Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Genetic Fallacy and Leavening the Whole Lump

In the realm of critical thinking, one learns to spot fallacies. One of them is called "the genetic fallacy," and refers to discounting something because its origins are questionable. An example would be something like this: "Christians should not use electricity because it was discovered by Ben Franklin, and he was a Deist," or "Christians should not use the internet because it was invented by Al Gore." While we usually are right to recognize the genetic fallacy as a crippling point of an argument, there is also a scriptural truth with which we must wrestle. The Bible does teach that a little leaven spreads through the whole lump. I will let you decide for yourself whether the following article is a case of the genetic fallacy or the leavening of the whole lump. See Slate Magazine's article, "The freaky origins of Christian rock."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Statement on a Statement about a Statement

I have been asked by several people to respond to the Vatican statement that declares that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. It's old news now, but my attention has needed to be elsewhere in the last few weeks. My response to the statement is brief. I'm not surprised at the statement, but I am surprised at their willingness to voice it. The fact is that this has always been the belief of the Catholic church, but post-Vatican II, no one really wanted to say it. I have great respect for Pope Benedict XVI, not because I agree with him (in this case and in many others, I vehemently disagree with him), but rather because I appreciate his willingness to take unpopular stands for what he believes is the true doctrine of his religion. I wish that more evangelicals had that courage. I am not offended by the statement, I expect the statement because of what I know about Catholic doctrine. Frankly I do not concern myself with the opinions of those who do not base their sole authority in the Scriptures alone (and the Catholic Church does not). Unless one can take a Bible and show us from it that we are not a true church, I don't worry what anyone else thinks. What does offend me slightly is that when the Pope spoke negatively toward Mohammed several months back, there was much back-peddling and apologizing and CYP (that's "Cover Your Papacy"). But for the Catholic church to speak negatively toward protestants and evangelicals is completely permissible, with no apologies necessary. It is, as one friend said, "because he knows we won't come bomb the Vatican."

For further response to the Catholic Church statement, see Al Mohler's statement, found by clicking here. For now this brings to a close my statement on Dr. Mohler's statement about the Catholic Church statement. If you would like to make a statement on my statement about his statement about their statement, you may do so in the comment section. But please bear in mind that when you make a statement on my statement about his statement about their statement, that I or someone else may make a statement about your statement about my statement on his statement about their statement. This ends my statement.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Guide for Worship and Doctrine: A

Following is the first draft of the "A" section of the forthcoming "Guide for Worship and Doctrine," a glossary of liturgical, biblical and theological terms. I post it here with hopes that it will be beneficial to some who happen upon it, and that I might receive some constructive feedback on it. Please comment with spelling/grammar corrections, and to suggest words I have not included, or to suggest eliminating some of the words I have included. Also, it would be helpful for me to know if the descriptions are too vague, too thorough, or too difficult to understand. In case you missed my "preface" to the project, it is an expansion of a guide produced by Immanuel's former pastor, Dr. Jim Jarrard. I have used the following sources in the process: New International Dictionary of the Christian Church; the IVP "Pocket Dictionaries" of Theological Terms, Biblical Studies, and Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion; and www.theopedia.com. Without further ado, here are the "A"s.

Advent: A word meaning “coming”. The season of Advent stands at the head of the Christian Year, marking both our celebration of Christ’s first coming and our expectation of His second coming. It is observed over the four Sundays immediately prior to Christmas Day. During this season, the church prepares itself through worship for the coming of God into the world in the incarnation of Christ. John speaks of this as “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

The Advent Wreath is added to worship during this season to remind us of the progression of weeks leading up to the birth of Christ. In addition, our special services during Advent include the “Hanging of the Greens,” when we decorate the church for the season, our annual Christmas dinner, and special musical programs by the children’s choir and sanctuary choir.

Agape: One of several Greek words that is commonly translated as “love.” This kind of love speaks of the unconditional love of God for His people and the love that we are called to demonstrate to one another in Christ. It is this kind of love which the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. In the early church, prior to observing the Lord’s Supper, the church would gather for a full meal, which they referred to as the “Agape Meal.” This is commemorated in some Christian traditions which still hold “love feasts.”

Agnosticism: Comes from a Greek word meaning “without knowledge.” It is used today to refer to a system of belief which asserts that God, if He exists, cannot be known by man.

Alleluia: See Hallelujah.

Altar Call: The Altar Call, or “Invitation”, is the time of response at the conclusion of worship services. This moment is usually accompanied by the singing of a Hymn of Invitation or Commitment, and provides the worshipper with an opportunity to respond publicly to those decisions privately made before God. As the pastor concludes the sermon, the opportunity is extended for worshippers to come forward to the front area of the church (or “altar”) and share any decision or concern with the pastor or others who are waiting there to receive them. This is the traditional time for making any of the following commitments public:

  1. Profession of Faith in Christ. This is the central commitment of the Christian faith. Baptists believe that persons enter the Kingdom of God and the church first by making this commitment of one’s life to God by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Normally, this decision is accompanied by a decision to be baptized and admitted into the church.

  1. Uniting with the Church. (Becoming a Member of Immanuel Baptist Church). Those wishing to become a member of this church may come at the time of the Altar Call, or Invitation.
  2. Rededication of Life. At points along the Christian pilgrimage, persons may wish to publicly acknowledge a desire to rededicate that life to Christian service and piety. The Altar Call is the appropriate moment to make that desire known.

In addition, the Altar Call provides a moment at the close of the service for persons to find their ways to the altar and simply kneel to pray, or share a burden or a prayer concern.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397 AD): Bishop of Milan during the fourth century who was known for his benevolence, preaching, and strong arguments against heresies. He was a strong influence in the life of Augustine. His legacy survives through our conviction of the separation of church and state, and our practice of congregational participation in worship.

Amen: A Hebrew word meaning “firm” or “established”. It is used in the OT as an acknowledgement that a saying is valid. It was adopted in Christian usage after Jesus used the word Himself. He often used it at the beginning of His teachings to mean “truly”, showing that His words are reliable. Paul speaks of the “Amen” of the assembly (“How can the outsider say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” 1 Corinthians 14:16).

According to Justin Martyr, the people responded with “Amen” in worship as a way to say “So Be It,” or “Let It Be.” When we say “Amen” in worship, we are saying that we agree with and affirm the message that has been spoken or sung.

Amillenialism: The belief that the thousand years of Christ’s reign over the earth as described in Revelation 20 is not a literal span of time at the end of history, but rather that Christ is presently reigning over the world through His people the church. See also Premillenialism and Postmillenialism for alternate views held by Christians. For a thorough comparison of these three views, we recommend Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell Bock and Stanley Gundry.

Anabaptists: Literally, it means “rebaptizers,” and was applied as a term of derision to those who believed that baptism was reserved for those who were mature enough to understand the meaning of salvation and repentance, and who had made a personal decision to follow Christ. They were opposed to the widespread practice of baptizing infants. It was applied to a diverse group of Christian movements during the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The Anabaptist practice of “believers’ baptism” or “credobaptism,” as opposed to “infant baptism” or “paedobaptism,” survives today in Baptist churches.

Other beliefs distinctive to Anabaptists were: regenerate church membership (only born-again believers in Christ could be members of the church); separation of church and state; strict church discipline; and the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. While frequently labeled as pacifists, the more accurate word for Anabaptists is “nonresistant.” Anabaptists were regularly and severely persecuted, even unto death, by Catholics and Protestants alike for the firm commitment to these convictions. While many groups holding unbiblical beliefs and questionable practice were called “Anabaptist,” the most biblical expression of Anabaptism was found among the Swiss Brethren. This movement began in Zurich among a group of former disciples of the reformer Ulrich Zwingli. Notable Anabaptists from this movement are Balthasar Hubmaier, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and Michael Sattler. Their core beliefs are summarized in The Schleitheim Confession. For further reading on our Anabaptist heritage, we recommend William Estep’s The Anabaptist Story, John Howard Yoder’s edition of the Schleitheim Confession, and Dave and Neta Jackson’s On Fire for Christ, a collection of biographical sketches of Anabaptist martyrs.

