Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mark 9:49-50 > Lessons in Spiritual Saltiness

Audio available here
As we return to the Gospel of Mark today, we pick up where we left off and find two verses that are the subject of much debate among interpreters. One respected scholar says of these two verses, “It is almost impossible to guess their meaning.” Another says, “Perhaps no passage in the New Testament has given more perplexity to commentators than this and it may be impossible now to fix its precise meaning.” Yet another refers to these two verses as “the most difficult in the New Testament.” There have been at least fifteen different interpretations offered for verse 49 alone. The expression, “For everyone will be salted with fire,” has been called by one writer, “something of a puzzle,” and another says, “It’s meaning and particular point here are not easy to grasp.” So, the temptation for the contemporary preacher is to just avoid them altogether and move on. However, in 2 Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul does not say that “Some Scripture” has been inspired by God and is profitable for us, but that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” Therefore, we must not be too quick to jump past words spoken by our Lord Jesus and inspired by the Holy Spirit for inclusion in God’s Sacred Book. We must wrestle with the text as we have it and seek out its meaning for our own understanding and application, that by these inspired words we might be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness.
It is relatively easy to see that the word “salt” is important for our understanding of the passage, as it occurs six times within these two verses. Salt was used for many purposes in the ancient world. It was so valuable that troops in the Roman army were paid with salt, giving origin to the words “salary” and “soldier.” So, what does Jesus mean when He takes up this familiar and important object of human life and uses it symbolically here to convey spiritual truth to His disciples?
We would do well to recall the context of this passage. Think back to the beginning of this larger section of Mark’s Gospel and remember that in verse 31, Jesus spoke of His own betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection that would occur. But the disciples did not understand and were afraid to ask Him what He meant. Now, as they walked along toward Capernaum, the disciples were disputing amongst themselves which of them was the greatest. Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach them than servanthood was the key to greatness in the Kingdom of God (v35). The disciples began to discuss with Jesus an event that had taken place where they had reprimanded someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. At this Jesus corrected them and taught them that the work of God’s kingdom was larger than what these twelve were doing. And from this, He moved on to speak of the severity of causing others to sin, saying it would be better to have a millstone hung around one’s neck and be cast into the sea than to lead someone else astray into sin. And then He spoke of the severity of sin in our own lives, indicating that we must be willing to remove the sources of sin by whatever sacrifice is necessary so that our lives might be totally consecrated for God’s purposes. These sacrifices may be extremely costly, but they were necessary to following Christ in the path of discipleship. This brings us to the verses we focus on today and the perplexing statement, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” By keeping the context fresh in our minds we are able to understand and apply these words and those which follow as lessons in spiritual saltiness.
I. Fire is the Salt of the Followers of Christ (v49)
As we think about the uses of salt, the most obvious one in our minds is the flavoring that salt adds to food. We also know that a proper balance of salt in the body is essential for survival. But prior to the practice of canning and artificial refrigeration, salt was also used as a preservative to keep food from spoiling. In addition it had medicinal value as an antiseptic. Babies were swaddled in salted cloths. It is interesting that in some cultures where salt is more rare, swaddling cloths were soaked in camel urine because of its salt-content. That gives new meaning to the phrase, “Pass the salt, please.” We still use salt for antiseptic purposes today, such as when we gargle with salt-water. So important was salt to the ancients that one Jewish maxim stated, “The world cannot survive without salt.”
There is a spiritual parallel with salt. God desires that our lives be seasoned appropriately for His use. He desires to preserve us from ruin and keep us clean for His holy usage. And so He “salts” us. But He does not “salt” us with the familiar white granules of salt from the shaker; He salts us with “fire.” This fire is indicative of the trials, tribulations, and costly sacrifices we endure as we follow Christ.
In the Old Testament, before a sacrifice was placed on the altar, it was “salted.” For instance we read in Leviticus 2:13, “'Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt.” The reason for this is stated: “so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” So salt, when added to a sacrifice, became a symbol of God’s covenant with His people. The early Christian church clearly understood this as a background to Jesus’ statement. In fact, as the New Testament was being transmitted from manuscript to manuscript by hand, some well-intentioned scribe offered to help the reader by inserting the words, “and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” These words are retained in the King James Version, though we now know that they are not found in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts.
In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul said that Christ’s followers must offer their bodies as living and holy sacrifices to God. Like the sacrifices of old, the living sacrifice we offer of ourselves to God must be seasoned with salt. This salt, Jesus said, is the fiery tribulations we undergo as we live for Christ. Through these ordeals, God is purging away the impurities of our lives and everything that is contrary to His will. As salt preserves and seasons food, so the Christian life is purified and matured as it undergoes the salting of fiery trials in the process of becoming living sacrifices for God.
But remember that the salt of the sacrifices was a symbol of God’s covenant love for His people. So Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 4:12-14, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” And in 1 Peter 1:6-7, he said, “now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So, while we find ourselves on the fiery altar of trials and tribulations as we become living sacrifices for Christ, we must remember that God has allowed these things to come our way with the salt of His covenant. His love for us in not diminished, His presence does not abandon us, and His purpose for us in the midst of these ordeals is to season us, to preserve us, and to heal us that we might become more and more like the Lord Jesus, who was the ultimate salted sacrifice of God’s covenant. So this is the first lesson of spiritual saltiness found in this passage: Fire is the salt of the followers of Christ.
