Tuesday, April 29, 2008

COPS - The Krakow Edition

That's right -- Poland's finest are out on the hunt for those horrible criminals ..........

Polish Pastors stealing sermons from the internet.

I am not making this up. See more here.

Guys, listen, it isn't that hard. You have a Bible. Read that Bible. Explain what it says, and tell people why it matters. That is biblical preaching. And then next week you do it all over again, picking up from where you left off. I know, you need to do some preparation for this (I average about 15 hours of prep for a Sunday morning sermon). So, this means two things. (1) You can't be lazy. (2) You can't do everything else people want you to do. What did God call you to do? He called you to preach, right. So, you have got to find ways of distributing other tasks to other people so you can do the thing God called you to do. This doesn't mean that if you are a pastor, studying is all you ever do. No, you have to shepherd the flock, you have to go to the hospitals, and make the calls, and go to the meetings, and (here's the hard part) you have to do it all in genuine love and joy. That takes time to do, and it also takes the preparation of the soul so that the joy and love you show is genuine and not a mask. But there are enough hours in the week (most of the time) to do all of this without committing a crime punishable by jail time.

My site-meter is open to the public. Check it out. Better yet, don't. I am not too thrilled about the fact that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I get hits from people Googling for "Sermon about ______________". Pastors -- do your job. Or else, your going to the slammer!

Monday, April 28, 2008

God Give Us More GPGHSGers!

At the PCRT this past weekend, something unusual happened -- free books were given away. The purchaser had the option of choosing "What is a True Calvinist?" by Philip Ryken or "What are Election and Predestination?" by Richard Phillips. I chose the former. Its brief 30 pages are a rapid read. I thought the book was going to go something like this: "A true Calvinist is one who believes the following doctrines," followed by a doctrinal treatment of each letter in the TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. I thought it would be a quick and handy reference when dealing with those subjects. Boy was I wrong! And I am so glad I was.

Dr. Ryken is a gifted expositor and demonstrates this in centering his booklet around an exposition of Isaiah 6. While the TULIP is presented in the booklet, and is assumed as the basic set of doctrines for anyone claiming to be a Calvinist, Ryken suggests that the TULIP alone does not make one a True Calvinist. Indeed, we can all agree with Ryken's statement that some Calvinists are "considered narrow in their thinking, parochial in their outlook, and uncharitable in their attitude toward those who disagree." Rather, true Calvinism, according to Ryken is demonstrated in a God-centered mind; a penitent spirit; a grateful heart; a submissive will; a holy life; and a glorious purpose. Granted, these headings do not lend themselves well to an acrostic -- who would want to be classified as a 6-point GPGSHGer? But, perhaps if those who hold to the Reformed doctrines of grace carried themselves in this way, the label "Calvinism" would not be so offensive to so many. I would submit that most people who are afraid of Calvinism are so because so many so-called Calvinists come across as arrogant, combative, and cerebral.

I have never been one to take the title "Calvinist" upon myself. If we put the proper definitions of TULIP on the table (and jettison the caricatures offered by the anti-Calvinists), I hold to all the petals of the TULIP. I do maintain a belief in divine middle knowledge that causes me to be shunned by many in the Calvinist camp. This is because the doctrine of middle knowledge is caricatured by many Reformed people in the same way that "limited atonement" is by non-Calvinists. Holding to middle knowledge does not require one to also hold to libertarian freedom, as Terrance Tiessen has ably argued. But I am not eager to gain the title of Calvinist, and don't mind it being withheld from me. I would suppose that Calvin himself would not want those who agreed with him to label themselves with his name or any other man-made label. Similarly, I would suppose that Spurgeon, Edwards, or any other great name of Church History would reject the notion of people being called "Spurgeonists", "Edwardsians," or any other _________ - ist or ____________-ian. However, whatever we call ourselves, we would do well to demonstrate the characteristics in our lives that Ryken sets forth in this wonderful little booklet: a God-centered mind; a penitent spirit; a grateful heart; a submissive will; a holy life; and a glorious purpose. Where right doctrine is properly absorbed, applied, and adhered to, these things will flow in our lives.

May God grant His church more GPGSHGers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Severity of Sin: Mark 9:42-48

(Audio available here)

Several years ago, Brad Gaines challenged me to read a little book entitled The Smell of Sin and the Fresh Air of Grace by Don Everts. The opening page of that book contained this little poetic vignette entitle “Darkening Sock”:

It was a Sunday Morning.

I loved Sunday Mornings:

my familiar pew,

my favorite hymn,

pastor’s mildly entertaining 3rd point,

and the unmistakable, unique sound of …


Quite clear (from the pew behind, it seemed)

the tight rasp and rough grind of a saw.

There in church. On a Sunday Morning.

I turned to look, and my eyes grew.

A middle-aged man with a receding hairline

bending far over, reaching toward the floor in front of him.