Analogy of Faith: A principle of biblical interpretation that uses passages with clear meaning to decipher the meaning of difficult or obscure passages.

Anathema: A Greek word that means “accursed” or “condemned.” The Apostle Paul uses the term in Galatians 1:8, saying, “If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Again, he uses it in 1 Corinthians 16:22, saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.”

Angel: From a Greek word meaning “messenger,” typically meaning one bringing a message from God to man. Angels are created spiritual beings, which Hebrews 1:14 says are “sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.” Satan was created as an angel, but rebelled against God. He and the angels which followed him “fell,” becoming foes of God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17 [in these two passages, the fall of earthly kings is likened to the fall of Satan]; Revelation 12:3-4). Most of the images and ideas of angels that abound in culture, art, and literature do not reflect biblical teaching. For further reading, we recommend Billy Graham’s Angels: God’s Secret Agents, and David Jeremiah’s What the Bible Says About Angels.

Anno Domini (AD): “The Year of Our Lord,” the customary designation for dates following the incarnation of Christ. Years prior to the incarnation are customarily designated as “BC”, meaning “Before Christ.” The turning point between “BC” and “AD” is the year 0, even though it is widely recognized that the Gregorian and Julian calendars are likely off by three to five years. Recent scholarship has sought to replace these designations with the more religiously neutral “CE” (Common Era, corresponding to AD) and BCE (Before the Common Era, corresponding to BC). We prefer the traditional designations, marking the coming of Christ into the world as the turning point of human history.

Annunciation: Refers to the story found in Luke 1:26-38 concerning the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary informing her that she was to become the mother of Jesus.

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109 AD): Archbishop of Canterbury at the turn of the twelfth century. He was a philosopher and theologian who formulated an intricate argument for the existence of God known as the “ontological argument.” Anselm was also influential for his work on the incarnation and atonement. His view of theology is summarized in the maxim, “faith seeking understanding.” This is based on his famous statement, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand: for this I also believe, that unless I believe I will not understand.”

Anthem: The main musical selection by the choir during a worship service. The word likely came from the word “antiphon”, which means “response”, or “answer”. It was traditionally a Psalm or Scripture passage set to music. It finds its place in the service not just as a selection of musical excellence, but also to make a valuable and relevant contribution to the congregation’s act of worship. To maintain its “antiphonal” purpose, the choir may “respond” to the reading of Scripture, a prayer, a sermon, or any other element of worship.

Antichrist: Broadly, the term refers to any individual, movement, or ideology which is “against Christ.” More specifically, it refers to a coming world leader who will oppose Christ and whose reign will immediately precede the second coming of Christ. Both uses of the word are seen in 1 John 2:18 and 4:3. The general use is defined in 1 John 2:22. The more specific use of the term is based on the descriptions of Daniel’s “little horn” (7:8; 8:9), the “abomination of desolation (11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14), the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:1), and the “beast” (Revelation 13).

Apocalypse: Literally, the word means “unveiling.” The Greek word from which it is derived occurs in the first verse of the book of Revelation, and serves as an alternate title for that book.

Apocalyptic Literature: Writings which are rich in symbolism and laden with descriptions of dreams and/or visions pertaining to the end of the world and the victory of the Kingdom of God over evil. Daniel and Revelation, as well as portions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, and Mark (chapter 13 in particular) are categorized as Apocalyptic.

Apocrypha: A collection of writings considered biblical (canonical) by the Roman Catholic Church, but rejected by Protestants. The writings are dated to the era known as the “Intertestamental Period,” that 400 year gap between the last of the writing prophets of the Old Testament and the incarnation of Christ. Although these books did appear in some early collections of Christian Scripture, they were never accepted into the Hebrew Old Testament. The books are rejected by Protestants because of their questionable historicity, doctrines, and authorship. Martin Luther included them in his German Bible because he found them to be good and profitable, but confessed that they should not be considered as Scripture. A general Protestant consensus exists which believes that the Apocrypha is profitable for reading in order to gain some historical or cultural information, or from grammatical comparison in the study of original languages. However, they should not be granted the status of inspired Scripture or used for the formulation of Christian doctrine or practice. For further study, we would recommend reading the Apocryphal books in a Catholic edition of the Good News Bible, and then David DeSilva’s Introducing the Apocrypha.

Apocryphal New Testament: A general description of books circulating during the first few centuries of Christian history which purported to give additional information from the life of Christ and teachings of the apostles. These books originated between the second (perhaps early first) and sixth centuries, and were rejected by the early church because of their unsubstantiated historical claims, pseudonymous (or outrightly forged) authorship, and their aberrant theology (much of which was Gnostic) which countered “the faith once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). For further reading, see Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospels. The most readily accessible collection of the documents in English is The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James Robinson.

Apologetics: The branch of Christian theology which deals with the defense of the Christian faith. It includes setting forth the claims of the Christian faith in a reasonable fashion with supporting evidence for the claims, as well as answering the attacks of Christianity’s critics with evidences and logical reasoning. For further reading, see Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

Apostasy: The abandonment, renunciation, or personal departure from the Christian faith. The Bible teaches that salvation is an eternal and permanent gift of God which cannot be lost (see, for instance, John 10:27-29). Apostasy, then, does not involve the loss of salvation, but rather the abandonment of the faith by one who never was truly saved. If they had been genuinely converted to faith in Christ, they could not have apostasized (1 John 2:19).

Apostle: From the Greek word apostolos, which means “to send out.” In its strictest and most appropriate sense, it refers to those whom Jesus hand-picked “that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). Jesus selected twelve, a number corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel, and significant in view of the number of thrones they will occupy (Matthew 19:28) and the number of foundation stones that will bear their names (Revelation 21:14). Jesus selected Simon (Peter or Cephas), James and John (sons of Zebedee, who were also called “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder”), Andrew (Peter’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew (also called Nathanael), Matthew (Levi), Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus, also called James the Less), Thaddaeus (who also goes by the name of Judas, but distinguished from Judas Iscariot), Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Following Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of the Lord and suicidal death, the early church selected Matthias as a replacement apostle (Acts 1:12-26). In time, God would raise up Paul as an apostle of Christ. Many believe that the early church acted prematurely in selecting Matthias, and that Paul was God’s choice to replace Judas Iscariot. The apostles were commissioned to lay the foundation of the church upon the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20), and oversee the development of the New Testament (John 14:25-26; 16:13). Their authority was demonstrated by signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:12). The term is also applied to others in the early church who were commissioned with doctrinal and missionary authority, such as James (the brother of Jesus, Barnabas, Silvanus, Timothy, Andronicus and Junias. However, we must not overlook the significance of the number “twelve” (Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 21:14).

Apostles’ Creed: An early statement of Christian faith, not intended to be a complete summary, but rather a brief confession of basic Christianity. It is most likely rooted in late first or early second century confessions of faith, coming into its current form sometime later. The creed reads as follows:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.


Apostolic Fathers: A group of early Christian writers who had direct contact with the apostles. They include Clement of Rome (who had been in contact with Peter and Paul), Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp (disciples of John).

Aquinas, Thomas (1224-1274 AD): The most prominent theologian and philosopher of the medieval era. Thomas was a prolific writer. His Summa Contra Gentiles was intended to be a manual of Christian Apologetics. Summa Theologica (incomplete at the time of his death) was intended to be a systematic analysis of Christian doctrine. The “Five Ways” of Aquinas were philosophical “proofs” of the existence of God.

