Changes in Jesus’ Ministry Following His Rejection

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Arnold Fruchtenbaum, in his helpful book Israelology, reminds us that Jesus’ ministry changed significantly following His rejection by the Jewish leadership in Matthew 12. Fruchtenbaum highlights four changes. (625-626)

  1. The first change was the purpose of His miracles in that they were no longer for the purpose of serving as signs of His Messiahship to Israel, but were for the purpose of training the apostles for their ministry in the Book of Acts (Matt. 16:1-4).
  2. The second change concerned the people for whom He performed these miracles. Until the events of Matthew 12, Jesus performed miracles for the benefit of the masses without requiring them to have faith first. After Matthew 12, he performed miracles only in response to needs of individuals and began requiring them to have faith first. Furthermore, before Matthew 12, those He healed were free to proclaim what had been done for them; but after Matthew 12, Jesus initiated a policy of silence and forbade those He healed to tell anyone about it (Mark 7:36; Luke 8:56; et al.)
  3. The third change concerned the message that Jesus and the apostles would now proclaim. Until Matthew 12 both He and they went throughout the land of Israel proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah. ... After Matthew 12, the apostles were also ordered to follow the new policy of silence, and they were forbidden to tell anyone that Jesus was the Messiah. In Matthew 16, after Peter made his famous confession, Thou art the Christ (Messiah) the Son of the living God, Jesus ordered Peter to tell no one that He was the Messiah (Matt. 16:20). They were to follow the policy of silence (Matthew 17:9) until it was rescinded with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
  4. The fourth change concerned His teaching method. Until Matthew 12, whenever Jesus taught the masses, He did so in terms that they could and did understand. ... In Matthew 13, Jesus began teaching with a new method, the parabolic method, the purpose of which was to hide the truth from the masses. The very act of teaching in parables was a sign of judgment against them.

I am grateful for Fruchtenbaum’s book.

People Are Distinct From Animals

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I have been finding Daniel Block’s book For the Glory of God helpful so far. Tucked in the footnotes (that’s correct, there are not those ridiculous endnotes), I found his helpful comparisons of people and animals. He gives two lists: things we share, and distinctions unique to people. (pp. 56-57)

Things people have in common with animals

  1. we were created on day six (Gen. 1:24-31);
  2. we share the divine blessing, and the mandate to multiply and fill the earth (1:22, 28);
  3. we share vegetation as food (1:29-30);
  4. we trace our origin to the earth itself (2:5-7; cf. 1:24); and
  5. we share the generic classification “living creatures” (nepes hayya, 2:7; cf. 1:20, 21, 24)

Things that make people distinct from animals

  1. We humans were created last;
  2. we alone are presented as the product of divine deliberation (Gen. 1:26);
  3. the description of our creation is more intensive and extensive than that of any other element of creation (vv. 26-30);
  4. our creation is described with bara, a word that always involves a special creative act of God (cf. 1, 27 [3x]);
  5. our status is defined as “the image of God” (selem elohim, 1:26-28);
  6. God blessed us and authorized us to govern the created world (v. 28);
  7. after we were created, YHWH pronounced the world extremely good (tob me’od, v. 31); and
  8. God did not celebrate by sanctifying the seventh day until we were created.

This has been a helpful book so far, and I look forward to working my way through it as I find time.

Are We Inherently Lovable?

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I am thankful I picked up the trilogy by pastor William Gouge (1575-1653) on Building a Godly Home. Gouge served at St. Ann Blackfriars in London for 45 years and was a member of the Westminster Assembly (hence the shadows of covenant theology on the pages). The recently updated version by Reformation Heritage Books is a helpful resource for pastors, people who do premarital counseling, and church members who want to strengthen their marriages and families.

This morning I read the following in the first volume, A Holy Vision for Family Life:

However, we shall find the ground of God’s love rests altogether in Himself and in His own good pleasure. That Christ might sanctify the church being noted as the end of His love, it further shows that it was not any foresight of holiness in the church that moved Him to love it. First He loved it, and then sought how to make it lovely and worthy to be loved.

Here Christ’s love differs from the love of all men toward their spouses, for they must see something in them to move them to love. … But Christ first loves His spouse, and then sanctifies her. Before He loved her, He saw nothing in her why He should choose her above all the world.

Seeing that “of him, and through him, and to him” is all the beauty and dignity of the church, “the glory be to him forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36) (1:63)

This is entirely consistent with God’s love for the nation of Israel described in Deuteronomy 7:7-8. What grace is this!

Top 5 Posts for 2015

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According to the stats page in WordPress, the following 5 posts were the most read in 2015.

