Posts categorized “Series”

Twisted Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:13

March 4, 2017

Today’s focus verse is one that is an encouraging principle and promise from the Word about how we can live the Christian life. Let’s start with the verse itself, 1 Corinthians 10:13.

13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)

The common twist on this is actually in the way it’s usually quoted; it becomes…

God won't give you more than you can handle. - Misquotations 7:15

There are at least two problems with this twist. First, it simply isn’t true. I’m in my 40th year of knowing Jesus as my Savior, and I can assure you that God gives me more than I can handle all the time; just my past 7 days have had way more than I alone could handle. If we tell struggling people “Well, you know, the Bible says that God won’t give you more than you can handle!”, we are seriously damaging our credibility, which will, in turn, hamper our further ability to share the things of God. If God never gave us more than we could handle, why would we need Him once we have obtained salvation? The Bible is replete with examples of people who were getting more than they could handle; let’s look at one such instance in Psalm 40.

11As for you, O Lord, You will not restrain
    Your mercy from me;
Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
12For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.

13Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
14Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!

Psalm 40:11-14 (ESV)

The Psalms, being poetry, often speak to feelings common to mankind, and this is one of those places. The theme of the psalm is God’s deliverance, something David cannot manage to do himself - it’s literally “more than he can handle.” Yet, this bigger-than-him situation causes David to cry out to God for help, and to depend on Him for his deliverance. God brings us through situations that are more than we could handle ourselves, to demonstrate His love that is not just a saving love for our souls, but a living and active love for our lives as well. How could He do that if He never allowed “more than we could handle”?

The second problem with this twist is that it completely misses the actual promise of the text. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation, and comes immediately after a verse that is usually quoted correctly, even when snatched from its context.

12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV)

In the even larger context of this chapter, Paul has warned the Corinthian church about idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing God. He then writes vv. 12-13, telling them to be on guard, yet encouraging them that God will not allow a temptation so great that they, through Him, cannot resist. This is a very big deal! We all face temptation; if you have tried to resist it yourself, you’re likely thinking back to the time when you failed in those efforts, and gave in to the sin you had been resisting.

Why are we so bad at resisting temptation on our own? The main reason is that resisting temptation is spiritual warfare, but our fallen nature (what we use when we do it “on our own”) is ill equipped for that battle. Paul writes that we have a way of escape provided; let’s look at a few of different strategies given in the Bible. The first is from Jesus Himself, speaking to His disciples after He returned from praying in the garden of Gethsemane and found them asleep.

40And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:40-41 (ESV)

The next is from Paul, instructing his protegé Timothy.

22So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace…

2 Timothy 2:22a (ESV)

The last is from James, Jesus’ brother.

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (ESV)

Did you pick up on any common themes in those three passages? “Pray” (Matthew 26:41), “pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22), and “submit[ting]…to God” (James 4:7) are three different ways of saying the same thing - we must have God’s power if we are to be able to resist temptation. We must actively pray, pour His Word into our hearts, and be vigilant. This is the only way for us to be able to recognize the “way of escape” so we can take it.

There is one final caution, back in vv. 12-13, where Paul says that this temptation will not exceed our “ability.” Ability is developed through practice, and God, in the process of refining us to make us more like Him, will provide opportunities for us to increase our ability. Don’t lose heart if, after successfully resisting temptation, another stronger one appears. Conversely, you may reach a point where most temptation is pretty easy to resist; that’s where the warning in verse 12 becomes even more important. When we let our guard down, we become the most vulnerable to temptation.

As we have looked at what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, and what it doesn’t say, I pray that you have been blessed. It truly is an encouraging promise for us who are trying to live our lives the way Christ would have us live them. I hope you also realize how much damage this common misquotation can do, both to the truth and to our witness. The Christian life is great, having Jesus to guide, warn, and protect us; I wouldn’t want to live any other way. That being said, though, we would be lying if we say that it is easy, and saying this to a hurting person will provide the opposite of comfort.

Twisted Scripture: Matthew 7:1

February 18, 2017

1Judge not, that you be not judged.

