Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Billy Belk: Unity of the Church

Yeah, what Billy said:

Billy Belk: Unity of the Church

I argued this point in a meeting concerning "targeted church plants" recently and I was told that it was nice to bring up such theological points, but in our day we must think about what works, and after all homogenous units work. It is a great shame when doctrine plays second fiddle to pragmatism in our ecclesiastical methodology. I was told by the "experts," "It's OK if you don't agree with us, but go out and prove us wrong."

I said, "I can't prove you wrong because you are right." What I meant by that is that it is absolutely true that people want to be with others who are just like them. But rather than catering to this carnal desire, the church of Jesus Christ ought to be preaching against it, calling it sin, and calling for repentance from it, not satisfaction of it.

We won't prove them wrong. Our church will not grow as fast or as large as a "targeted" church. But I will answer to God for my faithfulness to proclaim God's word in its fullness and to lead the church I serve to be a church for all people. That is what we are at Immanuel. And may God grant us the commitment and the endurance to keep at it in the future as boldly as we have in the past in spite of all internal and external obstacles that would seek to divert us from this mission.

Thanks Billy for a great post, and for letting me preach from your soap box.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On the Reading Shelf ... (10/24/06)

Currently I am reading:

Sharing Your Church Building by Ralph D. Curtin
Of Other Worlds by C. S. Lewis
Simple Church by Thom Rainer

The Healing Touch of Jesus: Mark 1:29-31

The miracles of Jesus have been classified into four categories: 1) casting out demons (which we observed in vv23-28); 2) physical healing; 3) the raising of the dead; and 4) miracles of the natural order. We find examples of all of these in the Gospel of Mark, with nearly half of the first ten chapters of this gospel dealing directly or indirectly with miracles performed by Christ.

We have before us today the first account in the Gospel of Mark of a physical healing. It is shortest miracle account in the Gospels. The parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke are no longer, amounting to only two verses in each one. That this story even appears at all in the Gospel of Mark is considered part of the evidence that he was writing information received from Peter. But even with such brevity, we see some enlightening truths concerning the power and authority of Jesus Christ.

Mark’s favorite word euthus (meaning immediately) occurs nearly 40 times throughout this gospel, eleven times in Chapter 1 alone, and twice in these three verses. They serve to show us not only the quick progression of time, but also the deliberate and decisive action of Jesus as He conducted His earthly ministry. One brief commentary on the Gospel of Mark by Ralph Martin is entitled simply, Where the Action Is.[1]

“Immediately” in verse 29 serves to show us that Jesus and his four new followers, Peter, Andrew, James and John, had just left the synagogue from Sabbath worship where Jesus had taught with authority and demonstrated His authority by casting a demon out of a man there. They went directly to the house shared by Simon Peter and Andrew. John tells us that Peter and Andrew were from Bethsaida, but it seems that at some point they had moved to Capernaum. Here they occupied a house shared by at least Peter’s wife and mother-in-law.

That Peter was married is evident from this passage and 1 Corinthians 9:5, which states that Peter’s wife was in the habit of accompanying him in his ministry travels. This is important for us to understand, for the Roman Catholic Church enforces a policy of celibacy in the priesthood, and views Peter as their founder and first leader of their historic movement. However, it is plain from Scripture that he was in fact married, and there seems to be no biblical reason for priests to be celibate. The early church father Clement of Alexandria reports that he also had children, and that his wife was martyred prior to Peter’s own death, taken from his side as he called out to her by name saying, “O thou, remember the Lord!”[2]

It was not uncommon for a married couple to live with extended family, owing to their own financial needs or the need to provide care to their relatives. It is possible that Peter’s father-in-law had died, and his mother-in-law was welcomed into his own household, or else that he and his wife had relocated to Capernaum to live with the mother-in-law either because of their own financial standing or to provide care for her. It is clear here that Andrew also lived with them, but it is unknown if he was married and had children.

It also seems apparent from several references in Scripture that Peter’s home in Capernaum became the base of operations for the Galilean ministry of Jesus. An archaeological discovery in Capernaum has been identified as the house of Peter just a short distance away from the remains of the first-century synagogue. Very early writing has been found on the walls there in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Aramaic bearing Christian names and devotional sayings, indicating that it was an early gathering place for Christians as early as the latter part of the first century.[3]

Upon arriving at the home after the short walk from the Synagogue, Jesus learns that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is lying sick with a fever. We cannot know exactly what illness she had, for in those days “fever” was considered an illness unto itself, not as a symptom of some other condition. In John 4:47-52, we learn from an unrelated account that fever was sometimes fatal. Just how sick Peter’s mother-in-law was, we do not know, but Luke adds the physician’s detail that her fever was “great.”

There is a movement within Christianity (just barely within I might add) today which says that sickness is an indicator of God’s displeasure with a person, or a sign of a lack of faith on the part of the afflicted. However, here was a home that was close to Jesus – the home of His first followers, a home that He loved and that loved Him, and yet to this home sickness came. We must put aside any notions that any and all sicknesses are God’s judgment or indictments of faithlessness.

The fact is that all of us are prone to sickness because of our fallen nature. Sickness and death were not the initial plan of God for humanity, but because of the entrance of sin at the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, all of our bodies are subject to corruption. Because of sin, we are subject to at least three forms of suffering. There is natural suffering – the kind caused by earthquakes and tornadoes because God’s created order has been defiled by sin. There is moral suffering because sin has so corrupted the hearts of mankind that we often inflict pain upon one another because of sinful choices. And there is physical suffering – cancer, heart-attack, infection, even the common cold – because we have inherited corruption in our bodies because of our fallen state. If anything, our physical infirmities ought to cause us to long all the more for the resurrection and for heaven, where we have been promised that there will be no more of it! But meanwhile, while we occupy these fleshly bodies, we will do battle with sickness. It will affect us directly, and we will be affected indirectly as it strikes our loved ones.

Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick with a great fever. Perhaps she was at death’s door, we do not know. But the passage before us indicates three realities that we must bear in mind as we seek the healing touch of Jesus.

I. Sickness and hardship provide us with an opportunity for intercession (v30).

Immediately they spoke to Jesus about her.

Because of the mention of fever in Leviticus 26:16 and Deuteronomy 28:22, many in that day viewed it as a mark of God’s judgment, and often it went untreated. The rationale was that if God inflicted it upon someone, then it should be left to God to intervene to relieve it. Perhaps this was how Peter’s mother-in-law had been treated. Perhaps no one would even seek the advice of a physician on her behalf, or having sought it, treatment had been refused for this reason. We do not know. It may even be the case that she was like the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5. That woman, Mark tells us, had for twelve years “endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse.” Some of you can relate to that I am sure. It is also possible that the fever had come on her all of a sudden so that Peter and Andrew were at the synagogue and so they were unaware of her condition. Surely no wife or mother would look kindly on their husband or son bringing home distinguished company when they are in such sad shape. Perhaps it had come upon her while they had been away on a fishing enterprise, or traveling with Jesus.

But whatever she had been through in the past, her loved ones seized upon the opportunity they had before them and immediately spoke to Jesus about her. Now, what was their motive? Some have suggested that they were embarrassed by her condition. According to Jewish custom, the Sabbath meal was served immediately following worship at the Synagogue around the sixth hour, about 12:00 noon. So, perhaps it is the case that they were apologizing to Jesus that the meal was unprepared because the mother-in-law was unable to fix it, or the wife couldn’t prepare the meal because she was attending to her mother. But Luke specifies in Luke 4:38 that they were doing more than apologizing. They asked Him to help her. Having seen His authority over the demonic powers employed at the Synagogue, maybe He could also exercise authority over this sickness as well. So they interceded.

