Friday, August 31, 2007

Being Unfashionable

Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy & Ruth Graham and pastor of New City Presbyterian Church offers this much needed word to the church:

"If I were to identify one trend in the church today that concerns me,
it would be our fascination with “fitting in.” The sad fact is, we’ve
come to believe that the best way to reach the world is to become just
like the world. When in reality, we make a difference by being
different. We don’t make a difference by being the same. We need to
remember that it is the calling and the privilege of Christians to be against the world for
the world. In fact, it is, in the words of theologian David Wells,
“those who are cognitively and morally dislocated from worldly culture
that alone carry the power to change it.” Christians should be
encouraged and challenged by the historical reminder that the Church
has always served the world best when it has been most counter
cultural, most distinctively different from the world. I would love to
see a radical commitment to being unfashionable."

HT: Justin Taylor

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mark 6:45-52 -- Who Is Jesus? True and False Ideas

(Audio of this message will not be available online. Tapes of the message are available by contacting Immanuel Baptist Church of Greensboro, NC).

There is a running joke at all three theological institutions from which I have graduated about answering questions when you don’t know the answers. Basically it says, when you don’t know the answer to a question, go with “Jesus,” “the Bible” or “prayer.” And you’ll be right more often than not. So it is sometimes with preaching. When someone asks you later in the week what the pastor’s sermon was on last Sunday, you can usually say, “Jesus,” or “the Bible,” or “prayer,” and you’ll be close enough to satisfy most inquirers. I heard a story like this, probably from a church out west or something, about a man who went to church one Sunday while his wife was home sick. When the man returned, his wife said, “What did the pastor preach about?” The man thought for a minute and said, “Sin.” But his wife asked a follow-up question: “What did he say about it?” The man responded, “I think he said he was against it.” Well, today’s sermon is about Jesus. Namely, it is about true and false ideas about Him, and let me say up front that I am against false ideas about Him, and all in favor of everyone having true ideas about Him.

In the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, entitled Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll records for us the conversation about words between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. In a context with which Alice is unfamiliar, Humpty says, “There’s glory for you!” Alice responds saying, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’.” Humpty Dumpty, smiling contemptuously, says, “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant, ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’” Alice objects matter of factly, “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument.” But Humpty Dumpty scornfully replies, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” To which Alice says, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Then after some further dialogue, Humpty Dumpty explains what he means by the word, “Impenetrability.” “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.” And then in a thoughtful tone, Alice says, “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.”[1]

When Lewis Carroll wrote these words nearly 150 years ago, perhaps he foresaw the day coming which we now refer to as postmodernism where absolute truth has been lost, and words have lost their meaning, and communication is utterly meaningless. He could not have known that we would live to witness a president arguing to defend his own immorality over the exact meaning of the word “is.” In this day and age in which we live, the meanings of words are constantly challenged. One internet site claims to be a “dictionary with your definitions,” and operates with the tagline, “Define Your World.” And religious terminology does not escape the line of fire. Nor does the meaning of the simple name, “Jesus.” Ask ten people on the street who He was, and you will likely get ten different answers, (depending on the street). Some even clarify their understanding of Jesus by referring to him with the possessive pronoun, “My Jesus,” and then fill in the blank with some figment of their own depraved imagination. I want to say sometimes when I hear these things, “That’s a great deal to make one name mean.” But confusion about who Jesus is did not arise with the dawn of postmodernism. He faced it 2000 years ago when He walked this earth.

The passage before us today begins where the previous one leaves off. The scene has not changed. Jesus has just miraculously fed 5,000 men, in addition to women and children – a crowd that has been estimated to be near 20,000 people. And now, it is evening, and the sun has set, and we find Jesus compelling His disciples depart and dismissing the crowds. Why does He do this? And what is the significance of the miracle of walking on water? It all has to do with true and false ideas about Jesus.

Let us begin by looking at the

I. False ideas about Jesus

In the wake of this great miracle of feeding the multitudes, we find Jesus sending everyone away. In verse 45, we find that Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go. The wording indicates compulsion – He made them do it. And rather than having the disciples dissipate the crowd, Jesus sends them away Himself, and v46 tells us that left for the mountain to pray. Mark, in his typical brevity, does not tell us why Jesus sends everyone away here. But John does. If the chronological ordering of the Gospels that is widely held is accurate, Mark likely wrote first, and John likely wrote last, filling in information that Mark, Luke, and Matthew omitted. If that is the case, then what John includes at this point in the movement of his gospel helps us to understand why Jesus sent the crowds away so abruptly. And we will see that is has to do with …

A. False ideas about His dominion

In John 6:15, we read that Jesus perceived that the crowd intended to take Him by force to make Him king. The Jewish people of that region had lived under the thumb of Rome, manifested in the local authority of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who had John the Baptist put to death. Often oppressed, and impoverished, the miraculous multiplication of bread at the hands of Jesus suggested to them that with Him as their leader, they would finally know true peace, prosperity, and victory over their oppressors. And even though Jesus was not campaigning, He understood that their intentions were to force Him to become their new king.

Well, what would be so wrong with that? After all, had he not been born a king? That is what the magi said who came from the East. They met Herod Antipas’ father Herod the Great, and asked, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews?” In fact, Pilate would later ask Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus will say, “It is as you say.” But Jesus also said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” The Jewish people expected a deliverer to come and overthrow the governing authorities which had oppressed them and bring them into the state of God’s blessed shalom – peace, prosperity, and well-being. But Jesus came to bring about the deliverance from a greater oppressor than Rome. Were the Jews to be delivered from Rome, they would find that they were still in bondage – not to an earthly power, but to the power of sin which had overtaken the entire human race. That was the enemy Jesus came to overthrow. And He would gain victory over sin at the cross and by His resurrection. And His Kingdom would be established in the hearts of those who found deliverance from sin by faith in Him.

Jesus is coming again to reign on this earth as the ultimate King of kings, but first, his Kingdom enters the world secretly, as it were, one heart at a time. And any effort to force Him upon an earthly throne before the appropriate time was a temptation for Him to abandon His Father’s plan to redeem the human race from sin. And because of these false ideas about His dominion, Jesus sends the disciples away, lest they get caught up in this movement, and He dismisses the crowd to quell their fervor for a temporary deliverance, when an eternal one is what He had come to provide.

