Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday, July 31st

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Isaiah 59-63
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 8:23-34

Jesus Calms the Storm

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

The Healing of Two Demon-possessed Men

28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

In his sermon, Jesus, Power over the Natural, MacArthur says....
The miracles were foretastes of kingdom power.  When He healed the sick He was giving a preview of a glorious kingdom where there would be no sickness.  When He raised the dead He was giving a preview of a glorious kingdom where there would be no dying.  When he calmed the waves on the sea He was previewing a glorious kingdom where natural elements would never be out of control.  When He cast out demons He was previewing a kingdom where there would be no demonic activity at all.  When He spoke the truth He was previewing a kingdom where there would be no lies, but only truth.  When He manifested His holiness He was previewing a kingdom where there would be righteousness and that's all.  You see everything He did was to say to man, "I am the one who can reverse the curse.  I am the one who can bring back sovereignty to man in a glorified eternal kingdom."

One point MacArthur makes in this sermon is that in this case, the word disciples, does not mean specifically the twelve.  In fact, it does not even necessarily mean believers.  It means learners who were sitting under His teaching.  And they were likely made up of some who believed, some who were intrigued and curious, and some who did not believe.  And they all witnessed the miracle of Jesus calming the storm.

And the storm that came was a violent one, far above the ordinary and the people were panicked. But Jesus was not.  Jesus, in His humanity, was extremely weary and He was sleeping - peacefully with full trust in the Father's care no matter His earthly circumstances.  And out of desperation, the men wake Him, hoping He can do something about the storm.

Doesn't it sometimes takes us reaching a point of desperation before we reach out to God?  But often, even then, we accuse Him of a lack of love.

In Mark 4 we see this response... “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Such a question truly shows a lack of faith and a misunderstanding of the love of God.

And Jesus' reply? “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
 If you believe in God's love and God's power you can weather any storm.  Number one you know God cares about you and number two you know He can handle the situation, right?  That's all you need to know.  God loves me and God has the power to deliver me.  That's it!  And they were questioning whether He cared, and they were questioning whether He was able, and He says, "Oh ye of little faith." 

What else does Jesus have to do to prove His love and prove His power?  He's just done miracle after miracle out of love and compassion!

We do the same thing.  We marvel at the amazing things God has done - both in biblical times and even for those around us - but when it comes down to our own personal situation, suddenly we doubt God's love and we doubt His power.  And that results in worry, anxiety and fear.

But despite their lack of faith, He speaks.  That's it.  He speaks.  And at His voice the furious storm stills instantly and the sea becomes as glass.   Amazing, supernatural power.  Complete and utter control over nature.  This is the God we serve.  This is the God who lives in your life.

And what was the people's response?  They marveled and were amazed.  In fact, Mark says they. were. terrified.    Terrified!  They were even more afraid than they had been of the storm.  What's more terrifying than a storm?  Realizing that you are standing in the presence of One who is so powerful He can control that storm.  Realizing that you are standing in the presence of the living God.

 you would be so overwhelmed with holiness if you were to stand in His presence.  These disciples knew that God was there and the awesomeness of it was terrifying.  They were unmasked.  The omniscient one could read every thought, knew everything in them.  They were in the presence of God....

Same Jesus Christ that stilled the sea is the one that keeps all those atoms moving in your body, the one that keeps this earth whirling in space, the one that keeps this universe in balance.  That same Jesus Christ will one day come and set up His eternal kingdom.  The question is will you be a part of that kingdom by faith?

Then we come to the miracle of Jesus healing the demon possessed men.

Angels, both heavenly angels and fallen angels (demons) are incredibly strong.  Man does not have the capacity to deal with them easily.  But Jesus does.

When the demons see Him coming they know exactly who He is and (according to the Mark passage), they fall on their knees in front of Jesus.  They worshiped Him!  Even though they hate Him, they know exactly who He is and they are forced to worship Him because of His power.  They even know some of the redemptive plan - they know the timing is wrong, that it is not yet time for them to be chained for a thousand years before being cast into the abyss.  They know that He is Jesus, the Son of God.  And they knew He would cast them out of the men, it was inevitable.

And, once again, Jesus speaks.  Simply speaks.  And deals with those powerful demons with absolute power, authority and ease.  That's what's so amazing - He does it easily.  Instantly.  Totally.  Easily.  And He allows the demons to go into the pigs, likely as proof of the miracle.  So everyone can see that He cast out the demons and where they went.  So it would be indisputable.