I looked closer, and my eyes grew.

He was working awkwardly

at his right ankle

with a red-handled, silver-toothed hacksaw.

The cotton of his right tan dress sock

began to shred

and mingled with the flesh of his right ankle.

Dark blood pulsed out

slowly darkening his sock and



onto the gray all-purpose sanctuary carpet.

“Are you all right?” he asked

(quite sincere)

looking up at me and my gagging face.

This is sobering imagery. After all, none of us expect anyone to take the words of this passage literally. If so, we would be a hobbling bunch of blind amputees. And in fact, it is very likely that in this passage Jesus is using hyperbole as a teaching device. Hyperbole refers to the use of deliberate exaggeration for effect. For instance, Jim Keathley or Earl Mills might say to you that at Thursday’s Keenagers luncheon, they saw me "eat my weight in banana pudding." Of course, they wouldn’t expect you to believe that I ate .....….. pounds of banana pudding, but they do want to convey to you that I ate a lot of it! That’s hyperbole. But, if Jesus is using hyperbole here, we may understand that He does not expect us to take this literally, but He does expect us to take it seriously! The sobering vocabulary of hacking off limbs, plucking out eyeballs, and being drowned with a two-ton millstone around our necks awakens us from the lazy slumber of flippancy with which we are prone to treat SIN. We are in need of awakening to realize that sin is a matter we must take seriously in our own lives and in the lives of others, for sin is a matter of severity. After all, sin is the reason that Christ underwent the unspeakable torture of Calvary’s Cross. God takes sin seriously, and deals with it severely, and He expects His people to as well.

In this passage we find our Lord speaking of sin in two realms. He speaks of the severity of causing others to sin, and He speaks of the severity with which we must deal with sin in our own lives. And the severity with which He speaks of sin should awaken us to deal with it severely.

I. We Must Beware of Causing Others to Sin (v42)

Verse 42 warns us of the severity of leading others into sin. The Greek word that Jesus uses here for “stumble” is a word that was originally used to refer to the piece of wood that kept a trap open until an unsuspecting victim tripped the snare and found themselves bound in the trap. It came to be used to refer to the bait which lured the victim into the trap, or an obstacle in someone’s path which would cause them to trip or stumble. The term is applied metaphorically here to refer to “luring” one into sin or “tripping” them by placing an obstacle in the path of their spiritual walk. Now, there are any number of ways that this can be done, and it isn’t hard for us to imagine some cases where we have been led by others to do something we wouldn’t normally do. We talk about “peer pressure” when we speak to young people, but we could all testify to the fact that it continues even into adulthood. And if we were honest, perhaps each of us could recall times when we have led others to do something which violated their own conscience as we beckoned them to follow along with us. Oh, we must beware, for our Lord says this is a severe matter.

A. Leading Others To Sin is Severe, for God’s People are Precious To Him

You will notice that Jesus speaks here of “these little ones who believe.” More often than not, I would suppose that interpreters have assumed that He was referring to children, pointing back to the child He took into His arms in verses 36-37. We will see in Chapter 10 that indeed children are precious to our Lord, but I do not think that He was speaking of children only here. The immediately preceding set of verses have to do with a man who was a stranger to the disciples, but whose love for Christ was evidenced in His service to the Lord. Yet, the disciples sought to hinder this man, and were rebuked by Christ for so doing. If we would understand this as the informing context of what we read in verse 42, then we would recognize that Jesus views all those who “believe” in Him as His precious little ones, no matter their age or size. You might be 90 years old, stand 7 feet tall, or weigh 600 pounds, but to the God who made you and loves you, you are a precious little child, and He desires to tenderly guard your life as you walk in faith with Him.

So, when you or I do or say something to one of these “little ones who believe” that would cause them to sin, or weaken their faith, or draw them away from their walk with the Lord, we are treading on dangerous ground. It may be something that is of small concern to you, and you have never considered it to be sin. But that other person may be convinced in their heart that it is wrong, and when they see that you condone it or engage in it, it will lead them to question your commitment to the Lord, or worse, will lead them away from the faith because they are acting against their own the convictions of their own conscience and understanding of God’s Word.

The Apostle Paul addressed this matter in Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians 8 with the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. To some, this was of no concern, for meat is just meat, and it doesn’t get cooties on it because it has been offered to an idol, for idols are powerless. But to others, eating this meat was an endorsement of idolatry. So some, by faith, would eat; and others, by faith, would not. But Paul admonished the church in Romans 14:13, “Let us not judge one another, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or stumbling block (the same word used in Mark 9:42) in a brother’s way.” He goes on to say in verse 15, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” Now, we do not regularly have to deal with meat sacrificed to idols, but there are any number of issues we could insert in those admonitions. The point being, when you cause someone to act against their conscience or their convictions from God’s Word, you are selfishly destroying the faith of one for whom Christ died – one of His precious little ones who believe. So severe is this issue that Jesus goes on to say …

