Monday, March 26, 2007

Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

Several years ago (2000), my good friend Tom Hayes, a gifted evangelist from Saluda, NC, and I visited Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA one weekday afternoon. Our purpose for going was our mutual admiration of the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice. He had died a few months prior to our visit there. We entered the church and asked if we might look around and take some pictures, which they allowed us to do. A very kind lady offered to show us to the sanctuary. As we began to talk about our esteem for Dr. Boice, this lady's eyes began to well up with tears. She said, "In case you are wondering why I am getting so emotional, my name is Linda Boice, Jim's wife." We shared a few moments of brief fellowship together with her, and she escorted us to Dr. Boice's office, which was still as he had left it. His personal assistant allowed us to peruse his books, and showed us inside of his desk the handwritten sermon outline of Dr. Boice's ordination charge, preached by Carl F. H. Henry. Tom and I left rejoicing at the tremendous blessing God had given us in that brief visit.

I was glad to know a few years later (2004) that the church's 175 year history had been published by Presbyterian and Reformed. I purchased two copies of the book and sent one of them to Tom as a remembrance of our visit to the church. Then I did what I do with most books I buy: I put it on the shelf and said, "I'll get around to that one day."

Next month, Bill Whitcomb and I will be travelling to Tenth for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. What better opportunity do I need to read the book? So, over a week or so, I have devoured the thing cover to cover. It was an absolute joy to read.

Why I loved this book:
1) I love guys who labor long in one place. Tenth Presbyterian has had a string of long term pastors (they are the norm rather than the exception) over their 175 year history, beginning with Dr. H. A. Boardman, and extending to notable pulpiteers Donald Grey Barnhouse and James Montgomery Boice.
2) All of Tenth's pastors have been gifted expository preachers. The church has developed such an appetite for biblical exposition that they EXPECT it of their pastor.
3) Tenth is an urban church which has refused to retreat to the relative security of the suburbs.
4) Tenth is continually developing new ministries to reach the multi-ethnic and variegatedly diverse community of Center City Philly.
5) Tenth is committed to excellence in worship, fueled by traditional God-exalting hymns rich in doctrine and great in heritage.
6) Tenth thrives today without buying into the lie that relevance is the most important thing a church can pursue. Their faithfulness to the gospel, to rich doctrine, to authentic worship, and to life-changing ministry is as relevant as it gets.

For all these reasons and more, I would recommend to you Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia: 175 Years of Thinking and Acting Biblically, edited by Philip Graham Ryken.

Why Did Jesus Choose Judas? Mark 3:19

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You may recall that about a year ago, the media was buzzing with the publication in English of “The Gospel of Judas.” Claiming to be a recent discovery, the document was actually discovered in 1970 near the banks of the Nile River. The craze stirred by The DaVinci Code and other books like it made the The Gospel of Judas an instant hit. This writing claims to contain records of secret conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. According to the document, Jesus was asking Judas to do Him a favor by betraying Him to those who would crucify Him, thus liberating Jesus from the confines of His physical body and freeing His spirit. This is the sort of dualism that is found in nearly all Gnostic writings. By dualism, we mean that mindset that views the physical as “bad” and the spiritual as “good.” This is not the Biblical worldview, for when God created this physical world, He declared it to be “very good.” Bart Ehrman of the UNC Religion Department writes in the forward to the Gospel of Judas: "This gospel was about the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and indicated that Judas didn't actually betray Jesus, but did what Jesus wanted him to do, because Judas was the one who really knew the truth, as Jesus wanted it communicated."

Well, that is a much different understanding than the New Testament accounts. While many claim that the Gnostic writings give us a glimpse of early Christianity, the fact is they give us a window into some of the earliest deviations from orthodox Christianity -- namely the Gnostic movement which has its roots in early departures from "the faith once delivered" combatted by the Apostle Paul in Colossians and John in most of his writings in the New Testament. "Full-blown" Gnosticism does not take shape until the middle of the Second Century, nearly 100 years after the writings of the eyewitnesses that we now have in the New Testament. The Gospel of Judas had surfaced in the time of Irenaeus, and he dismissed it immediately as heresy. This is significant because Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a personal acquaintance of the Apostle John, the last surviving apostle.

The Gospel of Judas was written at least 150 years after the alleged author died. This is typical of gnostic writings. They seek credibility by claiming authorship of those whose names are well known in the universally accepted canon of the New Testament. However, their origins are all much later than the deaths of those who are attributed authorship of the documents.

The Gnostic writings emphasize the attainment of esoteric, spiritual knowledge as the means of salvation. They differ from the New Testament teaching of salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Atonement and redemption from sin are nowhere mentioned in the Gospel of Judas, marking it as significantly divergent from the writings of the New Testament. Because of blatantly spurious authorship and deviant theology, the gnostic writings were rejected as they surfaced by the church at large. Contrary to the claims of The Da Vinci Code and other popular works which challenge Christian orthodoxy, there was no vote at the Council of Nicea to determine the Canon of the New Testament. The New Testament was "ratified" as the church received and recognized authentic writings of eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

It is believed that the Gospel of Judas has its roots in a branch of Gnosticism called the Cainites. They bear the name of Cain because of their practice of taking the characters of the Bible who are presented in a negative light, and attempting to redeem their reputations by painting them in heroic fashion. This is what they attempted to do with Judas, but it is easy to see that the picture they paint of Judas is greatly distorted from the accounts of the eyewitnesses found in the biblical Gospels. The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church has published the following comment on the media frenzy surrounding the Gospel of Judas, characterizing it as "non-Christian babbling resulting from a group of people trying to create a false ‘amalgam’ between the Greek mythology and Far East religions with Christianity. They were written by a group of people who were aliens to the main Christian stream of the early Christianity. These texts are neither reliable nor accurate Christian texts, as they are historically and logically alien to the main Christian thinking and philosophy of the early and present Christians."

