Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gaining A Good Eye

A lawyer was prosecuting a drunk-driving case. The man accused of the offense brought in five of his buddies to act as witnesses concerning the night in question. The only catch – they were his drinking buddies. They all swore up and down that he was sober that night. In his closing argument, the prosecuting attorney told a story of five men who were out drinking one night until they were kicked out of every bar in town. As they left the last bar, one man turned to another, flipped him his keys, and said, ‘Here, Wilson, you drive; you’re too drunk to sing.” Afterwards the judge congratulated the lawyer on getting his point across to the jury in such a clear and effective way.

When it comes to discerning biblical truth, I think we’re all susceptible to the same logic as that of the accused. We surround ourselves with our “drinking buddies” named: “Internal bias,” “What I’ve always believed,” “What I’ve always heard,” “What my friends say,” and “I never heard that before.” We believe that we understand the Scriptures because we’re reliant on these witnesses, and yet they are as large an impediment to growing in the truth as those five drinking buddies.

Again this week we are going to be examining a difficult statement of Jesus that many ignore or seek to explain away. Two weeks ago it was Luke 6:37, “Judge not that you be not judged…” And there we noted that not only does the context of Jesus’ words help us understand His meaning, but also there are Scriptural examples where the truth of His words are lived out, as in the case of Zacchaeus’ story.

This Sunday we will see the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:22-23 lived out in His encounter with the rich young man in Mark 10:17-31. I’ve selected the Marcian text rather than Matthew’s account because it is a fuller account and it comes from the memory of Peter.

In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus says:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

What is he talking about? In answering that question it’s important to remember the significance of context. Here Jesus is at the center of the first of five great teaching sections in the Gospel of Matthew. Throughout the Scriptures the principle of “the significant center” sheds light on the importance of these words. (For instance, in our study of Ruth we noted Ruth 2:20 as the center of the book. It is there that the author tells us that Boaz is the kinsman redeemer.) Here Jesus’ mention of “the eye” is central to the Sermon on the Mount. So, what’s he talking about?

As we will see on Sunday, “the good eye” and “the bad eye” are Hebrew idioms that every first century Jew would know. In Matthew 20 Jesus tells us of a vineyard master who hires men at different times of day, but pays them the same wage. And when a worker protests, the master says in verse 15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Actually, the Greek says, “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” In the Hebrew “the good eye” is ayin tovah – and it means to look out for the needs of others, to be generous to the poor. “The bad eye” is ayin ra’ah – and it means to be greedy and self-centered - blind to the needs around you.

So when you understand the Hebrew idiom, what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6:22-23 fits perfectly into the larger text where Jesus is talking about laying up treasures in heaven and not serving two masters.

We will take all of this true testimony and apply it to the story of the rich young man in Mark 10. The results should be impressive! For what Jesus says and does with that rich young man is what He says and does for all of us “rich folks”. I’ve seen a few new insights in this study that I pray you will see them, too.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is an idiom?
2. Can you identify a few idioms in English?
3. Can you find any biblical meaning for the one Paul uses in Romans 12:20?
4. How is the Bible any different from all the rest of the books in the world?
5. Check some commentaries on Matthew 6:22-23 and see what you find.
6. What does the man’s posture signify in verse 17 of Mark 10?
7. How common is his question today?
8. What does Jesus mean by His responses in verses 18 and 19?
9. Why does Mark add the statement in verse 20, “looking at him, he loved him…?”
10. How do Jesus’ words in verse 21 correspond to Matthew 6:22-23?
11. What is the message of verses 29-30?

May we all gain a good eye! See you Sunday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Portrait of Grace

Julian Tchividjian is not a household name. He is, however, the pastor of a well-known church - Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. It is the church that God led D. James Kennedy to start some fifty years ago. A few years ago Tchividjian wrote the book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. It’s a book about grace. Of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, grace is the least understood; and yet, it’s the most foundational. In commenting on another work on grace, Tchividjian says, “…the gospel of grace is way more drastic, way more offensive, way more liberating, way more shocking, and way more counterintuitive than any of us realize. At its deepest level there is nothing more radically unbalanced and drastically unsafe than grace. It has no “but”; it’s unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated. It unsettles everything.”