Matthew 7:1 (ESV)

This is the anti-Christian’s (ACs for the rest of this devotion) favorite verse. Any expression of Christian faith that interferes with what they want to do is met with this rejoinder, meant to accuse us of not being familiar with the Book we claim to follow. As fate would have it, though, it turns out that people who don’t believe the Bible is true are very poor theologians. To begin, let’s take a look at the next 4 verses.

2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:2-5 (ESV)

In verse 2, Jesus basically says that we will be judged based on the standards by which we judge others. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that if we never hold others to a standard, we can just live however we want. See Romans 6:1-2 for Christians and Revelation 20:11-15 for the unsaved.) In verses 3-4, Jesus talks about how foolish it would be for a person to have a log (or “beam” or “plank” in other translations) in their eye, yet attempt to diagnose and remove a speck from another person’s eye. (“Ah ha - I see where He’s going!” think the ACs at this point…) He then continues “You hypocrite!” (“PREACH IT,” yell the ACs, “You tell 'em!”)

As an aside - doesn’t that sound just a bit judgmental? We’ll come back to that…

The following words of Christ are often split; people focus on one half or the other, just as they do with His words to the woman caught in adultery.

11…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:11b (ESV)

In Matthew 7:5, the phrases are separated by a comma; in John 8:11, they’re separated by a semicolon. In both cases, the ACs like the first part, but folks we’ll call turbo-Christians (TCs hereafter) like to act like the second part is the important one. We’ll explore that a bit more in the final analysis as well. For now, though, what does Jesus say for the hypocrite to do? “Take the log out of your own eye.” In other words, “Get yourself right.” But then, what does He say next - why are we to take the log out of our eyes? “…then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Aren’t we going to have to identify a speck, and call a speck a speck, before we’re actually able to remove it from our brother’s eye?

Jesus then continues…

6Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Matthew 7:6 (ESV)

Again, here, must we not determine dogs from other animals if we are to avoid giving them “what is holy”? Are we not to distinguish pigs from among all other animals (or plants) if we are to avoid throwing our pearls before them?

Now that we’ve evaluated the context, let’s make some application.

“Judge Not” has nothing to do with what people commonly call “judging”

Calling a sin a sin is not judging, according to this passage. To avoid sin, we must make determinations (AKA “judge”) regarding actions or behaviors as to whether they match up with the guidance contained in the Scriptures. We must be consistently vigilant. The world makes things seem fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable; while none of those attributes are necessarily against God, we must be discerning to make sure that we are not drawn into an alluring sin. The author of Hebrews, when describing Moses in Hebrews 11:24-25, calls it the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (or, as the King James Version translates it, the “pleasures of sin for a season”).

There are several definitions of the word “judge,” not just the one that means “determination.” The same Greek word (krino) translated here as “judge” is the same one translated “sue you” in Matthew 5:40. It is also translated “decided” in Titus 3:12 when Paul is telling Titus where he plans to spend the winter. So what exactly is Jesus trying to tell us to avoid? I believe Paul fleshes this out in the first part of Romans 14.

1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

Romans 14:1-13 (ESV)

The translation “pass judgment” carries what I believe Matthew 7:1 to be saying. If we pass judgment, we are handing out a sentence - guilty as charged, and condemned to die as an unbeliever. We see believers observing dietary restrictions, or failing to observe the ones we believe are right. Paul is quite clear that dietary restrictions are not a salvation issue, and really are not even a glorifying God issue; he makes allowances for people of different diets, different holiday calendars - but the key is verse 8. It must be done to the Lord. If we are failing to observe a dietary restriction because we like eating that food, that’s not covered here; if we decide to eat the restricted food because we believe that will help us better serve the Lord, that is honoring to God. If we don’t observe the world’s “holidays” because we want them to make sure they know we’re separate, that’s not the point; if we abstain from these days to help solidify our relationship with Christ, now we’re on the right track.