So if we want to know about Judas Iscariot, it seems we are much better off turning to the eyewitness historical documents of the New Testament rather than fantastical writings of subsequent generations. As we view the New Testament lists of the twelve whom Jesus chose, we find that Judas Iscariot is always named last, and always identified as the one who would betray Jesus.

It was no hasty decision on the part of Jesus when He selected these twelve. Luke 6:12-13 tells us that he prayed all night long about this matter. This is much different than the way most churches select those who will serve in various ministries. Often times, a person with a clipboard walks around looking for whoever is willing to take on the job. But Jesus spent a whole night in prayer before hand-picking twelve from a multitude of followers who would become His apostles. And yet, one of the twelve would turn out to be a bad egg. Did He not see it coming? Did He not pray enough? Did He make a bad choice? Why did He choose Judas?

We might be tempted to see the betrayal of Jesus as something unexpected – a turn of events that caught Jesus by surprise. Did Jesus know that Judas would betray Him? What does the Bible say? In John 6:64, Jesus said, “But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” Again, in the same chapter, verses 70-71, “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” Later in John’s Gospel, Chapter 13, verses 10 and 11, Jesus said to Peter, “ … ‘You are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” So three times, John tells us He knew, He knew, He knew. He knew that Judas was going to betray Him, so the question arises: “Why did Jesus choose Judas?”

I. Jesus Chose Judas to Fulfill Scripture.

In the High Priestly Prayer of John 17, Jesus said, “I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” Peter said the same thing in Acts 1:16, saying, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” This Scripture to which both Jesus and Peter refer is Psalm 41:9. There, we read these words: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Judas was close to Jesus. He spent every moment of every day with Him for three years. Judas was entrusted with responsibility—he was the treasurer of the apostles. At the last supper, they shared bread together, and then Judas lifted up his heel against Jesus—a heel, I remind you, that Jesus had just washed. In John 13:18, Jesus warned His disciples what was getting ready to happen, referring to Psalm 41:9 and saying, “He who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”

Lest we be tempted to say that God made Judas betray Jesus, we must understand that God’s foreknowledge of a thing does not rule out human responsibility. Judas had a choice – he did not have to betray Jesus. But he chose to do so, and God knew He would from the beginning. Your decisions never surprise God. He is all-knowing. Nonetheless, our bad decisions disappoint God because He does not want to see us throw our lives away in sin. He wants us to live for His glory, and when we fail to do that, even though He knows we will, it grieves the Father’s heart. We sin because we choose our own way over God’s way. Judas made a choice. But God knew that he would, foretold it in Scripture, and it was fulfilled.

II. Jesus chose Judas to prove the deity of Christ.

Did Abraham Lincoln know that John Wilkes Booth would assassinate him at Ford’s Theater? Did John Kennedy know that he would be shot driving through downtown Dallas? Did Martin Luther King, Jr. know that James Earl Ray would kill him? The obvious answer to all these questions is NO. Now, did Jesus Christ know that Judas Iscariot would betray Him over to death? Yes He did. Turn over to John 13:19. Here you will read Jesus saying, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.”

If you are looking at an English translation of the Bible you will notice something different about the word He. What is it? It is in italics. Whenever our English Bibles have something in italics, it means that the word does not occur in the Greek manuscripts, but has been supplied by the translators to smooth out the reading of the text. So, what do you have left when you take the italicized He away? “You may believe that I am.” This Greek construction, ego eimi, is spoken by Jesus 25 times in the Gospel of John. Each time it is a declaration of His divine nature. You recall in Exodus 3 that when Moses said to God, “Whom shall I say sent me?”, God said, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”

Jesus Christ’s foreknowledge of what Judas was going to do, and His pronouncement of it in advance boldly declares to us that He is God. He is the all-knowing one who knows the end from the beginning. In Isaiah 46:9-10, God says, “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” This all-knowing God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and chose Judas Iscariot to prove Himself to the world.

III. Jesus chose Judas to encourage future generations of Christians.

Jesus Christ knew when He chose Judas that Judas was going to betray Him. And certainly He knew that in future generations there would those who were involved in church, even leaders in the church, who would fall away. Often when that happens, Christians become discouraged, fall out of fellowship with the church, and even lose total interest in the Christian faith. But what happened to the other eleven disciples when Judas fell away? They remained faithful. Early in the book of Acts we read that they were together in one accord. One bad apple does not have to spoil the whole bunch. People will disappoint you, even people you look up to in the church. Some are genuinely saved and fail the Lord terribly; others are not saved, but have only pretended to be. But you have known some undoubtedly who for one reason or the other have drifted away from faithfully walking with Christ. But Jesus never said for us to follow each other; He said, “Follow Me.”