Indeed, more than sixty years ago in commenting on Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5, where Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:
First of all, let me make a comment, to me a very important and vital comment. The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. Let me show you what I mean.
If a man preaches justification by works, no one would ever raise this question. If a man’s preaching is, ‘If you want to be Christians, and if you want to go to heaven, you must stop committing sins, you must take up good works, and if you do so regularly and constantly, and do not fail to keep on at it, you will make yourselves Christians, you will reconcile yourselves to God and you will go to heaven’. Obviously a man who preaches in that strain would never be liable to this misunderstanding. Nobody would say to such a man, ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’, because the man’s whole emphasis is just this, that if you go on sinning you are certain to be damned, and only if you stop sinning can you save yourselves. So that misunderstanding could never arise . . .
Nobody has ever brought this charge against the Church of Rome, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said, ‘This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust’, and so on. ‘This man’, they said, ‘is an antinomian; and that is heresy.’ That is the very charge they brought against him. It was also brought George Whitfield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity – if there is such a thing – has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God ‘justifies the ungodly’ . . .
That is my comment and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you are really preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.

This week the message is entitled “A Portrait of Grace.” Our guest preacher will base his message on Zechariah 3 and Ephesians 2:1-10. In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is the problem that the Zechariah 3 vision addresses?
2. Who is it who pleads the cause of God’s people?
3. How does Romans 8:33-34 relate?
4. Note the parallel between Zechariah 3 and the Book of Jude. Also, Romans 11:1.
5. How does Joshua, the Levitical High Priest, represent every one of the children of God? (Note v. 3.)
6. What is God’s answer? (Note v. 4.)
7. How is this a perfect picture of what Christ has done for us?
8. What is the difference between Paul’s articulations of the Gospel in Ephesians 2:1-10 and most contemporary Christians’ view?
9. How do vs. 1-3 of Ephesians 2 parallel what the prophet Zechariah says in verse 3?
10. What does it mean to see yourself as the “workmanship of God”?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Removing Your Thumb

A parishioner asked his priest one day, “Father, what causes arthritis?” The priest fixed a critical eye on him and said, “Arthritis? What causes arthritis? Immoral living, that’s what causes it. Smoking! Drinking! Running around!” With a bit of a smug look and an especially acerbic tone, he continued, “And why do you ask?” “Oh, no particular reason, Father.” said the parishioner. “It just says here in the paper that the Pope has arthritis.”
In antiquity, the Hebrews used “parallelism” for emphasis. When making a speech, people often repeated their ideas or rephrased their words for emphasis. That’s why many of Jesus’ words, statements or stories came in twos and threes. (Perfect examples are His parallel parables in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.) The idea was to drive home a point by proving it in multiple ways. Therefore, when one encounters parallelism in Scripture the question to be asked is, “what commonalities rather than differences exist?” For instance, in Matthew 5:22 “Raca” and “fool” are rough equivalents for speaking angrily, and “court” and “the fire of hell” are metaphors for judgment. Three times Jesus says almost the same thing – anger and insults lead to judgment. So look at what Jesus says in Luke 6:36 – 38:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Now what do you think His point is? What is He emphasizing? One of the most widely used statements of our Lord is “Judge not!” From the time most of us sat on our parent’s knee we heard that. Such counsel is common throughout the Christian world. But, let me ask you, what does He mean? How is it possible not to make judgments? And the Greek doesn’t help. The Greek uses the verb krino “to judge.” But krino can mean to “discern”, “to decide in court,” “to pass judgment, “or “to condemn” depending on the context. The Hebrew words for “judge” – don and shafat, have the same ambiguity. In other words, in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for “judge” are ambiguous. So the question - is what does Jesus mean by using the sevenfold parallelism in Luke 6?

Perhaps the best way to answer such a question is to look for examples of Jesus practicing what He preaches and in Luke 19:1-9 we have a perfect illustration. It’s the story of a vertically challenged man named Zacchaeus. While many Christians know this story, having sung of the “wee little man” in grade school, it’s doubtful that most see the parallel between Luke 6:36-38 and Luke 19:1-9. That’s regrettable because Luke’s presentation of the Zacchaeus encounter is the prototypical example of exactly how Jesus judges and calls us to judge. As was the case with the “rendering unto Caesar”, you will find in the Luke 19:1-9 treasures perhaps you have never seen.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. What similarities and differences can you find between the Zacchaeus story and the one that immediately precedes it in Luke 18:35-43?
2. What do you know of Jericho?
3. What are “chief tax collectors?”
4. Why did the Jews equate tax collectors with robbers and murderers?
5. What does Zacchaeus mean?
6. What’s the significance of Zacchaeus’ climb?
7. What’s Jesus mean when He says, “Come down, I’m going to stay at your house today?”
8. How has salvation come to Zacchaeus home?
9. What are the two pieces of evidence that this is true?
10. What does this encounter tell us about how we are to judge and what happens as a result?