Intercessory prayer has been defined by many people and in many ways, but perhaps nowhere more vividly than in Tom Elliff’s book A Passion for Prayer. “Intercession is, by nature, the exercise by which an individual positions himself between two parties—one with a need and the other with the answer—and seeks to bring the two together. It is a matter of reaching out to take the hand of the one with the problem and reaching up to take the hand of the One with the provision and being willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary so that they meet.”[4] And when our loved ones are in the midst of sickness or hardship, or both as is often the case, we have the opportunity to become participants in the activity of God through intercession.

Often times, we may think the need is unimportant to God. He must have much more pressing business to tend to, we figure, than our loved one’s illnesses. What with all the wars and pestilences in the world, you know. Or we may wonder if our own motives are pure. Were Peter and Andrew really compassionate about the woman’s suffering, or did they merely want Jesus to tend to her so they could have their midday meal? But we must realize that God sees beyond our motives to the heart of the matter, and He is infinitely able to care for all matters in the world at the same time, be they great or small in our estimation. So we must seize upon the opportunity to place ourselves in the gap on behalf of the one in need and intercede for God to work in their lives, just as this woman’s loved ones did in her time of distress. Their need is our invitation to prayer—our opportunity to intercede to God on their behalf. And it would be sin on our part to fail to tell Jesus about it when He has said we may come boldly to the throne of grace, and that we may cast all of our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.

Now notice, if you will, the second reality present in these verses.

II. Jesus operates according to His own initiative (v31a)

He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand.

There are three verbs here. The subject of all of them is Jesus. He came. He raised. He took her by the hand. All that He did was according to His own initiative.

When the Peter told Jesus about his mother-in-law, He could have responded and said, “That’s a shame.” When they asked Him to help her, He could have said, “You know, I have had a busy day already, and it is the Sabbath, so I just want to rest for now.” He could have even made that sound spiritual by saying, “You know there are religious restrictions on what can be done on the Sabbath.” Later on we will see that Jesus becomes the target of a controversy because of healing on the Sabbath. The Rabbinic writings say that the only the only medical assistance that could be given on the Sabbath were when someone’s life was in danger (which may have been the case) or in a case of childbirth. One of the writings says, “If a man has a pain in his throat, they may drop medicine into his mouth on the Sabbath, since there is doubt whether life is in danger, and whenever there is doubt whether life is in danger, this overrides the Sabbath.”[5] Otherwise, people had to wait until sundown, marking the end of the Sabbath. You notice in verse 32 that this is what the rest of the townspeople did.

But Jesus did not do this. On His own initiative, in response to the intercession of His friends, He went into the room of the sick woman and administered His healing touch. The casting out of the demon in v25 occurred publicly, to validate for the people at the synagogue His divine authority. But this episode is private. There was no vindication of His identity or His mission, no confirmation of a doctrinal truth involved here. While this act of healing undoubtedly served to bolster the newfound faith of the fishermen, we cannot say this was His purpose. He does this simply and solely as an act of His divine love. He acted to relieve the suffering of one woman, and to lift the burden on the hearts of her loved ones.

There were no spells, no rituals, no incantations or magical methods. There was just the touch of the Master’s hand, the operation of His divine will, and the outworking of His authoritative power. And she was raised up and the fever left her. Neither conditions, nor diagnoses, nor prognoses, nor man-made religious limitations affect Jesus. He is all-powerful to perform His miraculous work on His own initiative whenever He so desires. We may intercede—in fact we have been invited and even commanded to do so—but, our intercession must allow for Him to take the initiative and do His work if He so desires, and accept His grace of endurance when He does not. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, when Paul prayed repeatedly for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, the Lord comforted him with the assurance that His grace was sufficient, and that His power would be manifested through Paul’s weakness.

God does not always heal. In the passage that follows this one in Mark, we see that the whole city brought their sick to Jesus, and He healed many, but Mark does not say that He healed them all. Sometimes God has a purpose in not healing just as He does in healing. When we intercede, we must leave room for God to operate according to His own initiative. Samuel Chadwick said, “I am bound to believe that sickness may be in the will of God, for the purpose of discipline, for the glory of His grace, and the Ministry of Christ.”[6] The question is not, “Do you have enough faith to be healed?” The question is, “Do you have enough faith to stay sick, and to hold on to Christ when He does not heal?” When He heals and when He does not are up to Him. We pray, and then we allow Him to work according to His own purposes. Sometimes His purpose is to act upon our prayers. Sometimes His purpose is to act differently, and through prayer, He helps us to understand His purposes better.

In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, He healed her. And this brings us to the third reality in the text.

III. When Jesus works on our behalf, we should respond appropriately (v31b)

…and she waited on them.

More literally, we might say, she served them. If you have ever been sick with a high fever, you know that once the fever breaks, it takes a while for you to regain your strength to resume your normal activities. Over the summer, when I had pneumonia for three weeks, it was about two months before I could get back into the full swing of things. But this was not the case with Peter’s mother-in-law. Her healing was instant and complete. She needed no recovery time, no convalescent care. And out of gratitude to the One who had delivered her from her suffering, she instantly began to serve Him with love in her heart.

Some of you today could testify to great and mighty wonders that God has worked in your life. In fact, if you are born-again, you have received the greatest miracle of all. Now, how have you responded to Jesus in the wake of His work? Do you serve Him? If so, how? And if not, why not? If not, have you considered that perhaps you have taken His grace for granted, and responded with ingratitude as if you somehow deserved what He has done for you? Friends, if you deserved it, then it wouldn’t be grace. The only thing any of us deserve from God is wrath. But He has given us His grace in salvation. Others of you have experienced healing, provision, and deliverance from great needs and burdens in addition to salvation. With our mouths perhaps we pause for a moment and say, “Thank you God!” but with our lives which have been handed back to us through the grace and power of God, there is more that can be done. We can serve Him, and we should.

Now notice that the text does not merely say that she served Him. It says that she served them. Love and gratitude for God expresses itself not only in some devotional service that we render to God in our prayer closets, but in tangible and practical service that we render to God’s people. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25? He said, “I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” But we will say to Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And He says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

In your daily activity, you have the opportunity to show your love for God and your gratitude to Him for all that He has done for you as you serve one another in His name. Don’t try to be spiritual and say, “I serve God, not man.” Jesus says when you serve one another, you are serving Him. And this is an appropriate response for all the wonderful works of His grace we have experienced. This is how Peter’s mother-in-law responded. It is how you and I should respond as well.

I wonder today, do you take Jesus home with you from worship? Or do you leave Him at church? Like Peter and Andrew, invite Jesus to come home with you today. Don’t worry about the hardships or the ailments He will find there. Just tell Him all about it and ask Him to help. And allow Him to do that just as He sees fit. Maybe He will heal; maybe He will save; maybe He will deliver; maybe He will provide. Or maybe He will give an extra measure of grace for you to endure that hardship. Invite Him home with you and tell Him everything that concerns you and your house today. And when He moves to answer your prayers, serve Him. And serve one another in His name as a response to His grace.

[1] Ralph P. Martin, Mark: Where the Action Is (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 1977).

[2] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History [Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by C. F. Cruse] (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998), 95-96.

[3] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 59; Lamoine F. DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997), 273-274.

[4] Tom Elliff, A Passion for Prayer (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998), 124.

[5] Mishna Yoma 8:6, cited in R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 149.