II. True Spiritual Salt Retains Its Saltiness (50a)
“Salt is good,” Jesus says. By this, He does not mean “good” in the moral sense, as if salt is more noble or more excellent than sugar. Rather, He means that salt is “good for something”; it is useful; it has a function and a purpose. We have already mentioned many of them. But all of the purposes and functions of salt depend on the salt remaining salty. This seems a bit odd to us, for the salt we are familiar with, “table salt,” is refined salt, 99% sodium chloride. However, this is not how salt is found in nature, and it is not the salt with which the ancients would be familiar. In most ancient societies, salt was derived from bodies of salt water. In ancient Israel, the most prominent source of salt was the Dead Sea. This salt was a mixture of different minerals, and over time and with exposure to the elements, these minerals would dissolve and separate from one another. By the time it reached the hands of the consumer, it may still look like salt, but it would have no flavor or a totally different flavor. The first century author, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder observed that the salt of the Dead Sea can lose its savory qualities and become insipid. He noted that it may, for instance, become mixed with gypsum and other impurities and acquire a stale and alkaline taste. In addition to these natural processes which could deprive salt of its saltiness, there was also the common practice of artificial adulteration. Some unscrupulous merchants would mix salt with other minerals, or else pass off other minerals that looked like salt, which may be salty for a little while, but in time, would lose its saltiness. Once this happened, the salt was no good. Jesus said in Matthew 5:13 that it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
The ancients understood that not everything that looks like salt or that is called salt is really salty. It may be a worthless substance masquerading as salt. The spiritual lesson begins to become evident now. Spiritual salt, that work of God whereby He seasons and preserves His people and uses them to season and preserve the world around them, never loses its saltiness. Though Christians are exposed to the trials and tribulations of life, their salt remains salty, and they remain useful to God. But not everyone who calls themselves Christian really is. Some are artificial Christians, like the pseudo-salt peddled by the crooked merchants. Some are adulterated Christians, having mixed Christianity with the elements of other belief systems, superstitions, and myths like the salt from the sea which was mixed with gypsum, magnesium, and other elements. As these undergo the fire of testing, their true nature is revealed, and that which appeared to be salt is found to actually be unsalty. They have no spiritual usefulness, and they cannot be “refreshed” unto saltiness again. God is not at work in them or through them for His purposes of seasoning and preservation. They are indeed in danger of being thrown out and trampled underfoot.
True Christianity is an eternal reality. There are no temporary Christians. Salvation is a work that God begins and a work that God completes. So when a person undergoes trials and subsequently abandons the Christian faith or never demonstrates any evidence of perseverance, that person is no genuine Christian. Like salt that loses its saltiness, the person demonstrates themselves to be an artificial or an adulterated Christian, in other words, not a Christian at all. True salt retains its saltiness through whatever trials and tribulations may come.
III. Salt Finds Its Purpose When It is Sprinkled On Something Else (50b)
One of the best books on evangelism I have ever come across is Rebecca Manley-Pippert’s book called Out of the Saltshaker. That is a very fitting title for a book on sharing the Gospel, because as Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth, we do very little good for the world when we are huddled together in the shaker. But when the salt is sprinkled out of the shaker, it can do its work of seasoning and preserving. Jesus concludes these sayings about salt by saying, “Have salt in yourselves.” If you have the seasoning and preserving work of God going on within you, you have become like a saltshaker. But salt doesn’t affect salt. It affects that which it is sprinkled upon. Therefore, as a result of having salt in yourselves, Jesus says, “and be at peace with one another.” Remember that He is speaking to a group of followers who have been arguing with each other and have treated at least one outsider in a very combative manner. That is not what salt should do. Salt should sprinkle out of us bringing us into peace with one another. Our maturity in Christian discipleship will demonstrate itself through our personal relationships. As we have received grace from God, we should extend that grace toward others. We must sprinkle the salt out of the shaker, that the seasoning and preserving work of God would take place not only in us, but through us as we interact with others.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth.” We are sprinkled out on the world as a flavoring, as a preservative, as an antiseptic agent of God making the world around us different for the glory of God. So we must learn the lessons of spiritual saltiness. We must not despise the trials and tribulations and sacrifices that come our way as followers of Christ, knowing that these are the fire by which God is salting us to make us more savory for His own purposes. And the genuineness of our salt will be demonstrated through perseverance through these difficulties. If one loses his or her saltiness, they demonstrate themselves to have never been pure salt in the first place. And finally, our spiritual salt finds its purpose when it is sprinkled out of us on others, enabling us to be at peace with one another, and furthering the cause of Christ in the world.
In many parts of the world, when two individuals who were formerly enemies sought reconciliation with one another, one would offer the other a portion of salt as a symbolic gesture. This salt signified that they were no longer enemies, but had become friends. God has offered us the salted sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ as a means of reconciling us to Himself from our sins. And it may be that some today need to partake of God’s offer of salt by turning to Christ as Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hope, Dream, and Pray With Me