We cannot let the failure of others lead us away from following Jesus. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-5, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” This is a wise admonition, and one we can learn from the example of Judas Iscariot. In spite of his miserable failure, others remained faithful. In spite of what you see others doing, you can stay faithful to Christ also.

IV. Jesus chose Judas to provide us with a warning.

We discussed this last Sunday, but it bears repeating. Judas was involved in the service of the Lord. He held a position of responsibility among the apostles, but he was not saved. This is a warning to us that church membership, church attendance, and church involvement will not save us. The only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. You know what Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We will not impress God with how much we can do for Him unless first we have allowed Him to do something for us – namely, save us from our sins.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” It is not my desire to stir up doubt in the heart of any born-again Christian. However, there are worse things than doubt. False assurance is infinitely worse than doubting your salvation. So do not be afraid to do a spiritual inventory of your life and ask yourselves some hard questions. Has there come a point in your life when you have turned from sin and called upon Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? If not, then on what basis do you claim to have eternal life? Peter said in Acts 4:12 that salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Jesus Christ alone is our only hope for being made right with God.

If you examine yourself and say, “I remember praying a prayer of commitment to Christ at some point,” then perhaps another question is in order: Has your life changed since that time? Has God given you a desire to obey Him and a sincere love for other Christians? First John says that these two things are the marks of a genuine Christian. And if they are not present in your life, you have to wonder if your commitment to Christ was sincere.

What if you examine yourself and find that you are not saved? Then you thank God that He allowed you to see that before it was too late, and you turn from sin and self to Jesus Christ by faith and repentance, calling upon Him as Savior, and surrendering to Him as Lord, and commit to live for Him the rest of your days. Judas Iscariot never did that. He perished because He had never truly given Himself to Jesus. He stands as a warning to all of us.

V. Jesus chose Judas in order that we might have Judas’s testimony.

Anyone can say kind words and speak of the greatness of their dearest friends. But the testimony of an enemy carries a unique kind of credibility. After betraying the Lord and handing Him over to death, Judas ran to the high priests, threw their money back at their feet and said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4). Judas had been with Jesus every waking moment for three years. If Jesus had sinned, Judas would have known about it. If He deserved to endure the punishment and death of the cross, Judas could have been proud to have handed Him over. But his testimony reveals that he had not acted justly. He betrayed innocent blood.

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. The Bible also says that Jesus Christ never committed any sin. In John 8:46, Jesus called out to His opposers, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” Judas called Him innocent. Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him.” Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. First John 3:5 says that in Him there is no Sin. So if the wages of sin is death, then why did Jesus die? He died for sin, but not for His own. By virtue of His sinless life, He was able to lay His life down for ours, taking upon Himself the punishment that our sins deserve. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The testimony of Judas Iscariot proclaims this truth, as he says within the shadow of the cross, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”

In John 15:16, Jesus said to the twelve, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” So why did He choose Judas? We have seen a fivefold answer to this question found in the Scriptures. But now there a more difficult question to ask. As you contemplate God’s purpose for choosing Judas, ask this question: “Why did Jesus choose me?” Surely He does not need another betrayer. He chose you to know Him intimately, to serve Him faithfully, and to proclaim Him boldly. “You did not choose Me,” He said, “but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit.” Are you bearing fruit for Him through your faith and your life for Christ?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

"The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body."

This week, I have been unpacking some books that I had stored away since May of 2003. My shelves in my study were already full, so I had to build a contraption to store them all. I call it a "contraption" because to call it a shelf is to sell it short. It is five sheets of 4' x 8' MDF stacked with cinderblocks. Books will line the outside of each board, and be stacked up in the center part of the boards. Meanwhile, it is utter chaos in my study. Below is a picture of the madness as I sort through, shelve, and reshelve nearly 6,000 volumes. Maddenning as it is, it is wonderful to have them out of storage and available for use again. I will try to post a "finished" version of the picture when I get done. It could be a while.

New Audio Downloads Available

We are in what you might call "beta" trials of posting MP3 files of each Sunday morning message here at Immanuel. The first one is available for download at

We hope to tweak out the sound quality issues and make the process user friendly and even looking into podcasting. These developments will take place over the next few months, but in the meantime, available messages can be found at

My thanks to Ron Chandler, Dan Vaughan, and Leilani Roughton for their help in providing this feature.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Snapshot of the Church (Part III): Mark 3:16-19

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In his book Quiet Talks on Service, S. D. Gordon tells of an imaginary conversation that takes place in heaven after Jesus returned there following His death and resurrection. Gordon imagines that Jesus is welcomed home by the angel Gabriel, who asks, “Master, You died for the world, did You not?” Jesus says, “Yes.” And so Gabriel continues, “Do they all know that You died for them?” And Jesus says, “No, only a few in Palestine know about it so far.” So Gabriel asks again, “Well then, what is Your plan for telling the rest of the world?” And to this Jesus answers, “I asked Peter and James and John and Andrew, and a few others if they would make it the business of their lives to tell others. And then the ones that they tell could tell others, and they in turn could tell still others, and finally it would reach the farthest corner of the earth.” Astounded, Gabriel says, “But suppose Peter fails? And suppose after a while John just doesn’t tell anyone? And what if James and Andrew are ashamed and afraid? Then what?” And S. D. Gordon envisions the Lord Jesus saying, “I have no other plans. I am counting entirely on them.”