[6] Samuel Chadwick, The Path of Prayer, cited in Donald E. Demaray, Alive to God through Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965), 105.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

C. S. Lewis -- The Prophet

I am currently reading C. S. Lewis's Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (among other things). A piece within entitled "Unreal Estates" contains the transcript of a recorded dialogue between C. S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss. At one point, not far into the dialogue, Aldiss says to Lewis, "It's almost a quarter of a century since you wrote that first novel of the [space] trilogy." Lewis responds, "Have I been a prophet?" Aldiss says, "You have to a certain extent. ... ."

As I read that, I chuckled because in the piece just prior to "Unreal Estates," I was meditating on the notion that Lewis has been more prophetic about a number of things than he probably ever imagined. Consider the following from "A Reply to Professor Haldane." In order to understand it properly, you must understand that when he uses the word "democrat" he does not mean a party affiliation, but rather a supporter of the democratic system of government.
"I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his beter impulses appear to him as temptations. ...

"Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique. That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and the secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. ...

"I must, of course, admit that the actual state of affairs may sometimes be so bad that a man is tempted to risk change even by revolutionary methods; to say that desperate diseases require desperate remedies and that neceessity knows no law. But to yield to this temptation is, I think, fatal. It is under that pretext that every abomination enters. Hitler, the Machiavellian Prince, the Inquisition, the Witch Doctor, all claimed to be necessary. ...

"[W]e have the emergence of 'the Party' in the modern sense--the Fascists, Nazis or Communists. What distinguishes this from the political parties of the nineteenth century is the belief of its members that they are not merely trying to carry out a programme but are obeying an impersonal force: that Nature, or Evolution, or the Dialectic, or the Race, is carrying them on. This tends to be accomplished by two beliefs which cannot, so far as I can see, be reconciled in logic but which blend very easily on the emotional level: the belief that the process which the Party embodies is inevitable, and the belief that the forwarding of this process is the supreme duty and abrogates all ordinary moral laws. In this state of mind men can become devil-worshippers in the sense that they can now honour, as well as obey, their own vices. All men at times obey their vices; but it is when cruelty, envy, and lust of power appear as the commands of a great super-personal force that they can be exercised with self-approval. ..."

As I read these words, I contemplated 100 applications of the principles Lewis unfolds here. So, I will not attempt to enumerate them all here. I will simply ask the question, "In what way do you believe that Lewis's words in this passage of this essay are prophetic, and especially relevant for our day? How would you apply his ideas to life inside the church? How would you apply these ideas to the goings on of the world, politics, the current state of global conflict, etc.?"

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Southern Baptists and Tongues

SWBTS takes stance against Pentecostal/charismatic doctrine - (BP)

In a move that many deemed inevitable in light of swirling controversies in Baptist Life, Southwestern Seminary has issued the following statement, according to Baptist Press (click link above for BP Story):

"Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will not knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language nor hire professors who advocate the practice."

It may be surprising for some to know that I applaud this statement for several reasons.

1) It shows consistency. While I was not in favor of the IMB policy on private prayer language, I do believe that if it is to remain in effect, then our other boards and agencies need to have consistent guidelines as well. We would not want to have a young seminary student being trained for missionary service who is encouraged by a seminary professor to practice prayer language, nor would we want them to think that what is acceptable for seminary students is off limits for missionaries.

2) It stops short of an inquisition or witch hunt. The Baptist Press article contains the following humble acknowledgement:
“As it concerns private practices of devotion, these practices, if genuinely private, remain unknown to the general public and are, therefore, beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary.” I think this is a fair statement. I do not practice private prayer language. I never have, and I doubt that I ever will. I do not even desire the experience. I have studied the relevant passages of Scripture, and I am convinced that it is not an authentic spiritual gift. However, this puts me at odds with some brothers and sisters who have had "an experience." Now, I judge the revelation of God's word to be more authoritative than experience, but I also recognize my own finitude and depravity. I know the Bible is infallible, but my own interpretation of it may be in error on some minor issues such as this one. So, if a person's prayer language is private, then I know nothing of it. It does not hinder our fellowship, and we do not collide convictions over it. It remains private to that person. But, if that person begins to flaunt their practice, or to argue for their right to exercise it, then it is no longer private. This brings me to the third reason why I think Southwestern did a good thing.

3) Tongues as a private prayer language is not a historically acceptable Baptist doctrine. Therefore, those who wish to practice tongues at all ought to realize that Baptist life does not afford the utmost liberty in that regard. Some may choose to keep it private for that reason. However, if one goes public with the practice or the argument for the practice, then one begins to march against the tide of our historical convictions, and has demonstrated himself or herself to be out of step with Southern Baptists. This person ought to consider that he or she would be more at home in another denomination rather than disrupting fellowship in Baptist life over an issue that is patently non-Baptist.

Imagine me instituting the practice of paedobaptism. If I did it out back in a creek, no one might ever know about it. But if I began to advertise, "At >>>>> Baptist Church, we baptize babies!" then I have put the name "Baptist" with a practice that is
patently non-Baptist. At this point, I should choose which I prefer -- the name "Baptist" or paedobaptism. If I choose paedobaptism, then I ought to cease using the name Baptist. I would suggest that the same is true for those wishing to promote the practice of private prayer language.

4. I believe this statement was a positive step for Southwestern in light of the controversy sparked by the recent message delivered at their chapel by Pastor Dwight McKissic. Certainly he was aware of the current controversy, and the speculation concerning parties involved in it. Certainly he understood that as a Trustee, he has a certain obligation to "toe the party line" when speaking in an official capacity. However, in his sermon at the Southwestern Chapel, he openly advocated private prayer language and stated that he had learned the practice at the seminary and knew as a student that it was widely practiced.

The Seminary has not made copies of that message available. I believe that the seminary had every right to not make copies of that message available, and I have been uncomfortable with all the cries against them of "unfair censorship." Censorship would
involve Patterson going into the text of McKissic's sermon and changing it. Withholding the message from circulation was prudent. I have had some evangelists and guest speakers to come into my pulpits before and say some things which were absolutely intolerable. Not only have I corrected them publicly before the congregation, and talked privately about the issue with them, but I have also chosen not to allow the message to be circulated, lest an uninformed reader or hearer gather the impression that the individual speaks on behalf of the church. This is what SWBTS did with McKissic's message, and I think it was prudent.

I believe that his message was nearly if not flagrant insubordination and that his right to be a trustee ought to be called into question. I do not question his heart, his motives, or his walk with the Lord. I just question whether or not a person who openly advocates non-Baptist convictions ought to be in denominational leadership. Notice emphasis on the words "Openly Advocates."

Well, it seems like I had about ten more reasons, but they have either evaporated or been assimilated into what I have already said here. But I want to provide for the reader here the fruit of my own study of the relevant texts related to tongues. This is, with much prayer and wrestling, my interpretation. What follows are excerpts from sermons and lectures I have delivered over the last three years.

Unfortunately, the issue of tongues has divided more Christians than it has edified. Those who claim to have this gift have often been guilty of not exercising it in the humble love and communal service that 1 Corinthians 12-13 dictate. Likewise, those who do not have this gift have often not dealt lovingly with their brothers and sisters who claim to have had the experience of tongues. Fellowship between believers has been fractured over differences of understanding concerning tongues, resulting in divided churches and denominations.