Over the last few Sundays, I have not spent much time in the pulpit. On April 27, I was at the PCRT in Philadelphia. Brad Gaines, who was my associate pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church filled the pulpit. The evening service consisted of our children's program, "The Bible Tells Me So Show." On May 4, we were blessed to have a combined service with Greensboro Chinese Christian Church with Dr. David Alan Black preaching. There was a picnic that afternoon, and no evening service. On May 11, I preached on Pentecost. Since it was Mother's Day, we had no evening service. On May 18, we had two precious IMB missionaries deliver the message and a brief report from the Gideons. All this time away from the rigors of sermon preparation gave me time to put some words to my hopes, dreams and prayers for Immanuel Baptist Church, which I shared during the May 18 evening service.

I want to share in brief what those hopes, dreams, and prayers are with the readership here and ask you to join us in bathing these in prayer and asking our Father to lead us in paths of righteousness for His name

1. Foundational to all that we are and all that we do is this guiding vision: To see every member of Immanuel Baptist Church growing in a love relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the regular intake of God's Word. This will lead us to increased dependence on the Holy Spirit as He manifests Himself through us in loving service to one another and the community around us in Christ's name. As we live God-centered lives, others will be attracted to the Christ we love and serve and proclaim. (Eph 4; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:18; Acts 2:42-47)

2. To develop a strategic missions initiative of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to one of the world's 6,508 unreached people groups. This will be done through the adoption of a particular people group and concentrated efforts to get the gospel to them. (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20; Lk 24:46-48)

3. To seek the transformation of our community through the establishment of a Christian Community Development Corporation that will carry out practical, need-meeting ministry in the name of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. This ministry will feed the hungry, clothe the needy, shelter the homeless, offer education and job training skills, and other important services, all with an intentional and bold evangelistic focus. (Isa 58:6; Matt 23:23)

4. To develop a vibrant and vital college ministry to the students on area campuses, with particular focus on UNC-Greensboro, that would offer meals, Bible Study, and opportunities for Christian fellowship, evangelism, worship, and service, including the possibility of an ongoing internship program. (Titus 2:2-8)

5. To offer affordable, classical, Christ-centered education to urban youth through the establishment of a college-preparatory day-school/academy and potentially an accredited college degree program (independently or in conjunction with Seminary Extension and/or other Christian Colleges). (Prov 22:6; 2 Tim 2:15)

6. To maximize the usage, accessibility, and stewardship of our facilities, including immediate accessibility solutions, cosmetic improvements, and the eventual construction of a "Connector Wing" between the two existing buildings that would house an elevator providing access to every part of the facility, accessible restrooms on every floor, and additional meeting/classroom space.

Please join me in praying over these hopes and dreams and ask God if He would have you to be involved in any of these areas of ministry. If you would like more information, please contact the church office.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Acts 2: Pentecostal Principles for All Christians

Evangelical Christians in general, and Baptists in particular, have been reluctant to observe the occasions of the Church Calendar marked in other Protestant and Catholic traditions for a variety of reasons, some better than others. However, we have lost something significant in the process. For one thing, we have separated ourselves from centuries of Christian tradition that we should hold more dearly than we do. For instance, in many churches today, there will be much ado about Mother’s Day, and very little mention of Pentecost. While there is nothing wrong with Mother’s Day, and we have a biblical command to honor our fathers and mothers, Mothers’ Day is a relatively recent tradition in the grand scheme of history. It was first made a national observance in 1914. The Jewish people began the observance of Pentecost during the Exodus around 3,500 years ago, and for nearly 2,000 years, it has been a significant occasion for the Christian Church. But it is not only our traditions that have suffered, but more importantly our theology has suffered as well. While we make much of Christmas and Easter, and rightly so, we have overlooked the occasions such as Pentecost which are intended to be teaching opportunities to teach and remind us of important doctrinal truths foundational to our Christian faith.