B. Leading Others To Sin Has Severe Consequences

So severe are the consequences of leading a brother or sister in Christ to sin that Jesus does not even say what they are. He only says that it would be better for that person to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea. He is referring here to the heavy stones used in the mill to grind grain. These were large, round stones that were so heavy, they had to be turned by a team of donkeys. There were two of these stones in the mill, one on top of the other, and the top stone had a hole in the middle of it where grain was poured down to be crushed between the stones. The imagery here is of taking that stone, and putting your head through the hole in it, and wearing it like a necklace when you go for a swim in the sea. One would surely drown in that situation. There is nothing good about that scenario whatsoever. But the consequences of leading a brother or sister in the faith to sin are so severe, that given the option of facing those consequences or being drowned in the sea, one would take the drowning any time.

There is dual application here for us to consider. First, each of you who believe in Jesus are so precious to Him that He will deal harshly and severely with any who seek to lead you astray. You stay close to Him and follow Him as His word and His Spirit directs you, and you can trust Him to deal with those who wish to do otherwise and who would beckon you to join them in their folly. But secondly, we must beware of the traps we set for others, sometimes with innocent motives undoubtedly. If we cause one of God’s precious children to stumble, we will be dealt with harshly, and we will wish we had been drowned before we had the opportunity to lead that one astray. So severe is this matter of introducing sin into the lives of others.

But then Jesus moves on to address the sin in each of our own lives.

II. We Must Be Severe With the Causes of Sin In Our Own Lives (vv43-48)

In the Spring of 2003, 27 year old Aron Ralston was hiking alone in Canyonlands National Park south of Moab, Utah, when he became trapped in a three-foot-wide slot with his arm helplessly pinned beneath a half-ton rock that fell upon him. He was trapped there for five days. Rescuers had almost given up the search for him, and he had run out of water on Tuesday, and now it was Thursday. With few hopes of survival left, Aron Ralston began to manipulate his arm so that it broke the radius and ulna bones. Then, taking his multipurpose pocketknife, he used the dull blade to cut the soft tissue and the pliers to tear at the tougher tendons until he had amputated it completely. Leaving the remainder of his arm beneath that rock, Ralston applied a tourniquet and administered first aid to himself, and then rappelled down the heights and walked alive out of his predicament. He said to rescuers on the scene that he realized he would not survive unless he took drastic action. In a speech some years later, Ralston claimed that he did not lose his hand, but gained his life back.[1]

Here in these verses the Lord Jesus tells us that our spiritual survival demands that we be willing to take such drastic actions in our own lives as well. Here again, we emphasize that our Lord’s words are hyperbole, they are intentional exaggerations employed for effect. The Law of Israel forbade bodily mutilation for God’s people, so we know that Jesus is not expecting us to amputate limbs. But as I said earlier, just because He doesn’t intend us to take these words literally doesn’t mean that He doesn’t expect us to take them seriously. In fact, the seriousness and severity of the situation is the reason Jesus uses such radical hyperbolic imagery. We must learn to deal with sin severely, for as the Puritan pastor John Owen once said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Our Lord’s words here give us pause to consider the following matters.

A. We Must Recognize and Remove The Causes of Sin in Our Lives

Jesus mentions three parts of the body which He says may be the cause of sin. He mentions the hand, the foot, and the eye. Now, if you believe that these parts of your body are the cause of sin in your life, you can do a little experiment. Let’s say that a man has a wondering eye for lustful images. Now, if that man would blindfold himself for a day, do you know what he would find? He would find that lustful images continue to flood his mind. If a person thinks that his or her hand is the cause of the sin in their lives, then let them go through a day with one arm tied behind the back. They will find that they are no more holy than with the arm unbound. At the root of our sin is desire, and desire is seated in the heart. We sin because, at least for that moment, we want what sin promises more than what God promises. And we choose what we want. But there are certain things in life that seem to trigger these desires, and these things are conveniently symbolized by the body parts Jesus speaks of here. The hands represent the things we do; the feet, the places we go, and the eyes, the things we see.

If we would examine our lives and ask ourselves, “When am I am my weakest when it comes to sin?” we may recognize that there are certain things we see, certain things we do, or certain places we go, which cause our desires to be inflamed and usurp our desire for God’s glory in our lives. Perhaps it is a relationship with someone – we find that when we are with that person we do things we know we shouldn’t. Perhaps it is movies, television programs or the internet, and when we view those things, we find desires awakened which we thought were long dead. Perhaps there are places we frequent or activities we engage in where we find our defenses weakened. Our Lord Jesus is saying to us here that none of those things, none of those relationships, none of those places, are so important to us to risk shipwrecking our faith. We must be done with them for His sake. It would be better for us to be “unplugged” from the internet than beset in the sin of pornography. It would be better for our friends to consider us square than for us to follow them into sin. It would better for us to be lonely than to keep friendships alive which continually lead us astray.