Aramaic: A Semitic language related to Hebrew used in the writing of several sections of the Old Testament, including portions of Ezra, Jeremiah, and Daniel. It was most likely the language spoken by Jesus and His disciples in the first century. Several New Testament verses preserve the Aramaic proclamations of Jesus (including Mark 5:41 and 7:34).

Arianism: An system of teaching set forth by Arius (who died c. 335 AD) which denied that Jesus was truly God, and claimed instead that He was the highest created being of God. This teaching was condemned as a heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

Arminianism: A system of Christian doctrine set forth by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609 AD). It originated as a response to the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin on the subject of predestination. Those reformers saw predestination as God’s unconditional election of certain individuals to salvation, whereas Arminius taught that God’s predestination was conditioned upon His foreknowledge of whether an individual would exercise a free choice to accept or reject salvation. Because salvation rested almost solely upon the free choice of the individual, it could also be abandoned at will, in contrast with the biblical doctrine of eternal security. See also Calvinism.

Articles of Incorporation: A document filed by the church with the state government that establishes the church as a legal entity. One of the most basic purposes of incorporation is to limit legal and fiscal liability for the members of the church. When a church operates without incorporation, every member is personally liable for the debts, judgments, fines, etc. After incorporating as a legal entity, the Corporation becomes liable for debts, judgments, fines, settlements, etc. rather than the individual members personally carrying that burden of responsibility. By incorporating, church members are protected from personal liability in legal or financial dealings. In a corporation, only the assets of the corporation are at stake, rather than the personal holdings and property of its constituent members. When a church is incorporated, individual members remain legally and financially liable only for their own personal acts of negligence, crime, injury, or breach of duty or responsibility. In addition to this very important advantage of incorporation, there are numerous other benefits. Some businesses and organizations with whom we may work on occasion are assured by virtue of incorporation of the nature and viability of the church. In incorporating, a church protects its unique identity by prohibiting others from operating under the same name. Incorporation also ensures perpetual existence. In an unincorporated church, the death or departure of some key leader may mean the termination of the entity. By incorporating, the future of the church is legally secured from such. Copies of Immanuel Baptist Church’s Articles of Incorporation are available upon request.

Ascension: Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, He appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days, teaching them in “the things concerning the Kingdom of God.” After commissioning them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20), “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). The ascension marks the end of the visible earthly ministry of Jesus, and prepares the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers and minister through the church. The ascended Christ now sits on the throne of heaven, serving as the High Priest of His people and interceding with the Father on their behalf (Hebrews 7:24; 8:2). The disciples were reminded that “this Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Ash Wednesday: The first day of the season of Lent, on which worshippers are marked with ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance. Baptists have not traditionally observed Lent or Ash Wednesday.

Athanasius (c. 296-373 AD): Defender of Christian orthodoxy against the challenge of Arianism at the Council of Nicea. His biblical defense of the deity of Jesus was unshakable. A prolific writer, Athanasius contributed significantly to the Christian understanding of the Trinity, Christology, and creation. Historically, a Trinitarian creed bearing his name has been attributed to Athanasius (the Athanasian Creed), but more recently his authorship of it has been questioned. Whether or not Athanasius wrote the creed, it was certainly influenced greatly by his thought on the subject of the Trinity.

Atheism (or Antitheism): The denial of the existence of God.

Atonement: A word of Anglo-Saxon origin which breaks down to “at-one-ment,” indicating the act of God whereby sinful mankind is reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ. Though Christians have often debated just how Christ’s death brings about atonement, there is consensus that the biblical information speaks of a “ransom” and a “substitution.” As a ransom, Christ pays the price of redemption with His blood. As a substitute, He dies in our place, for our sins. These two views are like two sides of the same coin, for both images are found in Scripture (for example, Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 3:18).

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD): One of the most influential theologians in Christian history. His Confessions is widely considered to be the first autobiography ever written. Through his many theological writings, Augustine helped shape Christian thinking on the subjects of the Trinity, sin, predestination, and the church.

Authorial Intent: Scripture’s meaning is rooted in the intention of the person who wrote it. We are not at liberty to twist or distort it to fit our preconceived notions, nor may we approach it subjectively as if to say that it means whatever we want it to. Scripture’s meaning is that which the author intended it to have. This is the goal of biblical interpretation.

Autograph: The original, handwritten copies of the books of Scripture. All of the autographs of Scripture have been lost.

Autonomy: In Baptist life, this word is used to indicate that the church governs itself. Though we may be part of an association or convention through voluntary cooperation, the associations or conventions cannot make policy that is binding on the local church. The denomination has no control over the local church.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Guide for Worship and Doctrine

While cleaning out a storage closet one afternoon at Immanuel Baptist Church, I ran across a single copy of a little booklet entitled “Worship Guide.” I blew the dust off of its deep blue cover and discovered that it was a glossary of terms written by Dr. Jim Jarrard during his tenure as Pastor at Immanuel. The glossary contained words that one often encounters in Christian worship services that may be unfamiliar to new believers or to those from different church traditions. Immediately I saw the benefit of producing a resource of this nature, and desired to reissue it in an expanded form. Through a mutual friend, I sought and received Dr. Jarrard's permission to proceed with the project.

Whereas Dr. Jarrard limited the original edition of this guide to terms of liturgy and worship, I sensed the need to expand it to encompass terms from Scripture, theology, and church history. I also thought it might be helpful to include brief introductions to key people in church history. Where space limitations necessitate abbreviated treatments of subjects, I will refer the reader to more thorough volumes on the subject. At the end of the expanded volume I will include a list of recommended books on a variety of subjects for those wishing to go further with their personal study.

In its original form, this volume was slim and compact, the perfect size to tuck into the back of your Bible for quick reference at church. I regret that the expansion of it will enlarge it to a rather inconvenient size, but I trust that the benefit of the added information outweighs that deficiency.

I intend to post the work here first, both for "immediate gratification" and for constructive feedback. I will post one letter of the alphabet at a time as I complete them. I invite you to peruse these sections and help shape the finished product. Where I have included terms that you think should be omitted, or have overlooked terms you think should be included, let me know. Where I have been too vague or too thorough, or where the definitions supplied are difficult to grasp, I would appreciate feedback also. Posts will be labeled "A Guide for Worship and Doctrine: " followed by the letter treated. For example the first post will be called, "A Guide for Worship and Doctrine: A." Expect it soon. No promises on the timeframe for future posts.

My hope for the finished product is that it will find its place near your Bible where it will be a ready reference for you in your devotional study and personal reading of the Bible and other works of Christian literature. I would hope that if you run across a word in your reading, or perhaps in a worship service at church, that you would be able to find a brief but helpful explanation of the term in the guide.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mark 6:7-13-- Joining Jesus On His Mission

Audio from the sermon from 7.15.07 is now available on the podcast or for download by right-clicking here.

Words from Shirely Newton's Funeral

On Monday, July 16, 2007, my mother-in-law, Shirley Newton, went to be with Jesus following a long and courageous battle with ovarian cancer. Below are the words I spoke at her funeral on Thursday.

Proverbs 31:10-31

10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life. 13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight. 14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar. 15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens. 16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong. 18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen . 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future . 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 29 "Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all." 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.

Sir Christopher Wren was considered, in the 17th Century, the greatest English architect of his time. He designed 53 London churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. He died at the age of 91, and was buried in the crypt of one the cathedrals he had designed, and his tomb is marked with these words: “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.”