So too we must be on guard, lest we believe that Jesus has come to be a means to our own preconceived ends. We must not assume that Jesus is always who we want Him to be or has come to bring us what we want or help us accomplish our goals in life. He has come to redeem us from sin and transform our lives to His purposes – He will not be transformed to ours. He is the potter, we are the clay, but so often, we try to reverse those roles and make Jesus into what we want Him to be. And this boils down to a false idea about His dominion, for we are not subjecting ourselves to His divine Kingship, but rather seeking to employ Him in our services in our own personal world where we ourselves are King. This He will not do.

But we also see that there is another false idea about Jesus.

B. False ideas about His provision (v52)

Even the disciples are mistaken about Jesus. Mark tells us that they had not understood the feeding of the multitude because their hearts were hardened. This is what I call the tragedy of the full belly and the hardened heart. They had witnessed one the most amazing miracles of Jesus, and even taken part in it by gathering the five loaves and two fish for Him, and distributing the multiplied abundance to the masses. They had eaten their fill from 12 leftover baskets. And though certainly they could be counted among those who verse 42 says “ate and were satisfied,” they had missed the significance of that moment with Jesus. Like many before them, and many since, they were satisfied with the gifts without considering the Giver. Whereas the first error we discussed has to do essentially with what people want Jesus to be for them, this one has to do with what people want Him to do for them. Fill my stomach, fill my bank accounts, fill my life with all the stuff I want. But don’t bore me with too much information, you know Bible teaching and all that stuff, because I think I already have it all figured out.

This false idea about Jesus is so prevalent under the circus tent of Christianity today that it often escapes notice. It is obvious and overt in the “Prosperity” movement that dominates most of what is called Christian on television and in Charismatic circles. The entire focus of that movement is on the gifts rather than the giver. But it has crept in unnoticed even in the evangelical world where churches market themselves as a goods and services provider rather than a center for worship, instruction, and edification. In these churches, the individual is treated as a consumer, and the gospel is sold as a discounted commodity. The exposition of Scripture has been discarded for what is advertised as more relevant, practical “life tips,” which are as transitory as each passing day. We have come to tolerate the singing of songs which are not about God Himself or Christ Himself, but rather about ourselves, namely how we feel and what we have from God. Our focus too often and too rapidly shifts from the Giver to the gifts. A much needed corrective needs to be sounded in our day, calling us back to seeking the face of God before, or better rather, than seeking His hand – worshiping His eternal person rather than worrying about His temporal provisions.

Now it is not that God doesn’t provide for us. He does, and not for us only, but for the whole world in a general way. We read in Matthew 5:45 that He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. But what we see today is a corrupted understanding of a Biblical promise. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, And He will give you the desires of your heart.” This precious promise has been misunderstood to mean that if I call myself a Christian, then God is obligated to give me whatever I want. But, notice there is a condition – Delight yourself in the Lord. That means that He becomes the primary desire of your heart. And when He is your primary heart’s desire, you will never be disappointed. And He will place in your heart desires for those things which are pleasing to Him so that you begin to want what He wants you to have.

The problem with these disciples is that they had their sights set too low. They were content with bread to fill the stomach, when that bread served as a sign to point them to a greater satisfaction they could know in their souls if they would look from the gifts to the Giver Himself. We are as C. S. Lewis wrote, “far too easily pleased,” “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us.”

So both in the passage and all around us today we find mistaken notions, false ideas about Jesus. Some deal with His dominion – what He will be for us; some deal with His provision – what He can do for us. We are in need, not of speculations or imaginations about Jesus, but revelation about Him. And so were the disciples, and that is what they receive as we turn our attention to …

II. True Revelation of Jesus (vv47-52)

We often find people in our day saying things such as, “I like to think of God as …,” and then they say whatever it is that they think God is like. I try to always respond to those statements with a question: “I wonder what God thinks of you thinking of Him that way?” You see, if God really exists, then it really matters what we think of Him. There must be some objective truth about Him, distinct from our subjective speculations and wishes. But the question is, “How do we know what to believe about God?” The simple answer is that God must tell us.

Plato, in the Phaedo, speaks of navigating our way through life’s seas of darkness and doubt on the raft of our own understanding (our “best and most irrefragable of human notions”). This, he says, is “not without risk,” unless we can find “some word of God which will more surely and safely carry him.” So, how does God make Himself known to us? He speaks and He acts. And all our notions about Him must fall in line with what He reveals about Himself in His words and His deeds.

The disciples are out to sea, and Jesus is alone, praying on the mountain. A strong wind, common in the evenings on the Sea of Galilee, has come up, and Jesus sees the disciples out there, straining at the oars. Literally, the wording is often used to describe torture. They are being tortured trying to drive the boat against the wind. And during the fourth watch of the night, that is between 3-6 AM, Jesus came to them walking on the water. Now our text tells us that the disciples thought it was a ghost, literally a phantasm, and they were terrified. Lest you think this was some seafarer’s hallucination, like a mermaid or something, Mark is very clear to point out that they all saw Him. Hallucinations are individualistic – they do not happen to groups. This really was Jesus, and He really was walking on the water. But they did not know how to process this. The best they could come up with was that it was a ghost. After all the miracles they had seen, including the one that had just filled their stomachs, they did not perceive that walking on the water was something that Jesus could do.

Now, it is somewhat surprising that the text says, “He intended to pass by them.” This was a test of faith, to see if they would recognize Him rightly and call out to Him. But they did not. There is revelation taking place here, that should affirm in their hearts just who Jesus is. Had they been familiar with their Old Testaments, they would have perhaps understood this. In Job 9:8, Job recognizes that it is only God who has the power to trample down the waves of the sea, and in verse 11, Job says, “Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; Were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him.” In fact there are several references in the Old Testament to God walking upon the waters. And in treading across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is demonstrating visibly that He is God. But like Job said, even as He does, the disciples do not recognize Him.

