Accompanying Mark Driscoll sermon: John the Baptizer Part 1
Accompanying Matt Chandler sermon: Hope in Real Life
Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: Why the Believer Doubts Part 2
I read or listened to parts of all three sermons and they are all excellent. I think my favourite is Matt Chandler's, because he points out something similar to what I heard awhile back from Ray Vanderlaan (see links on the sidebar for his audio series) and expands on the implications of it.
I couldn't remember which one of the 13 part audio series contained the section I was looking for but I googled it and managed to find a blog post explaining it. Rabbis of the day, including Jesus, used something called a "remez" when they were teaching.....
This technique of allusive communication is called a ‘remez.’ Great teachers used this technique to communicate in very charged ways with one another, speaking softly words which were laden with intense voltage. They would use part of a passage from the sacred writings in a discussion, assuming that their audience’s knowledge of the text would allow them to deduce for themselves the fuller meaning of the teaching. Generally a remez is where you quote a passage, in such a way, where the emphasis is actually laid on words which follow or precede the words that you actually speak. Apparently, Jesus used this method often.
His response to the question of the Baptist’s disciple has been described as one of the most brilliant, and elegantly complex remez’s of all time.
John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Containing a reference to Psalm 118, which then resonates with other passages and messianic prophecies through a number of identities and echoes, their question is—essentially—are you going to spring John out of prison.
Jesus’s answer is, “Go back and report to John what you have seen: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” This response actually contains a small multitude of references to prophecy, many of which are in close proximity to passages which talk about captives being set free, and false accusers being overthrown. But the final word, ‘don’t stumble on account of me,’ seems to be saying that he understands what is being asked, but he will not be springing John free from prison in the way that John expects.
So, what was important in Jesus' response wasn't so much what He said, but what He didn't say.
Yes, the blind received sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised and good news was proclaimed to the poor. But there was no mention of the captives being set free.
Yes, Jesus was telling John that the He was the Messiah, and that the kingdom was inaugurated. No, we haven't seen it in its fullness yet, and we won't, until the Jesus sets up the millennial kingdom at His second coming. But the kingdom has begun. It began the moment Jesus was born. We're in the between stage - the waiting between His anointing and His actual ruling. Kind of like the waiting period between when David was first anointed as king by Samuel, and when he actually began to rule.
So, yes, Jesus was telling John that there are glimpses of the kingdom at hand. In the millennial kingdom there will be no blind, lame, sick, deaf or dead people. All will be perfect. And we see glimpses of that in this life. This is what both Mark Dricoll and John MacArthur focused on. And it's very true.
It's also true that God can handle our doubts. And, as Chandler says, if the greatest man ever born of woman who had heard the audible voice of God, who had seen the power of God in his birth and in his life and at every moment, who had been sustained by God as a homeless prophet can have a season of doubt, then maybe we all will.
But there's more to this passage. Significantly more.
Jesus was not just telling John that He was the Messiah and the kingdom was beginning.
Jesus was telling John that he would die in prison. Jesus would not be setting him free.
Why is this so important? It's the very opposite of the prosperity gospel that is so popular today.
If you take the list of what Jesus is doing and compare it to the messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah, they match line for line for line. Except there’s one in Isaiah 42 that is not mentioned in this text. And that is that the prisoners will be set free and men in dungeons will be let loose....
John is drug upstairs in front of a bunch of drunken Roman men and women and had his head removed from his body. Does anybody else struggle with this story? I’ll tell you what. It flies in the face of what most of us have been taught and believe about what the nature of God is, that if we’ll just do what we’re told, if we’ll just be obedient, we’ll just do thing God’s way, then our bank accounts will get a little bit fuller and our health will be a little bit better and our kids will be better. Isn’t that what we hear? I mean, I turn on my TV. Despite better judgment I watch that stuff. I hear it. I hear, “If you’ll just believe in yourself, then this will happen.” I hear, “If you’ll just submit to this, then this will happen.” I’ve heard, “Hey, if you walk this way, this is how God responds.” I’ve heard all these things, but it doesn’t seem like our boy John got that at all, does it? He’s more obedient that you. I can promise you that. He’s more obedient than me.....
Can I tell you my great fear for you? My great fear is that so much of what you’re ingesting in Evangelical thinking and teaching and reading will not be enough to sustain your joy, will not be enough to sustain your faith when the tragedies of this earth finally catch up to you. I find so much of what’s being taught this day to be subtle idolatry. And what I mean by that is if you follow Jesus so that you can get a better marriage, a healthier life, fill in the blank, if you’re following Jesus to get this end goal, then what you are is an idolater. Because you seek not God, but rather what you think He can get you. That’s not biblical Christianity. It’s just not. I’m not trying to start a fight. I can point to more guys than just John the Baptist for whom it ends badly. It’s all over the Bible. This idea that you get to control God with your behavior, that you do this and that forces God to do that, that’s just nowhere to be seen. Here’s what we can be confident of. We can be confident that He is good and that He will in all things, both joy and sorrow, accomplish His good pleasure and our joy.....