That is a lot of pressure on a group of former fishermen, a reformed tax-collector, a converted political activist, and a handful of others. But by and large, they lived up to the task, and turned the world upside down for Jesus. We have studied them, name by name, person by person, and seen that they are a sort of snapshot of the church. For still today, we have many in the service of Christ who are like Peter, like Andrew, like Matthew, like Bartholomew, and the rest. We have seen that each one had certain traits that we want to see replicated in our own lives, and each of them also were subject to certain snares, and we learn from them hopefully to avoid their mistakes. We have examined them according to their groupings. In each list of the New Testament, Peter is always listed first, followed by James, Andrew and John, though their names are not always found in the same order. Philip is always listed fifth, and followed by Bartholomew (Nathanael), Matthew and Thomas, in varying orders. Ninth on every list is James the son of Alphaeus, also called James the Less. He is always followed by Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. This is the fourth group of three, and with the exception of Judas Iscariot, we know the least about these. But, as we examine them today, we will uncover what we do know and learn important lessons from each of them as well.

IX. James the Son of Alphaeus: The Silent Servant

In Mark 15:40 we will find this one referred to as James the Less. The Greek word there is mikros. We know that word – micro means something small. Here it could be a reference to his small stature or to his young age. It may also be a reference to his influence, for we know a great deal LESS about this James than either of the other two Jameses who are prominent in the New Testament. One was the brother of John, son of Zebedee, with whom we have already dealt; the other was the half-brother of Jesus, who wrote the New Testament Epistle of James. Don’t confuse those two with this one – James the Less, who is so called either because of his age, his stature, his influence or some combination of these factors.

Surprisingly, we know more about his family than we do about him. We know his father’s name: Alphaeus. We know his brothers’ names. You recall that in Mark 2:14, Levi (also known as Matthew) was called a son of Alphaeus. This means that these two could have been brothers. Also, it appears from Mark 15:40 that he had another brother named Joses. The same verse tells us that his mother’s name was Mary. It is interesting that John 19:25 names the women at the cross as the mother of Jesus, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. If this Mary the wife of Clopas is the same Mary as James’ mother, then Clopas may be an alternate name for Alphaeus, or else perhaps Alphaeus died and she remarried to Clopas. Another interesting thing about that verse (John 19:25) is the phrase, “His mother’s sister.” It could very well be that the phrase “His mother’s sister” applies attributively to “Mary the wife of Clopas,” and if this is true, then James the Less would be Jesus’ cousin. That is speculative, but remains a possibility.

Now here is a good time for me to chase a rabbit. Some of you may be aware of the recent so-called documentary produced for the Discovery Channel by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici claiming that the family tomb of Jesus, including the tomb of Jesus Himself has been found in Jerusalem. And the remarkable thing of it all is that the supposed tomb of Jesus contains His bones. Well, what are we to make of it? We cannot simply ignore the claim. If the bones of Jesus are found, then Christianity is a hoax and we have been wasting a lot of time over 2000 years of Church history. If these claims are true, then we need to just shut down and move on with our lives. So what do we say to it all? Well, first we say that this is not a “new discovery.” This tomb was found in 1980, and was outrightly dismissed by the entire academic community. The only reason that the thing is remotely of interest today is because of the craze of interest in debunking Christianity that has been throttled in recent years by the popularity of The Da Vinci Code. Secondly, we say that it would make no sense for the family tomb of Jesus to be found in Jerusalem. They had lived their entire lives mostly in Nazareth, and that is where we would expect the family to be buried. Thirdly, the entire claim of this documentary rests on the occurrence of names. The names on the ossuaries in this tomb are Joseph, Mary, Jesus the son of Joseph, another Mary (who is claimed by the documentary to be Mary Magdalene), Judah the son of Jesus, and Matthew. And the makers of this film claim that by virtue of statistical analysis, this must be the family of Jesus the Christ. However, as we have seen in going through the names of the apostles, it was not uncommon for men to have more than one name; and as we see just in the simple study of the family ties of James the Less, many men and women in the first century Jewish world had the same names. There is a terrible lack of originality involved in the naming of sons and daughters. In fact, a more accurate statistical analysis would reveal that Joseph, Judah, Jesus, and Matthew are four of the top nine most popular names among Hebrew men in that day and time. Mary is far and away the most popular female name. In the family of Jesus and in the family of James the Less, we find many of the same names, standing in the same relationship to one another. So it should be no surprise to us that we would find others with the same names in the same relationships as well. If you are interested in reading more thorough debunkings of the tomb documentary, I can point you to those at another time. As for me, I remain convinced that Jesus rose from the dead and we will celebrate that as an authentic historical fact not too many days from now.

Now, back to James the Less. We have said all we know about him. There are no recorded words or deeds about him in the New Testament. But that is not to say that he never said or did anything of importance. It is just that whatever he said or did has gone unnoticed. He was one of many soldiers of Christ who has served in silence. He was a listener more than a talker; a follower more than a leader, just like some are in the church today.