Just the very word “Pentecostal” is certain to evoke all sorts of thoughts in one’s mind. When we hear this word, I suppose we tend to think more of the Pentecostal denomination than the Day of Pentecost, and that causes us to think of the contemporary phenomenon of tongue-speaking, emotionally sensationalized worship experiences, and faith healing. These are not the Pentecostal Principles I wish to discuss today. In fact, these controversial experiences have divided Christians and churches over the last century in a manner very contrary to the true nature of Pentecost as we find it in the Scriptures. And the overemphasis of spectacular outward signs have caused evangelicals, especially Baptists to be afraid of the word Pentecostal rather than cherishing it as a vital part of the Christian faith.

If you are a Christian at all, you are a Pentecostal Christian. This is a Pentecostal Church. There are in fact no other kinds of churches. But when we say that we do not mean that we condone or legitimize certain practices that have taken the label of “Pentecostal” upon themselves, but rather that we are a part of that stream of God’s working in the world that He began on Pentecost in the Book of Acts. And so, as we must always do, we turn to the Scriptures to understand what Pentecost is, and what principles we must draw from that important event in redemptive history for our Christian lives and the life of this church today.

I. The Principle of the Power of the Spirit (2:1-21)

After the resurrection of Jesus, He told His followers that He would send forth the promise of His Father upon them (Luke 24:49a). At the Last Supper, Jesus had told them that He would not leave them as orphans, but that He would ask the Father, and the Father would give to them another Helper who would be with them forever. This Helper, He said, is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father would send in Christ’s name (John 14:16-18, 26). Of course, the Holy Spirit of God, that third person of the Trinity, had always been at work in the world. In the second verse of the Bible (Gen 1:2), we read the He was moving over the surface of the waters at Creation. And He had worked at various times in diverse ways among God’s people throughout history. But Jesus was promising a new experience that His followers would have with the Holy Spirit. He said to them in John 14:17, “you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” So the promise of the Father that Jesus said would be sent was the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And after being with them for 40 days teaching them concerning the Kingdom of God, He ascended into heaven. But first, He told them in Lk 24:49, “You are to stay in the city (meaning Jerusalem) until you are clothed with power from on high.”

It should catch our attention that the only instruction given to the disciples about what they had to do in order to receive this promise of the Spirit was to stay in Jerusalem. Now, why was it important for them to stay there? Could God not find them in some other place? Surely this is not the case, for we are never anywhere beyond the knowledge and power of God. David writes in Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from Your Spirit, or where can I flee from Your presence?” Rather, this instruction has to do with God’s calendar of events. During the Exodus, God had instituted among the Jewish people the observance of important festivals and feast days, all of which prophetically foreshadowed the salvation of His people that He would complete in the person of Jesus Christ. One of these was the Feast of the Harvest, also called the Feast of Weeks, because it occurred seven weeks (or approximately 50 days) after Passover. Eventually, as Greek became the lingua franca of the world, this celebration came to be known as Pentecost, meaning “fifty.” On this day, an offering of the first fruits of the wheat harvest were to be brought before the Lord. This was one of three festivals about which the Lord commanded, “all your males shall appear before the Lord God” (Ex 23:17). Therefore, in the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, faithful Jews would come from far and wide to observe Pentecost there. And just ten days after Jesus had ascended back into heaven, His followers found themselves in Jerusalem on Pentecost, surrounded by Jews who had traveled from many parts of the world. And in the midst of that event, God did something extraordinary.

A. The Pentecostal Experience (vv1-13)

1. A Private Experience (vv1-4a)

As the early disciples were gathered together, were sudden signs that began to occur. First was an audible sign – there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting (v2). Now there are some important things to notice here. First, this was not a wind blowing. Nothing miraculous at all about the wind blowing; happens every day. This was a noise that was LIKE a violent rushing wind. It didn’t come across the city, it came from heaven, sweeping down into their midst. And it wasn’t experienced all over town – it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And then there was a visible sign – there appeared to them tongues as of fire – some sort of visual image that resembled the shape of a flaming tongue – and these distributed themselves and rested on each one of them. Again notice the important words: not everyone saw this; it appeared to them. And they didn’t reach up and grab hold of them, but rather the visionary flaming tongues distributed themselves and rested on each believer in that house.

These phenomena were signs. In the Bible, a sign functions to draw attention, but the attention is always quickly pointed beyond the sign itself to the reality for which it stands. It is of interest that in both the Greek and Hebrew languages of the Bible, the word is the same for Spirit and wind. In Hebrew that word is ruach and in Greek it is pneuma. Both of these words can be translated as either “spirit” or “wind.” And so the sound that was heard was pointing them not to the wind, but to the Spirit which was descending upon them from heaven, the promise of the Father. You may recall that John the Baptist had spoken of Christ saying that He was the coming One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And so here, audibly and visibly, the disciples are made aware of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We read in verse 4, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” But their experience was not merely private.