And how did the people react?
MacArthur says...  When unholy men face a holy God they are in terror.....They couldn't tolerate Jesus because of His perfection.  They couldn't tolerate Him because of His absolute holiness.  He was so far beyond them that He unmasked them, that He showed the stupidity of their own lives....They saw Him, they saw the power, they were absolutely panicked in awe of God.  Instead of falling at His feel in worship they said, "Get out.  Go away.  We don't want you."  People say, Oh if you could just see the miracles you'd believe.  Listen, the people who saw the miracles didn't believe.  They nailed Him to a cross and they'd seen miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.  They still didn't believe.  That just made them hate Him more and more and more and more.  People think today that if they can just show everybody a pile of miracles everybody will believe.  No, because some people when exposed in the presence of the awesomeness of holy God will literally run because they love their darkness. 

They were terrified and demanded that He leave.  But God was gracious to them.  Both the Mark and Luke passage tell us that the healed man wanted to go with Jesus but Jesus wouldn't let him.  Instead Jesus left the people one lone missionary as living proof of His mighty power in their midst.  Isn't it amazing how God extends grace even to those who don't want it?

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 9:1-13
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Isaiah 64-66

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday, July 30th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Isaiah 54-58
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 8:14-22

14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
    and carried our diseases.”

The Cost of Following Jesus

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

After Jesus healed the leper and the Gentile, really slapping them in the face with His stunning comment that Gentiles would inherit the kingdom and that the "sons of the kingdom" would be shut out of it, He reassures them that He is still here for the Jews.  Yes, He has turned to the Gentiles and healed them and redeemed them, but He will heal and redeem the Jews too.  However, He healed a woman which was another on the list of "things" you wouldn't want to be, so it was still an indictment against the super-pious Pharisees.

Check out v16 though - Jesus healed all the sick.  ALL the sick.  Can you imagine?  Several times throughout the gospels this is mentioned - when the multitudes came, Jesus healed them all.  He almost wiped out disease from Palestine.  Not necessarily because of their faith (though there were some who believed in faith that Jesus would/could heal), but for a few other reasons.  First (and always) for His glory.  Second as proof of His Messiah-ship.  And third, to fulfill prophecy.

At the cross Jesus defeated sin, death and sickness.  The truth is, sickness and death are a result of sin.  That doesn't mean that every cold you get is a result of a particular sin you committed.  But sickness and death did not exist before the fall, and is a direct consequence of it.  You can only eliminate sickness and death entirely when sin is eliminated entirely.  They are inextricably connected.  And though Jesus conquered sin, death and sickness on the cross, the total fulfillment of that will only come with His Second Coming.

And again we see that becoming a Christian is not the easy way out.  It comes at a cost.  Some want to become Christians because of the perceived benefits (miracles, healings, etc), but Jesus roots superficiality out by quickly reminding us that following Him does not guarantee personal comforts.  Jesus Himself had no home.

The second man wanted personal riches.  The phrase "first let me go and bury my father" is a common one that actually simply means that he wanted to wait for his father to die so he could collect his inheritance.  And Jesus replied "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead".

In his sermon, What Keeps Men from Christ?, MacArthur says....

At first it seems non-sensical. How can dead people bury dead people? Obviously dead people can't bury dead people unless the first kind are spiritually dead, and that's what he's saying. It's a proverb. Let the dead bury their dead. Let the spiritually dead bury their physical dead and then Luke adds in the parallel passage, "Go thou and preach the kingdom of God." What he's saying is look, this is a proverb again just like the one about the foxes and birds. The first one meant look I don't have any personal comforts. This one means let spiritually dead people bury their dead. Let the secular world take care of its own issues. You have been called to the kingdom of God. See the difference? What he's saying is you are functioning on the wrong level.
In other words let the system take care of itself. He's not saying Christians are forbidden to go to funerals. He's not saying if you're a Christian you're not supposed to make sure your father or mother get buried. It's a proverb and what he means is the world's passing affairs, the coming and going of people, the passing of fortunes from one to another is all part of a dead system. You are called to a living kingdom, go and preach the kingdom. You see the man's priorities are fouled up. Secular matters belong to the people who are secular. The human system takes care of itself, but this man what does it say he did? It's not there either. He left somewhere between verse 22 and 23. He disappeared. Why? Personal possessions were the big thing to him. He had waited a long time for his piece of the action. He wasn't bailing out now. Hey, he liked the thrill and the charisma and the wonder and the miracles and this was fabulous stuff and he wanted to get on the bandwagon, but there was no commitment there. He wanted his money...
Personal relations, personal riches, personal comfort, all stand in the way....If that holds you back from full commitment, you are not fit to enter the kingdom of God. This is not talking about Christian service, people; this is talking about salvation. You can't get saved with those kind of strings. You're not fit to enter My kingdom. Half a heart is no heart...They weren't willing to make the full commitment, and He turned them down.  "Him that commeth unto Me I will in no wise cast out," if he comes on My terms, full surrender, with a beatitude attitude, a beggar in his spirit, mourning over his sin, meek before God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, crying for mercy, and willing to be persecuted, hated, and reviled for my sake....
You see the Lord may not want to take away your personal comforts. He may not want to take away your personal possessions. He may not want to take away your personal relationships, but you have to be willing to let him if He wanted to, you see. That's the affirmation of His Lordship in your life. 