In church life, things get done. We don’t always know who did them, but they get done by silent servants who prefer to go unnoticed, to remain behind the scenes, content that God knows what they have done for Him and for His church. To the eyes of onlookers, someone may appear to be nothing more than a pew-potato, but in fact, they may be doing more for the kindom than anyone else. Their deeds may go unrecorded by man, but they will not be unrewarded by God. When we get to heaven, we will see foundation stones on the walls of that city, and on them we will see the names of Peter, and John, and Matthew, and we will see one that says, “James the son of Alphaeus.”

So let this be of encouragement to you if you are one of the many silent servants. You are beautiful, and God is using you in His church, even if no one else knows about it.

X. Thaddaeus: The Inquisitive One

Thaddaeus goes by two other names: Lebbaeus and Judas. He was known among the church fathers as “Trinomius,” or “the one with three names.” Judas was likely the name given to him at birth. It is a good name. It means “Jehovah Leads.” Unfortunately, when we hear the name “Judas” we instantly think of Judas Iscariot, but John is careful to refer to this one as “Judas (not Iscariot).” The name Thaddaeus means “breast child,” perhaps indicating he was the youngest of his family, or maybe that he was what some might call a “mama’s boy.” Lebbaeus means “heart child,” indicating perhaps that he had a tender and compassionate heart.

Thaddaeus is unknown to us in Scripture apart from one question that he asked the Lord. In John 14:21, Jesus says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” And then Thaddaeus, this non-Iscariot Judas, says, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?” He wasn’t protesting or doubting; he was just asking a “Why” question. I love asking “why” questions. They are like fertilizer for our souls. As we wrestle with them, we find answers that strengthen our faith.

But Jesus did not give a direct answer. Rather, He said to Thaddaeus, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.” So the answer to Thaddaeus’s question was found in the love of God, the Word of God, and a relationship with God. In fact, all of our answers are found there also. When we ask “Why?”, we will find the answer in God’s love, in God’s word, and in our relationship to Him.

I am thankful for those in the church who ask the “why” questions. They keep us on our toes and in our Bibles. They keep our doctrine pure and our practices biblical. So if you are one to ask “Why?” keep asking. Keep seeking those answers and requiring others to do so as well. We will all benefit from being directed to God’s love, to God’s word, and to our relationship with Him.

XI. Simon the Zealot: The Activist

Some of the translations refer to him as Simon the Canaanite, but this is a mistake. The Greek word Kananaios refers not to the area of Canaan or the city of Cana, but to the Hebew word qanni, meaning zealous. It was a proper label for a patriotic group of radical Jews in the first century known as the Zealots. They were fed up with the Roman occupation of Israel, and they wanted a revolt and they wanted it yesterday. They worked aggressively to overthrow the Romans by whatever means necessary, including acts of terror and violence. They assassinated Roman soldiers, political leaders, and anyone else who stood in their way. Josephus describes them as the sicarii, “the people who carry daggers,” because they had devised an expert way of sneaking up behind someone and stabbing them through the back into the heart.

This is the group that Simon was involved with before he met Jesus. But meeting Jesus, he was transformed. How do I know that? After all Scripture doesn’t say anything else about him. Well, we know that one of the arch-enemies of the Zealots would have been the Roman tax-collectors. But in the family of Christ, Simon the Zealot was a brother to Matthew, who had been a tax-collector. But now they coexisted, and co-labored, held together by the bond of Christ’s love. Yet it is interesting that he still bore the name Zealot. Certainly, he parted ways with political activism for nationalistic liberation, but he did not lose that sharp edge of zeal. He became part of a different revolution – one that struck deeper than government or society. It was a revolution of the heart. Simon learned that apart from the change of the heart, which is only possible through Christ, there could be no change in the nation.

And so he reminds us of those who are activists in the church today. They inform us about the causes. The speak out for God with the plumbline of social justice and call us to action. But they are not like those in our day who are seeking to bomb abortion clinics or press for congressional legislation. Rather they are those who have become convinced that our only hope is the gospel, and as souls are converted under the gospel, lives are changed. And as lives are changed, societies are changed. And as societies are changed, the world is changed. And the change is slow, gradual, and certain, as it takes place through individuals coming under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Zealots of the church today are not those who are calling for us to save America, but those who are leading the evangelistic charge to save Americans, one by one. They have come to realize that the Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One, but in human hearts as individuals come to know Christ as Savior and Lord. That is zealous, its radical, and the folks who are doing this work in our day will keep us informed of the issues, and they will keep focused on the only solution – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

XII. Judas Iscariot: The Apostate

In every list of the twelve, Judas Iscariot occurs last. Forty verses of the New Testament speak of his betrayal of the Lord. It may surprise you, but I am not going to say much about Judas today. I am going to say A LOT about him next week. I will just say this. He is a reminder to us that a person can be involved in the church, hold a position in the church (he was the treasurer!), be concerned about the affairs of the church, and still be lost. This is an apostate. An apostate is a pretender – one who pretends to be a Christian, and looks the part by all outward appearances, but in reality is not. I believe that many churches have been ripped apart because of the actions and attitudes of the apostates in their midst.