So hard are their hearts toward receiving the revelation of His miracles that Jesus speaks to them. He gives them two imperatives: “Take courage” and “do not be afraid.” Now here are these 12 guys, being beaten and battered by the wind and waves, and they think they have seen a ghost passing by them. I mean, what would you do? Would you be courageous, or would you be afraid? How could Jesus expect them to take courage and not be afraid? The words between those two imperatives are the reason. Most of our English translations have the words, “It is I.” But in the Greek text, we find those all-important words, Ego eimi, which we might do better to literally translate, “I AM.” On several important revelatory occasions in the Gospels, Jesus uses these words to identify Himself, but He is doing more than saying, “Hey, it’s me.” He is taking upon Himself that divine name by which God revealed Himself to Moses. In Exodus 3, when Moses asks for the name of God, God responds saying: “‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.’”

So Jesus reveals His true nature to the disciples here, by doing what only God can do – walking on the water; and by taking upon Himself the revealed name of God – “I AM.” How is it that they can take courage and fear not – because God Himself is in their midst. And with this word of revelation, the winds and waves are stilled, and the disciples are astonished.

Who is Jesus? That is the most important question in all of life. And we must not answer that question in some subjective speculation, as if to say, “To me, He is such-and-such.” If we resort to our own depraved imaginations to define Jesus we will get it wrong. John Calvin said that the minds of men are idol-making factories, and we will shape Jesus into what we want Him to be – with mistaken notions of His dominion and His provision. But we must allow Him to answer that question for us. “Lord Jesus, who are you?” And He walks across the storm and says, “I AM.” He is the God who created and controls this world and all that is in it, who came to us out of mercy, love, and grace to save us from our sins and reconcile to Himself. That is who He is – take courage; be not afraid; but tremble in astonishment, and awe, and worship in His presence. Let Him be and do what He came to be and do. He came to be your Lord and Savior, He came to take your sins upon Himself so that you could be forgiven and justified as righteous before God.

[1] Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (HarperFestival, 2002), pp 88-89.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

When Compassion Interrupts Our Plans --Mark 6:30-44

Audio from this sermon, delivered on August 19, is available by right-clicking here, or on the podcast on iTunes.

I am a surfer. Some of you are too. I often have my favorite surfing device nearby and use it on a regular basis. No, I am not a beach-bum, and in fact I have never attempted to stand on a surfboard. I am not a wave surfer, but a channel surfer and my surfing device is the remote control. It has been said that women are interested in what’s on TV, while men are more typically interested in “what else is on.” Hence the invention of the remote control. When we find time for entertainment in front of the television, the remote control enables to say, “Please don’t interrupt my entertainment with advertisements or other things I don’t want to hear right now.”

Human nature is by and large opposed to interruption. Yet, as much as we despise interruptions, and no matter how we try to avoid them, they happen. They happened to Jesus and His disciples and they will continue to happen to us. One of my favorite preachers in the history of the Christian church is G. Campbell Morgan, who died in 1945 at the age of 81 after spending most of his career as the pastor of the great Westminster Chapel in London. Morgan left us with volumes of excellent biblical exposition, the fruit of countless hours of daily study. Yet Morgan knew that interruptions were bound to happen and sometimes necessary and God-ordained. He said once, “I never begin my work in the morning without thinking that perhaps He may interrupt my work and begin His own.”

So averse are we to interruptions that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that God may be at work in the interruption to further His plans for us, or to work through us for the benefit of others. We see just that sort of interruption in the passage before us today. The disciples have plans for a little private get-away with the Lord, but a crowd of thousands interrupted those plans. And what happens as a result is a miraculous demonstration of our Lord’s compassion.

Let us look first of all at …

I. The Rest that Was Intended (vv30-32)

Verse 30 picks up where verse 13 left off. You may recall how we have mentioned in several passages prior to this one that Mark often uses a “sandwich” technique in his writing, where he will interrupt one story to tell another one, and then return to the first one. He has done that here by placing the account of the death of John the Baptist in the middle of the account of the sending out of the twelve in teams of two. Verses 12 and 13 tell us that they were preaching and casting out demons and that the sick were being healed. And in verse 30, we read that they have now come back to Jesus to report on their missions. And Jesus welcomes them back by inviting them, in v31, to “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Why was this necessary?

A. To Reconnect With the Lord

You recall that when Jesus called these twelve, Mark 3:14 stated their twofold function: that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach. They were with Him, then He sent them out, and now they need to be with Him again. We never get to the place in our lives when we no longer need to spend time in the private audience of Jesus. Each of us needs to be in the regular practice of withdrawing from the crowds and demands of public life to spend time in His presence. If it was true for the twelve, then it is true for us as well. Do you have a regular practice of getting off to yourself with your Bible to allow Christ to speak His truth to you and you converse with Him in prayer? If not, then let me challenge you to do that. The most effective workers for Christ are the most faithful worshipers of Christ, and we will never do more for Him publicly than we do with Him privately. The twelve needed to get away to reconnect with the Lord. But also this sojourn into the secluded place was necessary …

B. To Rest from Their Labor

The twelve had been rigorously engaged in traveling, preaching, and ministering to people for some time under less than optimal conditions and comforts. In verses 8 and 9, Jesus prohibited them from taking any possessions with them on their journeys other than their walking staffs, their sandals, and a single tunic. And so this rest would be a welcomed respite.

1. They need rest because of their fatigue.

If rest were not important for us, God would not have commanded the Sabbath. God knows our human limitations and the needs of our bodies, and has commanded us to rest from the fatigues of laboring, even when our labor has been for Him. Expending ourselves in ministry can be draining, as many of you know first hand. And so, we have need of a Sabbath rest. While we are not bound by the letter of the law and the yoke of the Pharisees to take that rest every Saturday, we are still responsible for maintaining the spirit of the Sabbath law to rest from our labors. Now, frankly, there are some who need to rest from their labor, and others who need to labor from their resting. Some need to become active in the service of Christ and His church and afford those who are in need of rest the opportunity to find it! Because laboring for Christ and others will soon exhaust the Christian worker, and without rest, one becomes burned out, running on vapors, and in need of precious time spent resting the body and refreshing the spirit. Vance Havner once said, “If you don’t come apart, you will come apart.” So it was for the twelve, and so it is for us. But also we see …

2. They needed relief because of their famine.

In verse 31, we see that the demands of the people upon the twelve were interfering with their ability to even eat a meal. Here again, there are times when we need to skip a meal here and there when necessity demands it, but our bodies require food for energy. We can do more for Christ when we maintain ourselves rightly, and the twelve had been unable to do that. So this time away from it all would allow them to nourish themselves physically as well as spiritually. And there come such times of life for all of us as well.