Are we coming to Him in full surrender, with a beatitude attitude, a beggar in spirit, mourning over our sin, meek before God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, crying out for mercy, willing to be persecuted, hated and reviled for His sake, willing to surrender our personal comforts, personal relations, personal comfort?

Are we willing to give Him everything in order to follow Him?  

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 8:23-34
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Isaiah 59-63

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday, July 29th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Isaiah 49-53
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 8:1-13

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him,“See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

The Faith of the Centurion

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”
Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

In the first miracle of our passage Jesus heals a leper - an outcast in every possible way.  Nobody wanted to go physically near him because of his physical condition, and he was also ceremonially unclean - a living illustration of sin.  And Jesus reached out to this man in a marvelous illustration - that His kingdom was not for the super-pious, but for the desperate and the hurting.  The leper came to Jesus with confidence and without embarrassment because he was desperate.  He worshiped Jesus in humility and in faith.  And Jesus healed him and redeemed him in an analogy of salvation.  And when He had healed him, He told him to obey the Law of Moses and give testimony.  And that's what we should do in our lives when we've been redeemed - obey and be a witness.

One thing I love about this miracle is the fact that Jesus, who can heal with just His voice (as seen in the next miracle), healed this leper with a word and a touch.

Bob Deffinbaugh adds....
The law was unable to save, just as it was unable to heal. The law could define sickness and health, but it could not produce health. It could only condemn (declare unclean) the illness. Jesus, on the other hand, was able to heal sickness, just as He was able to forgive sins. This was His authority as the Son of God and His calling as Messiah. And yet He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it....

 What can the law do for him? It can only condemn him, and if by some miracle of God he should be healed, it can pronounce him clean. But the law cannot heal a leper. Jesus could heal the leper, and He did.
This is like our sin. The law can define sin and expose it, but it cannot remove it. The law declares what righteousness looks like, but it does not provide the means to become righteous. The law declares us all to be sinners, but the law cannot do anything to save us from our sins (Romans 3:9-20). Only Jesus can remove the filth of our spiritual uncleanness.
Jesus sent the leper to the priest, in obedience to the law (Leviticus 14). He also did so as a witness to the priests. Let them recognize that this leper was cleansed, and that Jesus did it. Let them ponder who Jesus must be, because of this miracle. Let them see, as Matthew indicates in verse 17, that Jesus is not seeking to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, as Messiah. He alone can heal a leper and make him clean. He alone can cleanse a sinner from his sins and assure him of eternal life.

In the second miracle Jesus heals at the request of another man rejected by the Jews - a Roman centurion who was also likely a Samaritan acting under the authority of Rome.  Couldn't get much worse than that in the eyes of the Jews.  Luke fills in more of the details of this story and we see that the Roman centurion actually send some Jewish elders to tell Jesus about his very ill servant.  This Roman centurion was obviously a man of great moral character, in MacArthur's words an "excellent pagan" - he loved the Jewish nation and helped build a Jewish synagogue (which is why they were willing to come speak for him and why they considered him to be worthy of a miracle from Jesus), he knows enough about Jewish culture to know that he should not expect Jesus to come into his house, and his concern is not for himself but for his servant, considered to have the same value as a tool or a work animal by the majority of the people of that day.

He comes to Jesus with a Beatitude attitude - humble, loving and sensitive.

He had obviously heard a great deal about Jesus and he refers to him as Lord - he, a Samaritan half-breed Gentile Roman centurion confirms the Lordship of Christ!

And notice v6 - he doesn't even ask Jesus to heal his servant.  He simply tells Jesus the information that his servant is suffering.  He just gives Him information, and then the Jews says, "Do it.  He's worthy.  Do it.  Do it."  But he doesn't presume to ask that.  His prayer is a prayer of information.  "Lord, here is the need.  I lay it before You.  I accept Your sovereignty and Your choice." 

What a prayer of faith!