William Hendriksen puts it this way: “The lesson is this: sin, being a very destructive force, must not be pampered. It must be ‘put to death’ …. Temptation should be flung aside immediately and decisively. Dillydallying is deadly. Halfway measures work havoc. The surgery must be radical. Right at this very moment without any vacillation the obscene book should be burned, the scandalous picture destroyed, the soul-destroying film condemned, the sinister yet very intimate social tie broken, and the baneful habit discarded. In the struggle against sin the believer must fight hard. Shadow-boxing will never do.”[2]

Better to enter into the life of God’s Kingdom with eyes, hands and feet missing than to keep those things intact and find hell awaiting the end of life. And that brings us to the final matter:

B. We must realize the eternal significance of our choices

In no uncertain terms, Jesus sets forth the alternatives. A person can take sin seriously and deal with it severely and enter into life in the Kingdom of God, or else they can disregard this warning and be cast into hell.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus speaks of “entering into life.” See we think this is life, what we have right now. But this is not really life; this is existence. Life is lived in the presence of God. Notice that Jesus says in verse 43, “enter life,” and in v45, “enter life,” and in v47, “enter the Kingdom of God.” Life was meant to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. That is why Jesus said in John 10, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is why He said in John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” Life is waiting for us on the other side of this existence in the Kingdom of God. The question is, do we want that life enough to deal with sin severely in this existence we have now. Will we prioritize living for God’s glory over living for the passing pleasures of the flesh?

That is a harder question than asking, “Do you want to go to heaven or hell?” No one wants to go to hell. Well, some say they do. Ted Turner, for instance, said in an address to the National Press Club, “Heaven is going to be perfect. And I don't really want to be there...Those of us that go to hell, … when we get there we'll have a chance to make things better because hell is supposed to be a mess. And heaven is perfect. Who wants to go to a place that's perfect? Boring, boring."[3] Ted Turner knows not what he says. If we take the words of Christ seriously, which obviously Ted Turner and many others do not, hell is not somewhere you want to be, and you won’t make it better by being there.

The word translated “hell” in this passage is the word Gehenna. Jesus used this word to describe the eternal torment of hell because it was an image with which the people of His day were familiar. Just south of Jerusalem was the Valley of Hinnom, Gehenna. In this valley, during the days of the wicked Judean Kings Ahaz and Mannasseh, children were sacrificed by burning to the idol Moloch. This practice and this place were condemned by King Josiah and the prophet Jeremiah, and it became the garbage dump of Jerusalem. There, the trash and waste of the city was discarded and a perpetual fire burned their devouring the unclean refuse of the people. It was a hideous place, the epitome of all that Jewish people despised. And Jesus employed this vivid imagery to describe the place of eternal torment “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” That phrase is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24 where God proclaims the end of all who do not turn to Him in faith in repentance. The torments of hell are “unquenchable,” the Lord says, indicating that it is never-ending. The imagery of fire and worm indicate that this eternal torment is both external and internal. Forever, those who are in hell will be the perpetual recipients of God’s wrath. The book of Revelation says that “they will be tormented with fire and brimstone … and the smoke of their torment ascends forever so that they have no rest day or night” (14:9-11). While some today teach that the torment of hell will only be temporary, and that the souls of those who are cast into hell will be annihilated quickly and cease to exist, the Lord Jesus begs to differ. In Matthew 25:46, Christ uses the same word to describe the duration of the torment of those in hell as he uses to describe the duration of blessedness for those in heaven. He says, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” There will be destruction, yes, but Paul says in 2 Thess 1:9 that it is an everlasting destruction.

Some will undoubtedly object at this point and say, “But what about our treasured doctrine of once saved, always saved?” Certainly it is a biblical truth that the one who has been genuinely born again is eternally secure in their salvation and have no fear of hell. But it is also a truth of Scripture that one cannot be born again until they turn to Christ in faith and turn away from the life of sin in repentance. This does not mean that we will not continue to sin, but it means that the genuine Christian has set themselves against sin, and whenever it rears its ugly head, we deal with it severely, and thus demonstrate our salvation by persevering in the pursuit of holiness. Nowhere is this more plainly stated than in Romans 5:20-6:4 &. There is no genuine Christian who doesn’t continually deal severely with sin in his or her life.