As I survey the contemporary landscape, I detect four distinct views on the issue of tongues:

1. There are no tongues (1 Cor 13:8)

2. Tongues are actual languages which God empowers His people to speak to communicate His truth across a linguistic barrier (Acts 2:4-11). Some who hold this view also believe that early in church history, believers misunderstood this gift and began abusing it by speaking out in unintelligible utterances during worship services. They would say that when Paul speaks favorably about tongues, it is the legitimate, known languages. When he speaks unfavorably, it is the abuse of the practice.

3. Tongues are an ecstatic, uncontrollable utterance that overcome a person filled with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:23).
4. Tongues are a private prayer language (1 Corinthians 14:14-15, 28)

Today, denominationalism is being discarded. No longer are people loyal to a particular brand of Christianity. Now, as good as that sounds, and as much as we want to applaud that, the reasons for it are not as respectable. Today, Christians are saying doctrine no longer matters, and they are going to go worship wherever the music is good and wherever the people are nice, and wherever the church building is pretty. So, it is not unusual to find evangelicals in Pentecostal-type churches, and Pentecostals in evangelical churches.

So, what about it? What if someone speaks in tongues? Who are we to judge? We are not to be the judge of that person—but the Bible is to be the judge. So let’s look here at the meaning of tongues, and the proper uses and improper abuses of them.

In the first undisputed mention of tongues in the New Testament canon (leaving aside Mark 16 for text-critical purposes), we find in Acts 2:3 the phrase tongues as of fire. What does that mean?

You recall in Isaiah 6:5, when Isaiah said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." In Isaiah 6:6-9a, he describes what happens next. "Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. And he touched my mouth with it and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.' Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!' And He said, 'Go, and tell….'

So Isaiah had to have his tongue purged of its iniquity before he could be a mouthpiece for God. Perhaps that is the idea here with the tongues of fire resting on the disciples.

Then in Acts 2:4, notice that as they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak with different tongues. Prior to this passage, the use of the word tongues has been to refer to the physical organ, or to be a metaphor for human speech, or to refer to known languages of the world. So we have no reason to assume that this is any different. They spoke in different tongues, meaning languages different than their own. They hadn’t studied these languages—the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now, we can verify this by looking at Acts 2:6, which says that as they spoke in these other tongues, each person there heard them in their own dialect or language. The Christians were all Galileans the text says, but they were speaking the languages of the Parthians, the Medes, the Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyrenians, Romans, Cretans, and Arabs.

Then in Acts 2:11, we see that the words dialektos and glossais are used as synonymns here because they change from, “our own language” (v8) to “our own tongue.” So the tongues spoken of in Acts 2 are clearly other known languages and dialects in the world that God supernaturally gave the Christians the ability to speak.

Now why did God do empower His people at Pentecost to speak in tongues? So that these international people could hear these disciples of Jesus announce to them “the mighty deeds of God.” The gift of tongues was used in that situation to deliver the gospel message of Jesus Christ across a multifaceted language barrier. That was the original, biblical meaning of “speaking in tongues.” Stories are told of this occurring still today. When God desires to communicate the gospel across a seemingly insurmountable language barrier, it is not difficult at all to believe that He will supernaturally empower a person to do it.

With that in mind, it is easy to understand in 1 Corinthians 14 how Paul can say things like:

v5: “I wish that you all spoke in tongues”, because that would mean that they were having plenty of opportunities to share the gospel multiculturally.
v18: “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all,” meaning that he has more opportunities in his work as a traveling church planter to communicate Christ to those who speak other languages. He is thankful that God always gives him the ability to do so.
v22: “Tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers.” They are used of God to communicate the gospel to lost people who speak a different language, not to impress one another in the church.
v39: “Do not forbid to speak in tongues,” because we never know when someone is present who needs to hear something in their own language.

Unfortunately, even the early Christians didn’t always understand this. Thus Paul has to deal with the improper abuses of tongues. By the time of Paul’s ministry in Corinth, probably less than 20 years or so after Pentecost, there were already people abusing the gift of tongues. No doubt there were some saying that you weren’t spiritual if you didn’t speak in tongues, and there were those who, in an effort to appear spiritual, would just babble out syllables of nonsense and claim to have been overcome by the Spirit. But understand this: This is by no means the biblical, legitimate use of tongues. In fact, Paul has strong words against such counterfeit charismania.

He says that prophecy is better.

Notice he says, over and over again (1 Cor 14:1-6, v12, v19, vv23-25, v39) that prophecy is much more beneficial to the church than tongues. Why? Because people understand prophecy, they don’t understand this artificial babbling that is commonly called tongues. If the use of tongues is legitimate, then there must be a person present who needs to hear the message in another language, otherwise the act is “self-edifying,” (v5) boastfully saying “Look how spiritual I am.”

He also insists that tongues must be interpreted. So serious is Paul about this that he repeatedly warns that if a person speaks in tongues in a worship service, there absolutely must be an interpretation given (v13, 26-28). If there is no interpretation available, then the order is given to keep silent!

He also uses unflattering terms to refer to tongues. In verse 2, he says that one who speaks in this counterfeit mode of tongues does not speak to men. In saying that he speaks to God, he is perhaps commenting on the person’s spiritual pride, and perhaps saying only God knows if there is any meaning to his words or not. “No one understands!” he says.

In verse 6, he says that if he comes speaking to them in tongues it is of no profit to them. In v9, he calls it speaking into the air. In v14-15, he says that the mind is unfruitful. In v23, he says that it is a hindrance to the gospel, for the unbeliever will say we are “mad” if they see us all speaking in these counterfeit tongues. So I really wonder why anyone can say that we are encouraged to practice this at all? Obviously there is either a misunderstanding or a blatant disregard for the teaching of Scripture.

I am well aware that sincere followers of Christ will disagree with this interpretation. Therefore, I appeal to my brothers and sisters to hold in common with me several biblical truths that we can know for certain about tongues, regardless of our interpretation.

From 1 Corinthians 12:7 we understand that the working of all spiritual gifts must be for the common, as opposed to the individual, good of the body.

From 1 Corinthians 14:1-6 we can draw the following undeniable conclusions:
1) Love (in the way it is described in 1 Cor 13) is the most important thing to keep in mind when discussing or practicing spiritual gifts.
2) Prophecy is of infinitely greater value than tongues for the church.
3) Tongues are without value for the church unless there is an interpretation (from an independent source) to accompany them.

From verses 23-25 of the same passage we also understand that tongues are of limited or no value when it comes to unbelievers who observe them in practice in our worship. Tongues are a "sign to unbelievers" (v22), but only in the case that God gives them to proclaim the gospel across a language barrier. Otherwise, the sign only indicates madness on our part (v23).

From verses 26-40, we must agree that the following are clear biblical parameters:
1) Whatever is done in the name of Christ in the worship and ministry of the church must be done for the edification of one another in Christian maturity.
2) If tongues are practiced at all, they are to be practiced by no more than two or three people, in turn, and with interpretation.
3) If there is no one to interpret the tongues, then the person is out of order and must remain silent.
4) Confusion is not of God. He is a God of peace, and all that we do in His name should be done decently and orderly in order to reflect the excellence of His nature and His order.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mark 1:23-28: A Spiritual Showdown at the Synagogue

Last week, we focused on the two verses preceding this passage and the idea of Jesus’ authority that the people recognized as He taught. Then we made a passing glance at this section and those that follow as evidences of His authority. In fact, authority is a recurring theme throughout the Gospel of Mark, but one that is in sharp focus in the section from 1:21 to 2:12. We have to keep that in mind today because we do not want to lose sight of the fact that this encounter was a demonstration of the authority of Christ, given to validate the authority of His teaching.

