Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Nick at Night" - Doug Rehberg

You’ve heard it before: “A text without a context is a pretext.” Meaning, you can make the Bible conform to almost any preconception you have. This is no different from other areas of inquiry. Elementary science teachers report that most children are told by adults that the “sun is rising and setting,” giving them an image of a sun that moves around the earth. In school, students are told by teachers (years after they have already formed their own mental model of how things work) that the earth rotates around the sun. Students are then faced with the difficult task of deleting a mental image that makes sense to them, based on their own observations, and replacing it with a model that is not as intuitively acceptable. This task is not trivial, for students must undo a whole mental framework of knowledge that they have used to understand the world.  The same is true when we come to the Scriptures.

Last week I was treated to a living example of such preconceptions regarding baptism. (Perhaps the reason I could see it so clearly is that I too suffered from the same preconceptions decades ago.) It began with a question: “Why do you baptize infants?” The questioner followed up with this statement: “When the Bible never mentions the baptism of infants, instead it only refers to believers being baptized.”

Before I sought to answer the question I asked for some background. It turns out that the questioner had grown up in a church where only non-infants were baptized. This insight was added, “We only baptized people who reached the age of accountability and who could profess Christ for themselves.” Moreover, the questioner had spent much of her adult life married to a minister who only baptized believers.

So, quickly I could see that I was dealing with a person who was steeped in her views. There was a good chance that her question was more of a challenge than a solicitation of information, or a desire to learn. However, I detected an openness to learn, so I proceeded with a three-part answer.

First, biblically, I pointed out that the New Testament writers were recording first generation encounters with Christ and the Gospel. Though Jesus spoke of children, and on occasion held them in His arms, all of the first disciples and those to whom they ministered were adults. Thus, it stands to reason that it was adults in the first century who were being baptized. Moreover, I noted that in at least five places in the New Testament an individual is noted as having been baptized along with his/her whole household. Now the world “household” had a specific meaning in antiquity. It meant the composite of all the family, the servants, and in some cases, any economic dependants. Clearly infants and children were a part of a household.

Second, I pointed out that historically Roman persecution of Christians throughout the first three centuries extended to infants and children. Indeed, baptismal records found in the catacombs of Rome include the names of all who had been baptized, including children. I also noted that for the first 15 centuries of the Christian Church the baptism of infants was the normal practice of the church. No one questioned its veracity until the rising of the heretical Anabaptists in 1525.

Third, I noted that theologically infant baptism is a clear picture of sola gratia (grace alone). In infant baptism there’s no work that the infant does. There’s no assent on the part of the baptized. All that is done is done for him/her without any additions; just like divine grace is imparted to every child of wrath (Eph. 2:3) with his/her help or facilitation.

The immediate result of my ten-minute tutorial was silence, followed by, “I just don’t think it’s biblical to baptize infants.” “Oh, well,” I thought, “Maybe the sun does rotate around the earth!”

I say all this because this Sunday, the final week of the “MOVE” series, brings us to John 3:1-21, another text that’s often held hostage to preconceptions and assumptions. Is there any more popular biblical citation than John 3:16? But what’s it mean? How does it fit with the preceding encounter of Nicodemus and Jesus? Who is the “whosoever”? How does one believe given Jesus’ assessment of the human condition in verse 3? How does the concluding statement in verse 21 square with verse 16? I would venture to say that in the whole Bible no verse is more misrepresented or made a pretext than John 3:16. Here, as in every other text we’ve examined as part of this series, “the in”, “the up”, and “the out” begin and end in God’s sovereign grace.

In preparation for Sunday’s message: “Nick at Night,” you may wish to consider the following:
1.      Who is Nicodemus?
2.      What does his name mean?
3.      What are the similarities and differences between Zacchaeus and Nicodemus?
4.      Why does Nicodemus come to Jesus at night?
5.      What is his view of Jesus?
6.      What is the significance of “truly, truly” in verse 3? Why does Jesus’ response appear to be a non sequitur?
7.      Why does Jesus analogize salvation to natural birth?
8.      How is verse 8 a flashback to Genesis 1? What parallels does Jesus see physical creation and spiritual regeneration?
9.      Who are the “whosoever” in verse 16?
10.  How is salvation a total work of God? (See verse 21)
11.  How does every godly “move” flow from His work?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Expanding Your Love" - Doug Rehberg