See you Sunday. Judging from everything I know, it should be well worth your time.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stamped in Dust

There’s a video from the U.K. Telegraph dated September 5, 2011. It’s the story of Kevin Murray, a New York City fireman, and his guilt over the loss of life on September 11, 2001. If you have time, it’s worth watching. (Google: Kevin Murray’s guilt.) It’s a little over eight minutes long and what he says at the 6:50-7:11 mark strikes me as profoundly biblical.

Murray says, “I asked someone as we were digging, ‘How big were these office buildings?’ Two hundred forty stories and yet when we were digging there wasn’t one desk, one computer that we saw, nothing, it was all dust.”

There’s an encounter in the Gospels (all three synoptics) that pits Jesus against the scribes and priests during His final Passover. It’s after He’s ridden into Jerusalem on the back of the colt. It’s after He’s cleansed the temple. It’s after He’s been challenged by the religious leaders as to His authority. Luke says that the religious leaders send spies into the crowd to ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” For years this encounter has been the foundation for stewardship messages. Jesus’ statement, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” has been the grist of Christian policy positions on the role secular authority plays in the life of the Christian. But interestingly such extrapolations are far from the heart of this encounter. They are also far from the reason that Matthew, Mark, and Luke include this incident in their Gospel accounts. Something much deeper is being communicated here – something that has to do with the minting of coins and lives.

This Sunday we are going to delve into the essence of this brief text to see what Jesus is saying about the purpose of our lives. While taxes and tithes are a part of what He says, a small part, here, hours before His death, Jesus is saying something so profound that it gets at the heart of one’s reason to be.

Remember our year-long study of brokenness and the transformation that Jesus alone can bring? What Jesus does in the temple this week vividly underscores all that we’ve studied together since September 2011.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled “Stamped in Dust,” you may wish to read not only our text – Luke 20:19-26, but also our companion verses in Genesis 1:26-27, 3:17-19, and Romans 8:28-30. Then consider the following:

1. What is the location of this encounter?
2. What bearing does the location have on all that transpires?
3. What time of year is it?
4. What is the purpose of moneychangers in the temple?
5. What did Rome do with the currencies of nations and regions they conquered?
6. What dilemma is posed by the question asked of Jesus?
7. When Jesus asks for a coin, what’s the significance of them having one?
8. What does Jesus mean when He says, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”?
9. How many images are being referred to here? And how many “image bearers” are in view?
10. How is September 11, 2011 a powerful picture of what every disciple of Jesus is called to do in following Jesus?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stop Fussin' and Fightin'

Have you ever heard folk respond with "no complaints" or "no use complainin’ no one wants to hear it anyway"? The Bible instructs us to avoid complaining and arguing. Does that mean we can never offer a constructive criticism or debate vital issues? Of course not. God, Jesus, the prophets and the apostles all expressed “concerns” about such issues as sin and righteousness.

The Bible does give us various guidelines for sharing such concerns: directness, courtesy and being constructive. What are not allowed are mumbling, grumbling (muttering), festering bad attitudes, and arguments for argument's sake. What is not allowed is complaining and arguing that is tinged with a rebellious attitude or as they say in the South "jest bein' plain ornery".

The amazing aspect of this instruction is that we are to do EVERYTHING without complaining and arguing. This means that transformed believers are to be permeated with a consistently joyful, grateful, peaceable, contented spirit. Sounds like the Holy Spirit to me! The text teaches us this is the salvation of God at work in us. Transformed from the inside out!

See you Sunday! (and don't complain about coming to church!)

1. Read Exodus 16:1-7
a. What did the people grumble about? v.3
b. Who did they grumble against? v.3
c. What was the solution? v.4-6
d. What was the placed named and why? v.7

2. What indicators are there in the Philippians letter that that church had issues with complaining and arguing? 2:2-4: 4:2

3. Do EVERYTHING without complaining and arguing! Read Paul's call to consistency in other areas. I Thessalonians 5:15-22.

4. What do we do with a legitimate concern?
a. Be direct - Gal. 2:11 (don't spread it around)
b. Be constructive - Ex. 18:17-19
c. Be courteous even in disagreement - Gen 13:8

5. Where is the best complaint department in the world? Psalm 142:1,2

“You talk about me all you please. I'll talk about you on my knees."
- Amiee Semple McPherson