So Jesus and the twelve boarded “the boat”—we assume that this was the same boat they regularly traveled in, likely belonging to Peter or one of the other fishermen in the group—and they set out for a secluded place for some much needed and long anticipated R&R. But they would have to wait a while for this rest that was intended because of …

II. The Reality that Interrupted (vv33-44)

I am quite sure we have all experienced these sorts of interruptions. We have plans for a little private time, a little leisure, a holiday by the sea – a break from reality. But reality comes crashing in on those plans and forces us to change our plans. Reality is no respecter of our plans, and often becomes an interrupter of those plans. So it was here.

A. The Reason for the Interruption (v33)

They were trying to slip away privately, but they were spotted – the text tells us that the people saw them and recognized them. And faster than the boat could sail, a crowd of people ran ahead of them to the place where the boat was coming to shore. It was “a large crowd,” Mark tells us. There were 5,000 men, and the word for men in verse 44 is gender specific. Matthew 14:21 tells us that there were women and children in addition to these. Some have estimated soundly that there might have been 20,000 people there on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. There was not a single town in all of Galilee with a population that large. Mark says they had come from “all the cities.” Word had traveled fast, and the people traveled even faster. What were they doing there?

They wanted to see Jesus. They wanted to hear the words everyone was talking about and see the marvels, and experience the wonder of His power!

Now, I would have liked to have been in that boat just to hear what was being whispered among the disciples. Perhaps there would have been some who would have relished in their popularity, saying something like, “Wow! Look at all those people! They are waiting for us! This is so cool!” But, I don’t know, something inside of me thinks that there might have been some who thought differently, like, “Oh no! Quickly, Peter, change course, Jibe Ho! John, grab the rutter. We gotta go somewhere else! We’re trying to get away from this mob. We have plans! We’re ON VACATION!” But Jesus had them to stay the course, bringing the disciples into the midst of this crowd that awaited them.

Why? After all, this vacation was His idea. Why does He delay the disciples’ solitude? One little word in verse 34 tells us – Compassion. The crowds are not to blame for the interruption. After all, who could blame them for wanting to be near Jesus? No, the interruption is brought about because of the compassion of Jesus. Apart from His compassion, that boat veers off in another direction and this scene never unfolds.

This word that is translated “compassion” in our Bibles is a Greek word that is only used in the New Testament with reference to Jesus. Only He shows this kind of compassion. And why does He have such compassion on this crowd? Because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains this, saying, “There were questions but no answers, distress but no relief, anguish of conscience but no deliverance, tears but no consolation, sin but no forgiveness.” Here is a whole mass of people, lacking direction and purpose in their lives, like sheep desperately in need of a shepherd. And in the providence of God, a compassionate shepherd is coming ashore to meet their lives’ deepest need.

B. The Response to the Interruption (vv33ff)

Jesus has compassion on this crowd of people, and genuine compassion always produces action. The compassion of Jesus is not that kind of condescending pity that we often think of, as if to say, “Look at those poor folks. What a shame. Now, what was it that we were doing? Oh right, we are on vacation.” No, Jesus’ compassion interrupts the plans as He responds to the crowd. And what does He do for them out of this compassion?

1. He teaches them (v34)

“He began to teach them many things.” As a matter of first importance, Jesus confronts the deepest need of these people – more than anything else, what they need is the revelation of God found in His Word. And Jesus began to teach it to them. There is a popular saying that I am sure many of you have heard – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” There is some truth to that certainly. We hear best those who have demonstrated concern most deeply for us. But, are there not times when the most compassionate and caring thing we can do for someone is tell them what we know?

Look at it this way. Suppose you are standing on a railroad track. Now suppose someone else is driving down the street and sees just around the bend that a train is coming. As they come near to you, they stop the car and roll down the window and say, “A train is coming! You better get off the track!” Do you say, “Well, I don’t care how much you know. I want to know how much you care.” No. You understand that they are demonstrating their care for you by telling you what they know.

How does Jesus take action to demonstrate His compassion for the people? By teaching them. The culture in which we live has so devalued truth, and the church so devalued the Word of God, that by and large today, preaching and teaching the Bible is seen as a relatively unimportant thing. Friends it is not only important – it is the most important thing. Because the goal of teaching God’s Word is not the transfer of information, but the transformation of lives as God’s word is explained, understood, applied, and obeyed. I labor in the word every week, not because I have nothing better to do, or because I just really like to do it. My labor in preparing to preach is a labor of love. Because I love you, I want you to hear God’s Word, and understand it, and know how to apply it and obey it, so that the Holy Spirit can transform your life. There is compassion in communicating the Word of God. The great expositor Alexander MacLaren said, “Do we habitually try to cultivate as ours Christ’s way of looking at men, and Christ’s emotions towards men? If we do, we shall imitate Christ’s actions for men, and shall recognize that, to reproduce as well as we can the ‘many thing’ which He taught them, is the best contribution which His disciples can make to healing the misery of a Christless world.

Out of His compassion, Jesus taught them many things. But His compassion did not end there, and neither must ours. Out of His compassion …

2. He Feeds Them (vv35-44)

Because the hour was late (apparently He did not give them a short sermon), and the place where they were was so remote, a concern arose that these people better get home to eat or else there could be an uprising. Many a long-winded Baptist preacher has known this same concern. But the disciples’ answer to the brewing dilemma is much different than the Lord’s. In their eyes, the best thing to do is “send them away” (v36). But Jesus answer is “You give them something to eat.”

John tells us in his account of this event that it was Philip who calculated that it would take 200 denarii to feed them all. Two hundred denarii was about 8 months wages for an average working person in those days. In fact, John tells us that this would only provide enough food for everyone to have “a little” food. So Jesus sends them to round up what they can find. It is never the way of Jesus to focus on what you don’t have, but on what you do have. We make so many excuses as to why we can’t do what God has asked us to do, but God will always point us to what we have – what He has already provided for us. It’s true in life, and it’s true in church. True, we don’t have a lot of things that some think we need. But our task is to look at what God has provided for us already and ask how we might use these things to bless the world around us.