C. S. Lewis said in the Preface to The Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which,” people fall concerning demons. One, he said, “is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” The demons themselves, Lewis says, “are equally pleased by both errors.”[1] We want to avoid both of these errors. We don’t want to ignore the reality of demons in our world, but we also don’t want to obsess about it and develop an unhealthy fascination with demons. If we will concentrate on what we can learn from the Scriptures, we will be protected from both extremes. The Bible does not tell us as much as our curiosity may desire, but the accounts we have in Scripture tell us all we need to know to understand who demons are and how they operate. In this passage before us today we see something of the nature of demons, the activity of demons, and the destiny of demons.

I. The Nature of Demons (v23)

The word demon does not occur in this passage, but instead we read that this man had an unclean spirit. The word unclean means literally “polluted” or “contaminated,” but in Jewish thought, it had come to also be understood as “ungodly.” Fourteen passages of Scripture use this terminology to describe demons. The term unclean spirit speaks to us of the nature of who these spiritual beings are. To understand them, we need to see what the Scriptures teach about their origin.

Hold your place at Mark 1, and turn over to Revelation 12, where the Apostle John records a vision which he saw concerning a war that took place in heaven. We read in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 that Satan sought to elevate himself above the very throne of God because of his pride, and this is what sparked the war. In Revelation 12:3, John says that there was a great red dragon. We are told who he is in v9: the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan. Verse 4 says that his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Stars are occasionally used, especially in Revelation, to depict the angels. If we keep this in mind, we see in v7 that Michael and his angels were waging war with the dragon and his angels. Verse 8 tells us that the dragon and his angels were evicted from heaven, and thrown down. He and his angels were thrown down to the earth, and we see that their primary occupation on earth is deceiving the whole world. When did this war happen? Well, we know from Genesis 1:31 that when God finished His creative work, which would include His creation of the angels, it was all very good. But by Genesis 3, the serpent is in the garden deceiving Eve and tempting Adam to abandon God.

Now from this, we can ascertain several important details about demons. First, they are fallen angels, who followed Satan in his rebellion against God. Second, they number one-third of the angels whom God created. We don’t know how many that is, but we know they are outnumbered 2 to 1 by the angels who maintained their rightful place as God’s servants. They have been kicked out of heaven, sentenced to roam the earth, and there they set out to deceive people.

So, as you turn back to Mark 1, let’s give a summary statement here about the nature of the demons: “Demons are evil angels who sinned against God and who now continually work evil in the world.”[2] They number one-third of the angels created by God. Like the rest of the angelic order, they do not have physical bodies, but are spirit-beings.

Now consider with me …

II. The Activity of Demons

Satan and his demons are at war with God. They cannot strike God directly, so they seek to strike that which is most precious to God – humanity. And they do so with certain tactics. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He contrasts His mission with that of the enemy, whom He says comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I remember a picture floating around the internet in the days following the terrorist attacks of 9-11 showing what looked to be the image of a demonic face in the smoke of the Twin Towers. Many people were wondering if it was real or if it was a photoshop trick. But I told several people that I do not need to see Satan’s face when he has so clearly left his fingerprints. Anytime there is stealing, killing, and destruction, you know who is behind it. These are his fingerprints; we don’t need to see his face.

In this passage we are studying today we see three characteristic activities of demons.

A. Disrupting the Worship of God

Keep in mind the setting of this incident. It was the Sabbath, and it was in the synagogue. People had gathered together for the public worship of God, and in the midst of it, there was a crying out. While folks might be tempted to look at this man and say, “Can’t that crazy man just be quiet,” the fact is he cannot, for he is no longer in control of his own faculties. Instead, the demon has taken over and creates a disturbance which disrupted the worship that the people had come to offer God.

You recall that at the root of Satan’s rebellion was his desire to divert worship away from God to himself. In fact, Satan and his demons are not dead set on making devil-worshipers. They are just as content for people to worship anyone or anything other than God, who alone is worthy of worship. In my preparation for this message, I ran across a number of accounts in recent literature written by sound, conservative biblical scholars who observed this very sort of activity going on in public worship services in our day. Individuals would cry out, or act out in ways that took people’s focus off of God. Certainly we would not want to go so far as to say that any and every disruption that hinders worship is the effect of demonic activity, we would not want to dismiss the possibility. I would not want to suggest that when a baby cries or someone coughs or sneezes in a worship service, that person is possessed by demons. But, I would say that if someone is acting in a deliberate fashion to break our concentration on God and divert attention to himself or herself, or toward any other person or thing, we should rule out the possibility that Satan has planned to use that person for his purposes. When the demon inside this man cried out, it was a strategic act of the demons to disrupt the worship of God.

B. Distracting from the Proclamation of the Gospel

Also notice the timing of this incident. Verse 21 tells us that Jesus had begun to teach. We do not read that He was finished. We are not wrong to assume that it was in the midst of His teaching, as the people were caught up in amazement at His authoritative words, that the demon began to cry out. Why? Because the gospel is a threat to the forces of evil.

Satan has a grip on lost souls. He has them blinded and bound, and he knows that they will be his forever unless they are delivered by the power of God in the gospel. So, when the gospel is proclaimed, Satan and his demons work powerfully to distract individuals from understanding or responding to Christ. Paul talks in 1 Timothy 4 about doctrines of demons, and says in 1 Corinthians 10 that when people sacrifice to idols they are sacrificing to demons. Satan and his demons are behind all false religion because it keeps people distracted from the true gospel of salvation in Christ. It is a fact of history that Mohammed himself was unsure if the visions he had which led to the founding of Islam were from God or a demon. References to this can be found even in Islamic literature. And today, Islam is one of the many strongholds Satan uses to blind people to the gospel.

If you share Christ with enough people, you will eventually come to see how the enemy will use the minutest distractions to break people away from hearing the gospel. There will be interruptions of all sorts that Satan and his demons are using to convince that person that there are more important matters to tend to than the gospel. And when you encounter this, you need to be aware that you are in the midst of spiritual warfare. Satan does not mind people being curious or dabbling in religion, but when the call to salvation goes forth, it is a direct strike against his stronghold on that person’s life, and he will use all sorts of tactics to distract that person from the gospel.

... (contemporary missiological illustration removed for the safety of mission personnel and security of their work) ...

It was the same way in Capernaum, as Jesus was teaching and the people were amazed, this demon began crying out to distract not only the demonized man, but the rest of the congregation from message of the gospel.

The third activity of demons we see in this passage is …

C. Destroying Human Life

Notice that the demon had overtaken this man’s personality and identity. He could not control the outburst of the demon within him, and when Jesus rebuked the demon, the demon threw the man into convulsions. In another account in Mark 9, we read about a boy who was demonized. The demon made him dumb – that is unable to speak. And the boy’s father said, whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. … It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.”

In Mark 5 we read about another demonized man who lived among the tombs. And Mark says that “no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.”

All these stories indicate that the demons were seeking to destroy the individual whom they afflicted. In Psalm 106:37, we read that the demons were behind those ancient pagan religions which commanded the people to sacrifice their children to the idols. “Satanic or demonic activity always tends toward the ultimate destruction of parts of God’s creation and especially of human beings who are made in the image of God.”[3] Unable to strike God, they strike His image in man, and seek to steal, kill, and destroy it. Stealing it – by hijacking the individual to make them an unwilling slave of Satan. Killing it – by inflicting bodily harm upon the individual. Destroying it – by ultimately desiring that the individual be separated from God for eternity in hell.