  1. Dealing with Scoffers and Scoffing
  2. When You Don’t Feel Connected at Church
  3. God Estranged From God
  4. Disillusioned With Your Minister or Disillusioned in Ministry?
  5. God is Revealed by the Absence of God

Thanks for stopping by to read what are intended to be Godward posts that encourage you in the work of God.

What City is God’s City?

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From time to time we hear folks say something like, “This is God’s country,” referring to a particular state in the US or perhaps a particular portion of that state. I have found it curious that those who make such a pronouncement usually have a special affection for that same location. Funny how that works.

But can we, as Bible-believing people, say that a particular place on this planet is God’s? The answer to that is a resounding, Yes! Let me hasten to add that not everyone on planet Earth will appreciate the Biblical answer to that question. I can live with that.

Renald Showers, in his helpful book The Coming Apocalypse, addresses the harmful theological position known as Replacement Theology or Supersessionism. In chapter 4, Showers writes the following:

Without a doubt, Jerusalem has greater significance to God than any other city in the world.

God declared, “This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations and the countries all around her” (Ezek. 5:5). In other words, God is the One who determined where Jerusalem was to be located.

Jerusalem is the city where God chose “to put His name” (1 Ki. 14:21). He did not choose to put His name in any other city.

God desired and chose Jerusalem to be the city where He would dwell forever (Ps.132:13-14). He never desires or chose to dwell in any other city forever.

God’s Shekinah Glory dwelt in the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Chr. 7:1-3). So God was dwelling there in a unique sense at Jerusalem.

God called Jerusalem “My city” (Isa. 45:13). Notice the possessive pronoun My. He indicated that Jerusalem belonged uniquely to Him.

Jerusalem was called “the city of our God” (Ps. 48:1). This was the psalmist’s way of acknowledging that Jerusalem belonged uniquely to God.

The Bible calls Jerusalem “the holy city” (Isa. 52:1; Mt. 4:5). The word translated “holy” means “divided.” To be holy is to be divided from other persons and things–divided in the sense of being different, distinct, or unique. Thus, when the Bible calls Jerusalem “the holy city,” it means God divided that city from all other cities of the world. He divided, or set it apart, to be different, distinct, or unique in contrast with all other cities.

God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was crucified outside the ancient city of Jerusalem (Heb. 13:12).

God’s Son was resurrected bodily from the dead outside Jerusalem (Jn. 19:41).

God’s Son ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem (Acts 1:4, 9, 12).

The church was born in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-5).

These biblical facts indicate that the city of Jerusalem has overwhelming significance to God. It is uniquely related to Him in ways that are not true of any other city in the world. (76-77)

Praying in Jesus’ Name

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Often people think that praying in the name of Jesus simply involves making sure “in Jesus’ name” comes right before “Amen.” Thankfully, John MacArthur has written a helpful corrective to this line of thinking. In his book, The Upper Room, MacArthur writes,

If we are truly praying in Jesus’ name, we pray only for that which is consistent with His perfect character, and for that which will bring glory to Him. It implies an acknowledgment of all that He has done and a submission to His will.

What praying in Jesus’ name really means is that we should pray as if our Lord Himself were doing the asking. We approach the throne of the Father in full identification with the Son, seeking only what He would seek. When we pray with that perspective, we begin to pray for the things that really matter, and we eliminate selfish requests. (95-96)

Thank you, Pastor MacArthur, for this Godward advice on prayer.

Keeping E in its place

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As a congregation, we enjoy the weekly responsive reading from the book of Psalms. This has been our custom for some time. Recently, however, we have had to “settle” for having the men of the congregation read all the verses while the rest of us listened. The slides that had been skillfully prepared by one of the ladies were not functioning. Something was amiss. I looked and looked, unable to discern the problem. Someone else volunteered. After a few days, the problem was solved. The problem? The letter E.

In light of this I wrote the following note to the flock of God this morning.

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Hi All,
Wanted to express our desire for you all to have a genuinely joyous remembrance of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. The Father did not send Himself or His Spirit; He sent His beloved Son. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory–glory as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) We must keep things theologically accurate.

Let me illustrate. As you know, we have wrestled with the responsive reading slides with the video projector. It has a bit frustrating. I delight in hearing the men of the congregation read the Scriptures aloud as the congregation collectively responds with the next verse. I have missed that. I turned the problem over to the ______, who had volunteered to consider the situation with their expertise. I received an email this morning entitled, “Figured it out!”. Sure enough. The problem boiled down to fifth letter of the alphabet. Apparently someone at _____ decided the file extension jpg should be spelled phonetically as jpeg. The letter E is not normally a problem. But it didn’t belong there, and thus, it distorted and hindered all the work _____ had put into the Bible reading slides. I just returned from the auditorium where I verified that indeed the slides now work.