Some people want to look at Judas Iscariot and find some redeeming thing to say. They took their mama’s advice: if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. I got that advice too. I apply it selectively, and this is not one of those cases. If the Scriptures were silent about the fate of Judas Iscariot, then I would be too. But the Scriptures speak. Jesus Himself said in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” It is as plain as it could be: Judas is a son of perdition – Luther said that it means “lost child.” And he perished. Jesus said so Himself. What does it mean to perish? What does John 3:16 say: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Perishing is the opposite of having eternal life. And Judas perished because in spite of his proximity to the things of Christ, and in spite of his activity in the service of Christ, he did not believe upon Christ for salvation. Jesus said in Luke 21:22, “Woe to that man,” and in John 6 referred to him as a devil.

Judas will forever stand as a reminder that there will be those in our midst who, in spite of all external appearances and activities, are lost. He reminds us that attendance and involvement will not save us. Only a personal relationship with Christ by faith will. The best I can tell, Judas never called Jesus “Lord.” He refers to him always as “Rabbi.” As long as Jesus is merely a good teacher to you, you stand outside of His salvation. Eternal life comes to those who surrender to Him as Lord, and Judas never did. If you don’t confess Him as Savior and Lord, you will not have eternal life, but will perish. Just like Judas Iscariot. So, if you look at Judas and say, “I am pretending,” then there is still hope – there is still opportunity for you to come to Christ and confess Him as Lord and Savior and be saved.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

If you want to know ...

... what I think of the hype about the Jesus family tomb as seen on Discovery Channel, I would refer you to Denny Burk's compilation on the issue. Find it here.

As with James Cameron's other notable piece of work, this one will to sink too.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Snapshot of the Church (Part II): Mark 3:16-19

Last week, we went to an event where the featured speaker was Alan Williams. Alan is the author of the book Walk On, about his experiences playing basketball at Wake Forest. Well, that is not entirely true. Alan Williams was on the team, but rarely did he ever actually play. In fact, at the end of a four year college career, after 120 games in a Wake Forest uniform, Alan had only seen 59 minutes of playing time (an average of less than 30 seconds per game); he scored 28 points, had 6 assists and 9 rebounds. That looks more like the stats for a top player for one game. But Alan Williams learned a lot about life by spending time on the end of the bench.

You may recall that we noted several similarities between the four lists of the twelve in New Testament. Namely, because of the arrangement of names, it seems that the twelve were grouped together in three groups of four. Peter’s name is always listed first, and beneath him are always Andrew, James, and John. The members of this group are always with Jesus at significant moments. The second group of four includes Philip (whose name is always listed fifth), Bartholomew (who is also known as Nathanael), Matthew, and Thomas. These guys are the second string, if you will. They miss out on some of the action that the inner circle experiences, but they are still an integral part of the team. And there is no doubt that as they walked with Christ, their lives were changed, even though they spent a lot of time “on the bench.”

V. Philip: The Practical One

There are two men named Philip in the New Testament. One is this disciple, and the other is a deacon we encounter first in Acts 6. The Philip here, the apostle, would be nothing but a name to us if it weren’t for the Gospel of John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all silent about any details of his life. But John gives us enough information about him for us to know that he was unique among the other eleven. He was the practical thinker of the bunch.

Philip wasn’t looking for Jesus. John tells us that Jesus purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Many of us could say the same. We weren’t out looking for Christ, but He found us and beckoned us to follow Him. Philip was a practical man, so Jesus gave him a practical calling. He did not say “believe in Me,” but “follow Me.” And Philip did just that.

We find Philip with Jesus at the scene of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” He had already calculated the size of the crowd, the cost of the bread, the balance on hand, and the impossibility of feeding them. But the Lord taught him on that day that pragmatism can only go so far. Practical thinking is a good thing, but it has its limitations. We must leave room in our practical reasoning for spiritual realities that are incalculable. But Philip did not quite learn the lesson fully on that day.

The last time we see Philip, he is in the upper room with Jesus and the rest of the twelve. After hearing Jesus talk about going to be with the Father and preparing a place for them, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” It is interesting that in both passages about him in John’s Gospel we find this same notion of something being “Enough.” “Two hundred denarii are not enough.” “Show us the Father, and it is enough.” Practical thinkers have a hard time with spiritual truth. They are like people from Missouri – “Show Me” they say. It is interesting that when Philip told Nathanael about Jesus, he said, “Come and see.” Practical thinkers are into seeing and showing. “Lord,” he says, “Show us the Father.” But Jesus responded to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” He challenges Philip to move from seeing to believing, to walk by faith and not only by sight.

Surely today there are still some in the church like Philip. They are so practical in their thinking that sometimes they have a hard time seeing the unseen, believing in those realities which are not tangible or calculable. They want to measure things in terms of dollars and cents, head-counts, square-footage, and the like. And thank God for them. We need folks to bring these things to our attention on a regular basis. But they need others to keep their focus balanced. They need those who are of great faith, who are able to say, “We must trust the Lord to provide!” and “Where two or three are gathered, Christ is in our midst!” and “The Lord of heaven and earth does not dwell in temples made with hands!” and “set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

VI. Bartholomew: The Transparent One

Bartholomew is also known as Nathanael. The name Bartholomew means “Son of Tolmai.” So, it is sort of a “last name,” like Simon Bar-Jonah, so Nathanael Bar-Tolmai. I call him, “The Transparent One,” because he is the kind of fellow that you never have to wonder what he’s thinking. He has likely never had a thought that didn’t cross his lips. I think most of us have a sort of filter that stops things between the mind and the mouth. I wish mine worked better. But some people just don’t have that filter. When Jesus met him, he said, “Behold, and Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.” In other words, he has no tricks up his sleeves. He tells it like it is, and you always what he’s thinking and where you stand with him.