The prevailing opinion of church experts today is that pastors should cease preaching on matters of sin and hell. This very weekend, the Greensboro Coliseum hosted a well-known pastor who spoke to a full arena about the niceties of life and happiness, and though I was not there, I can guarantee you that the words “sin” and “hell” were never spoken there. But we cannot ignore these matters spoken of so severely by the Lord Jesus Himself. I know that a message like this is difficult to hear. It is difficult to preach. But preach it and hear it and believe it and obey it, we must! And so we do not ask the simple question, “Do you want to go to heaven?” We ask a much harder question: “Are you fed up with the futility of live lived for the momentary pleasures of sin, and ready now to turn to a life lived in the pursuit of the glory of God?” If so, then we must look intently at sin – the sin that we lead others into, and the sin that we enter into ourselves, and we must deal with the root cause of it. Insulating ourselves from temptations will do much for us, but the real root cause of sin is the human heart. Cut off your arms, cut off your legs, gouge out your eyes, and you are none the better for it. The sinful human heart still beats within your chest. So, we must come before the Lord and say, “Oh Lord, I am powerless to overcome the reign of sin in my life. I need a new heart. I need your strength and power to have this victory.” If you have been born-again by faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God lives within you, and He is able to bring you this victory over sin in your life. Each one of us will continue to sin, because of our human nature. But when we do, or even when we are faced with the temptation to sin, we can rely on Him to overcome this sin in our lives as we deal severely with it. And if we are unwilling to deal with sin in this way, then we must intently question the sincerity of our commitment to Christ.

Undoubtedly there are some within our midst today who will recognize that they have never truly been saved from sin – they have never turned to Christ in faith and repentance. And if that is the case for you today, then we would urge you to do so even now. The decision is yours to make, and the consequences of that decision are eternal. Some will say that I am trying to make you doubt your salvation, and I would say that there are worse things than doubting. Namely, having a false assurance that you are right with God when in fact you are not. Doubt can be healthy if it drives you to God’s word for genuine assurance. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” If you fail that test, and recognize that Christ is not in you, and you are not in the faith, then thank God for doubt, for it has driven you to the point of decision where you can be saved. If God is speaking to you about that right now, then let Him have His way with you and bring you into the life of His Kingdom.

And some Christian people will recognize from these words that their consciences have become dull to the Spirit’s convicting work, and they have become flippant and casual about the presence of sin in their lives. This word from God then would be a wake up call to understand that God hates sin, and He wants you to hate it too. Where it is present in your life, He desires to rip it out by the roots. And so as you consider the besetting sins that continue to plague your life, ask yourself what are the causes? What is it that awakens the corpse of carnal desire in your life? Is it something you see? Is it something you do, or somewhere you go? Is it a relationship with another person? Is it a habit or particular set of circumstances? Once you recognize that, you must with all zeal and sincerity make whatever sacrifice is necessary for you to overcome by the Holy Spirit’s power that temptation in your life. For it is far better to enter the life of the Kingdom of God having made those sacrifices than to persevere in resistance to the Spirit’s conviction and find in the end that you never had salvation, and in hell it will be too late to remedy that condition.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Ralston

[2] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 365.

[3] http://www.holysmoke.org/hs00/turner.htm

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Isaiah 3-6

Audio from the Seminary Extension lecture on Isaiah 3-6 is now available here or on the podcast.

Isaiah 1-2

Audio from the Seminary Extension lecture on Isaiah 1-2 is now available here or on the podcast.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Isaiah Introduction (Part 2)

This mp3 is from the Seminary Extension class on Isaiah that I began teaching this week. This is part 1 of the introduction/background lecture. Click here to stream, right click to download.

Isaiah Introduction (Part 1)

This mp3 is from the Seminary Extension class on Isaiah that I began teaching this week. This is part 1 of the introduction/background lecture. Click here to stream, right click to download.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mark 9:38-41 -- Principles for Kingdom Partnership

(no audio available)

I remember once when I was in about the sixth grade, I attended church with a friend of mine. I had spent the night with him Saturday night, and part of the deal was that I had to go to church with him on Sunday. I wasn’t a Christian at that time in my life, and I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but he was a good friend, so I tagged along. I remember sitting in Sunday School class with him and the teacher had a time of prayer. I didn’t believe in God or prayer, and so as everyone else closed their eyes and bowed their heads, I just started looking around. My eyes met with another kid, who was also looking around, causing us both to giggle a little bit. After the Amen, the teacher asked this other kid, “Why were you giggling while we were praying?” And this little tattletale said, “Because the new guy had his eyes open during the prayer.” What he didn’t realize was that he hadn’t told on me – he had told on himself, for if his eyes had been closed, how would he have known that mine were open?

You know often times, when we hear someone complaining about others, it really gives us more insight into the complainer than it does the person they are complaining about. I think that is the case here in our text. John has a complaint to file with Jesus. It is worth mentioning here that John, whom we know from elsewhere in Scripture as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and the author of five books of the NT, was not always the humble gentle soul whom we come to admire through his own writings. In the gospels, he appears often with his brother James, and as a part of the inner-circle of disciples with James and Peter. This is one of the few times in the Gospels, and the only time in Mark, that John plays a solo role. He is the tattletale in this story. And his complaint here reveals an attitude that we also find in him as he his brother desire to call down fire to consume the inhospitable Samaritans in Luke 9, and again when he and James privately ask Jesus for the privilege of sitting at His right hand and left in glory in Mark 10. It is no wonder that Jesus gives these two the nickname Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder.”