And Jesus decides to come heal the servant.  But when they are almost there, the centurion sends messengers telling Jesus not to come to his house - he feels unworthy to even be in His presence!  But he acknowledges the authority of Jesus, of the power of His voice to heal from a distance.  And Jesus marveled at his faith, a faith He had not seen, even among the Jews.

He had found faith among the Jews.  No question about that.  We saw that in Matthew 4.  Sure He had found faith, but never in this kinda combination, never this much virtue.  I mean love is there, affection is there, thoughtfulness is there, humility is there, sensitivity is there, absolute confidence in the power of Christ, assurance that He is God in human form.... this man had great faith.

And in v11-12 Jesus makes some incredibly shocking statements.  He tells the Jews that the kingdom will be filled with Gentiles who came to faith in Him, and that those who considered themselves sons of the kingdom would be thrown out into the darkness and torment.  Genetics can't save you.  Lineage can't save you.  Being born into a Christian family can't save you.  Only your own belief in Jesus can save you.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here?  "I reach for lepers, and I reach for outcast Gentiles, 'cause My Kingdom encompasses those who believe, who believe, not those...who are of some particular race."

The law provided no solution to the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, but Jesus removed this barrier, in fulfillment of the promises contained in the law and the prophets. The law separated Jews and Gentiles; Christ brought the two together as one new man....Christ removes the barriers between God and man and also the barriers that separate men. Jews and Gentiles can enter into God’s blessings (including fellowship with each other) by faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jews and Gentiles become one in Christ. It is only Jesus who can do such an amazing thing. The law cannot do it. The law was never intended to do it. The law was given to reveal our sins, and to point us to Jesus.

And Jesus, in His sovereignty, healed the boy because of the faith of the centurion and for the benefit of those witnessing it then and for us reading it today, and ultimately, for His glory.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 8:14-22
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Isaiah 54-58

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday, July 28 -by Pamela

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is  2 Kings 18:9-19:37, Psalms 46, 80, 135
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 7:24-29

The Wise and Foolish Builders(A)
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice(B) is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things,(C) the crowds were amazed at his teaching,(D) 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

It might be the Grade 1 teacher in me, but I can't help but think of this song when I read this passage:

The foundation is the most important part of a home. We are currently in the midst of a basement renovation in our house and we have spent months working on it. As we begin construction on our new bathroom, kitchenette, and rec room, it has been so important to "hear" the advice of trained professionals who know what they are doing. This is my husband's first time undertaking such a large project and it involves plumbing, tiling, and concrete work that he has never done before. He can't just "listen" to what the experienced say and then do whatever seems to be the best at the time--well, he could but in the long run, it won't turn out the way we had been hoping it would. If we avoid the important steps that become the foundation of the project, we risk having our efforts destroyed. (Sort of like the "Rona-Doing it Wrong" commercials!) My husband has carefully followed the advice to ensure that our new basement will be built on a foundation that we will be able to be proud of and that will last for a long time.

Just as the foundation is the most important part of a home, our beliefs and values and how we live them out in our lives is the most important part of us. When we listen, and obey, God's instructions for our lives it forms a solid foundation. We won't be swayed when hard times come  and we will be able to stand up against anything that threatens to shake us... and God promises that storms and trials will come.  We read in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”. We will face troubles, we will be shaken, the rain will come, the wind will blow and it is only through our solid foundation that we are able to make it through. I thought this commentary was good:

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. Just look at the word “and” in 7:25. Jesus does not say “if the rain falls” or “if the floods come” or “if the winds blow.” He says, “And the rain fell, andthe floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house” (italics mine). Jesus tells you straight-up that storms will come and you will not be spared! And if you’ve walked with Christ for any length of time, you’ve observed that people who hear and do the words of Jesus have the very same crises in their lives that people have who don’t do His words. Obedience to Christ does not mean you will not get rained on. Anyone who tells you that the Christian life is all sunny days has lied to you. Nevertheless, the storms are what test us. Living in the sunshine of life doesn’t tell us much about ourselves. Anybody can build a house that will stand firm when the sun is shining and the wind is still. It is the storms that reveal the strength of your foundation. When you build on the rock you must expect storms, because only storms can show your wisdom to the world around you.

As my husband establishes a strong foundation for our shower in our new bathroom, he is ensuring that he is taking the proper steps to prevent destruction. He put up concrete boards and plastic and primer to prevent moisture from penetrating through the tile and reaching the studs. He is using expensive mortar on the ceiling to prevent it from crashing down on us as we shower. He levelled the flooring to prevent the tiles from breaking as the bathroom is used. It has not been an easy process, each new step has meant another trip to the store for "one-more-thing" and another call for advice and other quick peek online to see what others have done. Establishing a strong foundation for our new basement has been time consuming and long and at times it seems like there is little or no progress.