Nearly thirty years ago I sat in a graduate school class in Washington, D.C. where the professor was telling of a murder investigation in London.  Scotland Yard was all over the case checking leads and interviewing eyewitnesses.  "You say it was a Caucasian man in his mid-forties.  Is this the portrait of the man?" the investigator asked one elderly eyewitness.  "Yes, I believe he was the man I saw pulling the trigger."  "Are you sure it was this man?" asked the investigator.  “Yes,” she said.  "Would you say that he was responsible?"  The old woman squinted, raised her hand to her face, and said in her cockney brogue, "Responsible?  No, I would say he was patently irresponsible, wouldn't you?"

Throughout the history of language certain words and phrases used in a particular culture are assigned multiple meanings.  The word “responsible” is a perfect example. But there is also a collection of other words that demonstrate a shift in meaning over time.  Words like "gay" and "cool" have undergone a radical shift within the American culture over the past 40 or 50 years. The same is true for certain words found in Scripture.

By the time of Christ, a wide variety of words are available to describe those who follow Him.  Like any first century Rabbi seeking to mold his students, Jesus might have chosen to lock in on a single word like "disciple" or "servant" and stick with it throughout His ministry.  When outsiders refer to the followers of Jesus as disciples, mathetes, Jesus does little to dissuade them from using the term.  In fact, He frequently uses it Himself.  By referring to His followers as disciples, Jesus stands squarely in the tradition of the philosophical teachers of His day.  What the master imparts, the disciples receive with eagerness, ready to display their affinity for Him and His message.

But there are two crucial differences between the disciples of Jesus and those of other masters.  First, and foremost, the disciples of Jesus follow Him as a result of His call.  Jesus’ disciples do not wander up to Him one day and ask to be His disciples.  They do not choose Him; He chooses them.  Second, the discipleship to which Jesus calls them is one where the teacher is pre-eminent.  Unlike other rabbinical masters who charge their pupils with the task of disseminating their teaching, Jesus charges His disciples with the primary task of proclaiming His identity.  We see this in His sending of the twelve in Matthew 10:32.  “Therefore, whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven.”  It is not the teaching as much as the Teacher who is essential.  Six chapters later Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”  When Jesus hears Peter’s reply, He proclaims that the veracity of Peter’s response will be the very cornerstone upon which He will build His church.  In other words, all He will ever do in and through His church will be centered squarely on His identity as Lord.  He is pre-eminent.

Christ’s pre-eminence in no way eliminates the critical role His disciples will play in His church.  On the contrary, Jesus goes to great lengths to define their role in His kingdom.  Unlike other masters who may attempt to focus their attention on the qualifications and duties of their disciples, Jesus focuses their attention on His relationship with them.  That focus is most clearly seen in John’s Gospel where Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, doulous, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you philous, friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”  For Jesus, the qualifications and duties of His disciples are inexorably linked to His relationship with them as friends.  In fact, it is His relationship with them that will define their entire course of life and ministry.
The term philos, friend, occurs twenty-eight times in the New Testament, almost exclusively in the Gospels of Luke and John.  In Luke 12:4 Jesus refers to His disciples as friends, but in a casual manner of address, much as a rabbi might refer to his students.  But John notes a deeper and more specific use of the word friend.  In John 3:29 Jesus first uses the word to describe his cousin, John the Baptist.  He refers to John as the friend of the bridegroom who rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.  Just as the friend is in close relationship with the bridegroom and subordinates his personal interests to the interests of the bridegroom, so John the Baptist subordinates his interests to the interests of Jesus of Nazareth.  This is our first glimpse into what Jesus will mean twelve chapters later when He uses the same term to describe the disciples.
In John 11 when Jesus receives word that Lazarus is dead, He replies with the words, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps.”  His use of the plural pronoun “our” indicates that Jesus considers the twelve to be in such a close relationship with Him that His loss is their loss.  But lest we think that His use of philos places them on equal footing, notice that He never refers to Himself as their friend.  He never says, “I am your friend.”  The friendship Jesus espouses is a bond between two vastly unequal parties.  He remains their Lord, their commander and king.  But, unlike all other commanders, He perfectly fulfills all of His commands and chief among them is His command to love unconditionally.
By calling His disciples friends Jesus uses a concept that is fundamentally alien to the Old Testament world.  Notwithstanding the filial relationship of David and Jonathan who are said to have loved one another as their own life (I Samuel 18:3), Old Testament Judaism knew nothing of friendship as brotherly love.  Friedrich writes:

In Palestinian Judaism we find certain forms of friendship but these are all different from Greek friendship.  In Rabbinic Judaism the concept is applied to the relationship between students and teachers of the law.  Since Jewish wisdom could agree with popular wisdom that a man’s best friend is himself, it is the more significant that like the Greeks who could regard only the good as capable of true friendship, it advanced the principle that only those who fear God are capable of true friendship and they alone find true friends. 

Should Jesus have used the term “friend” in a Hebrew sense in John 15, He might only have been elaborating the normal parameters of the teacher/student relationship.  But, it is obvious from the context that this is not the case.  Jesus eschews the Hebrew concept of friendship and seizes on the Greek. 

By selecting this new title for His disciples and setting it in the context of His relationship to His Father, Jesus is making a quantum leap from the normal parameters of the master/disciple relationship.  Rather than sticking with the term disciple or servant, Jesus opts for a new name for His beloved, a name that has its etymological roots in the human kiss.  Unlike any Hebrew rabbi of His day, by naming them friends, Jesus defines His chosen ones as divinely ordained and appointed intimates whose call and commission rests not on their own merits or qualifications but on His divine endowment of unconditional love.  At the climax of His own ministry Jesus selects a new title, a title from which He will never deviate.  He does not call them ruler or great ones or first ones; instead He selects the term philous as the ultimate expression of His intention for them.  For the rest of their lives these whom He has called and equipped to lead His flock are called friends.

Now I say all of this to point out the fact that Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is a foreshadowing of what He will do that night, less than a week later, in the Upper Room. When Jesus reaches Jericho and sees Zacchaeus in the tree, He sees not a chief tax collector, a rich man, He sees a friend. And it’s Jesus’ demonstration of friendship that moves Zacchaeus from inward to outward, from selfish to righteous. We are going to talk about all of this on Sunday as we study Luke 19:1-10 in a message entitled, “Expanding Your Love”. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What is the significance of this encounter happening in Jericho?
2.      What is the biblical history of this city?
3.      Where is Jesus heading when He walks into town?
4.      What is the correlation between the rich ruler in Luke 18 and Zacchaeus?
5.      How many "chief tax collectors" can you find in the Gospels?
6.      How many rich, named men can you find?
7.      What is the significance of Jesus using Zacchaeus’ name?
8.      What does Jesus mean when He says, “Today salvation to this house”?
9.      How is Jesus’ behavior toward Zacchaeus a sign of true and costly friendship?
10.  How does this encounter display the essence of the Gospels “in, up, and out”?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Miracles, Parables, and the Wind of God" - Ken Wagoner

"Miracles, Parables, and the Wind of God" - Ken Wagoner

I had the privilege like many of you to attend the “Grand Opening” of The Blessing Board’s new facilities in Oakmont last Friday evening.  Quite frankly I was overwhelmed as I walked from room to room and at each corner I turned it seemed what was before me was larger than what I had just left!  I realize The Blessing Board is more than Hebron, but also know without Hebron’s support in people, resources, and finances The Blessing Board would not be what it is today.  Although I am an outsider to Hebron I have had the opportunity to see more of the inside of Hebron these last couple of years.  I would think you should know I am not a prophet, but I must say from my perspective I sense Hebron may be on the brink of some new and extraordinary growth.  I see that in your Beyond emphasis to encourage and support other ministries in the local area.  I have some familiarity with your Groves, your youth programs, Men’s and Women’s ministries, and the Holly Alm scholarships for summer camp.  I would assume you have some challenges you face as a church, but realistically as an outsider I will let you worry about these challenges as I focus on what I see as God’s blessings.

Of course, our Lord can have some other plans for you I don’t see.  He doesn’t owe you anything, and  we know you are not deserving of any blessing you may receive, but from an outsider’s perspective it appears to me God is pleased to use you for His glory in this period of your life. Our main scripture from Luke 5 this Sunday describes a time in the life of some of the early disciples when God was pleased to use them for His glory.  I believe there are things in this passage which could be helpful for making sure as individuals and a local body of believers you understand what God wants to do through you when He has His wind at your back.