2. A Public Experience (vv4b-11)

“They began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” This Holy Spirit who now indwelt them was empowering them to speak “with other tongues.” This is NOT the same as we find in the contemporary phenomenon of unintelligible ecstatic utterances, for we read that when the crowds began to hear this, they were bewildered because each of them was “hearing them speak in his own language.” They ask in v7, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Galileans had a reputation of being unlearned and uncultured, and were known to have a very unique dialect among themselves. While it is true that most of the world in that day communicated with each other in the Greek language, these disciples were not speaking only Greek. They were speaking the native dialects of these people, which they could have never studied or learned. The people ask in v8: “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” And the languages which were being spoken were the languages of the Parthians and Medes, the Elamites and the Mesopotamians. These were the lands to the East, where many Jews had been born following the Babylonian Captivity. They were speaking the language of Judea (perhaps Hebrew or Aramaic). They were speaking in the languages of Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, all regions of Asia Minor to the North. They were speaking the languages of North Africa: Egypt, Libya, Cyrene. They were speaking in the languages of Rome, Crete and Arabia. So, this was not the utterance of meaningless babel or ecstatic jibberish – they were well understood in the languages of all those present in Jerusalem that day. And what were they saying in all these languages? They were “speaking of the mighty deeds of God!” (v11). God was sending forth the Gospel Message through the followers of Christ to people from all over the world in their own languages.

3. A Perplexing Experience (vv12-13)

This phenomenon caused those who heard to respond with “amazement and great perplexity” as they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Now of course, you know, there are always some who claim to have all the answers. These “mockers” were saying, “They are full of sweet wine!” In other words, they’re drunk. Well, it is true, I guess that they were “under the influence,” but that influence was not the distilled spirits of wine or other strong drink, but the influence of the Holy Spirit, as Peter quickly explained.

B. The Pentecostal Explanation (vv14-21)

Peter quickly dismisses the mockers by saying, “These men are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day” (about 9 am). These were not the hours one would expect to find someone three-sheets-to-the-wind. The explanation of this event comes directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (v16). And with a lengthy quotation from Joel 2:28-32, Peter uses the words of prophetic scripture to illuminate what the multitudes have witnessed at Pentecost.

The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the accompanying sacrifice for the initiation of God’s new covenant with humanity. In Jeremiah 31, God spoke through the prophet to announce, “Behold the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers … But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days … I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, … for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jer 31:31-34). These are the days that Joel looked toward when God spoke through him to announce the outpouring of His Spirit. And now, Peter says, that day has come.

In this new covenant day, God will pour out His Spirit on all mankind. That does not mean that every person will receive the Holy Spirit, but it means that every person may receive the Holy Spirit. There is no distinction between gender: sons and daughters. There is no distinction between age: young men and old men. There is no distinction between social class: even on my bondslaves. And as God reveals Himself in Christ by the Holy Spirit to men in this day, they are empowered to prophesy, that is, because they know God in Christ, they can make God in Christ known to others. This was the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.” And the day of the outpouring of God’s Spirit is the entire age between the coming of the Spirit and the second coming of Christ. During this entire era, in which we now live, God’s offer of salvation is made available to all: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” Thus, the New Testament church is born, whose task it is to make Christ known in our witness and extend this offer of salvation to all mankind.

This brings us to the second Pentecostal Principle:

II. The Principle of the Proclamation of the Savior (vv22-41)

Peter did not limit his announcement to the people to a mere explanation of the present phenomena, but went on to preach the Lordship of Jesus Christ to them. And so we must also make Christ known to the world around us today. “How can we do that,” you may ask? Our task is no different than Peter’s, and in His Pentecostal Proclamation, we find a model for our own witness for Christ.

A. The Content of Our Proclamation (vv22-36)

You will notice that Peter did not wax eloquent about the mysteries of life and the philosophical curiosities of the culture. He presented Christ to the people. He spoke of His life (v22). He spoke of His death (v23). And you will notice that He did not present the death of Christ as an unfortunate accident of history – he says that Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” Thus, Peter made it clear that Christ did not the death of judicial injustice, but was given to humanity as the supreme sacrifice for sin. Nonetheless, the hands of humanity are stained with the blood of Christ, for he goes on to say, “you nailed [Him] to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” So we see in the death of Christ the glaring paradox of the love of God and the sinfulness of man. But His death was not the end of His story, for Peter goes on to declare, “But God raised Him up again.” (v24). And from the Old Testament Scriptures, Peter reasons with the people leading them to understand that from days of old, God had foretold through His Word that the Messiah would come and suffer and die and be raised again for us and for our salvation. And He announced to them Christ’s exaltation and Lordship and His outpouring of the Holy Spirit (32-36).