We would do well to remember our context. Earlier in Chapter 9, as Peter, James and John come down with Jesus from the Mount of Transfiguration, they find that the other nine disciples are engaged in some controversy that centers around a man who brought his demon possessed son to Jesus. But instead of meeting Jesus, he met the nine disciples at the foot of the mountain, and they were unable to cast the demon out. After Jesus cast the demon out of the man’s son, He and the disciples move on, and along the way the disciples begin to argue among themselves about which of them is the greatest. This prompts Jesus to give them an unforgettable lesson about true greatness in vv30-37. Now, suddenly John brings up this encounter that the 12 have had some time previous with a man who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. It certainly seems

as if John is attempting to shift the focus, and prove to Jesus that these great disciples are exceedingly zealous for Him. Proudly, he asserts, “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him.” It sounds as if he is trying to say, “Lord, aren’t you proud of us? Aren’t we great? Look what we did for you!”

Now, we have to ask, why were John and the others so eager to stop this man from casting out demons? John tells us why: “Because he was not following us.” We might have expected him to say, “Because he was not following You.” But he didn’t say “You.” He said “us.” His concern is not so much for the glory of Jesus, or for the people whose suffering was being alleviated by this man’s work in the name of Jesus. His concern was that this man wasn’t a part of their group. Perhaps there is a hint of jealousy here, and one can’t escape noticing the contrast – this man is able, in the name of Jesus, to do what the disciples were unable to do just a few verses earlier. And this jealousy prompted a reaction of elitism and exclusivism that was rooted in the disciples inflated sense of self-importance. What has apparently escaped John’s comprehension is that just because this man was not following the 12 doesn’t mean that he wasn’t following Jesus. Verse 33 tells us that they are in Capernaum. This has been the location of much of Jesus’ ministry. And it is entirely possible that this man has heard Jesus teaching and seen His miracles, and as a result he has placed his personal faith and trust in Jesus. After all, he certainly believes there is power in the name of Jesus, and all outward signs indicate that God is blessing his efforts.

Now, this raises an important question for us. How do we feel as Southern Baptists when God appears to be blessing the efforts of a Presbyterian church? We may be a little jealous of that. After all, we are the ones with purity of doctrine. How can God bless them when they baptize babies? Or, we can draw the circle a little smaller: How do we feel as members of Immanuel Baptist Church when it appears that God is blessing another Baptist Church across town? Do we become a little envious, and begin to find fault in them? How can God bless them, what with their guitars and drums and all? Or we can even draw the circle smaller still: How do we feel as members of a particular group or ministry program within Immanuel Baptist Church, when it appears that God is blessing other members of the church who aren’t involved in our pet programs? Do we feel like God is being unjust? After all, if those people were really spiritual, they would be involved in the things that we are involved in, right? Now I know that there are many of you who have never entertained such thoughts. But I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there are some who have, and who have a judgmental spirit about others because of it. And if that is you today, well I recognize that you probably won’t admit it. But if you could be honest enough with God and yourself to confess that you have been guilty of such feelings in your heart, then I believe Jesus’ response to John’s complaint about the unfamiliar exorcist in this passage will be very liberating to you.

Jesus’ response to John was undoubtedly alarming. He did not pat him on the back and say, “Way to go, John!” Rather, He says, “Do not hinder him!” And with three statements, Jesus explains why this man must not be hindered. In the NASB, each of these statements begins with the word “For.” In Greek, each one begins with the word “gar.” “Gar” statements in the Greek New Testament typically express a reason or cause. The reason why he is not to be hindered is found in these three statements. I call them Principles for Kingdom Partnership.

I. We must rightly evaluate the root and the fruit of other’s work (v39)

We would be foolish to think that just because someone put on a spectacular show that their work is of God. And we would also be foolish to think that everything that covers itself with the name of Christ is of God. There are many ministries claiming the name of Christ which have nothing of the gospel in them. And even Satan is at work, masquerading as an angel of light performing counterfeit wonders to deceive people and lead them away from Christ. And so Jesus carefully warns the disciples to examine both the root and the fruit.