Again John gives us insight here, telling us that there was a boy who had five loaves and two fish. Remember, we are talking about somewhere around 20,000 people. What good will five loaves and two fish do for a crowd that large? Nonetheless, Jesus has them gather in groups of 100s and 50s there on the green grass. And Jesus took those 5 loaves and those 2 fish and blessed them, and broke them, and He kept giving them to the disciples. And the wondrous thing about it is not that all had a tiny portion, but that all ate and were satisfied. They ate their fill. And they had 12 baskets of leftovers – enough even for the disciples to have a full meal too.

It is humorous to survey the various ways that the Bible’s critics have tried to explain away the miracle here. But the fact of the matter is that there is no explanation for the miraculous. We have in our New Testaments four eyewitness accounts of the tremendous wonder that Jesus performed here. It is the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels. And it is significant that this miracle occurs in connection with “teaching.” When God gives new revelation of Himself, He affirms that revelation through signs and wonders. All that Jesus has just taught them about Himself and His Kingdom is validated through His powerful demonstration of His divine authority. Just as this bread satisfies their physical hunger, so Jesus Himself, the bread of life, as they have encountered Him in His teaching will satisfy their deepest need – that of salvation from sin and life transformation.

What can we take away from this passage today? There are several things:

Jesus affirms that there will come times when the faithful laborer in His mission needs to come aside to reconnect with Him and rest from their service. Some of you today perhaps need that. Don’t feel bad about it, just do it. But remember, are talking about rest, and not retirement. And there are others who need to step up to the task and serve God so that the weary ones can take a step back for a season of much needed Sabbath rest.

Secondly, we are challenged about how we view interruptions. Might it be that what we view as an interruption is really a divine appointment where God desires to use us in a mighty way to accomplish His purposes in someone else’s life? May we have the outlook that G. Campbell Morgan had when he said, “I never begin my work in the morning without thinking that perhaps He may interrupt my work and begin His own.” And not only in terms of our work, but our rest, and our plans – How open are you to God interrupting your plans so that He might carry out His through you?

Third, do you view people as Christ views them? He sees them as sheep without a shepherd, and has compassion on them. But it is not the pity we often express with empty words – it is a compassion that leads to action – the action of proclaiming God’s truth and meeting the needs of others.

Fourth, do you make excuses about serving Christ based on what you perceive as your lack, or rather, do you look for His provisions already present in your life that may enable you to fulfill His calling on your life?

Finally, have you received the true bread of life that satisfies forever? Have you come to Christ to have your sins forgiven, to receive eternal life, to be transformed by His powerful grace? If not, then we invite you to do so today. Receive Him as Lord and Savior of your life and find the satisfaction of your life’s deepest need that only He can provide.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Guide for Worship and Doctrine: B

Following is the first draft of the "B" 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. If you missed the "A" section, they can be found here. Here's the "B" list:

Baptism: The baptism found in the New Testament is that of believers, and the mode of baptism is immersion (being taken completely under the water), in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptists believe that the act of baptism is a symbolic and visible demonstration, symbolizing the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and our participation with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3 ff.). We therefore call baptism an “ordinance” (something done in obedience to a command, or “order”), rather than a “sacrament” (something which confers, by the doing of it, a new dispensation of grace, or gift from God). We reject the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation, but encourage baptism as a step of obedience to Christ and a testimony to one’s faith in Him. We believe Jesus called us all to be baptized, as He was baptized, after one makes a faith commitment to follow the calling of God to salvation and ministry. Baptism is an outward demonstration of that choice, and provides a rite of passage into the church.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit: The prophet Joel foresaw the day when God’s people would receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32). The initial onset of this phenomenon occurred on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2. Since that day, at the moment an individual places his or her faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the individual is baptized with the Holy Spirit. This means that the individual is immersed in the presence of God – He dwells within that individual in the person of the Holy Spirit. His presence brings conviction of sin, the enlightenment of understanding God’s word, and the empowerment for service by gifting Christians for the edification of the church. Baptists do not believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens some time after salvation, nor do we believe that it is the result of rituals or works, nor is it evidenced by any particular outward signs. Evidence of the Spirit’s presence in a person’s life is found in the “fruit” He produces, identified in Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. While the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs only once in a person’s life, at the moment of conversion, Christians should seek the constant “filling” of the Spirit, whereby he or she lives under the control of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Baptist: The question of what a Baptist is often divides even Baptists themselves. A minimal definition would include the following core beliefs: Regenerate church membership (one must be a born-again believer in Christ to be a member of the church); autonomy of the local church; congregational government; priesthood of all believers; symbolic understanding of the ordinances of baptism and church membership. Though there are many different varieties of Baptists, and much variation within each Baptist denomination, these core beliefs are hallmarks of the Baptist tradition. Southern Baptist beliefs are summarized in the Baptist Faith and Message.

Baptist Faith and Message: A confession of the consensus of Baptist belief on the core issues of the Christian faith. It is a confession, not a creed, meaning that it does not dictate what a Baptist must believe, but rather reports what most Baptists do believe. The most recent edition of the Baptist Faith and Message was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000. Each article of the document is supported with Scripture references on which the statements are based. Copies of the Baptist Faith and Message are available from the church office upon request. It can also be found online at

Baptist Worship: For Baptists, the chief manifestations of the visible church is the gathered church, or the church together in worship. Although Baptists have always recognized the church as the larger body of believers world-wide who comprise the Body of Christ, Baptists have traditionally maintained that it is in the local congregation that that Body of Christ finds its highest function.

Baptist worship is primarily a celebration of God as He has revealed Himself through His word and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptists do not have a fixed order of worship or liturgy, but Baptist worship is not “disordered.” We favor “freely ordered worship” over “forcibly ordered worship”. Worship that is careless or undisciplined is to be discouraged no less in the Baptist church than in a more liturgical church. We are reminded that Paul wrote of worship and said, “all things should be done decently and in order,” (I Cor 14:40). He further encouraged “let all things be done for edification … so that all may learn and all may be encouraged…For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (I Cor 14:26-33).