The moral of the story is this: don’t allow seemingly minor things to obscure and hinder the display of the more important. In this case, don’t allow American cultural things to obscure and hinder the display of the glory of God in the person of His Son.

Lord willing, we will see you (and the Bible reading slides) this coming Sunday.

Who is the Main Character in Acts?

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Too often as we read books of the Bible we tend to focus on particular human characters and develop a sort of hero/celebrity worship of that person. I would submit once again that the main focus of each book of the Bible, and the entire Bible as a whole, is God Himself. He is the main character and He is the main theme. His is the glory.

Consider what Craig S. Keener says in his new 4-volume commentary on Acts.

In this narrow sense, theology [proper] is a pervasive theme in Luke-Acts; even when God is not speaking directly through the Spirit, God is at work behind the scenes to accomplish the divine purpose …. The very gospel is God’s message (4:31; 6:2, 7; 8:14; 11:1), and the mission (5:19), including the Gentile mission (10:15, 28; 11:9, 17-18; 15:14, 19 …) is God’s agenda. Acts is thus God’s book, though readers may identify more with the dominant human characters through whom God often accomplishes the mission. [1:496]

Father, as I read Your Word, may You grant me the grace to see You as the main character of each story, of each book, of the entire book. May I see Your hand at work accomplishing Your purpose through the various secondary characters for Your glory. May I not be distracted from focusing on You as the Ultimate End, lest I have the wrong emphasis in my thinking and teaching. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Godward Forgiveness

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Here is my latest contribution to the local paper’s Pastor’s Column.

– – – – – – – – –

As the hectic holiday season comes upon us, we will be interacting with a variety of people we don’t normally see during our average week. Relatives and acquaintances, friends and foes, will scurry in and out of our lives in the upcoming weeks. Some connections will be joyfully embraced while others will be moderately endured (at best). Because of some unaddressed sin (our own or the sin of others), we barely tolerate the presence of some people.

We struggle with relationships because we struggle with sin. We generally don’t know how to deal with the sins of others as well as our own sins because we don’t really know how God deals with sin. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that they are to be “forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” The forgiveness is part of the demonstration of kindness and tenderheartedness God commands in the first part of the verse.

Now the context is obviously about how Christian people in a congregation ought to treat one another. The standard for their practical, interpersonal forgiveness of each other is how God forgave each of them in Christ at the moment of salvation. The standard seems impossibly high from a human perspective. But let’s break it down into smaller bite-size pieces so we can digest it easier.

First, there must be recognition of the holiness of God against Whom we have sinned. We have willfully violated His standard and deserve whatever penalty He deems appropriate because He is the Judge. We must admit our guilt and our sin. Second, the Judge has graciously paid the penalty for our sin by sending His eternal Son to die in our place. As someone once said, He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay. Third, we must repent of our sin and turn to Him in faith, calling on the name of Jesus Christ as the basis for our forgiveness. In other words, there is no forgiveness without asking for it. It is not Biblically accurate to claim to forgive everyone no matter what, whether they ever ask for forgiveness or not. God’s forgiveness is qualified by our asking. “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) There must be a calling for forgiveness.

So, in our horizontal relations, the process is the same. People must acknowledge their guilt and sin before we can grant forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” is simply acknowledging our emotional response and is not enough. Saying something akin to, “I was wrong; I sinned; will you forgive me?” is the Biblical approach. This puts the ball in the other person’s court. They now have a choice to either forgive or not forgive.

Two questions: first, have you experienced God’s forgiveness? Second, have you imitated God’s forgiveness?

The Test of Conversion to Christ

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David Wells, in his helpful book Turning to God, reminds his readers:

The test of conversion, then, is whether a sinner continues to see sin as displeasing to God and continues to turn from it, continues to seek Christ and trust him for life, forgiveness, grace, and guidance. It is whether believing in Christ leads to following him by denying ourselves and daily taking up our cross and following him, seeking his kingdom above our interests, loving and serving his people because of his love for us. It is whether the graces of Christian character begin to appear. It is whether we begin to learn how to live in God’s world on his terms, recognizing him as the sovereign creator and sustainer of all, thankfully accepting from him the good gifts and experiences he gives us and accepting the disappointments with the kind of submission that can come only from a deep sense of his abiding goodness. When conversion leads to a love of God and his glory and a commitment to serve and honor him in all that we do, then the conversion is genuine. It is in these ways, the ways of the life of faith, that we are given the only evidence of the reality of a person’s profession of faith. (177)

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