The fruit in this case is obvious. The man is casting out demons. And we might add, he is more successful at it that even the twelve have been. But this is no certain sign that the man is on the right side of the gospel. After all, even Jesus faced charges of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. There were others engaged in exorcism both before and after Christ who attributed their success to any number of powers. Some were charlatans, psychologically manipulating others. Some were humored, as it were, by Satan, who would release the individuals temporarily only to overcome them again in a more severe way. Jesus makes mention of these in Luke 11:24. And others worked in mysterious and unexplainable ways to be sure. Jesus’ work in freeing the demoniacs was far and away more powerful than these others, but they continued to operate nonetheless. So the fruit is no sure sign that the man was right with God. But what about the root? Where did this man find the power to do this work? The root of his work was in the name of Jesus. And he was not like the fraudulent sons of Sceva in Acts 19, who took up the name of Jesus as a magical incantation. These were not successful in their attempts. This man was. And by examining the root of his work as well as the fruit of his work, the disciples could see that he was no enemy of Jesus. “There is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me.” The apostle Paul establishes a similar principle in 1 Corinthians 12:3, where he says, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

When someone claims to be doing the work of God outside of our own circle, whether that be our denomination, or outside of our own church, or outside of our own little group within the church, we must examine the root and the fruit: Does this person or group claim the name of Jesus? Do they claim to operate under His Lordship? And then, are they doing the work of Christ? Does their ministry match up with that of the Lord Jesus? In this case, the man claimed the name of Christ and did the work of Christ. Such a one as this is no enemy of the gospel, but a colaborer. He must not be hindered. So with those we would critique and complain about: are they gospel centered? Are they changing lives with the gospel message of Jesus? If so, then, we must put aside our envious criticism and see them as partners, rather than rivals.

II. We must keep Christ the central issue in our focus (v40)

This single verse has been misused and abused in so many ways! Jesus is not here saying that people of good morals who do not personally come to faith in Jesus are acceptable to God. Nor is He saying that all that God requires is an absence of overt hostility to Jesus. We have all met people who say, “I don’t have anything personally against Christ,” followed by those tragic three letters, B-U-T. Jesus is not saying that they are spiritually and eternally secure. What He is saying is that He is the litmus test of true religion. It is impossible for an individual to be neutral about Jesus. Once a person is presented with the claims of Christ in the Gospel, he or she cannot remain undecided. To be undecided is to decide against Him. Therefore, those who have not decided against Him are those who have decided for Him.

In Matthew 12:30, Jesus makes a very similar but somewhat different statement. There He says, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” This very subtle change of wording appears to radically change the meaning of what is being said. The Matthew statement seems much more exclusive than the more inclusive words in our text. While these statements appear difficult to harmonize, we must remember that the contexts of the two statements are radically different. In the Matthew passage, Jesus has just been accused by the religious authorities of Israel of casting out demons with the power of Satan. Therefore, His statement there, “He who is not with Me is against Me,” is a way of saying, “These folks may appear to you to be very religious and righteous. But they have failed the ultimate test of orthodoxy. They have sided against Me.” That is a far different case than what we have here in Mark 9. Here, a man is demonstrating by his attitude and his actions to be on the side of Jesus, and the warning to the disciples is to not be so exclusive in their circle of fellowship as to disqualify those who would otherwise be vital partners in the spread of the good news about Jesus.

Notice also the difference in pronouns. There He says, “Me.” Here He says “Us.” The issue is not whether this person is in our group. The issue is where does the person stand in relation to Jesus. If he or she is “with Jesus”, then that individual is certainly not “against Jesus,” whether or not he or she is “with us.” And if they are not actively working “against us,” then they are certainly “for us” as Kingdom Partners advancing the mission of the Savior.

This man whom John has rebuked is not a stranger to the Gospel. He has become personally convinced of the power of Jesus, and because Jesus has so touched his life, he wants to make Christ known to others. Therefore, he is “for Jesus” even if he is not “with” the disciples. And if we will make Jesus the litmus test of all religious claims, we will avoid drawing the circles of Kingdom Partnership too narrowly.

III. We must not overlook small acts of kindness (v41)

Offering a drink of water to someone is a basic act of hospitality in many parts of the world. It was in Jesus’ day, and it still is. And here Jesus is addressing the disciples’ attitude toward a man who did much more than offer them a simple courtesy. He has voluntarily joined the movement. And if even a small act of kindness does not escape the notice of God, how much more does God value one such as this man who has jumped into the gospel mission with both feet?

Here again, there is an error to avoid in handling this passage. Jesus is not saying that there will be some who are saved simply because they are nice to Christians. We must remember the cultural climate in which these words were written. Jesus was preparing the men who would lead the movement of His Kingdom after His departure, and He knew full well what awaited them. In Mark 13:13, He will tell them, “You will be hated by all because of My name.” And Mark was writing to Christians who were experiencing the full force of that hatred. So it was important for Mark to preserve for them this saying of Jesus. In that context of bitter persecution, Christians could barely expect to be offered even the simplest acts of kindness, and those who would offer them hospitality were putting their own lives on the line. They would be guilty of aiding the enemies of the Roman Empire. And therefore, such an act of kindness extended to Christians, explicitly “because of your name as followers of Christ,” was more than hospitality – it was a statement of reverence for Jesus Himself.

