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.
17Only 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. 18Was 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. 19For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For 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. 23You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
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.
29But 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.
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.
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!
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, 19then 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, 20and 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.’ 21Then 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."
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.
18Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.
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?
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.
33Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
11But 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. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
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. 18For 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. 19Therefore 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
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.
“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.
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. (emphasis mine)
39And 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.”
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.
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 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."
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!”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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…
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.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.