Each Baptist church may worship as it feels so led, so a visitor to several different Baptist churches may find as many different styles and emphases for worship as congregations he/she visits. Because of the cherished principle of autonomy, Baptist churches are free to choose whatever elements of worship best serve the task of that congregation’s authentic worship of God and participation in God’s grace. Typically, one will find congregational singing, prayer of confession and intercession, and the preaching of the Bible in Baptist worship.

Baptistery: Baptism is central to the tradition of the Baptist Church. Our baptistery is set into the front wall of the sanctuary, and it is that structure upon which our eyes first focus as we enter the sanctuary. The baptistery is deep enough to immerse an individual (about chest-high for an adult). Dressing rooms on either side of the baptistery permit those being baptized to dry off and dress in privacy before returning to the sanctuary for worship.

Beatitude: From a Latin word meaning “blessed,” the word is applied to the opening sentences of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). These statements of our Lord Jesus define the character of the Christian life and describe the blessedness that is ours in spite of contrary circumstances.

Bible: When Christians speak of the Bible, they are referring to the sixty-six books that comprise the Old and New Testaments (39 books of the Old Testament; 27 books of the New Testament). These writings are “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Baptist Faith and Message says: “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” Supporting scriptures cited in the Baptist Faith and Message are: Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

Baptists have been traditionally known as “People of the Book”. In our worship services, everything should be informed by Scripture, from the songs we sing to the prayers we pray. In addition the reading and teaching of the Bible takes preeminence in the worship and ministry of the church. Because of the centrality of the Bible in Baptist life, some have accused Baptists of worshiping the Bible. In fact, Baptists hold to the position that the Bible is central in our worship, for without we neither know God nor how to approach Him in worship. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible is fundamental to the life and work of any true church.

Bible Versions: The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek (with the exception of some small portions written in Aramaic). Throughout the history of the Christian church, the Bible has been translated into other languages. Some very important early manuscripts of the Bible are versions that have been found in other languages. There are several reliable English versions of the Bible available, including the King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version, and New American Standard Bible. One should choose a Bible version that is a literally accurate translation and that is easy to understand as it is read.

Bishop: In New Testament passages such as Acts 20:28, we find that the terms “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” are used interchangeably to refer to the same position of leadership in the church. In Baptist life, there are no “bishops” external to the local church. The role of bishop is that of pastor, and the title of pastor is preferred.

Blasphemy: To speak in a defiling or irreverent way about God or His word.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: An unforgivable sin discussed by Jesus in Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10. In its biblical context, the sin is understood to be the labeling of Jesus as a satanic agent of evil serving to further the kingdom of the devil rather than the divine Son of God on mission to establish the Kingdom of God. It is the stubborn and persistent refusal to acknowledge that God, rather than Satan, is at work in and through Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom.

Why is this sin unforgivable over all others? Because a person whose sense of judgment is so corrupted and so perverse is beyond repentance. If he or she wanted to repent, it would be impossible to do so, for the individual is incapable of discerning good from evil, light from darkness, God from Satan. How then can he or she know what to turn away from and to what or whom to turn? If Jesus is of Satan, then from where will forgiveness come? What other means has God provided for the salvation of our souls? If we reject the salvation God has provided in Christ, then there is no other Savior, and therefore no other offer of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Born-Again: A biblical term used repeatedly by Jesus in John 3 to describe the spiritual reality of Christian conversion. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” The New Testament speaks of new Christians as “newborn babies” or “infants” (1 Peter 2:2; 1 Corinthians 3:1). The born-again Christian is forgiven of sin and has a brand-new life. Through the intake of the Word of God, the believer is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Bylaws: A contract or agreement among the members of the church which governs the way the church conducts its affairs. Immanuel Baptist Church’s current bylaws were adopted upon incorporation in May, 2007 and are available in the church office upon request.

Guide for Worship and Doctrine: A (revised)

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.

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.

Annie Armstrong (1850-1938): An outspoken advocate for the cause of missions among Southern Baptists, “Miss Annie” was influential in the formation of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). Armstrong served as the first executive of the WMU for sixteen years without receiving a salary. Answering the challenge of missionary Lottie Moon, Armstrong helped to initiate the annual offering for international missions which bears Lottie Moon’s name. Today, her legacy of missions promotion is honored by Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, an annual effort to raise funds for the support of missions in the United States and Canada.

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.

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).

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.

Association: Baptist churches are autonomous, but cooperate voluntarily with other churches on various levels for the cause of missions and ministry. Locally, that cooperation is demonstrated through the Baptist Association. An association is a partnership of cooperating churches in a narrowly defined geographical area. Immanuel cooperates with the Piedmont Baptist Association. The Association is supported financially through a percentage of the church’s undesignated offerings and the annual Shubal Stearns Offering.

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.

He Used to Enjoy Listening to Him: Mark 6:14-29 (Audio)

Audio of sermon from August 12, 2007 at Immanuel Baptist Church. Right click to download or listen.

The Biblical Ministry of Deacons

Audio of sermon from August 5, 2007 at Immanuel Baptist Church. Right click to download or listen.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

He Used to Enjoy Listening to Him -- Mark 6:14-29

In Mark 1:14 we read that John had been taken into custody. We were not told where, by whom, or for what. But we are told that after John was taken into custody, Jesus began preaching the gospel of God. As we traced the development of Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee, we came to Chapter 6, where Jesus sent out the disciples in teams of two. Verses 12 and 13 tell us that they were preaching that men should repent, and they were casting out demons, and people were being healed. Word of this activity began to spread even more rapidly and broadly, and in time word reached Herod. What did Herod hear? We aren’t told specifically, but verse 14 says, “His name had become well known,” meaning the name of Jesus. Herod was hearing reports about the ministry that was being done by Jesus and by His disciples in the name of Jesus. And people began making speculations about the source of the “miraculous powers” that were at work in Him. So Herod heard about the name of Jesus, and he heard about the power of Jesus, and he heard that people were trying to figure out the nature of these things.