How many lives have been enriched by knowing Shirley Newton? It would be impossible to estimate. I have four things I want to speak of about her. First, is her family. I have never known anyone who loved their family more than Shirley. She was proud of her godly parents and honored them every time she spoke of them. She loved her siblings, and their spouses, and their children. She absorbed Don’s parents and siblings and their spouses and children into her heart as well. She loved her girls. When I first met Donia, I really thought this was a strange group of people, because they always wanted to be together. Sherrie jokes that Donia and I moved to Maryland because I was afraid Donia would make me move in with Don and Shirley. I assure you that was not the reason. Many of you were at our weddings, and you know how Shirley went to great lengths to make each of them special so that everyone would know how proud she was of her daughters. She was more than their mom, she was their best friend, always ready to listen, always wise to guide. Shirley was proud to be a grandmother. I don’t think she ever looked more joyful than when she had one of those kids on her lap. Christmas was always huge. I think we averaged about ten hours or so to open presents, and as the grandchildren opened those special things they had asked for, Shirley’s eyes lit up and a smile stretched over her whole face.

Don, she loved you. We celebrated your 40th Anniversary just a few days ago, and it was always such a blessing to me to see the two of you together, more in love with each other every day. I want to thank you for the great model the two of you have been for the six of us, for what a great and godly marriage can be. And I think we should also say that we are so grateful for your care for Shirley that drove your engineering abilities into the realm of medical research as you always sought the best care and treatment she could get. You’ve been a great example to us, and I believe we were all able to have Shirley with us a little longer due in part to your guidance of her care.

Now I must say a word about her friends. Shirley had more friends than anyone I know! She made friends everywhere she went. Bridge, golf, bowling, teaching, church, the doctor’s office, wherever! And if you were Shirley’s friend, you know you were special to her. I don’t know how many Christmas presents she bought every year, but she always made sure her friends knew they were loved.

Another thing we must say about her is her fight. Some of you know perhaps that when Shirley was born, she was premature and the doctors told her mom to take her home and enjoy her, because she wouldn’t live long. But her mom fed her with a medicine dropper, and nurtured her, and not only did she live, she lived well! By the time I met Shirley, she had already been through a battle with breast cancer and a major heart by-pass. But these things never slowed her down. I can remember distinctly that call about 7 years ago when the ovarian cancer was found during a hernia operation. Numerous ups and downs, but honestly more ups than downs, would come. But she never complained. She rarely took anything stronger than Tylenol for her pain. And she always focused on the positives and what God was doing in her life through it all. Watching her perseverance through her suffering was an inspiration to us all. Total strangers who crossed paths with her would be challenged to hang in there and keep fighting. Last night, we heard from several who said that they were battling cancer, and finding strength in Shirley’s example. She went out of this life like she came into it – as a fighter, overcoming odds, and enjoying every second of life she had. But don’t ever say that cancer got the best of her. I think cancer took a beating from Shirley. She fought it, and she won. The apostle Paul says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” And today, in the presence of Jesus, she has conquered cancer fully and finally.

I mentioned her friends, her family, and her fight, but underlying all of these things was the common denominator of her faith. As a young person, Shirley was taught the love of God by godly parents and a faithful church, and as she grew into maturity and became aware of her own sins, she turned in faith to Jesus as her Savior. And her love for Christ permeated every part of her life. Nearly every sentence she spoke had God as the subject or the object. She was keenly aware that her life was in his hands and because of her faith in Christ, she had no fear of death. She knew that she was forgiven and would be received into heaven by her Savior. John Wesley once said, “Our people die well.” Shirley lived well, and she died well.

The grace of God was not just something she received, but something she gave to others. At a cancer conference last year, they spoke of forgiving others as a path to wellness, and Shirley could say with confidence that she had no one to forgive, and that she held no grudges. The love and grace she showed to others was a mirror of her relationship with God. And because of her faith in Christ, today Shirley enjoys the glory of His presence in her heavenly home where she will live forever.


I invite you to visit the online memorial for Shirley Newton, and read her brief biography/obituary, view pictures of her life, and sign the guestbook if you wish.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mark 6:1-6 - Wondrous Unbelief

Audio from the 7.8.07 sermon at Immanuel Baptist Church. Listen or download by right-clicking the link.

Mark 6:6b-13--Joining Jesus on His Mission

In the 1996 film Multiplicity, Michael Keaton portrays the character Doug Kinney, a construction worker who is having a hard time balancing the demands of his career and his family. He meets up with a geneticist, Dr. Owen Leeds, who offers him the opportunity to clone himself, which he does multiple times. This seems to be a perfect solution to his problem until everything starts to go haywire, and he finds himself in competition with his clones. The movie provides plenty of laughs, for many of us have found ourselves in those situations where we wish we could be in two places at one time, or at least be better able to balance the demands of life.

When God chose to incarnate Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, He chose to enter space and time in the confines of a human body. Jesus could only be in one place at any given time, and though He was on a mission to save the entire world, He could only interact with a limited number of people wherever He happened to be. While He was preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth, He could not simultaneously be teaching on the shores of Capernaum. But He did not solve this limitation by cloning Himself. Instead, He expanded His mission by calling out twelve men who would, as Mk 3:14 says, that they might “be with Him,” and that He might “send them out to preach.” Through these ordinary human beings, God would multiply the mission of the Messiah.

In his excellent book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman describes how Jesus did this. He outlines Jesus’ plan for getting the gospel to the ends of the earth under eight headings: Selection; Association; Consecration; Impartation; Demonstration; Delegation; Supervision; and Reproduction. In the first phase of this plan, Jesus calls the disciples to Himself and invests time in molding them for His purposes. In the second phase, they follow Him and observe Him in His teachings and His ministry. In the third phase, He allows them to work under close supervision. Finally, the task becomes theirs as He ascends to the Father following His death and resurrection, and sends the Holy Spirit to indwell them and work through them. In our text today, we come to that stage of delegation where Jesus sends His disciples out to extend the work of the Kingdom through them. So let’s look into the passage, let’s see how the disciples join Jesus on His mission.

I. The Party of the Mission (7a)

Notice that the text is very specific about who Jesus sent and how He sent them.

A. Who He Sent (the twelve)

If Jesus was looking for theologians or professional religious experts, He got the wrong guys. None of the twelve were leaders in the synagogue, nor were they trained as priests or rabbis. They were common working class people. They were described by others as “uneducated and untrained” in Acts 4:13. They did not have any academic degrees. They weren’t wealthy or influential in society. Coleman says of them, “By any standard of sophisticated culture then and now they would surely be considered as a rather ragged collection of souls. One might wonder how Jesus could ever use them.” They were impulsive, sometimes temperamental, often misunderstanding the words and deeds of Jesus. He could have chosen anyone He wanted to: priests, rabbis, scholars, generals, kings. But Jesus chose these twelve ordinary men to send out on His mission.

This ought to be of great encouragement for the rest of us. The apostle Paul said to the Corinthians that there were not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty among them, but that God had called the foolish, weak, the base and despised. That means that He can use you too. You are just as qualified to join Him on the mission as those twelve were.

B. How He Sent Them (in pairs)

Jesus could have sent them out alone in hopes of having twelve times the impact, but He didn’t. He was content to have six teams of two instead of twelve individuals traveling about preaching His message. There is biblical significance to sending them out two by two, and no, I don’t mean from Noah’s Ark. According to the OT Law, a single witness was not credible, but rather, Deuteronomy 19:15 says, “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” So, by sending out two, there was a legally acceptable testimony to Christ.

But there is more to it than just this. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.” [Eccl 4:9-12]. So by sending them out in pairs, the disciples will have companionship, counsel, and cooperation in the mission. Add to this the undeniable benefit of accountability – one cannot decide to abandon the mission or become lazy without the other one keeping him encouraged to persevere; one cannot fall into error or sin without the other one correcting him. One cannot be falsely accused without the other one being a witness to his innocence. For all these reasons, and likely more, Jesus was pleased send the disciples out two by two.