You do not have to be a seminary graduate or a trained theologian to be a witness. The other day, I counted in my library 108 books dealing exclusively with the subject of evangelism. Do you know how many of them Peter had read? Precisely ZERO. But do you know what Peter had read? He had read his Bible (and he only had the Old Testament at that time). And from the Bible alone, he was able to present Jesus to his audience. Oh, friends, spend time in the Word and as you get to know Jesus as we see Him in the Bible, make that Jesus known to others!

Just give the people Jesus. Tell them about His life, tell them about His death, tell them about His resurrection, and tell them that He is LORD. This is the content of our proclamation. But it isn’t enough to just give people information. We aren’t trying to make them smart, we’re trying to get them saved! And this brings us to …

B. The Conclusion of Our Proclamation (vv37-41)

When the people heard Peter’s words, “they were pierced to the heart.” Don’t you know that the Bible says that God’s Word is the sword of the spirit, and the writer of Hebrews says that the Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword? It cuts those who hear it right down to their heart. And these said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What shall we do?” Knowing what we now know, what would God have us to do to be made right with Him? And the answer comes quickly: “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Now some have jumped the tracks here and taught that baptism in water is necessary for salvation, and if you’ve never been baptized you can’t be saved. That is not what Peter is saying. He is uniting together those twin conditions of the gospel call: repentance and faith. To repent is to turn away from our sins and faith is turning toward God to receive His offer of salvation. Baptism is not equal to saving faith, but baptism is a demonstration of our saving faith. Peter was calling them to act on their faith and demonstrate it by being baptized. Our sins are forgiven when we turn from sin in repentance and turn toward God by faith, and we give testimony to our forgiveness by baptism. Baptism is an outward picture of an inward reality. God has made you clean on the inside. Show that to others through the symbolic act of baptism. Today, for better or worse, we ask people to walk the aisle to make a public testimony of their faith. It would probably be better if instead, we call them to the water to make that public testimony. That is what Peter was doing. And He promised them that if they would turn to God in repentance and faith, that they too would experience what they had seen on that day: “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This was not something reserved only for the apostles: “The promise is for you and your children and all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” God may be calling someone even as I speak to come to Him and be forgiven, and receive the promise of the Spirit, and to “be saved from this perverse generation!” (v41).

Oh, some expert will say, “Preaching like that,” or “Witnessing like that will never appeal to anyone.” Well, I beg to differ, for on that day, 3,000 people received this word and were baptized. It isn’t too hard for me to believe that this day, one might. We must proclaim the Savior. This is a Pentecostal Principle for all Christians. Now one final one.

III. The Principle of the Practices of the Saints (vv42-47)

Once this New Testament Church is born, what does it do? Here in these verses we are given a glimpse of how Christ intended for His church to continue on until He comes again.

A. We must be a learning church (42a)

They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. John Stott said, “the Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem that day; its teachers were the apostles … and there were 3,000 pupils in the kindergarten.” There are many who would claim that Christian life is more about experience than instruction, and more about how one feels than what one believes. However, as we see here, the church from the day of its birth was a place of instruction in sound doctrine. The apostles’ teaching was validated in their midst through signs and wonders (43b). Anytime God gave new revelation of Himself to humanity, He validated it with signs and wonders. Now that we have the complete revelation of God’s word in the Old and New Testaments, we are not looking for more signs and wonders. Rather, we are to devote ourselves to the study of this true Word of God that has been passed down to us. We must be a learning church.

B. We must be a loving church (42a – fellowship)

They were not only devoted to the apostles teaching – they were also devoted to fellowship, that Greek word koinonia that so fully describes the life of the church that Jesus intended. If we could define koinonia in the briefest possible way, it would be with the phrase life together. As fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as brothers and sisters in the family of God, we are sharing in life together with one another. When one rejoices, we all have reason to rejoice. When one suffers, we all suffer with that one. When one is in need, we all marshal our resources to help meet those needs, as we see in vv44-45. And what was their attitude in all this? Verse 46 says that they were glad and sincere in heart. Oh, that the church in our generation would be marked by such glad and sincere love for one another!

C. We must be a worshiping church (42b-43a)

The breaking of bread refers to the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer speaks of their dependence upon God. And through the teaching of the Word, the observance of the ordinances, and their dependence upon God in prayer, there was a sense of awe in their hearts and minds as they sought and saw the glory of God on a daily basis. We see that they were worshiping formally, as they met in the courts of the Temple. And they were worshiping informally, as they met in individual’s homes. Worship characterized everything the early church did. And we wonder perhaps why we do not see the manifestation of God’s glory more vividly in our own day? Might it be that we have ceased to seek His glory consistently and persistently in worship. We must be a worshiping church.