Now, finally, I want us to look quickly at …

III. The Destiny of Demons

The demons are intelligent. They are aware of spiritual realities. Notice in v24 that they know exactly who Jesus is. The demon refers to Him as Jesus of Nazareth and says, “I know who You are – the Holy One of God.” And the demons know their future. “Have you come to destroy us?” They know exactly why Jesus had come. First John 3:8 says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” They know that the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry means the beginning of the end for them. James says in James 2:19 that it is not enough for us to merely believe the intellectual facts about God, for he says, “the demons also believe, and shudder.” They shudder because of what they know. They know that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One of God, and that He has come to destroy their works.

Jesus rebuked the demon with a simple word of divine authority, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And the demon did just that. Demons are not autonomous. They must submit to the authority of Jesus. And again, this caused amazement among the people (v27).

When Jesus was questioned in Matthew 12 about the authority by which He casts out demons, Jesus responded, “How can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” In saying this, Jesus was saying that He had authority to enter where Satan’s dominion had gone unchallenged, and “plunder his house,” that is, liberate the captives from Satanic and demonic bondage. And His power to do this was His authority as the Son of God. He said, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” It was a proof of His identity and His mission to establish God’s kingdom.

We read in the book of Revelation that there is coming a day when Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years, and during that time, Satan and his demons will be bound in a pit. But they will be loosed for a little while after that time, and they will gather the nations for the battle of Armageddon. But at that battle, by the word of Christ’s authority, Satan and all his forces will be fully and finally defeated forever. We read in Revelation 20:10 that they will thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, … and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Jesus said in Matthew 25:41 that this eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. But we also read that this will be the place of eternal torment for all people whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life – that is, those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

That is what Satan and his demons want – they know they can’t escape their destiny, so they want to take as many with them as they can. And they deceive, distract, disrupt, devour and destroy to keep people from being liberated by the gospel of the grace of God.

Today, it may very well be the case that someone in our midst is lost apart from Christ, deceived by Satan and his demons into thinking that their own goodness or some other belief is going to put them in a better place when they die. But it is a lie. Our only hope is Christ. So I want to ask you today, if you never have before, to come to Christ and call upon Him as your Lord and Savior and experience the abundant life that He came to give.

And if you are a believer in Christ today, I want to caution you – Satan is still out to devour you. He knows that you belong to Christ and he can’t have you forever, but he will be content to destroy your testimony for Christ by leading you away from your walk with God. But know this – the word of God is sure: Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. That is a promise from 1 John 4:4. The strongman who occupies your life now is Christ, and Satan cannot bind Him. But he will continue to attack you and seek to destroy your life and your witness. And in the midst of attack, you have this promise from James 4:7-8, “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” And remember that Satan took one-third of the angels when he fell. That means that for every demon, there are two angels whom God has commissioned to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation according to Hebrews 1:14. That is you and I if we have been born-again by faith in Christ. So, you need to be aware of demonic activity, but you need not be afraid of it. But you can come against His attacks by putting on the armor of God and taking up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, by living a determined life of godliness, and by claiming victory through the authority of Christ.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York: MacMillan, 1961), 3.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 412.

[3] Grudem, 425.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A misplaced emphasis ...

I am spending a little time this afternoon getting caught up on cataloging books in my personal library, so I am blowing the dust off of some volumes that have been sitting in a corner since the day I bought them. As I opened a book I bought at an antique store and began to peruse it to determine how I shall classify it, I was struck by a quote I would like to share.

The book is called The Experimental Note, written by Wilbur Fletcher Sheridan, copyright 1911. While I have not read enough of the book to endorse en toto, I am intrigued enough by some lines in the early going to give it a more thorough read later. Look at this sentence from the first paragraph of the first chapter:

"A misplaced emphasis by the preacher changes God's evangel into man's evasion and is more fatal than many heresies."

Here are a few more quotes from the early chapters:

"How narrow Jesus and the apostles were! What themes they left untouched in their preaching! Their messages, like the shells of the Japanese gunners, all struck the center. The speculative preacher, on the contrary, seems to go on the supposition, as George Jackson puts it, 'that the chief end of man is to speculate on the unknown and argue about it forever.'"

"If I say that Jesus Christ died, I have declared a truth, but it is simply a history. If I say that Jesus Christ died for my sins, I have a gospel. ... A biographical Christ for the world's interest and entertainment is a very different thing from an evangelical Christ for the world's salvation. We are not always preaching the gospel when we preach about Christ. We are always preaching the gospel when we preach Christ. Take the lectures of Dr. Richard S. Storrs on 'The Divine Origin of Christianity as Shown by Its Historical Effects' as an illustration of preaching about Christ, and compare them with the sermons of Charles H. Spurgeon or Alexander Whyte as an illustration of preaching Christ. The former is a classic as a Christian apologetic. But it is not the gospel. It might be preached a thousand times and it would not save one sinner from his sins. But the sermons of Spurgeon led multitudes to Christ, both by their spoken utterance and by the printed page. ... We need a dozen or so volumes of sermons of the type of Dr. Storr's elegant classic, but we need millions of the kind that Spurgeon preached."

"Young men entering the ministry with a longing for scholarship and culture, and at the same time with a passion in their hearts to follow Jesus in His work of saving men, have had nothing so hard to bear as this attitude of sneering criticism by older men ... who stigmatize evangelism as emotional, ephemeral, superficial, and as enlisting minds only of small caliber. These wounds are hardest to bear because they are the wounds received in the house of our friends."

"[I]f you have a sure message--one that you have fallen down upon in the hours of your soul's great crises, and have found will bear you up gloriously--then you will never be satisfied with the speculative emphasis."

These are just a few brief highlights (more could be given) from the first two chapters of this book. I look forward to going farther with it someday when time permits. Perhaps I will find that it goes downhill from there, but it sure starts out on a high note.

The quotes are food for thought. Any comments?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Global Health Adventures: Chris Eller

I want to introduce my readership to a good friend.

Chris Eller was a young high school student when I was called to be youth pastor at Conowingo Baptist Church in 1998. Chris stood out immediately to us as a young man who loved God, loved God's word, and had a unique blend of personality, intellect, and giftedness. As a sophomore in High School, he asserted with confidence, "I want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon." We used to joke with him -- "Come on slacker -- have some ambition!"

Chris attended University of Delaware and was a standout student in biochemistry. But, even with the heavy load of his studies, he remained a vital part of the Conowingo Baptist Church family, where by that time I was serving as Pastor. In fact, Chris will have to correct me if I am wrong, I believe he was on the search committee that asked me to transition from Associate Pastor to Pastor.

Chris and I spent many Sunday evenings together eating pizza, watching ballgames and "Alias." In 2002, he took his first trip abroad with me and 5 others from CBC to Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. He got the bug -- no I don't mean the stomach bug (though he got that too!). He got the missions bug! Immediately upon returning home, he applied to the IMB to be a summer collegiate volunteer in Zambia. He spent the summer of 2003 mountain biking through the wilds of Southern Africa mapping out the locations of unreached peoples. In the summer of 2004, he did the same sort of project in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

Meanwhile, Chris enrolled at UVA Medical School. Today, Chris is in Brazil doing a clinical study on childhood diarrhea (and frequenting beaches and soccer games on the frequent national holiday weekends). He refreshed my heart yesterday with an unexpected phone call to check in and check up. I introduce you to him because he is someone God is going to use greatly. While not in Brazil as a "missionary," Chris has a missions-heart, so whereever he is, he is on mission for the King. And, I believe that God is weaving these experiences together in his life to prepare him for a great work in international medical missions -- but we will leave that to him and God to determine with certainty.