When Philip came to Nathanael, he said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote.” Apparently Nathanael was well versed in the Scriptures and knew immediately that Philip meant the Messiah. This is one of the many passages to refute those who say that there are no clear Messianic prophecies in the Law and the Prophets. Philip continued, “Jesus us Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” To this, Nathanael replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good from there?” He had studied the Scriptures. He knew that Bethlehem was to be the homeplace of Messiah, not Nazareth. He didn’t know that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. He was called Jesus of Nazareth because that is where he had spent most of his life. And besides this, Nazareth had a reputation. It was a rough, unrefined town with many uneducated people in it. It was not the most picturesque place in the region. Everyone in Judea looked down on Galilee, but all of Galilee looked down on Nazareth. So Nathanael, or Bartholomew, gives voice to what everyone else was probably thinking but was afraid to say – “How can Messiah come from Nazareth? It’s the armpit of Israel!” No filter, you see.

When Jesus met Bartholomew and called him an Israelite in whom is no deceit, Nathanael responded by saying, “How do you know me?” We might rephrase that as a modern day person with no filter would say it – “You don’t know me!” But Jesus did know him. He said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” The fig tree was often used as a nationalistic symbol of Israel. As such, many devout Jews viewed the fig tree as an ideal place of devotion. There they would go to sit alone and pray. So, who would have known that Nathanael had been there at the fig tree? After all, he had been alone with God. And when it dawned on Nathanael that this God was standing in his presence now in the person of Messiah Jesus, he says, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” As boldly and confidently as he had asserted his views about Nazareth, he proclaims his faith in Christ.

You have to love this guy. He speaks his mind. He isn’t out to deceive anyone – he tells you exactly what he’s thinking. The church still has folks like this. It can be a good thing. Often we don’t know how to take these folks, and we get offended at their transparent and brutal honesty. But there is no need for offense. Rather we should appreciate the fact that these folks speak their minds rather than smiling to our face and deceitfully saying something else behind our backs. I have learned to appreciate Nathaniels who say things that are sometimes hurtful, but are always transparent. They help us to see things as they are.

VII. Matthew: The One With a Past

Matthew was introduced to us in Mark 2 as Levi. In that passage, he is called a son of Alphaeus, which leads us to believe that he has a brother who one of the twelve also, James the Son of Alphaeus, or James the Less. Matthew was of the tribe of Levi. They were the priestly tribe. They were to be the rabbis, the worship leaders, the servants of God among the people. But Matthew had chosen a different road to travel. In spite of the traditions and heritage that had been handed down to him as a member of this special family of Israelites, it seems that Matthew followed a love of money. We are introduced to him as a tax-collector. As such, he would have volunteered his services to the oppressive Roman government and prospered financially by overtaxing his own Jewish kinsmen. Because of this, they were among the most hated people in Israel. They were viewed as traitors and extortionists.

Jesus confronted Matthew at the tax booth, and called him to follow. Now one might think that a guy like Matthew would make for a good treasurer – a financier for the fledgling followers of Christ. But that is not the case. In fact, Judas Iscariot was the keeper of the money box (and we are even told that he used to pilfer it). When faced with the demand to pay a temple tax, Jesus didn’t ask Matthew to find a loophole or to pull any strings. Instead He sent Peter to go catch a fish, and in the fish’s mouth was the money to pay the tax. Why would Jesus not use Matthew? Because this tax-collecting was part of his past, a part that he was ashamed of, and a part that he had been cleansed from. Once he left the tax booth to follow Jesus, we never find his name associated with money again. Instead, he became a sort of historian for the apostles. He gives us the longest account of the life of Christ, with well over half of his gospel containing the very words of Christ. And his Gospel is written from the perspective of a faithful Jew, evidence of a life-change that took place as he encountered Jesus.

You might have a past that you are ashamed of too. Many of us do in fact. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus can never use us. He will transform us, cleanse us of the sins of our past, and never bring it up again. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” If it’s in the past, leave it there. Don’t bring it up again, because Christ doesn’t intend to bring it up anymore either.

VII. Thomas: The Skeptic

Three times in the Gospel of John we read that Thomas was also called “Didymus,” a word meaning “twin.” Apparently he had a twin sibling, but we are never told anything about that twin in Scripture. In fact, we are told surprisingly little about Thomas. We have given him a nickname that is not found in Scripture – what is it? Doubting Thomas. But I think that is a little bit of an unfair assessment of him. He wasn’t so much of a doubter as he was a skeptic. There is a difference. It depends on where you are in relation to the evidence. A skeptic is someone who doesn’t believe because they haven’t seen the evidence. A doubter is someone who doesn’t believe even though they have seen the evidence. Thomas was a skeptic. It was a part of who he was.