D. We must be a missionary church (47)

As the early Christians worshiped God, others saw something attractive in their lives, and they grew in favor with all the people. Their worship, their fellowship, their growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, and their gladness and sincerity demonstrated something to the world around them and like salt in the earth, made the world thirsty for what they had. And so we read that the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved. Every word is important. There is much talk about church growth today, and many ideas and practices, but nothing can ever improve on the original plan. How does the church grow? It grows by people being saved. The Bible does not say that the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were getting mad at their other churches. No, these folks were getting saved. And how are people saved? It is the work of the Lord. The Lord added them to the Kingdom, to His family, and to the local church because salvation is only of God. We have a part to play – we must worship God faithfully, love one another sincerely, serve one another selflessly, grow in our knowledge of the things of God perpetually, and take advantage of every opportunity to give a word of witness for Christ boldly. But alas, it is God alone who holds the key to men’s hearts. So, we must pray, and we must seek Him, and we must ask Him to save our love ones, and make us bold witnesses, for unless He moves, salvation does not happen.

So, on Pentecost Sunday, we must remember these principles. We must reflect on the principle of the Power of the Spirit. We are not, as the early disciples were, waiting for God to pour out the baptism of the Spirit. He has done this once for all at Pentecost. If you have been born-again, you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Don’t let anyone tell you that the baptism of the Spirit must be evidenced by ecstatic manifestations. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” And yet he goes on to say clearly that we do not all work miracles, speak in tongues, or perform healings. But all of us who are in Christ have been baptized with the Spirit’s power, and He now dwells in us. We have the admonition in Ephesians 5:18 to continually seek the filling of the Spirit, which speaks of His control in our lives. We must always seek to yield ourselves over to His control. And as a result of His power within us, we can be His witnesses.

And we must not forget the principle of the proclamation of the Savior. In all that we do in our lives individually and collectively as the church, our task is to make Christ known. It isn’t complicated, we must be constantly growing in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and proclaiming to others what we know about Him – His life, His death, His resurrection, His Lordship – and calling them to faith and repentance. God will hold us accountable for our faithfulness to this task, but He is the one who is responsible for the results. We go and tell. He saves. But He has chosen to save through the work of His church and the word of His Gospel as we proclaim the Savior to the world around us.

And we must be ever mindful of the principle of the practices of the saints. And like that early church who was born on Pentecost, we must be a learning church, a loving church, a worshiping church, and a missionary church. These are the true marks of Pentecostal Christianity, and there really is no other kind.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Some Words I Hope Will Challenge and Comfort

I can't remember where I heard this spoken, but it has helped keep me in check as a pastor to Christ's church: "The church you want is the enemy of the church you have." I think there are a number of pastors who would do well to heed this word. We all have in mind what we WANT in the churches we pastor. However, God has seen fit to not give us those churches to pastor, but rather we have charge over the churches where He has placed us. And we are to love those churches, and shepherd them by feeding them on the Word of God, not by beating them with our staffs.

There are several churches which hold special places in my heart, in addition to the one I currently serve as pastor. From time to time, I hear good reports from those churches, and at other times I hear bad ones. I feel that it is my duty to keep my nose out of things and let the pastors and leaders of those churches handle the matters without my input. But sometimes the news is heartbreaking. Many churches are affected by crisis. In some, the pastor is afflicted by the congregation. I hate to hear of this. I love pastors, and I wish every church knew the weight of responsibility their pastors carry for them (see Hebrews 13:17). But it seems that more and more I am hearing of churches who are being afflicted by unscrupulous pastors. Whether it is moral failure, laziness, or ministering in the flesh, I wish so much that these brothers would turn to the Lord for a renewal of their spiritual passion and stop abusing God's flock. I fear that they do not realize the harm that they are doing to that local church where they serve, the cause of Christ in general, and the work of pastors in other places. Churches, love your pastors. Pastors, love your churches.

The following passage will be of relevance to some regular readers of this blog. If you are one of those for whom this is relevant, you will know. If you don't know what I'm talking about, that's probably good for you, but I would appreciate your prayers for those who are affected by a current crisis in their church. My words are insufficient to speak to the problem. God's Word is sufficient. This is the Word of the Lord from Jeremiah 23:

1 "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!" declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: "You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds," declares the LORD. 3 "Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. 4 "I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD.

5 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD,
"When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch ;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
6 "In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
'The LORD our righteousness.'

7 "Therefore behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when they will no longer say, 'As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,' 8 but, 'As the LORD lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.' Then they will live on their own soil."