If you have never clicked to it from my links on the margin of my blog, check out Chris Eller's blog soon. His most recent post concerns the nature of his work, and can be found at ...
Global Health Adventures: Work: Diarrhea, DNA, Documents

By the way... in the picture above, Chris is wearing a shirt that says "Crossroads University." This was a shirt we had made in 1998 for a summer student discipleship week that featured teaching on apologetics and worldviews. I am the founder, president, academic dean, and registrar of that school, and Chris has been voted Alumnus of the Year for the last 8 years running! Everyone else has probably long since forgotten that week of study, but Chris still proudly sports his C.U. T-shirt.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Teaching with Authority: Mark 1:21-22

In Matthew’s Gospel, two times we read similar summary statements of the ministry of Jesus. Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35 read almost identically and indicate that the regular activity of Jesus was teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. In the section of the Gospel of Mark that begins at 1:21, we see all of these activities taking place in the town of Capernaum through the ministry of Jesus. And the first of them is teaching in a synagogue.

The town of Capernaum was situated on the Sea of Galilee. It’s booming fishing industry, fertile soil, major trade route, and Roman government presence combined to make it an economically prosperous city. If you visit Capernaum today, you can visit the grandest synagogue in Palestine, but it isn’t the one Jesus visited. It only dates back to the fourth century. But archaeologists have discovered the foundations of a basalt block synagogue that dates back to the first century. It is very likely that this was the one Jesus visited, which we learn in Luke 7 was built by a Gentile centurion.

Synagogues most likely came into existence during the Babylonian captivity when the Israelites were separated from the services of the Jerusalem temple. They began to develop these local assemblies where they would gather for the purpose of reading and studying the Scriptures. Over time, regulations were put into place concerning their establishment and operation. They could only be established where there were ten male Jewish heads of household, and a ruler would be elected to oversee the synagogue. He would function as the librarian, custodian, headmaster of the school, and worship coordinator. He would not be the primary teacher, but would assign certain laypeople or invite guest rabbis to teach on a given Sabbath. We learn in Mark 5 and Luke 8 that the ruler of the Capernaum synagogue was named Jairus. On this particular Sabbath about which we read in Mark 1, Jairus had either invited or assigned the teaching responsibility to Jesus. This tells us that, early on in His ministry, Jesus was viewed favorably by many and respected in the community as a faithful follower of the Torah.

Luke 4 indicates that it was Jesus’ custom to be in the synagogue in whatever town He happened to be on the Sabbath day. He honored the Sabbath and the synagogue as did the apostles. This speaks to us in a day of mediocre commitment to church attendance. The synagogue offered nothing of substance to Jesus, but nonetheless, it was His custom and commitment to be there on the synagogue because that was the established time and place for the gathering of the people for the public worship of God. In our day, spirituality is at an all-time high, but church attendance is perhaps at an all-time low. I’ll just tell you, I have a hard time with someone telling me how spiritual they are if they make no commitment to gather with God’s people in a local church. In some supposedly Christian homes today, there is actually a discussion that takes place on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings about whether or not the family will attend church on Sunday. Jesus never had such discussions about whether or not to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was there, and we honor His example when we prioritize the regular gathering of ourselves together in the sanctuary with God’s people on the Lord’s day. We do not attend Sabbath synagogue, but Sunday worship ought to be a priority for all who call upon the name of the Lord. It is a testimony to your children, to your extended family and to your community to hold the time and day of worship aside as sacred and let there be no debating over where you will be on Sunday mornings. Now, I will stop meddling and get back to preaching.

Jesus entered this synagogue and began teaching. Mark does not tell us what the content of His preaching was. That is typical for Mark. He speaks often of Jesus teaching and preaching, but doesn’t often tell us what was said. We know this much: His sermon in verse 15 sets the tone for all of his preaching. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel. And if His last recorded synagogue visit gives us any hint as to His teaching on this occasion, we know He made some other bold claims as well. Luke 4 records an earlier synagogue visit in Nazareth when Jesus was invited to read the Scriptures. He read from Isaiah 61:1-2 where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Straightforward enough, but it was what He said next that really shook the people up. Luke says that He close the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people of His hometown began to rise up against Him and tried to throw Him over a cliff, but He slipped away and came to Capernaum where He called Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow Him. Together, they went into the Capernaum synagogue where Jesus began to teach. And based on whatever He said on that Sabbath in that synagogue, the people recognized His teaching as having a unique authority. It is this authority which was so evident in His teaching that I want to focus on today. We notice in the text three things about His authority. It was amazing, it was distinctive, and it was evidenced.

I. Jesus’ authority was amazing (v22a)

When the people heard Jesus teach, they were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority. Mark is careful to indicate that it is not the content of His teaching that amazed them. It was the authority by which He spoke. The Greek word that Mark uses here for “amazed” (astonished, KJV) is a word that indicates that they were struck out of their normal state of mind.[1] In v27 Mark uses a different word for amazed that conveys the idea that the people were surprised, or they were caught up by the wonder of the authority of His teaching.

Now what is so amazing about authority? Aren’t we surrounded by it? All of us are under some kind of authority, and most of us exercise some level of authority. Some people have authority by virtue of a position to which they were elected. Others are appointed to authority. Some are born or married into certain levels of authority. These kinds of authority are all derived – that is, the authority is given to the individual by another. But there is a different kind of authority – inherent authority is derived from no one. It is authority that resides in the person, based on who that person is. This is the kind of authority Jesus had. It is inherent in the very nature of His person as the Son of God – God incarnate. And it amazed the people who heard Him speak.

It was not just on this occasion in the Capernaum synagogue that people were struck by His authority. At least ten times in the gospels, this is how people responded to the teaching of Jesus. They responded the same way at Nazareth in Luke 4, and then later again in Matthew 13 and Mark 6. In Matthew 7, it is how people reacted to the Sermon on the Mount. At the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus taught in the temple courts (John 7), and again the people were amazed. He amazed His disciples with His encounter with the rich young ruler (Mark 10/Matthew 19). When He entered Jerusalem on His final week before the crucifixion, He taught in the temple and amazed the whole crowd (Mark 11/Luke 19). The Pharisees and Herodians were amazed to the point of silence in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20. But even as a twelve year old child, those who heard him in the temple in that fascinating account from Luke 2 were amazed at His understanding and His answers. The word used in that account indicates that they were beside themselves in amazement.[2]

Such was the impact of the authority of Jesus upon His hearers. When they heard Him, they were amazed. Now the reason for their amazement at His authority is indicated in the next phrase of v22, which is our next point of focus.

II. Jesus’ authority was distinct (v22b)

He was teaching them with authority, and not as the scribes. In the eyes of the common man of First Century Israel, the scribe carried more prestige than the temple priests. Priests were inaccessible, but the scribes were approachable. They could be stopped on the streets and questioned about some matter. And they were not occupied with temple rituals; they were present in the synagogue services teaching regularly. In fact, the first row of the synagogue was reserved for the scribes. They were the experts in the Torah. When there was some question about the meaning of Scripture, the scribes were able to issue binding decisions on the interpretation of a passage. They were the teachers, the rabbis. Even the name rabbi suggests how important they were. Contrary to popular opinion, the word “rabbi” is not equivalent to the word “teacher.” It literally means, “my great one.” They were the people’s professors, teachers, moral advisors, and lawyers.