As this point, the astute AC is saying “Yeah, but this is talking about Christian interrelationship; that’s fine for you to believe, but don’t judge us!” This is still a misunderstanding of the Scripture. Encouraging people to repent, to turn from their sin and to Christ, is not the same as judgment; rather, it is an attempt from a fellow human to prevent them from encountering the ultimate judgment that is to come. We’re not judging you (see the third application below, though), we don’t want you to be judged! Calls for repentance are not what’s prohibited here; otherwise, Jesus started His ministry by violating His own rule (Mark 1:14-15).

Hypocrisy is real, and looks really foolish

Jesus’ picture of someone with a log sticking out of their eye trying to help someone get a speck out of their eye is so ridiculous, He thought it just might get His listeners’ attention. We are very quick to spot flaws in other people while conveniently ignoring our own. This is one reason we are encouraged to spend time in fellowship with other Christians. We all have blind spots; if we could see them, they wouldn’t be blind spots. Our friends, though, can usually see them with 20/20 clarity. By spending time a) in the Word, so we know what is right, and b) with fellow believers, who also know what is right, we can help one another as we endeavor to walk in a closer relationship with Christ.

The church is full of recovering hypocrites; it is important that we do our dead-level best to strive to live up to the beliefs we claim to have. We must do it; the world is watching, and they’re not impressed.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Attributed to Brennan Manning

Christians should not be judgmental people

I mentioned that we’d come back to the “judgmental” “You hypocrites!” proclamation. There are two aspects to this we’ll explore as we begin to wrap this up. The first is a non-spiritual observation. Saying something silly to loosen up the listeners, before you hit them with something difficult, did not originate with comedians of the past 40 years. Jesus knew His listeners would be chuckling as He described that silly scene, then He dropped the attention-getting line. He is a great example (the example) of how to be winsome while delievering words the hearer may not want to hear. The second is that Jesus nearly universally used this tone with people who should know better, but were using His name for their own personal gain. Whether it was the moneychangers He drove out of the temple (Matthew 21:14-15) increaing their wallets, or the Pharisees He termed a bunch of snakes (Matthew 12:33-34) who used the temple for their own popularity, He judged them, and did so pretty harshly.

At this point, the TCs are fired up. “Yeah - let’s go braid some whips!” Simmer down… Yes, Jesus said that we could get the speck out of our brother’s eye, and He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.” But we have to take all of Scripture in context; a call to change does not exist without a call to repent, and without the power a relationship with Christ brings, behavioral change cannot happen. In our passage here, Jesus tells us to get the log out of our eye before going to work on the speck in the other guy’s eye. In John 8:11, He precedes the admonition with “Neither to I condemn you.” The Greek word translated “condemn” is katakrino, a stronger form of the one translated “judge” in Matthew 7:1.

Jesus did not come to condemn the world; He came to save it. When we go out and rail against the prevailing sin of the day, and do so in a manner that makes it sound like they are beyond saving and have condemned themselves already, we are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Calling people to repentance is fine; calling sin sin is fine; but we must be sure that we are leaving room for the Holy Spirit to convict them of that sin. If we shut people down, and tell them they’ve gone too far, they might just believe us; and that would be truly sad, because as Peter described the One we serve,

9The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

We should not be silent, and we should not compromise the truth. However, we should also remember, as Paul wrote in Romans 14, that we are here for God’s glory. Let us be sure that He is glorified as we, in a winsome way, share His good news with the world in which we live.

Twisted Scripture

February 8, 2017

Starting next week, I’m going to start a series I’m calling “Twisted Scripture.” It will address a verse or passage that is commonly used in contexts where it does not belong, or pulled out to mean something that it does not mean. As Christians who want to ensure that we “rightly divid[e] the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), we must consider issues as we come to a passage of Scripture:

  • To whom was this written?
  • What do the verses around this say?
  • What would the original audience have understood the message to be?
  • What principles apply to this today?
  • Where the Bible speaks to this issue in other places, what does It say?

The goal is to ensure we understand the literary, historical, and textual contexts of a passage, as we work to understand exactly what it means. Of course, there will be passages where good-willed people will differ on interpretations; generally speaking, though, it’s pretty easy to spot twisted Scripture.

Up first - Matthew 7:1.

How to Know Who Jesus Is

October 6, 2010

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.

16After 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. 17And there came a voice from heaven:

This is My beloved Son.