Now this strikes us being very un-American. We are programmed from a young age to be rugged individualists. And this is one of the greatest contributing factors in the rampant decay of marriage in America and the abysmal state of most American churches. It is not a problem unique to America, for it is a universal truth that we are all born sinners, and at the root of every sin is an inherent self-centeredness. What makes the phenomenon uniquely American is that this self-centeredness is disguised as self-sufficiency is nourished, encouraged, and applauded as a virtue rather than condemned as a vice. We really tend to think that we don’t need each other, but the fact of the matter is that we do. The Christian life was not meant to be lived alone, and that is why God has adopted us into His family and united us in the church. Here in the church, we ought to experience the real fellowship of sharing life together, helping one another where we find weakness, and always spurring one another on to faith and godliness. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews said, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24-25). We can join Jesus on His mission only when we realize that He has not called us to serve Him in isolation, but to develop authentic relationships and serve Him in tandem with other believers.

II. The Purpose of the Mission (7b, 12-13)

From these verses we see that their mission was one of word and deed. They were not to preach with words only, but to validate that spoken word by deeds of supernatural power. And they were not to do the deeds only, but to explain the deeds with the spoken word. Their mission was essentially the same as that of Jesus: Preaching, casting out demons, healing the sick. Recall from Mark 1:15 the message that Jesus proclaimed: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” And so the disciples go out offering entrance into that kingdom through the doorway of repentance and faith. The casting out of demons demonstrates that the salvation God offers has bearing on the spiritual realm, and the healing of the sick demonstrates that this salvation also bears on the physical realm. They illustrate and validate the gospel.

Now you might say, “God has not given me the power to cast out demons or heal the sick, so I can’t go out proclaiming the gospel.” Well, in fact, God may not have given you such abilities, but the important thing here is not the abilities themselves, but the source and purpose of them. Where did the disciples get these supernatural abilities: from Jesus. It was Him who gave them authority. And why did He do it? So that through their deeds, the message of the gospel would be validated. Now, this means that whatever it is that you need in order to be on mission with Christ, has to come from Christ Himself, and He has given it to you. You may not be able to cast out demons or heal the sick, but you have the authority to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in word and deed however it is that Jesus wants to use you. And your transformed life, your unquenchable love, your perseverance through difficulties, ongoing deeds of compassion, will be all the verification your message needs.

III. The Provisions of the Mission (8-9)

I have always been sort of a picky eater. I know my figure wouldn’t suggest that, but let’s just say, there aren’t many things I like, but what I like, I really like. Ten years ago, I had my first opportunity to go to Africa. I was so excited about going that it did not hit me until the day I was to leave, “What am I going to eat in Africa?” I had heard missionary tales about eating monkeys and goats and raw fish, and mysterious soups, and I knew I was going to be in trouble. So, I went to the grocery store and bought enough crackers, cookies, and other snacks to get me through 19 days just in case. And at the end of that 19 days, I was walking around looking for people to give the snacks to. I didn’t need them. Oh, I made use of them a time or two, like when we were served ox tongue or something like that, but really, God was looking out for me and my extra suitcase full of emergency snack items was a display of my lack of faith that He would provide for me.

When Jesus sent the twelve out on this mission, He gave them explicit instructions on how to pack. Essentially, He said not to. There were three things they could take with them: a staff in their hands, sandals on their feet, and the shirt on their back. That’s it. The staff would serve as a walking stick, and perhaps a means of defense against wild animals. The sandals would protect their feet along the rocky roads. The tunic would cover them and protect them somewhat from the elements. But this was to be all. No bread, no bag, no money, no extra tunic. But what would they eat? How would they get money for things they needed? What if they got cold or wet? They simply had to trust that God would provide for every need they had. They are not to trust in their supplies but in their Savior. If they carried with them an elaborate support system that would cover them in any eventuality, then they would not need to walk by faith. And without faith, what does the Bible say in Hebrews 11:6? Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

Travel light. That was the order of the day. They need not be slowed down or encumbered by excessive baggage, or worried over the security of their belongings, or wearied from transporting massive amounts of stuff. Travel light, be ready to go here or there as God opens and closes doors of opportunity, and trust that He will provide for every circumstance that arises. I have a little needlepoint thing in my office that says, “Pray Hard, Get a Passport.” The story behind that is that in my first church, as we got involved in strategic partnerships in West Africa, I told the people repeatedly to stay prayed up, keep their passport current, and keep a suitcase by the door, so that when our missionary partners needed us, we could get there as soon as possible.

On this matter of traveling light on mission, let me point out a few things that I notice in our society. The average American family – is it larger or smaller today than in days past? Smaller. The average American car – larger or smaller? Larger. The average American house – larger or smaller? Larger. So we have smaller families, but bigger houses and bigger cars. Why do we need all that space? Simple answer – stuff. We have more stuff than ever before. And we have all this technology that supposedly makes life easier, but what about our service to the Kingdom of God? Do we find more or less commitment to the mission of Christ today? Less. So what are we to make of these phenomena? Has the pursuit of a massive collection of stuff taken the place of commitments to the family and the Kingdom of God? Why not just travel light through this life and be ready to be of service to Christ without all that stuff getting in the way? And as we walk by faith and trust God to provide for our every need, we will find that there is nothing we lack.

IV. The Plan for the Mission (10-11)

Jesus gave them a very simple plan for how to conduct the mission. In a place where they are received, they are to stay in the home of whoever welcomes them. This might sound odd to us today, because in addition to our stuff, we also like our privacy, and don’t fancy the thought of strangers bedding down in our homes. But it was more common in that day, as we see Jesus making Himself at home in the house of Peter; Paul regularly made the home of one of his converts his base of operation. You recall from our study of Philippians that the home of Lydia became his headquarters there. Rather than priding themselves on their privacy, the ancients cherished the virtue of hospitality. As the disciples entered a town, if someone welcomed them into their home, they were to stay there until they left that town. If someone else came and offered them a more spacious or luxurious accommodation, they were not to dishonor their host by leaving for a more comfortable arrangement. They were to accept whatever hospitality was offered them, and view it as God’s provision for their needs.

But if they entered a town and were not welcomed and their message was not received, then they were to perform a symbolic act of testimony. If you have ever read through the prophetic books, you have run across some of these before. The book of Ezekiel for instance tells of all sorts of bizarre actions that the Lord commanded His prophet to perform as symbols of God’s dealings with His people. In Ezekiel 4, God commands Ezekiel to lie down on his left side for 390 days as a testimony of the number of years of Israel’s sin. Then when those days are over, God commands him to lie down on his right side for 40 days as a testimony to the number of years of Judah’s sin. These are ordered in addition to a number of other things that Ezekiel was to do in order to turn the people’s attention toward God and His word. One of the most bizarre prophetic symbols in the OT concerns Hosea. God commanded him to take a prostitute as a wife. Marriage has always served to illustrate in earthly relationships the bond between God and His people. By commanding Hosea to marry a prostitute, God was declaring to His people that they have been perpetually unfaithful to Him. So, here in this passage, Jesus tells His disciples to take up a symbolic act of testimony against the people who did not receive them.

On their way out of the town, they were to shake the dust from the soles of their feet. This refers to a practice of pious Jews who had traveled outside the boundaries of Israel. Upon returning to their homeland, they were to stop at the borders and shake the dust off of themselves so as to not bring polluted dust from foreign places into the Promised Land. When the disciples of Jesus shook the dust off their feet, it testified to the people that they had received a fair offer of the gospel, but had rejected it. Thus, they would have to answer to God for their rejection of the salvation Jesus came to bring them.

As we join Jesus on His mission, these instructions have significance for us as well. As we proclaim His message of salvation, we are to accept the offers of kindness extended to us, viewing them as God’s provision for our needs. And where the gospel is not accepted, we leave the individual with the awareness that they have rejected God’s only offer of salvation and are without hope. My evangelism professor at Southeastern, Dr. Alvin Reid, used to say, “Offer them Jesus, and if they don’t want Him, leave them with Moses.” By that, Dr. Reid meant that if a person would not receive God’s offer of salvation, then they must be left with the Law to remind them of how far short they fall of God’s glory, with the hope that this awareness will bring them to repentance.