Sometimes, establishing a strong biblical foundation also follows the same long process with seemingly little progress that you cannot instantly see. Another trip to church and another message from the pulpit, another bible study, another consult to a commentary, clarification from reliable sources, and prayer. Yet through all of this "foundation" work, we are building on a rock and when the troubles rise, we can stand firm. Taking the time to establish a strong foundation will be worth it even if it costs more and requires more effort. Think about this (from the same commentary):

Why did the foolish man build his house on the sand? He miscalculated the weather. He thought every day was going to be sunshine. He thought his life was always going to be smooth. So he figured a sand dune would do as a foundation. Let’s face it; it is appealing to build on the sand. It’s found in a good location. It’s adequate. It’s easy. Who wants to dig down deep if you don’t have to (see Luke 6:47)? It takes more work to build on the rock. It takes more time and energy. And it costs more. It is easier and faster to build on the sand. It’s always easier to take shortcuts in building a home. It’s cheaper to use inferior materials. And for a while, no one may notice. But somewhere along the line, you will pay for your shoddy workmanship. The same is true when it comes to the foundation of your life. It is easier to go with the crowd. It takes less time and energy if you simply maintain a superficial faith. And frankly, most of the time, who can really tell the difference anyway? It’s easier to just show up for church for an hour a week than it is to develop spiritual roots. But there’s only one problem with this mentality, the Bible teaches that storms are lurking on the horizon...Do you know what many Christians do when it starts raining? They try to change foundations. When the sky gets dark, the winds pick up, and the rain begins to pour they pick up the telephone, call the most spiritual people they know, and say, “Help me build a new foundation under my house. It’s falling apart.” But you can’t change foundations when you’re in the midst of a storm. You have to lay your foundation before the storm comes, so that when the rain, the floods, and the winds come, your house is secure. This is also true in the natural realm. It is hard to lay a foundation when it’s raining. Workers have to stop pouring concrete when it begins to rain. The foundation has to be poured on sunny days.

I love that last part. "The foundation has to be poured on sunny days". We need to have our foundation in place first. Just like our basement, when the water is soaking through and damaging the studs and rotting the wood, it is not a good time to think about using appropriate materials. The right foundation is key to preventing catastrophe later. The storms will come...

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 8:1-13
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Is 49-53

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday, July 27th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Isaiah 44-48.
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

This passage is very clear that just professing Christ is not enough.  In fact, prophesying, driving out demons and performing miracles (whether in Jesus power, Satan's power, or trickery) is not enough either, not even when it's done in Jesus' name.

So, what is enough?

In his sermon Empty Words, MacArthur says this....

You know what it means to profess Christ? Absolutely nothing, if your life doesn't back it up. That's why Peter said what he said, if you can't add to your faith, virtue, then you're not going to know you're really redeemed. That's what James meant when he said, faith minus works equals zero. It's dead. Profession is valueless, in fact I believe that to profess Christ and to claim Christ invalidly is taking the Lord's name in vain in the ultimate sense. I don't think taking the Lord's name in vain is saying, Jesus Christ or God out on the streets, that's one way but the epitome of violating God's name is to claim Christ when He isn't yours.
G. Campbell Morgan has well said it, "The blasphemy of the sanctuary is far more awful than the blasphemy of the slum." It is a Judas kiss to say, Lord, Lord, and then disobey, that is a Judas kiss. We must be consumed with doing the will of God, that's why the prayer says, "Thy will be (what?) done (not only in heaven but where?) in earth." And that means through me, through me.
You say, well John, what about if I don't do it, if I fail? The prayer goes on to say, "Forgive us our trespasses, (our debts,) as we forgive those who trespass against us." Yes, we know that we're going to fail but that's where we come for forgiveness, and that's part of the righteous act. The righteous standard Jesus speaks of assumes we'll fail but when we fail we'll be there confessing. That's why First John 1:9 says, if we are the ones continually confessing our sins, we give evidence of the ones that are being forgiven. In other words the ones being forgiven are the ones confessing. You see, He's not saying, here's the perfect standard, if you ever fail you're out, He's saying here's the perfect standard, and part of the perfect standard is that when you fail you deal with it. That's God's standard. And I would dare say that if The Sermon on The Mount is not the direction of your life, not the perfection of it, but if it's not the direction of your life I don't care what confession you've made, I don't care if you've been baptized or whatever, you're not a Christian. You remember in John 6 they said to Him, well what do we do to work the works of God? And He said, this is the work of God, that you believe on Him that sent Him. Where do you start with the will of God? Believe on Christ. The only thing acceptable to God is a righteousness that is the product of repentant faith in Jesus Christ, and that produces good works. And if that's not there no matter what you say it doesn't matter, it absolutely doesn't matter. And so the Lord says in verse 23 if I can paraphrase, not for one single moment have I acknowledged you as My own or known you intimately, you are forever expelled from My presence because you continue to work lawlessness.
Titus 1:16 says They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