Some people were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead. This is the first we have heard that John had died. Now, this was a pretty wild speculation on the part of some, for although Jewish theology allows for resurrection, it does not allow for reincarnation, much less that a person could come back from the dead to inhabit another person who was already alive during that person’s life.

Some were more biblical in their assessment of the situation. They were saying “He is Elijah.” They knew that Malachi had prophesied that the Lord would send Elijah to the people “before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD,” and Elijah would “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers,” so that God would not “come and smite the land with a curse." They remembered that Elijah had not died, but rather was whisked away by a whirlwind with a chariot of fire, and that God had promised to send him back to the people.

It is clear that John the Baptist was the one prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 as the waymaker for the Messiah, but in John 1:21-23, he denied being this Elijah. In Matthew 11:14, Jesus claimed that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come, but added the stipulation, “if you are willing to accept it.” In Matthew 17, Jesus says, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Matthew tells us that the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. Elijah himself does come on the scene at the Mount of Transfiguration, and many, myself included, believe he will be one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 during the Tribulation time in the last days. But here the people were speculating that Jesus was the Elijah who was to come. This speculation, though more biblical, was also incorrect.

Others were more realistic in their speculations to figure Jesus out. “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” This Jesus would not deny, as He uses the title of prophet to speak of Himself in Mark 6:4. But He was much more than just a prophet, as His death and resurrection will prove.

When Herod heard about the name and power of Jesus, and all these speculations about His identity, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” Whether or not this was a well-thought-out statement of theological belief is uncertain. Perhaps it was Herod’s way of saying, “No sooner than you silence one preacher, another one comes to take his place!” Whatever Herod intended by saying this, we are afforded some explanation as to the death of John the Baptist in his words. He was beheaded by Herod.

The irony of this confession is found at the end of verse 20: “But he used to enjoy listening to him.” In our time today, I want to explore this text for some explanation to how one can go from enjoying listening to the preaching of the Word of God to beheading the preacher. This should not be thought of as an old, dry history lesson. I am thankful that the beheading of preachers is not a common occurrence where we live. We do hear of a preacher “losing his head” every now and then, but I think we mean something far different. The beheading of God’s people is still a reality in other parts of the world. Yet, even where preachers are not beheaded, those who “used to enjoy listening” to them often fall away and become cold-hearted and bitter toward the Word of God. You know some like this – they are active in the church, present every time the doors are open, attentive to the Word as it is taught and preached, and then something happens, like the flipping of a switch, and they are nowhere to be found anymore. Attempts to reconnect with them are met with indifference, or worse, antagonism. Though they stop short of executing the messenger, there is a murderous hatred in their hearts for the things of God. How does it happen? Herod presents us with some explanations.

I. He used to enjoy listening to him, but he was indicted by preaching. (17-18)

Being unaffiliated and rather bothered by the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Herod was probably quick to sound the Amen when John called them vipers and preached about their need to repent. His family had been scorned by many in Israel because they were not full-blooded Jews, but Edomites. So when John chided the Israelites for their nationalistic presumptions about God’s favor, Herod was likely in hearty agreement. He was not bothered by John’s fiery exhortations to the tax-collectors and soldiers. But when the preacher’s bony finger pointed at Herod and began to deal with his sins, the story changed.

The family tree of the Herodian dynasty is extremely complicated to trace. Herod the Great had become the third in the family to rule over Judea, a post he had held under the authority of the Roman Emperor for over forty years when Jesus was born. Having already executed several sons, a wife, a mother-in-law, and countless others he suspected of trying to plot against him, He was none too pleased when a group of foreign mystics showed up and said that the stars had led them to a newborn king. Herod the Great issued an order for the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two to prevent this newborn king from stealing his throne. Just a short time later, Herod the Great died. All total he had ten wives, and at least seven sons. In his will, He named his son Archelaus to be his successor, a fact mentioned in Matthew 2:22. His sons Antipas and Philip would be tetrarchs over smaller surrounding territories.

It is Herod Antipas that we read of here, who ruled over the territories of Galilee and Perea during the life and ministry of both John the Baptist and Jesus. The text calls him a king, and in function he was, but in reality he was a puppet governor under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Now another son from a different wife was also named Philip. They are distinguished in history by their titles, Philip the Tetrarch and Herod Philip. Herod Philip would have no official position of authority in the government following his father’s death. Herod Philip went on to marry his niece, Herodias, a granddaughter of Herod the Great by his son Aristobulus. Together they had a daughter, who is mentioned but not named in the Bible, but history gives us her name: Salome. Salome would later grow up to marry Philip the Tetrarch. Confused yet? Hold on, it gets worse.

It came about on one occasion that Herod Antipas was traveling to Rome and stopped in to stay with Herod Philip and Herodias. During that stay, he and Herodias took a liking to each other, and decided to marry (remember, she is also the niece of Philip and Antipas). She divorced Herod Philip and insisted that Antipas divorce his first wife as well. So she and Salome came to Tiberias to live with Herod Antipas. He also had a palace in Macherus, which was near the place where John the Baptist had been preaching. Perhaps in days past, Herod Antipas had ventured out to hear the preacher, and was quite fond of his berating of other people’s sins. But once the new wife came into the picture, the aim of the preacher was changed. John began to preach to Antipas, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” The wording of verse 18 indicates that he said it often, and that he said it to his face.

Twice in the Old Testament Law, we read that God forbids the marriage of a man to his brother’s wife: Leviticus 18:16, and 20:21. There was one circumstance in which it was allowable – if the brother had died and left the wife without any children. Then a “levirate marriage” could take place, according to Deuteronomy 25:5, in which the brother would take the widow as a wife for the purpose of providing her children. In the case of Antipas and Philip, however, Philip was still alive and had a child. So this was no levirate marriage. This was pronounced as abhorrent in Leviticus 20:21. While for the immoral Herodian dynasty this was just their normal modus operandi, it was a sin in the eyes of God. And John boldly proclaimed the Word of God in the face of this puppet king.

Herodias wanted John dead, but Herod Antipas was afraid to kill him because he knew he was a man of God. Instead, he tried to silence John by imprisoning him. But John wouldn’t be silent. Echoing out of those cavernous chambers, the preacher’s voice could be heard crying out, “Not right!” Herod was perplexed by this. But John’s preaching was no longer enjoyable to him.