9 As for the prophets:
My heart is broken within me,
All my bones tremble;
I have become like a drunken man,
Even like a man overcome with wine,
Because of the LORD
And because of His holy words.
10 For the land is full of adulterers;
For the land mourns because of the curse.
The pastures of the wilderness have dried up.
Their course also is evil
And their might is not right.
11 "For both prophet and priest are polluted;
Even in My house I have found their wickedness," declares the LORD.
12 "Therefore their way will be like slippery paths to them,
They will be driven away into the gloom and fall down in it;
For I will bring calamity upon them,
The year of their punishment," declares the LORD.

13 "Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing:
They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray.
14 "Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing:
The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood;
And they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
So that no one has turned back from his wickedness.
All of them have become to Me like Sodom,
And her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
15 "Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets,

'Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood
And make them drink poisonous water,
For from the prophets of Jerusalem
Pollution has gone forth into all the land.' "

16 Thus says the LORD of hosts,
"Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.
They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination ,
Not from the mouth of the LORD.
17 "They keep saying to those who despise Me,
'The LORD has said, "You will have peace"';
And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart,
They say, 'Calamity will not come upon you.'
18 "But who has stood in the council of the LORD,
That he should see and hear His word?
Who has given heed to His word and listened?
19 "Behold, the storm of the LORD has gone forth in wrath,
Even a whirling tempest;
It will swirl down on the head of the wicked.
20 "The anger of the LORD will not turn back
Until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart;
In the last days you will clearly understand it.
21 "I did not send these prophets,
But they ran.
I did not speak to them,
But they prophesied.
22 "But if they had stood in My council,
Then they would have announced My words to My people,
And would have turned them back from their evil way
And from the evil of their deeds.

23 "Am I a God who is near," declares the LORD,
"And not a God far off?
24 "Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?" declares the LORD.
"Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD.

25 "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, 'I had a dream, I had a dream!' 26 "How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27 who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28 "The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the LORD. 29 "Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30 "Therefore behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who steal My words from each other. 31 "Behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'The Lord declares.' 32 "Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams," declares the LORD, "and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit," declares the LORD.

33 "Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, 'What is the oracle of the LORD?' then you shall say to them, 'What oracle ?' The LORD declares, 'I will abandon you.' 34 "Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, 'The oracle of the LORD,' I will bring punishment upon that man and his household. 35 "Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or, 'What has the LORD spoken?' 36 "For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. 37 "Thus you will say to that prophet, 'What has the LORD answered you?' and, 'What has the LORD spoken?' 38 "For if you say, 'The oracle of the LORD!' surely thus says the LORD, 'Because you said this word, "The oracle of the LORD!" I have also sent to you, saying, "You shall not say, 'The oracle of the LORD!' "' 39 "Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city which I gave you and your fathers. 40 "I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten."
Jer 23:1-40 (NASB)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Human-Induced Environmental Disaster

There is much debate today on whether or not humans have anything to do with the environmental disasters affecting the earth. Make no mistake, humans have everything to do with it.

Alec Motyer writes in his excellent commentary on Isaiah: "It is intrinsic to the doctrine of creation that human beings in sin are the supreme environmental threat."

Note two very important words in Motyer's sentence: "in sin." The world in which we live is not in the "very good" state that God created it (Genesis 1:31). Environmental meltdown began, not with the invention of the automobile or the industrial revolution, but with a single bite of forbidden fruit in the garden (Genesis 3:17-19). Man's sin subjected the world to calamity (Genesis 9:11-13). Thus Paul says in Romans 8:19-25 --

19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8:19-25 (NASB)

Yes, we are guilty of the environmental disaster, because of the universal condition of human sin -- a course that was charted by Adam and Eve in the garden. And while politicians and policy makers argue in vain over what can be done to remedy the problem, the true sons of God look with expectation to the only One who can fix it. Indeed, even creation itself looks to Him groaning in hope for the day of consummation when Christ shall come and grant the redemption of our bodies in resurrection and the restoration of the created order in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:21). Until that day comes, we have this promise from God:

"While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease."

Gen 8:22 (NASB)

A Book Recommendation: Rescue by Jean Phillips

by Jean Phillips

My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Rescue. We have been so blessed and encouraged by all the lessons that Jean and Gene have learned and shared in that book. Jean is a gifted writer. We knew this already, having read her children's book The Meaning of Christmas to our daughter countless times. As pastor of the church where two of Jean's sisters are members, I deeply enjoyed "getting to know" Jean and her family more through reading this excellent book. I will be recommending it often to others. I have asked our church librarians to put my "Pastor's Picks" label on it for others to enjoy. Gene and Jean are truly heroes in the kingdom and we value their lives, ministries, and the brief moments of fellowship we have shared together.