To make a mere verbal profession of faith is not enough, it's simply mere words.  A true, genuine, sincere verbal profession will be followed by transformation which will be visible in our actions, words and deeds.  And God can see our true motives, our true heart's desire.  He will not accept anything less, He cannot be fooled, He will not be mocked.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 7:24-29
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 2 Kings 18:9-19:37, Psalms 46, 80, 135

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thursday, July 26 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Isaiah 40-43.
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 7:15-20.

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

These verses are so straight-forward and clear-cut, I wasn't even sure what I was going to say about them.  Then I looked up John MacArthur's sermons on these verses and there is a LONG two-part sermon on just these five verses!  As I read it, there were a couple of things I was interested to learn.  I didn't know there were three types of false prophets.  
There are three kinds of false prophets, I see in the Bible, three kinds, and this is a definitive statement that might help you in understanding it. Three kinds, number one, is a heretic, this is somebody who comes along and says, that's not true, that's a lie, I don't believe the Bible and teaches heresy. Or even says I believe the Bible but teaches a heretical doctrine by twisting it, somebody whose doctrine is obviously, openly heretical.
Secondly is an apostate who denies the faith, who denies Christianity, who apostatizes, departs from it. The first two aren't tough to spot, it's easy to spot false doctrine, isn't it? Just take your Bible and check it, it's easy to spot apostasy because they're denying it. You see the first two kinds of prophets, false prophets the heretics and the apostates are made manifest.
It is the third kind of false prophet, I call the deceiver, that is the one Jesus is referring to here, this is the one you don't see, this is the one who comes with the cloak of the shepherd. This is not the cultist, this is not the Mormon or the Jehovah's Witness or, or somebody who belongs to Christian Science who, who openly and flagrantly teaches false doctrine, those are apostates or heretics. This is the one who talks about Jesus and he talks about the cross and he talks about God and he talks about the Bible and he talks about the church and the Holy Spirit and he hangs around with people that are true Christians and he mingles within the framework of evangelicalism, and he's on the radio and he's on television and he's in the pulpit and he's on the platform and he writes the books, and he always looks like a Christian. That's the one Jesus refers to. Not heretics, heretics are obvious. Apostates are obvious too because they've denied the faith. But these are subtle. The Lord is not warning us against heretics, He's not warning us against apostates, He's warning us against people who sound like they teach the Gospel, who sound like Christians, who use the speech of the Bible, the speech of the Gospel, but it's only a guise. They express orthodox terminology.
I always thought that false prophets KNEW that what they were teaching was false, and probably some of them do, but many are probably deceived into thinking that they are actually speaking the truth.  These are the ones to fear the most, because they are SINCERE.  They truly believe that they are living good Christian lives and trying to help others do the same.  But how do you tell those who speak the truth from those who are false?

Now that we are warned, what are we looking for, how do I know one when I see one? And bless God He doesn't give us an instruction without the tools to deal with it, He doesn't say, watch out for false prophets and good luck in figuring out who they are. 
And how are we going to know? "By their (what?) fruits." Verse 20, "Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them." "Like root like fruit." Said the old proverb. The Jews, the Greeks, the Romans and everybody else views trees and fruit in this same way. A tree is judged by its fruit. If you want to know what the prophet is like look at what he produces, simple enough look at what he produces.
And you've got to be careful, a little bit careful, you might look at a false prophet and you say, but, but I know so and so and they go there, and, and they're Christians I know they're Christians. Well that's right, do you know something? Christians get sucked in by false prophets, Christians line up with false prophets. You know who they are? They're in verse 16, they're the grapes stuck on the thorns and the figs stuck on the thistles. Did you know that grapes don't grow on thorns? And figs don't grow on thistles? But you can stick them there. But if you look closely you will see that the thorn didn't produce that grape and the thistle didn't produce that fig. But there are people who will attach themselves, unwittingly, they'll get stuck on some false teacher who appears to be a Christian.
Now how are you going to decide? What are you looking for when you see the fruit? Number one, fruit is character, fruit is character. What kind of character, what kind of personality, what's his attitude and his motive and his thinking, perspective toward life? What kind of actions, what kind of lifestyle, what kind of pattern? All that character involves, from what I think to what I do. That's the first element that manifests fruit. You see the Bible tells us that. When you look in the Bible and you want to find out about fruit you'll find that fruit is several things, first of all for our discussion fruit is what we do, it's what we do.