We have seen in this passage how the disciples joined Jesus in His mission. We have seen their party – an unlikely group of regular people, sent out in pairs. We have seen their purpose – proclaiming the message of Jesus in word and deed. We have seen their provisions – they traveled light and trusted God to provide. And we have seen their plan – accept the hospitality offered you by those who receive the message, and remind those who don’t that they have rejected God’s only offer of salvation. The twelve would return and give account to Jesus for this mission, and then they would spend more time with Him watching and learning. But the time would soon come when Jesus would go to the cross and die. He rose from the dead, but stayed with them for just a little while before ascending to the Father. At that time, the mission became theirs. Empowered by His indwelling Spirit, they were to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And that task still falls to us today. If you have been called into salvation in Christ, then you have been called into service for Christ. You have been called to join Him in His mission.

You may object and say that you are unfit for His service. You are no more unfit than those 12 He started with. All it takes is saving knowledge of Christ and a willingness to let Him use you. And you may say that you can’t do it alone – but He never intended you to. He has given you His Spirit, who dwells within every born-again believer; and He has given us each other. We are partners in the mission, and we must put aside self-sufficiency and recognize our need for fellowship and partnership in the gospel. You may say that you don’t have enough supplies for the mission, but really, how much do you need? You have a shirt on your back and shoes on your feet; anything else you need He will provide. So what hinders you today from joining the mission? We are without excuse if we do not say, “Lord, use me to serve You, to bring glory to You, and to take the message of salvation to the ends of the earth, beginning with that one I may encounter this very day.”

And if today you do not know Christ, we give you the fair offer of the gospel. God created you and loves you and wants you to know Him and be with Him forever. But our sins separate us from Him, and we are hopelessly unable to remedy that situation on our own. But out of His love for us, God has come near in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived the life we never could and satisfied all the righteous demands of the Law. He lived that life for us, and He died the death that our sins deserve on the cross. There He took our sins upon Himself and died as our substitute so that we could be forgiven. He is risen from the dead and is alive to receive you today if you will turn from sin and trust in Him. He offers to cleanse us from our sins and to cover us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. But aside from this, there is no hope for us to ever overcome our sins. We will be separated from God forever if we do not receive the gift of salvation He offers us in Christ. Will you receive Him today? If not, you are without hope, and having received the fair offer of the gospel, you will answer to God for turning Him away.

In my mind, I can vividly see the events that took place on July 31, 1992. As I sat inside Hatch Auditorium at Fort Caswell, I heard the message of the gospel. the music began to play and the invitation was given to come forward and receive Jesus. But I didn’t do it. I had too much pride to see my need for Him. I said No to Jesus. And as I walked out of the Auditorium, a large cross stood on that huge quad in the middle of Caswell, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Suddenly I was aware that Jesus died on that cross for me, and I had just said, “No thanks” to Him. It struck me that if I died that instant, I would stand before God and answer for the fact that I had refused His love and grace. As I became overwhelmed with emotion, I fled to our church leaders and said I wanted to be saved. I did not want the dust shaken off as a testimony against me. I wanted to receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ. You may have turned away from the offer before. You realize that there is no guarantee you will ever have the opportunity again. The Bible says, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” Will you accept the salvation God offers you if you never have before? And if you have, will you join Jesus in His mission to proclaim this message to the world?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Schmucker on Capitol Hill BC's History

Matt Schmucker is one of the key people at 9 Marks Ministries and Capitol Hill Baptist Church. In response to a recent post on the 9 Marks Blog, Matt gives the following bit of Capitol Hill's history. I found it greatly encouraging and hope you will too.

In January of 1993 I found myself at Capitol Hill Baptist Church having just received the resignation of the pastor (his sin disqualified him from continuing on in the pulpit). This was the fifth failed pastorate in a row dating back to the 1970's. To use an O.T. term: our church was a "byword" in the neighborhood. Right after the scandal that called for the pastor's resignation I was following two men from our neighborhood on my way to the local market. They didn't know I was near enough to hear. They were mocking my church. It was well deserved. The odd thing was that the two men were gay and lived together across the street from the church.

Our congregation was demoralized. My young family and I were left standing with a majority of senior citizens who had toughed it out over many decades of decline. The few young people who were present prior to the fall exited quickly. What should I do? I was 30 years old with a wife and two little kids. There was NOTHING attractive about Capitol Hill Baptist -- tough neighborhood (in those days), tough place to grow a church (according to the so-called specialists) and a very tough reputation to overcome. We lived in church-owned housing on the same block as the church. The nearness of my dilemma was constant. I had to decide. Stay? Go?

Within a few weeks of the pastor's departure our house was broken into and ransacked. My wife and kids spent the night out of the city until I could get the doors secured again. The first night back, laying in our bed with the lights out my wife asked the million dollar question, "Why are we here?" I was quiet and then gave my answer knowing that her response would determine whether we stay or go.

I said, "We're here for the people who will come."

Nothing inspiring, yes? It was simply a conviction I had believing that Satan had overplayed his hand. I don't want to blame Satan for all our sin, but it seemed as though the pressure on this little church was great. Five failed pastorates! Then my house gets ransacked! It seemed to me that Satan had his thumb on our church and we needed to peel it off with God's help.

So we committed to stay until we found the next pastor. It was a very difficult 18+ months until the young and energetic newly minted PhD named Dever showed up.

What conclusions can you draw from this story?

1. God knows and loves his sheep and wants to provide for them (read John 10)
2. As under-shepherds we must protect the sheep and not act like the "hired hand" and depart at the first sign of trouble.
3. Expect trouble.
4. Know that you are almost certainly fighting for ones you have yet to meet..."We're here for the people who will come."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mark 6:1-6: Wondrous Unbelief

What shocks you? If the modern sociologists are correct in their speculations, then it would seem that the constant barrage of media exposure in which we have become immersed has served to inoculate us from anything shocking. No topic is taboo, no imagery is too graphic, no language too offensive. Could it be that we have done what Postman warned a generation ago, and amused ourselves to death? Are we so numb that nothing causes us to wonder? If it’s true, then it is to our shame, for wonderment is something that the Lord Jesus Christ both evoked and experienced when He walked this earth. If we have lost the ability to wonder in amazement, then in this regard, we have lost something significant.

What causes Jesus to wonder in amazement? In Matthew 8, we find the account of a Roman centurion who came to Jesus and told Him that his servant had become grievously ill. When Jesus offered to go with him and heal him, the centurion replied that Jesus need not come but “speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” The centurion understood the power and authority of Jesus in a way that few others did. As Jesus heard this confident expression of faith in the power of His word, He “marveled,” the Bible says, and said to those with Him, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in all Israel.”[1]

The remarkable faith of this centurion caused the Lord Jesus to “marvel” – that is how the NASB translators handled the Greek word thaumazo in that passage. In the ancient secular Greek writings, the word has the sense of astonishment, with a nuance of awe at something unusual or mysterious.[2] According to the count in one reference work, the word occurs some 46 times in the NT, 33 of them in the Gospels.[3] Most of those occurrences describe the reaction of other people to the words and works of Jesus Christ. We find this word, for instance, in Mark 5:20 where everyone was amazed at the testimony of how Christ transformed the life of the man who had been inhabited by a Legion of demons. Yet only two times in the whole NT do we find Jesus as the subject of that verb. The first is in Matthew 8, where He marvels at the faith of the centurion. The second is in our passage which we have read today. Again, faith is what causes Jesus to wonder, only here it is not the presence of great faith, but the remarkable absence of it. Verse 6 tells us that He wondered at their unbelief. He has encountered unbelief before, and will again, yet there is something different about the unbelief He encounters here. It is wondrous unbelief.