We’ve got to get past this idea that God is most glorified when we’re rich, healthy and wealthy and we go, “Isn’t God grand? Look at all He gave me.” Because if anybody joins us in that and says, “Oh, if you love Jesus, you get a house and health and cars? Then I love Jesus too.” Because then all of a sudden you’ve got a different religion. You have the religion of cars and houses, not God. No, God is most glorified, God is most seen as powerful, glorious, worthy when everything’s gone wrong and He’s enough, He sustains us. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that tragedy lands, you get a phone call, the car wreck is your child’s car wreck, the cancer is your spouse’s cancer and all of a sudden we’re like, “Isn’t God great?” No, I’m saying through the deepest possible pain, through tears streaming down our face, we cry out that He’s enough, that God is enough, that He is sustaining. And until that phone call is our phone call, until that knock comes at our door, I don’t think that we can answer that; we can just hope that it’s there. And we can just hope that the Holy Spirit will work in us in that moment, because I think right now we have to live vicariously through those who have received the call. So right now I don’t know myself. I know in part, but I don’t know in full. But I have watched a young couple this year put their three month old daughter’s body in the ground, who just went down for a nap and didn’t wake up. And through all of it, they have said He is good, He is faithful and He is here. And so I can look at that and go, “No, He is enough. He’s enough.” I have seen several men and women put their spouses’ bodies in the ground this year, and through it all, they have said, “He is good and this hurts and we miss them, but He’s enough and He’s sustaining and He’s beautiful and He has not betrayed us.”
I don’t know how else to say it but this. I’m pointing this out to you because I love you and because the problem with the prosperity gospel...and by the way, here’s just a simple truth. If anybody puts a word in front of “gospel,” you can go ahead and exit out. Prosperity gospel, liberation gospel, anything that puts a word in front of “gospel” that tries to further define the gospel, it’s no longer the gospel. That’s just a general rule. The problem with this belief is that it’s not reality. Honestly, is it reality? For those of you who have faithfully followed the Lord, have you lived unscathed? Any blood as you’ve followed the Lord? For all the energy and vitality that God given to me that I’ve poured into knowing Him and making Him known, it didn’t stop me from putting my two year old son in the back of an ambulance. My wife and I have miscarried twice this year. The second one was late enough term to hear the heartbeat and know it was a boy. It doesn’t change the fact that now my two year old son going to have a cyst like tumor removed from eye by a plastic surgeon, then they’ll reshape it in the fall. It didn’t stop those things from happening. I mean, is it even reality? That’s what makes it so goofy to me. You can hear that stuff and just look at life and see the disconnect. And I think the answer is, “Well, you lack faith or you don’t believe enough.” I think John the Baptist believed pretty well, believed enough to be homeless. I think Peter, Paul, the men in the Bible, they believed a little bit better than our petty faith, and yet they all die pretty badly. Joy in God will always be mixed with sorrow here. Here’s why, because that’s how love works. Let me try to explain it like this. We who believe in Him will always have in our hearts a mixture of the tragedies of this earth, which tie us compassionately to this earth, and the treasure of heaven, which always keeps us looking to the future. And those are both there, always. It’s how love works....
I don’t know how you’re hearing this, but I want you to hear it as good news. I want you to hear that there is nothing, nothing, nothing that is currently on or in your life that God has, in His infinite all-knowing wisdom, not allowed. And so therefore it’s a part of the purposes of God for His glory and your eventual joy. So here’s how I want to encourage you. If the last month, the last year, the last six months, the last three weeks, you’ve been going, “Where are You? Have You abandoned me? Have You betrayed me? Where are you?,” if that’s been your heart, if that resonates with you, I want to tell you that that’s okay. But I also want to tell you that just maybe Luke 7 fell on this morning, at this period of time, in this moment, while you would be here so that God might encourage you and say, “Oh, I’m here.” He might just be answering your questions this morning. I think I’ve heard often that there are these things that befall us that we’ll never know why until later. Maybe we’ll never know until much later. Maybe this morning God’s going, “I’m here. I haven’t abandoned you. Your doubts are okay. I am Him. There will be no other.” This is the God of the Bible that sends both joy and sorrow to detach our hands of the things of the world and to attach our hands to Him, the treasure that we really need.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 7:24-27