We must all be aware that the day will likely come when we will be indicted by the word. The Word of God is likened to a sword, and surely none of us are exempt from being cut by it. But woe to us if we rather enjoy watching other people pierced by the word but are not willing for it to pierce us as well. There are many today who used to enjoy hearing the preaching of the word, but who have tried to lock the word out of their lives once they became indicted by it. But Herod shows us more about this as we look on in the text.

II. He used to enjoy listening to him, but he was inflamed with passion (vv21-25)

Herodias was unable to persuade her husband to put this preacher to death. Herod Antipas was afraid of John the Baptist. He didn’t enjoy him anymore; he was perplexed by him; but he was afraid. But there came, the Bible says, a strategic day for Herodias to use a more subtle tactic to manipulate him. It was Herod’s birthday, and all of his cronies were around him. The language of verse 21 is remarkably similar to that found in the Book of Esther, and if Mark intends it that way on purpose, then it is only his modesty that refrains from describing the drunken debauchery that undoubtedly was going on during this celebration.

In verse 22, we read that the highlight of the party was when the daughter of Herodias came in to dance. Again, Mark is modest in relating the details. He is not writing a dime-store novel, so there is no need for titillating details of sensuality. But as she danced, we are told that she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. We are left with good reason to believe that she was not doing the Hokey Pokey. This was obviously a very erotic sort of dancing that aroused the men’s passions. And the guest of honor at this birthday feast would have received the most attention from the dancer, who I remind you, was his teenaged step-daughter. So inflamed with passion is Herod Antipas that he makes her an offer: “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” To demonstrate his sincerity in the offer, he repeats it, adding, “up to half of my kingdom.” So disoriented is he by his drunkenness and his lust that he gives no thought to the fact that Rome would not allow him to part with an acre of territory, especially under these terms. Herodias wastes no time in persuading her daughter to take advantage of this offer and ask for the head of John the Baptist.

Once upon a time, Antipas enjoyed listening to John the Baptist. But now, inflamed by passion, he is willing to behead the preacher because of his grotesque and lustful desire for his step-daughter. We may not be able to relate to all the sordid complexities of Antipas’s very strange family life, but we do know what it is like to wrestle with the passions that are common to human nature. And when those passions so inflame us that we are willing to do whatever it takes to pursue the gratification of those desires, we have cut off the Word of God from having any effect in our lives. I believe that this community, this city, this nation, is full of people who at one time enjoyed hearing the Word of God proclaimed, but who traded it in for the gratification of the passions of the flesh. It was easier for them to say yes to their desires and no to the Word of God than to say no to themselves in obedience to the Word. And rather than submitting to the Word, they discarded it like Herod, when they became inflamed by their passions. There is one more point we must make here.

III. He used to enjoy listening to him, but he was intimidated by popularity (v26)

Herod Antipas still didn’t really want to kill John. We are told in this verse that he went through with it for two reasons. One reason was because of his oaths. He had made an oath to the girl. But, still, he didn’t have to go through with it. He could have put things off a day until he sobered up and could think more reasonably about it. He could have said, “I offered you a gift, I didn’t offer to do something like this!” He could have said, “I didn’t promise your mother a gift, but you!” He could have even found scriptural support for not fulfilling this oath. Leviticus 5:4-6 offers instructions for one who swears thoughtlessly. He can confess his sin and bring a guilt offering before the Lord and have his sin atoned. But Herod doesn’t do any of these. Why not? Just because of his foolish, drunken, lustful, oath? No there is another reason …

And because of his dinner guests. How would it look for him to back down now? He was so bold in front of his buddies to offer up half his kingdom, how could he now renege on the request of a preacher’s head? How would he save face in front of his friends and colleagues? But rather than choosing to do what was right, Herod Antipas opted to save face and preserve his popularity. Mark uses his favorite word, “Immediately, the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head.”

There are many times when we are faced with the dilemma of doing what is right and doing what is popular. If we do right, what will others think of us? Will we be of lower esteem in their eyes? And countless people have turned their backs on the Word of God because they were afraid of what others would think of them. They used to enjoy listening to it, but when their friends began to look down their noses at them, they made a choice, and chose wrongly, just like Herod Antipas.

And so, in the end, as James Edwards says in his excellent commentary, “The one whom Jesus called the greatest man born of woman (Matt 11:11) is sacrificed to a cocktail wager! The only act of decency in the account … is the arrival of his disciples to give his body a proper burial.”[1] The rest of the passage is full of a tragic story about a man whose character flaws separated him from the kingdom of God because he was unwilling to avail himself of the mercy of God by abandoning his debased living in repentance and faith toward God. And perhaps the greatest irony of all it is that “he used to enjoy listening to him.” Some of us in this room have journeyed the peaks and valleys of life, and for a season at some point, perhaps we too have put the Word of God out of our life when we were indicted by preaching, or inflamed with passion, or intimidated by popularity. But our presence in the sanctuary today indicates that we have seen the error of our ways and returned to faithfulness. How we praise God for the mercy of the cross that allows us to return to God and be forgiven.

But there are others who have never come back. Perhaps they are your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your children, your parents, your siblings. They enjoyed being in church, they enjoyed listening to the preaching of God’s word. But one day it cut too close for comfort. One day they were not hearing about the heinous sins that others commit, and the bony finger of God’s prophet pointed their way. Or perhaps there came an occasion when they cashed in for the gratification of sensual pleasures, and either because of their shame, or else because they have become enslaved to that sin, they have yet to turn back. Or perhaps they were faced with the choice of disappointing their friends or the God of their salvation, and they opted to stick with the friends. Tragic stories, all of them.

So what shall we say to them? We say to them in a very loving way that all of us have sinned, but God offers to forgive us if we come to Him believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins and lives again to save us. We remind them that the door is still open to them if they will turn and believe. But see this very plainly in the text set before us today – just like John the Baptist, if you speak the truth for Christ, you will not always be received well. You may be hated. God forbid, in some situations, you can be killed. John knew this, but he did it anyway. And we, as God’s people, must agree together that it is better to speak the truth and let the chips fall where they may than to hide from the truth, or silence it when it needs to be spoken.

[1] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 189.