The passage carries us from the shores of Capernaum, where Jesus has been teaching and performing miraculous deeds for some time, back to His hometown of Nazareth. Leaving Capernaum, He and His disciples would embark on a 25 mile journey to that little village that was so obscure that it had given rise to a saying: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Indeed something good had come from Nazareth, and now He returns there only to find wondrous unbelief. There are three realities I want to point out from this passage concerning the unbelief that caused Jesus to wonder in amazement.

I. Wondrous Unbelief Rejects Jesus In Spite of Astonishing Evidence (vv1-2)

We don’t know how long Jesus and the disciples had been in town before the Sabbath, but when the Sabbath rolled around, we find Jesus in the synagogue teaching. That fact alone suggests to us that by this time, He had gained a notable reputation as a teacher, and was invited to speak to the people by the synagogue officials. As He taught the people, they were astonished, the text says. Their questions indicate that at least two things astonished them.

A. They were astonished by His words.

Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him? they asked. Now, Mark does not record for us what Jesus was actually teaching on that day. However, Luke has recorded for us a portion of His words proclaimed in the synagogue at Nazareth. Not every scholar is willing to agree that Luke’s event is the same one as Mark’s, preferring instead to see them as two different visits to the Nazareth synagogue, but I am with those who believe that the details are similar enough to equate the two. So what did He say? Look at Luke 4:16-21.

In the providence of God, the scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him. And opening to the predetermined passage for that Sabbath, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 these words:

“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.”

They had heard that passage read many times before. It was not the passage which astonished them, but the commentary that followed, as Jesus said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” indicating that He was the anointed Messiah who had come to deliver God’s people. That is what caused the questions. They had watched Jesus grow up, they had seen him trained as a carpenter, not a rabbi. He was no mysterious stranger coming in on a white horse to bring victory and deliverance from bondage. He was a neighborhood kid. Where did He get these ideas He was teaching, and what was the source of His wisdom? How could He expect them to believe that He was the One Israel had been seeking for its entire history? They were astonished by His words.

But notice also that Jesus did not come with words only. He came with powerful demonstrations that confirmed the truth of what He spoke. And so we see in their questions that also …

B. They were astonished by His works.

They asked among themselves about the nature of such miracles as these performed by His hands. We are not told if perhaps He had been performing miracles around Nazareth prior to that Sabbath, but we know that the folks in Nazareth had at least heard about His power to heal, to cast out demons, to calm a raging storm, and even to raise the dead. Anyone can say astonishing things, but what do you make of someone whose actions back up their words? Several times in the Gospel of John, Jesus said things to the effect of, “If you don’t believe what I say, believe on the basis of the works I do.” They have been given astonishing evidence – not only in the claims of Christ, but in the confirmation of those claims. How easy would it be for them to take the small step from amazement to faith? But it is a step they are unwilling to take. Astonished though they are, they do not believe.

Astonishment is not enough! There are many in the world and all throughout history who have been astonished by Jesus. Something about His words, something about those stories of the great things He has done, something about the lives that He has changed and the wonders He has wrought intrigues them. They become curious, inquisitive, maybe even analytical. But they do not come to place their personal faith in Him as Lord and Savior. And apart from trusting in Him to save you, there is no hope for redemption from our sins, and no matter how astonished a person may be by Christ, if they do not believe, they will perish. Apart from saving faith, a person may be astonished and lost eternally.

Here is one of the features of wondrous unbelief – they hear the words and see the works, and yet they still do not believe! You and I know people like this. No matter how many times we try to share the gospel with them and convince them of their need for Christ, they do not believe. And we are tempted to think that if only they could see some sign, or if they could witness some miracle, then they would believe. But we see in these Nazarenes that some will not believe, no matter how many times they hear or how many signs they see. How can someone reject Christ when they have heard His words and seen His works? It seems illogical to us, but it still happens every day. And their persistent unbelief not only befuddles us, but it also causes the Lord Jesus to wonder.

II. Wondrous Unbelief Takes Offense at Christ on the Basis of Presumptive Familiarity (v3)

Not only were the people astonished by Jesus, verse 3 tells us that they were offended at Him. The Greek verb used here is the source of our English word scandal. It means “to cause to stumble,” and is figuratively applied to refer to but put off or repelled by something. In this case, they stumble over the scandalous claims of Jesus – they are put off and repelled, offended by Him because His claims of who He is and what He has come to do fly so radically in the face of what they presume to be true of Him. They know this guy. They know His family. They know what the Messiah was supposed to look like and how He was supposed to come, or so they thought. And Jesus didn’t live up to any of their preconceived notions. They thought they had Jesus figured out.

A. They knew His siblings.

His brothers are named here: James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. These are all very common Jewish names from the first century. His sisters are mentioned, but they are not named. They are all living normal lives, some if not all of them were probably married, raising families of their own in Nazareth and not stirring up any controversy. In fact, according to Mark 3:21, they all think Jesus has gone a little loco en la cabeza, you know. They don’t believe in Him. So why should Jesus barge into the synagogue and expect anyone else to believe in His fantasies and delusions of grandeur?

B. They knew His skills.

He’s a carpenter. It is interesting that this is the only time in the entire NT that Jesus is called a carpenter. Elsewhere He is called a carpenter’s son, but here it is Jesus who is called the carpenter. There are good reasons to believe that Jesus would have learned Joseph’s trade, and probably spent several years at the trade Himself. After all, He was 30 years old before He entered the public phase of His ministry, and since He would have been considered an adult around age 12, I don’t think He spent 18 years as a freeloader. In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr refers to plows and yokes having been made by Jesus. To appreciate the scandal of this all, picture yourself as a farmer, and you go to church one Sunday and your tractor mechanic stands up and claims to be the Savior of the World. Most of these folks probably had things in their home or their fields that had been made by Him or by Joseph with His help. Surely He can’t be the Messiah! They were offended at such a notion. But there was something else they knew about Him too.

C. They knew His (a-hem) “secret”

This is also the only time in the NT Jesus is called “the son of Mary.” Those of us who believe strongly in the biblical doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ have no problem with this designation. However, we can be relatively certain that when the people of Nazareth called Jesus the son of Mary they weren’t talking about the Virgin Birth. Even though it is widely agreed that by this time Joseph had probably died, it would have still been highly uncommon to refer to Jesus or any other Jewish male as the son of his mother. Anytime this was done, it was not complimentary. We know that there were probably rumors circulating within Jesus’ lifetime concerning the unusual circumstances surrounding His birth. In John 8:41, some of the Jews quickly retorted to Jesus that they were not born of fornication, implying indirectly that they believed or at least had heard tell that He had been born illegitimately. Later on, Jewish polemical writings would claim that Jesus had been born from an illicit liaison between Mary and a Gentile named Pandera. Whether this story was already circulating, we do not know, but certainly there were some who were quick to discount stories about this unwed Jewish girl becoming pregnant through some divine work of the Holy Spirit. Joseph and Mary had likely often felt the piercing stare of onlookers who gossiped among themselves about the mysterious origins of Jesus. A custom of the Jews in ancient days was to never speak of the birth of a person born in adultery as long as he remained faithful. But if that person became an apostate and rejected or blasphemed the ancient faith, “his illegitimate birth shall be spoken of publicly and unsparingly.” So in calling Jesus “the son of Mary,” they were calling attention to the circumstances of His birth (as they understood them), and at the same time labeling Him as a heretic in their eyes.[4] These are not characteristics lending themselves to one claiming to be Messiah in their eyes.

They knew His siblings, they knew His skills, and they even knew His secret, or so they thought. And on the basis of this presumptive familiarity, they were offended at Jesus’ claims to be Messiah. But they didn’t know the whole truth. They didn’t know, or at least didn’t believe, that He had been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. They didn’t believe that His true father was God Himself. They didn’t accept that God would choose such an unorthodox method of bringing His Anointed Messiah into the world. And because they were offended at these things, they discounted Jesus with wondrous unbelief.

