verse 19).

16 He appointed the Twelve:
To Simon, He gave the name Peter;

17 and to James the son of Zebedee,
and to his brother John,
He gave the name “Boanerges”
(that is, “Sons of Thunder” );

18 Andrew;
Philip and Bartholomew;
Matthew and Thomas;
James the son of Alphaeus,
and Thaddaeus;
Simon the Zealot,

19 and Judas Iscariot,
who also betrayed Him.Mark 3:16-19

Here, Mark lists those that Jesus called out to be His disciples while He was performing His earthly ministry.  Looking at who He chose will give us a good idea of the type of person He used, and help us see the type of person He will continue to use.  The first part of this may seem like a history lesson, but it is all background to illustrate the point that comes near the end.

First in the list is Simon Peter – he is one of the main characters in all four gospels.  He was a fisherman, and he gave 100% to everything he did, even if he hadn’t stopped to think about it first.  Much is made of his sinking while he was walking on the water towards Jesus, as an illustration of a lack of faith; while this may be true, it is also true that he is the only one who got out of the boat, and to this day the only person other than Jesus to accomplish this miracle.  He famously declared that he would never deny Jesus, then denied Him three times, just as Jesus said he would.  Peter, though, became a central figure in the early church; nearly all of the book of Acts that doesn’t concern Paul deals with Peter and his ministry.  He was even used of God to write two books that are in our New Testament today!

James and John are next in Mark’s list.  James is described as the son of Zebedee, which distinguishes him from James, Jesus’ half-brother who wrote the book of James.  Together with Peter, these two brothers were the only disciples with Jesus when Jairus’s daughter was raised, the only disciples to view the transfiguration, and the disciples that Jesus took with Him further when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal.  They were called while they were with their father by the seashore; the implication is that they were also fisherman.

Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother.  He was a fisherman as well, and was the one to whom Jesus used the term “fishers of men.”  Philip and Bartholomew are always mentioned together; they were from the same town, but the Bible doesn’t reveal their line of work, and extra-biblical writings don’t shed any more light on their history.  Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus, and was used by God to write the gospel of Matthew.  Like Philip and Bartholomew, we don’t know what Thomas did for a living; however, Thomas is much more famous for his unbelief rather than his belief.  When Jesus appeared to some of His disciples, Thomas wasn’t there; he did not believe until he actually saw Jesus for himself.  James the son of Alphaeus does not appear much in the gospels past his being named in lists of disciples like the one above.  Thaddaeus is an interesting study; in some places he is called Jude, some Thaddaeus, and in one place even called “Judas not Iscariot,” to distinguish him from the last disciple in the list.  Simon the Zealot was from Canaan, but we don’t know his profession before becoming Jesus’ disciple either.

Last on the list is Judas Iscariot.  We don’t know what he did before becoming a disciple, but we do know that as a disciple, he filled the role that we would today call the treasurer.  His attention to money served the disciples well; there is no record in any of the gospels of Jesus and the disciples being out of money.  However, he seemed to have his mind more on the money than on the ministry.  Some have speculated that his objection to the expensive oil being used to anoint Jesus’ feet had less to do with his concern for the poor than it did his concern for holding even more money.  Sadly, his desire for money was his ultimate downfall, as he betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.

Well, there’s the list.  What do each of these men have in common?  Let’s look at couple of examples.

17 “Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.Mark 1:17-18

14 Then, moving on, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him.Mark 2:14

Just as in these two examples, in every calling of the disciples recorded in Scripture, Jesus said “Follow Me” and they did.  They were willing to leave their current profession, their current livelihood, and follow Jesus.  (Yes, even Judas Iscariot did this – at one point, he was a disciple in good standing.)  This is the key!  I believe this is one reason why, as we tried to look at what some of the disciples did before following Jesus, we could not figure out what everyone’s existing profession was.  If this information had been recorded, we as checklist-oriented people would have written them down.  We’d have 12-member churches where each of the 12 members was from the profession that the disciples had followed.  By leaving it a mystery, the Bible is telling us that it is not an important piece of information for us to have; if we were doing a scientific study, we’d leave that variable out of the equation.

What kind of person are you?  Are you an act-first, think-later hard-charger like Peter?  Are you a nit-picky ledger-balancer like Matthew?  Are you as unsure of yourself and everything in the world as Thomas was of Jesus’ resurrection?  Are you a behind-the-scenes sort of person, like James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, or Thaddaeus?  Do you identify with James and John more than with any of these?  This is one of the wonderful realizations from looking at the disciples; Jesus called people with lots of different personalities, backgrounds, and education levels.  And, whether they were used to write books, or you just know them from their names in a list of disciples, every single one of them (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) went out and spread God’s Word after Jesus ascended back into heaven.  Once again, in our study, personality gets left out of the equation.

I could go on, but you probably see the pattern here.  Every other factor we could come up with would, upon examination, be discarded.  There’s no formula – there’s just one step.  Look at the last three words of both passages above – “…and followed Him.”  That is the single item on the checklist of someone God can use; they must be willing to be used by God.

How is your willingness today?  Are you holding back because you don’t think God can use you?  Are you holding on because you want to do something for God, instead of letting Him do something through you?  Those are two sides of the same issue, which is a lack of willingness to follow Christ.  If you’re still, you’re not following; if you’re out ahead of Him, you’re not following.  I pray that, today, each of us will learn from the one common factor among all the disciples, and be willing to follow where Christ leads us.

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