In Matthew 25, Jesus said that when He comes in glory, He will reward those who fed Him when He was hungry, gave Him drink when He was thirsty, took Him in when He was a stranger, clothed Him when He was naked, and visited Him when He was sick and imprisoned. And they will say, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And Jesus says to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” In other words, Jesus receives these tokens of kindness given to His followers as if they had been given to Himself.

So we must not be so narrowly minded that we forsake the simple acts of kindness offered to us by others, who may be outside of our own circle, but who, by their deeds, demonstrate themselves inside the circle of Christ.

If we would be successful in our efforts for Christ, we must recognize that we cannot do it alone. We need partners. But some of us want to draw the boundaries so tightly that no one except ourselves will fit in the circle. Jesus warns us of that. We will find much help in our efforts if we will evaluate others by the root of their faith in Christ and the fruit of their work; if we will keep Christ central in our focus; and if we will not overlook even the simplest offers of kindness extended to us because of our faith in Christ.

In Numbers 11, we read the story of two little-known fellows named Eldad and Medad. There was a solemn assembly taking place around the Tabernacle, but these two fellows weren’t there. We don’t know why – the Bible doesn’t tell us. And neither does the Bible record that God condemned them for not being there. But the Bible does tell us that they were prophesying in the camp. So apparently there were others who weren’t at the Tabernacle either, and these two guys were preaching to them. And a young man in the camp came running to Moses like a tattle-tale: “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” And this got Joshua all upset. Joshua said, “Moses, you must restrain them!” Now, if I was Moses, I would have said to the tattle-tale, “Look, you little smart-aleck, if you’d been here where you were supposed to be, you wouldn’t even know about it.” But Moses was gentler than I am. Rather than rebuking Eldad and Medad, Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD'S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” Moses recognized that these guys weren’t his rivals. They were his partners. And would that God would give us more partners like them!

Now, if you will permit me, I need to stop preaching right now. I need to start meddling for moment. I know there are folks who will read this sermon on the internet, and listen to it on tape and online, and I hope they have been helped by it. But right now, I need to focus on Immanuel Baptist Church. Next weekend, we have a very important opportunity to be renewed and revived and strengthened for the task God has called us to. And we need it! But can I say something here without you getting mad at me? Actually, it needs to be said, and I don’t really care if you get mad or not. There is a judgmental spirit and sense of elitism among some in our church that has been hindering the health of our congregation for many years, and always will, no matter how many Lay Renewal Weekends we ever have. There are those who look down their noses at others because they aren’t here every time the doors are open. There are those who look down on others because they aren’t involved in their favorite programs. There are those who judge and condemn their brothers and sisters in Christ over very minor issues. And friends, I want you to hear me carefully – God CANNOT and WILL NOT bless this church or any other where that kind of attitude prevails. Some of your attitudes are severing you from others who could be great partners in the work of this church, and your judgmental spirit is not doing anything to encourage them, but rather is deterring them from wanting to have anything to do with the work that must be done. And this MUST COME TO AN END, not next weekend, not next year, but TODAY! And if you think I might be talking about you, you are probably right. I honestly believe that this sanctuary is full of people who love Jesus and who love this church. And just because they don’t live up to my expectations doesn’t mean I am more spiritual than they are. The fact is that I probably don’t live up to their expectations either. And that is why we must be humble and deal with each other in grace and in love. If you love Jesus and want to serve Him, then God bless you. You don’t have to be in “my group,” and come to all the same stuff as I do. I want to help you find the way to serve Jesus the way He has gifted and called you to. And I will keep Jesus, not your attendance at prayer meeting or your involvement or lack thereof in this program or that one, the central focus of our fellowship and I will not overlook the simple acts of service that you offer to Jesus because of your devotion to Him.

There isn’t a person in this room who doesn’t need to stand before God and ask Him to plow up our hearts with this truth of His word. Some undoubtedly need to be saved. Some have been playing the church game for a long time, but you don’t know Jesus in a personal way. Why play the game any longer? Others need to ask God to rip out the judgmental spirit of our hearts by the roots and help us to love one another. Some will not only need to ask God’s forgiveness, but the forgiveness of others as well. And some have been hurt by others in the church at times past, and that has prevented you from being involved in the work of the Lord. Can I say something to you in love? Get over it. There isn’t a person in this room who has been hurt more at the hands of Christians than I have. But I have had to learn the hard way that God can’t use me if I let my heart grow hard. I have had to forgive more times than I wanted to, so when I say “Get over it,” I am not being callous. I am admonishing you as a brother, and a fellow get-over-it-er. Put it behind you, and serve the Lord! Others have let you down, and they will again. But Jesus never will. Don’t let others stand between you and Him. Now, I am going to pray, and then I am going to shut up. And in absolute silence, we need to have a moment of corporate repentance and corporate commitment.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Revergent Church?

Read the whole study here.

Meanwhile Pastor Russ whistles softly, trying to avoid the temptation to scream"I TOLD YOU SO" from the top of his lungs.

HT: Belk