This remains a besetting problem for people in our day who presume to have Jesus all figured out. We hear it in conversation with those who grew up in Sunday School and perhaps who regularly attend church, but who have become presumptively familiar with a pseudo-Jesus who is not the Christ of Scripture. “My Jesus,” they say, “would not say and do things like this and such.” We proclaim without hesitation or apology that Jesus Christ is the virgin-born incarnation of God who lived a sinless life and died a sinner’s death as our substitute on the cross for the atonement of sin, and who rose victoriously over death, and that He alone is our only hope for salvation – there is no other means of salvation except through Him, and anyone who rejects Him will spend eternity in hell. What response does that evoke? People are offended. “No, no,” they say, “My Jesus would never condemn anyone to hell. He’s not that narrow-minded. Not the smiling happy Jesus I saw on the flannel-graph in VBS. My grandma told me all I need to know about Jesus, and she never said a word about that.” They think they’ve got Him figured out, but they do not consider His very clear claims. He said, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” That is offensive, but the offensiveness does not make it less true. Wondrous unbelief denies the claims that Jesus makes of Himself and substitutes the pseudo-Jesus with whom we are presumptively familiar.

III. Wondrous Unbelief Receives a Surprising Response from Jesus (vv4-6)

How does Jesus respond to their astonishment and their offense at Him? He doesn’t argue with them, He does not beg them to reconsider. He doesn’t offer to show them more proofs. That is what we might do. We might say, if one of us were in His shoes, “So, you don’t believe in me, well, what if I call down fire from heaven to destroy your house, then would you believe me?” That is how James and John wanted to respond when the Samaritans would not receive Jesus. They said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” I kind of wish Jesus had said, “Well, let Me see what you can do?” But He didn’t. Instead Jesus rebuked them led them on to another village. And here, His response is equally as surprising.

A. Jesus Expected Their Unbelief (v4)

Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household." He employed a well-known saying in those days to indicate they responded exactly as He knew they would. Similar sayings to this one are found in ancient writings from many different cultures, but this had special relevance to the Jewish culture. God had been raising up prophets in Israel for centuries, but they were seldom well-received. In fact, in Luke 11, Jesus said that God sent those prophets knowing they would be persecuted and killed. He didn’t expect that He would be received any better than Moses or Jeremiah were in their day. He expected rejection in Nazareth, and from His relatives, and in His own household, so their reaction to Him did not take Him by surprise. He is God – He knows how they will respond. But it says something about the persistent pursuit of God for His people that even though Jesus knew how they would receive Him, or more to point, that they wouldn’t receive Him, He went to Nazareth anyway to proclaim the truth to them. In God’s time and in His way, some of these who initially had written Jesus off came to believe in Him. We know that Mary believed. We know that later on, James would come to faith and be a leader in the early church in Jerusalem. We believe it was him who wrote the letter of James in the NT. And Judas, the brother of Jesus mentioned in v3, is the one we believe wrote the book of Jude. There is evidence in the writings of the early church that some of these had children and grandchildren who were in the faith nearly a century later.

This says something to us in our efforts to witness to unbelievers in our hometown, in our place of business, in our own family. Many of you know firsthand that the hardest ones to reach are often those closest to you. And while we have great hopes that our loved ones will come to Christ, God already knows what their response will be. And some will believe and some won’t. But still, we must be persistent to present a consistent witness before them. Never give up! And I believe it is also vitally important that we pray that God will put others in their path, for if they don’t listen to us, maybe they will to someone else. I am so glad my Christian friends never gave up on me. I ran into a guy at the Baptist State Convention who used to witness to me in high school. When he saw me at the Convention, he thought I must have been in the wrong place. He actually apologized that he had not been a better witness to me. But what more could he have done? He and other Christians were persistent in speaking of Christ to me, and living their testimony before my eyes. And though they thought I may never come to faith, God knew that they were not sowing seeds in vain. In His time, and in His way, God invaded my life by His Spirit, convinced me of His presence, convicted me of my sin, and converted my soul to faith in Him, bringing all the seeds of those witnesses to fruition.

B. Jesus Withheld Further Revelation From Them (v5a)

He could do no miracle there …. Underlying several of the preceding miracles that have been performed by Jesus in other places was the common denominator of faith. What then should we expect where it is absent? Now we should not understand this to mean that the power of Jesus was somehow involuntarily limited by the unbelief of these people. No earthly force can limit that power of God. However, God often, on the basis of His sovereign will, chooses to limit Himself. John Calvin put it this way: “Unbelievers, as far as lies in their power, bind up the hands of God by their obstinacy; not that God is overcome, as if he were an inferior, but because they do not permit him to display his power.”[5] William Lane comments, “The performance of miracles in the absence of faith could have resulted only in the aggravation of human guilt and the hardening of men’s hearts aginst God.” Jesus knew that they would not believe even if they saw more signs, or else that their belief would have been forced and would not have come from a sincere heart ready to receive the gracious gift of God’s salvation. Thus, by refusing to show them more signs, Jesus is graciously withholding from them the greater guilt of rejecting more revelation. Lane goes on to say, “Unbelief excluded the people of Nazareth from the dynamic disclosure of God’s grace that others had experienced.”[6] And so, in saying that Jesus could do no miracle there, the point is not that they limited Jesus’ power, but rather that their collective unbelief has deprived Nazareth of the opportunity to receive it.

C. Jesus Availed Himself to a Believing Remnant (v5b)

In the midst of an aggregate of wondrous unbelief, there were still some who came to Christ in faith, and these were healed by the touch of His hand. We often speak of a place as being “God forsaken,” but there are no such places. For wherever Christ finds faith in the hearts of men, there He makes Himself available and demonstrates His power to save, to heal and to transform lives. And in so doing, Jesus not only changes that life forever, but leaves an abiding testimony of the grace that could be received by others if only they would turn in faith to Him. Jesus left Nazareth that day, and we don’t know if He ever returned there. But there remained several people there whose transformed lives would forever witness to His grace and His power.

We began this morning by asking the question, “What causes Jesus to wonder in amazement?” The answer is faith. On one occasion, He marvels at the presence of it. On another, He wonders at its absence. And so we would ask today, when Christ examines your life, does He marvel at the presence of your faith, or does He wonder at the absence of faith? If you have trusted Him as Lord and Savior, then He has saved you and transformed your life by His grace and you are a testimony for all to see. You are a living, breathing display of His glory and power. But if you have not received Him, we would simply ask, what more is needed? Do you need more evidence? Are you open-minded enough to believe even if He gave it to you? And what more can He give? He has given His life for you and conquered death, Luke will say in Acts 1:3, with many convincing proofs. Do you deserve more evidence than that? Or would you still scoff at His claims even if He gave you more proof? At what point would your response cease to be faith and become coercion? Have you resisted Jesus because you are offended by the things He has said and done? Have you created in your imagination a more palatable and less-offensive Jesus? Unfortunately, that pseudo-Jesus is not the one before whom you will give account. It is the Christ of Scripture with whom you have to do, and if you reject Him, there is no other hope available for you. The pseudo-Jesus is not the saving Jesus. There is only one who saves: The One who is God-incarnate, who was born of a virgin, who died in our place, and who conquered death by His resurrection. It is this Jesus whom we present to you today in hopes that if you never have before, you will turn in faith and repentance to Him and find forgiveness of your sins. It is this Jesus we must present to the world, though they may be astonished or offended at Him, though they may cause even Him to wonder at their unbelief.

[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 157.

[2] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Abridged in One Volume (Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard Friedrich, eds) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 316.

[3] George V. Wigram, The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998), 360-361.

[4] Hiebert, 154-155.

[5] John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, online at www.ccel.org.

[6] William L. Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 204.