I take delight in Him!

Matthew 3:16-17 (HCSB)

This story is also covered in Luke 3:16, which we covered two weeks ago. 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 (Matthew 4:1-11), and before the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). 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. 18For 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 (HCSB)

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.

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

14And 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?”

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

Matthew 16:13-16 (HCSB)

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.

25Jesus 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 (HCSB)

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

September 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

19and Judas Iscariot,
who also betrayed Him.

Mark 3:16-19 (HCSB)

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!” 18Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

Mark 1:17-18 (HCSB)

14Then, 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 (HCSB)

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.

How to View Baptism

September 16, 2010

This week brings us to Luke 3:16, where the apostle John is preaching.

16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Luke 3:16 (HCSB)

Today we’ll take a quick look at baptism. While many different religions use baptism to symbolize many different things, we’ll look at how it was used in the New Testament around the life of Jesus. In this passage, Luke is summarizing John the Apostle’s ministry. John has called out in the wilderness, worn his animal skins, eaten locusts, and called the people a bunch of snakes. Most of the people who had come out wanted to be baptized, and some were even speculating that John was the one who was prophesied. His response is the verse above; he told them that he was going to baptize them with water, and that while he was not the Messiah, the Messiah was coming soon.

Just a few verses later in Luke, but out of sequence (as John was locked in prison in the previous verse in Luke), Jesus Himself was baptized. Matthew goes into more detail about this occasion.

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”

15Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him [to be baptized].

16After 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. 17And there came a voice from heaven:

This is My beloved Son.

I take delight in Him!

Matthew 3:13-17 (HCSB)

Can you imagine being John? Here you are, telling people that Jesus is coming, and here He shows up wanting to be baptized just like these “snake” people! I can completely understand John’s reaction. I know I wouldn’t think myself worthy of baptizing my Savior! However, notice what Jesus tells John. Not only should John baptize Jesus, but Jesus said that it is the way for them to “fulfill all righteousness.” That’s an interesting term; while I’m not going to try to come up with an exhaustive list of what that might mean, one meaning we can take away from it is that Jesus was confirming both John’s message and methods. Jesus came to this earth as a man, so that He could live the way we do. If he had refused baptism, this would have introduced a conflict into what John preached and what Jesus did. Was John wrong for proclaiming their need for baptism? Was the One who was going to baptize them above baptism Himself? God sent a dove to illustrate His pleasure with the baptism that had just taken place, confirming John’s message and Jesus’ identity.

Baptism was mentioned again by Jesus just before He ascended back into heaven.

19Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

Matthew 28:19 (HCSB)

Here, Jesus commands His disciples to go and make disciples of everyone. Once they had done that, they were to baptize these new converts, in the name of each member of the Godhead. There is nothing magic in this; Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, not known as the cleanest body of water in Judea. However, the baptism has a great symbolism. When the body of a new convert is lowered below the water, this alludes to the death and burial of Jesus; when the body is raised from the water, this symbolizes Jesus’ raising from the dead. By choosing to be baptized after accepting Christ, the new believer is publicly identifying themselves as a follower of Christ.

Apart from the public identification, the other main point of baptism is obedience. In Matthew 28:19 above, Jesus commanded those who were doing the converting to baptize their converts. It’s very difficult to baptize a person who doesn’t willingly go along with it. (I think of the child’s sentence gleaned from a report - “No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.”) This means that the new converts were supposed to voluntarily get baptized. And truly, if you think about it, it is a great first public act of a Christian life. There is no cost involved, no studying required, no fees to be paid - all that is involved is a submissive heart willing to obey what God has told them. The only thing required, at its most inconvenient, is a change of clothes. At a camp we attended this summer, though, they did baptisms in a lake; after the baptism, the lake was open for swimming. It was an amazing celebration of new life in Christ, followed by an afternoon enjoying God’s creation.

Are you saved? If so, have you been baptized? If you haven’t, ask your pastor about it; I’m sure he’d be happy to explain it more in depth, if you need it, and help you follow in the steps of Christ with this obedience. If you have, praise God for His salvation, and join Him in celebrating another soul saved from hell.