The people were accustomed to hearing the teachings of the scribes. One scholar said of the scribes’ teaching that they were, “pedantic in the things that were obvious enough, and frivolous and lejune in all things that lay beyond. They would be admirable guessers and mighty in platitudes. They would ingenious in raising microscopic doubts, and perfect adepts in conjuring up conceit to do battle with conceit. They would be skillful in splitting hairs to infinity, and they would be proud of their ability to lead their hearers through the endless mazes of the imaginations of preceding rabbis, imaginations that ended in nothing or in something that was actually worse than nothing. But they would have no power, or almost none, to move the conscience toward true goodness, or to stir the love of the heart toward God and toward men.”[3]

They merely regurgitated the sayings and writings of rabbis that preceded them, moving the people farther and farther away from the actual Word of God. People came to the synagogue to hear the Torah expounded. They craved the Word of God. But what they heard was the speculations of the ancient rabbis about the Torah. Sometimes what they heard was the speculations of the rabbis on the speculations of the speculations on the speculations ad nauseum tracing somewhere hopefully back to the Torah. Rabbi Hillel was one of the most revered rabis of the first century, but it is said of him that on one occasion, he spoke on a matter all the day, but the people did not receive his teaching until he said, “Thus I heard from Shemaiah and Abtalion.”[4]

Jesus did not teach this way. When He spoke, the people heard God’s word in all of its divinely inspired authenticity and authority. He pointed to no outside authority except the Scriptures themselves and His Father in Heaven. His teaching was not speculation but certainty; not suggestion but command. And He shifted the people’s understanding of the ways of God away from the endless imaginations of the rabbis to the sole authority of “Thus saith the Lord.” And the people were amazed by His authority because it was distinctively different from their rabbis and scribes.

Now thirdly …

III. Jesus’ authority was evidenced (vv23-45)

The remainder of Mark 1 describes the events that took place over the next 24 hours. It was a busy day for Jesus, but a day in which the signs and wonders He worked affirmed in the hearts of His hearers the authority by which He spoke. He not only sounded like He had authority, He proved His authority through His actions throughout this long Sabbath day. Before He ever left the synagogue, He cast a demon out of man, causing people to say in v27, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” And as the sun set, and people felt relief from Sabbath restrictions, they began bringing to Him “all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed (v32). Mark says that the whole city had gathered at the door or Simon Peter’s house (v33). And He healed many, and cast out many demons, proving His divine authority.

Now, you and I are prone to wonder, “Why does God not prove Himself today with miracles like this?” You may be surprised to know that He didn’t always do it this way in biblical times. In fact, notice even in verse v34 that He healed many, but not necessarily all. In fact, there are only five periods of time in the Scripture when miracles occurred on a frequent basis: 1) Creation; 2) The Exodus; 3) The beginnings of the prophetic ministry of Elijah and Elisha; 4) The ministry of Jesus; and 5) The ministry of the apostles. Now, what do all these periods of time have in common? In each of them, God was affirming the proclamation of His word. Not since the first century has there been a demonstration of the miraculous on a frequent and regular basis. Why? Because God has completed His word and expects us now to believe it on His authority and not seek for signs and wonders as proof of who He is and what He can do. You can hold in your hands today something that none of the saints of the biblical centuries had: the complete written revelation of God recorded for us in the Bible. God has given this miraculous gift to us – an inerrant and infallible revelation of Himself, and if we will not receive and believe it as the Holy Spirit works within us to illuminate and convict us, then we will not believe even if we see signs and wonders. What did Jesus say about the rich man perishing in Hades in Luke 16? He pleaded that the Lord would send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his loved ones to get right with God so they would not likewise end up in hell. But that rich man was told, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. … If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

God has come into this world incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, satisfied all the demands of His own holy and righteous standard, and died as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins on Calvary’s cross, and risen from the dead. He has sent His Spirit to move upon His apostles to complete His infallible and inerrant Word as a revelation of Himself to us. What more does He need to do? I am not about to say that God no longer does the miraculous. He can, and He does whenever He wills. But we must understand that His word has received the ultimate validation in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and for us to insist on Him doing more in our day is to cheapen the cross of Christ and His resurrection and to devalue the Word of God of its authority and power.

Jesus has commissioned us to take this gospel of His salvation into all the world and proclaim it and make disciples for Him. But He did not tell us to do it alone. You know the Great Commission as it is written in Matthew 28: Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations. Now what is that therefore there for? The verse immediately preceding, Jesus says, “All AUTHORITY has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. GO THEREFORE.” We go out under His divine authority and He has chosen to work through the proclamation of His divine word to bring men and women into a relationship with Himself. That Word came from Him, it was authenticated through Him, and it has been given to us to go and proclaim with His authority. What more do we need?

Now, allow me to conclude with a few points of application.

  1. Do you revere the word of God? When Jesus spoke the Word of God, the people were amazed at the authority of His teaching. When you read the Word of God, or hear it proclaimed, how do you respond? Do you close the book and say, “That was nice,” or do you find yourself in awe of God’s truth and allow Him to use it like a scalpel to perform the necessary spiritual surgery He desires to do in your life, bringing you to salvation first, and to a life of godliness thereafter? Through the prophet Isaiah, God declared, “To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Do you tremble? Are you amazed at God’s word, or is it to you just another book? A good one, a nice one, but just a book? Today perhaps God is challenging you to change the way you approach the Word of God. Really, when you open the pages of Scripture, you are approaching God Himself through His revelation of Himself. And when we encounter Him there, we ought to be amazed. We ought to tremble.
  2. Are we like the rabbis and scribes? Are we more concerned with the traditions of men than the power of God? We have a beautiful building, and very moving worship experiences together, and good times of fellowship, but these are all externals. Is there real life change taking place under the authority of God’s word? If not, then I suggest to you that all of our formalities and ceremonies are null and void. We are not being the church, we are just playing a church game. But if we humble ourselves to the authority of God’s word and allow Him to exercise His authority over us, to mold and shape us, to really CHANGE us and use us to change the lives of those in this community, then all that we do will take on new meaning and we will be amazed at how God will work through His authoritative word.
  3. Finally, when you speak, when you teach, when you witness, do you do so with authority? We do not have inherent authority in and of ourselves as Jesus did, but through His commission and the work of His Spirit within us, we have a derived authority whereby we point people, not to our own ideas or the thoughts of other men, but to the very word of God. Much of what goes on in churches today sounds like this: “I think that it is possible that what God might be suggesting is …” Where is the authority in that? Where is the certainty, the confidence? God doesn't make suggestions. He commands, and as we preach and teach and witness about Him, we must do as Richard Baxter said, “Screw the truth into people’s minds.” We do this as we speak God’s truth and stand on His authority in our preaching, our teaching, and all our conversations. Without shame or embarrassment, we can point individuals to the pages of Scripture and say with confidence and authority, “Thus saith the Lord,” and if they disagree, they don’t disagree with us but with Him, and we can leave it to Him to convict them, to convince them, and to convert them. Sunday School teachers, what is the authority of your teaching? It is not the Lifeway study guide, or the Greensboro News and Record, or Oprah or Dr. Phil, or some notion in your head. If your teaching is not derived directly from the Word of God, it has no authority, and you need not be surprised when you see very little real life change taking place. Christian, when you witness to your friends and neighbors, where is your authority? Is it in your appeal, your technique, your likeableness, or your salesmanship? If so, be no surprised when that lost person does not respond or responds only superficially. We have no authority but the Word of God, and when we share His Word under His authority, it is like letting a lion out of a cage. We merely stand back and observe God do the work He has promised to do.

[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 49.

[2] Roy B. Zuck, Teaching as Jesus Taught (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 46-47.

[3] James Morrison, A Practical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1892), 22. Cited in Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 144.

[4] Cited in Zuck, 49.