I am grateful for the blessing you have been to me, and I pray I never take lightly the privilege of seeing God at work in and through you.  Below are a few thoughts to ponder before this Sunday, and ask you to join with me in prayer for God to be our focus and delight when we worship together this Sunday.

  1.  Read Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20.  These two passages are very similar, and are close to what we read in Luke 5:1-11.  I don’t really know if all three passages are meant to be the same story, but what do we learn from them?
  2. In Acts 9:31 we are told “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”   What were the circumstances before the “church had peace” and what does it mean to have the “fear of God” and “the comfort of the Holy Spirit” at the same time?
  3. Matthew 13:44-50 are three short parables of the Kingdom of God.  Each one of them describes what one would give to receive that which is of great value.  What does it mean to you to “treasure Christ above all?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The "Go" of the Gospel - Doug Rehberg

If there’s a fulcrum in the Scriptures, a person on whom the balance of biblical salvation history pivots, it’s John the Baptist.

It’s instructive to note that, according to Jesus, John the Baptist is the greatest human ever born (see Luke 7:28). For 400 years God had been silent. For 400 years there had been no true prophet in Israel. For 400 years the people of God had cowered in the darkness of divine silence. Then Gabriel appears to a priest in the hill country of Judah, named Zechariah. (His name means “God has remembered.”) And what is it that God tells Zechariah He’s remembered? He’s remembered His covenant with Israel. He’s remembered His promise in Eden. He’s remembered promises made through the prophets. He remembers Zechariah’s prayers for a son. Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth, his aged wife, will conceive and bare a son in her old age. Gabriel then proceeds to list a series of attributes that will characterize this baby boy. When you read them you find that he is second to only One in Scripture, Jesus.
Now Zechariah’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement is classic. Luke portrays it as nothing short of abject shock. Zechariah replies, “How shall I know what you are telling me is true?” Both Elizabeth and I are too old for child bearing.” Gabriel’s gracious in his response to Zechariah’s doubt. He allows him to make no more stupid statements for a full nine months. Gabriel says it this way: “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.” And Zechariah is silent.” He’s muted for three quarters of a year. And when he does finally communicate, he testifies to the glory and sovereignty of God’s immutable plan and purpose. The first thing he communicates is a direct quote from God Himself – “His name will be John.” He writes this out. His first audible expression is an elaborate prophecy which is, by definition, the words of God spoken through a human vessel. In both communications, whether it’s in writing or words audibly expressed, the words proclaimed are God’s words alone.
So think of it. After 400 years of silence, God speaks God’s Word. It’s a pattern repeated after Zechariah’s nine month silence. It’s a pattern repeated in the advent of John’s ministry. After 400 years God breaks His silence. He will fulfill all of His law and all of His words spoken through the prophets. He is poised to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven on earth. What He will do over the next 70 years will complete every divine intention ever conceived, and John the Baptist is at the center of it all.
This week, as we continue our series entitled “Move – In, Up, and Out”, we will be in Mark 1:1-11, digging into Mark’s description of John the Baptist. Here again, we will see every element of the Holy Spirit’s work in moving us forward in His strength and power. Like the shepherds, John the Baptist hears God speak and he responds. And it’s in his listening to God that we are able to discover how we can listen to God ourselves.
I’m often asked, “How does someone hear God’s voice? How can I know that it’s God who I am hearing?” The story of John the Baptist gives us several key answers.
In preparation for Sunday’s message –The “Go” of the Gospel, you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What does this mean? “It’s hard to sell answers to someone who only wants to buy echoes?”

2.      What did General George Marshall say about the best way to handle people?

3.      In your opinion, what’s the most critical necessity for hearing God?

4.      Who does the “your” in Mark 1:2 refer to?

5.      What tribe is John the Baptist from?

6.      What is the significance of his identification with the wilderness?

7.      Why do you suppose that so many biblical figures hear God in the wilderness?

8.      How is John the Baptist like his father Zechariah in his pronouncement in verse 7?

9.      Why does Mark tell us the “heavens were being torn apart”? Neither Matthew or Luke describes it that way.

10.  How is the ministry of Jesus different than what John thought it would be? Are you glad?

See you Sunday!