A man may appear to be preaching the Gospel, he may appear to even be living it. But truthfully he isn't at all. And maybe sometimes you can't tell on the outside, you can't tell from the action because the action looks good, like the Pharisees it looked good, didn't it? I mean they didn't murder and they didn't commit adultery, you knowAnd they didn't do those other things and it looked really good and they fasted and they prayed and they gave and it all looked good. But if you check out the action, do that first you might find that it isn't all good, I mean if you do some examination of some of the false prophets you're going to find out there's a lot of skeletons in their moral closet. 

But maybe you can't find that, where do you go secondly? You go to attitude and you start looking for how they think and what's their attitude? Because very often they can suppress the outward visibility of their vile and evil insides. Their lifestyle may not be manifest.

Now go to Second Peter 2 verse 19 and here are the false prophets, now listen to this, "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of (what?) corruption." They have not escaped corruption. But watch this one, "they have escaped (verse 20 what?) pollution." Do you know what Peter is doing? He is differentiating between internal corruption and external pollution, he is saying they've never been changed on the inside but they've had the ashes of the world washed off the outside. You see they've, they've gotten rid of the external pollution but they have never done anything about the internal corruption, see? That's what he's saying.

And you know what to look for in a false prophet? Very simple, look for a Beatitude attitude, that's the evidence of an internal transformation. Do they cower poor in spirit, deep humility, mourning over sin, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, longing for mercy, peacemakers, willing to be persecuted and reviled and des­pised and hated for the sake of Christ. Not on your life. False prophets are guided by pride, power, prestige, personality, promotion, they want to be famous, loved, they're not interested in anybody persecuting them, they want to be popular. They're in it, Second Peter 2:3, "for filthy lucre." Money. And for that says Peter, "They make merchandise of you." They are the Christemporos, the Christ merchants, they are what Second Corinthians 2:17 calls the hucksters of the Word of God who are not sincere but are selling Jesus, like cheap glass instead of diamonds. They're not mourning over their sin, they're not meek before God, they're not seeking the back places, they're not standing as the beloved Apostle Paul in weakness and fear and in much trembling.

So be warned beloved and be watching. Many of these false prophets are going to look like the real thing, they're going to be very pleasant, very sincere people, talk about Jesus, talk about the Bible, talk about salvation, completely inoffensive, anxious to please everybody, accommodating to other people's viewpoints, rarely critical of others, praised by many, condemned by few, large crowds will gather around them and listen to them and think they're great, and they'll be shoving those large crowds on the broad way that leads to destruction. You listen carefully you'll find they have little time for narrownessthey, they are just sure that God's mind is bigger than many of those who talk about a narrow way. They talk about the love of God and not the wrath of God, they talk about people being deprived and not being depraved, talk about God the Father of everybody, full of love and understanding and nothing about a holy God whose only children are those of faith in Christ. Their message is a message of gaps that just leaves out the truth that saves. So "Beware."

Pretty scary, huh?  As I read this I was reminded once again how important it is for us to read, read, read our Bibles.  It is ONLY by knowing, really knowing, what is in our Bibles that we will be able to discern truth from deceit.  And if you hear something or read something that your unsure of, compare it with what the Bible has to say.  Anyone who is speaking or writing the truth with have no problem with you checking their words against what the Bible says.  Don't take something at face value just because it comes from a pastor or a respected church member, Christian writer, or other seemingly reliable source.  The Bible is the only ruler against which EVERYTHING else should be measured.

Tomorrow's Scripture Focus: Matthew 7:21-23
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Isaiah 44-48.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday, July 25th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Isaiah 37-39, Psalm 76
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 7:13-14

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

MacArthur gives an interpretation here that I hadn't heard before, yet makes perfect sense.  He maintains that the choice is not between heaven and hell, the choice is between salvation by Christ's righteousness and salvation by self-righteousness.  The whole sermon has been a contrast between the Pharisees self-righteous faith and true saving faith, so it does make sense.  Obviously you can also directly choose hell, but his point is that many people think they're on the path to heaven, when in fact, they're on the path to hell.