We find Thomas in John 11, where Jesus is informed about Lazarus falling ill. After a while, Jesus says to the twelve, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples weren’t too crazy about that idea because the last time they were there, the people tried to stone Jesus. When Jesus insisted on going, Thomas spoke up and said, “Let us also go.” But it wasn’t a confident, cheerful, encouraging pep talk he was giving. What he said was, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” Now, I had this professor in seminary who said that a friend of his had worked for a major technology company as an engineer, and that they had discovered that silicone can “store up” sound. Now I don’t remember all the specifics about how he said this happened, but the idea was that if there was a way to “play” silicone particles found in rocks or sand, we might be able to hear recordings of sounds that had occurred before. But I think they gave up on the project because they could not find a way to play back the silicone. That’s a shame, because I’d really like to hear a recording Thomas saying this, simply because I think it would sound like Eeyore. Have you ever heard Eeyore? That is how I think Thomas would sound. “Come one everyone, let’s go die.” Where was the faith that looks at this situation and sees the glory of God on display? All he sees is the worst case scenario. But what happened? They did not join Lazarus in death, but Lazarus joined them in life and the glory of Christ was made manifest through this miraculous event.

Thomas was an outspoken pessimist. We see this in John 14 in the upper room. After Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you,” He also said, “You know the way where I am going.” Now this is where you need a picture Bible. Because what you would see in a picture Bible here is the twelve looking like a freshman philosophy class who has just had their mind blown but doesn’t want to admit it. So, they nod their heads as in agreement and scratch their chins, and say, “Ah. yes.” But meanwhile inside they are all saying, “What on earth is He talking about?” Well, Thomas is not that way. he just speaks up and says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?” And I think meanwhile the rest of the guys are thinking, “Whew! I’m glad he asked that.” Now, we may criticize Thomas and say, “Look at that doubter, speaking out with such lack of faith.” But we ought to be glad that some skeptics ask hard questions, because it is from them that we get to learn important answers. If Thomas had not asked this question in John 14:5, then we may not have the important response of Jesus in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Of course the most famous chapter of Thomas’s life comes after the Cross, and after all the rest of the disciples had already seen the risen Lord. One has to wonder why Thomas wasn’t with them when they saw Jesus. Perhaps he was off somewhere sulking like Eeyore: “They’ve killed him. I tried to tell him to stay away from this place, but He wouldn’t listen. So they killed him. He is dead.” Maybe he was using the same excuses people use today to avoid being in church. Who wants to be around a bunch of hypocrites? It is more important for me to rest. I need to spend some time with my twin brother. And so on. Whatever the case, when they finally told Thomas that they had seen the risen Lord, Thomas’s response is typical: “Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And it wasn’t long after that, he got just what he asked for. And when he saw the evidence, he pronounced, “My Lord and my God!” The skeptic was convinced. And tradition tells us that Thomas went on to be a bold preacher and defender of the faith, and died the death of a martyr.

It is said that when Robert Fulton invented the steamboat, that skeptics stood on the banks of the river and shouted, “You’ll never get it started.” But once that boat got moving under all that steam power, they began to shout, “You’ll never get it stopped.” I really don’t think that story is true, but it reveals the nature of pessimists, skeptics and doubters. They sit back and wait for someone to raise a balloon of hope, just so they can take aim and shoot it down. But if, like Thomas, they can ever become convinced, they will be deeply committed and unwavering in their allegiance to truth. Like that steamboat, they are hard to get started, but once they do, they are near impossible to get stopped.

Now, as I said last week, the easy thing to do as we listen to descriptions about these twelve disciples of Jesus is to think about all the ways other people are like them. But the more important question is, “How am I like these men? How can I be more like them? How might I need to be less like them?” Perhaps today, you recognize that you are like Philip – a very reasonable and practical thinker. A very good thing, but do you find yourself blinded to spiritual realities that are just as true and real as tangible objects and quantifiable measurements? Ask God to help you today to see the unseen, without losing sight of that practical wisdom that helps to guide us all.

Or it may be the case that you are like Matthew. You have a past that looms behind you causing you much shame. But rather than allowing that to paralyze you from serving God, allow Him to take it and cleanse you and put you into His service in new and different ways. No matter what you have done in the past, if you will come to Christ here in the present, He can make something glorious of your future, just like He did for Matthew.

Are you like Bartholomew? Do you always speak your mind? If so, that can be a very good thing, but perhaps you need to ask the Lord to temper you with His grace so that your words are not hurtful to others and so that you make careful, sound judgments before speaking out hastily.

Or are you like Thomas? Do you find yourself saying, “Every silver lining has a dark cloud.” Pessimistic, skeptical, always needing evidence to be convinced. That is not always bad. You will be the last one to fall for deception. But you may also be the last one to accept the truth too. Ask God to give you discernment and wisdom, to help you anchor your confidence in Christ so that you can enjoy the hope that He has secured for us.

As different as each of these men are, they have some things in common. One is that they were all lost and separated from God because of their sins. Another is that by turning their lives over to Jesus Christ, they encountered God’s love and grace, and found forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. And you can be like them in this as well. Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross to receive the punishment that you and I deserve for our sins, and He has risen from the dead in victory. If you will turn from sin and trust in Him today, you can be transformed just as these individuals were 2000 years ago. Jesus Christ is still in the business of changing lives, so you can let Him change yours today.