Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“BAPTISM NOW SAVES YOU”

Saint Peter said that. Also, Jesus said at one time, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved."
Just what role does baptism play in our spiritual walk? 

I will be the first to say it, “Baptism is a strange custom.” It is one of those things that you or I would not have made up, except in a sense that it would be something like a hazing. We may have made this up to be like a rite of initiation into a certain group – like a bizarre ritual a college kid has to go through to be part of a fraternity or sorority.

To be truthful, this is how many people view baptism – this and nothing more. For instance, most churches make baptism a necessary action in order to become one of its members. It is understandable why the churches should do this and I agree that baptism should be a part of membership, but the unfortunate aspect of this requirement is that the meaning of baptism is then in danger of being degraded to mean only that. It is like a hazing to get into a club.

But baptism is not a hazing. It is instead a practice that was given to us by Jesus and has some specific purposes for us. More than we usually recognize, the practice of baptism was given to us as a means to strengthen our walk with the Lord. There are two principle ways in which it does this.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

WHAT JESUS DID NOT SAY

Today’s passage of Luke 4:14-30 is often called the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. It is not exactly the beginning, but it was here that Jesus announced what his ministry on earth was to be.

By this time in his life, Jesus had left his hometown of Nazareth of Galilee. He was visiting cities and villages and already becoming quite a well-known teacher in the synagogues of the country. Wherever he taught, the people spoke well of him. The reason for this acclamation from the people was because Jesus taught with an authority that was his own, and not one that was passed to him simply based on the tradition (Matthew 7:29). This was especially bothersome to the Pharisees. In their eyes, Jesus did not possess the proper credentials to teach. He was not of their group.

When Jesus came back to his home town and when the Sabbath day came, he went to the synagogue as he always did. And, as usually was happening at that time, he was given the opportunity to speak. The attendant gave him the scroll containing the book of Isaiah. Jesus unrolled it to the place he was looking for, and this is what he read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After reading these two sentences, Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant. Then he sat down. He read no more. It was a short reading. Everyone in the synagogue fixed their eyes on him, expecting him to continue.

Finish the Sentence!

At the point where Jesus rolled up the scroll of Isaiah and gave it back to the attendant, he had stopped, as it were, right in the middle of a sentence! He read the first part, but before he even finished the entire sentence, he rolled up the scroll and handed it back. He did not even finish the very sentence that he was reading! No wonder the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed upon Jesus.

“Why do you not finish the sentence?”

It would be like me telling you, “I am going to the store to buy some milk and some…”

Then I stop. I don’t finish what I am saying. I simply stand there, remaining silent and leaving you hanging onto my words.

“Milk and…?” You ask me… “Milk and what!?”

That is a little how the people in the synagogue felt. Jesus left them hanging onto his words.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

A CELEBRATORY GLASS OF WINE

The event of Jesus turning water into wine is one of those stories that is very widely known all throughout our culture. Even people who do not know the Bible well, know of this story. I suppose that you may not find this true in many larger cities, but I am reasonably certain if you walked down the street of almost any small town in America and asked people at random, “Who was it that turned the water into wine?” I think that every single person would be able to tell you.
“It was Jesus.”
Everybody knows this story.

The story, as told by the Apostle John, begins like this: “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.” 

A Galilean Wedding

In saying “the third day,” John is referring to the third day after he had left off the previous event in his narrative of the life of Jesus. As regards to the wedding, we do not know who was getting married, although some have tried to speculate who it may have been. I will not speculate. We do not know. We do not even know where the village of Cana was located. Only that it was in the Galilean region, which is in the northern part of Israel.

The village of Nazareth, where Jesus had grown up, was also in this region. This may partially explain why Mary was there. She must have known the family. Jesus had also been invited, and as is often the case at weddings, even people who did not know the couple getting married were invited
just because they were associates of an invited guest, as were the disciples.

Actually, in those days, the entire village was most often invited to a wedding. Weddings were huge affairs, often lasting an entire week. Wine was a staple at these celebrations, because the wedding was a celebration.

We all know that alcohol can be abused and over used, but the simple fact is, that in the Bible, wine is very often associated with celebration. Not excessiveness – I will also say that. Not inebriation. Not drunkenness. But drinking celebratory glasses of wine is very common in the Bible.

A Great Problem

The presence of wine was also very important at this wedding. I would say that the people in Cana of Galilee, during that wedding feast, placed much more importance on the presence of wine at their feast than you or I likely would. At least me, if I had been placed in charge, would likely take the attitude – “The wine is gone, but there is still coffee and juice! I think that I can find some milk for you!”

But that attitude would not do in that time and place. In that case, when the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus came to him and said, “They have no wine.”

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

IF JESUS HAD BEEN A POLITICIAN

The very last words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven, at least as recorded by Matthew, are these:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Face of Jesus - by Rembrandt
For the first apostles, these were the final instructions. They were the parting words of their Master. These words would carry great weight for them, even for the rest of their lives. If we say that Jesus is also our Lord and Master, they should also carry great weight for us.

Notice that there are basically three instructions here: We are go and make disciples of all the nations, we are to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we are to teach them to observe all that Jesus has taught us.

I think that when most Christians read this, they look at it primarily with a political mindset and perspective. They read the instructions of Jesus as if he were saying, “Go out and convince others that they should also be Christians. Initiate them into the Christian doctrine, and teach them to live like a Christian is supposed to live.”

So far this may not seem too far off the mark, but I am afraid that for many, these instructions of Jesus are not much different than saying, “Go out and convince others to be Republicans (or Democrats). Indoctrinate them into what Republicans (or Democrats) do, and teach them to talk and to live like Republicans (or Democrats).”

But Jesus was not speaking politically, at least not in this way. An interesting aspect of the ministry of Jesus, when he was on earth, was that he actually was not looking to gather a large following of people who were attracted to his message. If that had been his intention, he could have raised a great political party. He had thousands who were willing to follow him, based simply on the things that he did in his time on the earth.

The “Jesus Party”

After all, every political candidate assures those whom they want to vote for them, that if they join their cause, they will be better off economically and have food to eat. In his ministry, Jesus handed out food freely.

All political parties talk about health care. Jesus went right past the talking points and simply healed all who came to him who were sick and lame.

The “Jesus Party,” if there had been one, could have promised to fulfil all of the needs of the people. His poll numbers would have left all competitors in the dust.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

THREE PROVOCATIVE SCRIPTURES


People commonly misunderstand the intent of the Bible when it comes to teaching us about the origins of life. The way in which the origin of life is described to us in the first chapters of Genesis is simply that God spoke, and it was done. Several times the phrase is repeated, “God said, ‘let there be’…and it was so.”

That is exactly how it happened. This is the origin of our planet and the origin of all that we can see. The difficulty that many people have with these words is that they expect this to be a complete and detailed explanation and description of every aspect of the origins of life. It is these people who attempt to wring the finest of nuances out of every word, such as the meaning of the word “day,” or whether or not there might be gaps of time at certain times in the creation process.

Certainly, I have my own opinion regarding some of these questions. But they are just that – my opinions. It would be helpful if all of us would remind ourselves of this concerning our opinions when discussing some of these issues. What happens often is that people put their own opinions about these matters on the same level as Scripture itself. Some people will even tell you if you do not agree with them on some particular fine point of their own understanding, they even doubt if you believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God. 

THE PURPOSE OF THE BIBLE

We must keep in mind that the Bible was not written to educate us as to the finer points of our origins. That is not its purpose. Rather, the purpose of the Bible is to show us God’s history of involvement with our lives. That is why it was written. The creation account of Genesis was never intended to give us a detailed explanation of just how everything happened in God’s creative act. If God would have included every detail as to how he created the universe and how he created us, there would be volumes and volumes of books that we must work our way through to try to understand it all.

What God does is to tell us those aspects of our origins which are critical for us to understand in order for us to come to know him and renew a lost relationship with him. That is the message of the Bible. Concerning the creation, for instance, it is critical for us to know that we are actually the product of a creative act and not of random chance.

Exactly how God created us, this we do not know. And if he would have described it to us in greater detail, I am sure none of us would be able to sit through the lecture. The process was infinitely more involved and complex than we have even the capacity to understand. We only know that God spoke, and we came into being. That is as detailed of a description that is given to us.

THREE DIFFICULT SCRIPTURES

I am saying all of this by way of introduction, because the Scriptures that we are looking at today include some matters that are completely beyond our capacity to understand. They include some references to events that occurred at a time and in a sphere of existence that we know nothing about. There are many things concerning the words of these Scriptures about which we would like to know more. The few words that we read in the Bible concerning these events tease us, in a certain way, because they show us that there is much more to the matter than what we can presently see. They are provocative words in that sense.

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