In his sermon, Which Way to Heaven, MacArthur explains....
Now as we come to verses 13 and 14 the choice is crystallized. And, by the way, as I said, this is the pinnacle and the remainder of the chapter just stretches this thought out and illustrates it. We'll be seeing that in the weeks to come. But from here on the choice is clear. There are two gates; the wide and the straight. There are two ways; the broad and the narrow. There are two destinations; life and destruction. There are two kinds of travelers; the few and the manyThere are two kindsof trees; the good and the corrupt. There are two kinds of fruit; the good and the bad. There are two builders; the wise and the foolish. There are two foundations; the rock and the sand. And there are two houses and there are two elements to the storm that He discusses. In other words, the clear-cut decision is the whole issue at the climax of the sermon....

Both roads, as I said, point to salvation. Both roads point to God. Both roads point to the kingdom. Both roads point to glory. Both roads point to blessing. Both roads point to heaven. Both roads don't go there. One is self-righteousness and one is divine righteousness. Before you get on the road you have to go through the gate. So the gate comes first.

First of all, we must enter it.  It is a command, not a suggestion.

Jesus says, you must enter this narrowway. If you're going to be in My kingdom, you've got to come on these terms. He demanded immediate action. It is an absolute command without an alternative. It is not enough to listen to preaching about the gate, it is not enough to admire the ethics, you've got to enter it. You cannot enter the kingdom, He says, unless you come on these terms. Abandoning your self-righteousness, seeing yourself as a beggar in spirit, as mourning over sin, as meet before a holy God, not proud and boastful, as hungering and thirsting for righteousness, not believing you have it, you have to enter on His terms. Hell will be full of people who admired the Sermon on the Mount. You must enter.

Secondly, you must enter the narrow gate.  There is only one way to be saved and that is through the atoning work of Jesus at the cross.  Christ and Christ alone is the gate to heaven.

Third, you must enter this gate alone.  Every single person has to make this choice on their own.  You can't take anyone with you.  You can't make someone become a Christian, the choice is theirs.  And no one else can make that decision for you, the choice is yours.

Fourthly, you enter this gate with difficulty.

Now I know that shocks some people. Because we hear all the time that getting saved is easy. All you have to do is just believe, sign on the dotted line, walk the aisle, raise your hand, go to the prayer room, whatever. And we've made it easy. The only thing is, when we get done the people aren't on the right road because they didn't come through the narrow gate. Now without shocking you too much I believe it's very, very difficult to be saved. Did you hear that? Let me show you why.
It says at the end of verse 14, regarding the narrow gate and regarding the narrow way, "Few there be that," what? "Find it." The first implication is that you're not even going to know it's there unless you're what? Looking. The Old Testament prophet said, "You'll find Me," says God, "when you search for me with all your heart." I don't believe anybody ever slipped and fell into the Kingdom of God. I don't believe it's easy. That's cheap grace, easy believism. That's the revivalist's approach, raise your hand, walk the aisle, sign the card and you're in...Few there be that find it implies that you've got to look for it and that you have to search for it.

Consider this scripture...
Luke 13:22-24 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 

Why so few people?

 "Because you must strive to enter in at the narrow gate." And the word strive is agonizomaifrom which we get to agonize which is used in I Corinthians 9:25 of an athlete agonizing to win a victory. Which is used in Colossians 4:12 of laboring fervently. Which is used in Paul's letter to Timothy in the idea of chapter 6 verse 12 of fighting. In other words, the Lord says it is an agonizing, it is a warfare, it is a fervency that is demanded, a striving to enter in at the narrow gate and there are many as opposed to the few who will seek to enter in but won't be able.
Now watch this, it's difficult to get saved, Jesus says. Number one because you've got to be seeking. And there are maybe many who are seeking but when they find out what it costs to strive to enter they're not willing to do that....
 In Matthew 11 and verse 12 the Bible says the Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force. There's almost a violence in the entrance into the Kingdom. In Luke 16:16the Lord said, "Every man who comes into the Kingdom presses his way into the Kingdom."...
 The Kingdom is to those who seek it with all their hearts. The Kingdom is to those who strive, who agonize to enter it, whose hearts are shattered over their sinfulness. Who mourn in meekness, who hunger and thirst and unquenchably satisfied. Long for God to change their life. It's not for the people who come along in a cheap way and want Jesus without any alteration of their living. When Jesus emphasized that one cannot sleep his way into the kingdom Jesus was saying in order to be in My Kingdom you must have earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion. In fact, in John 16:33 he said, you mark it right now in this world you will have tribulation. It's never easy. It's never easy to become a Christian because you've got all hell against you. All Satan and his demons....And in the power of God we must overcome Satan and the flesh to enter the Kingdom....
I believe that one of Satan's pervasive lies in the world today is it's easy to become a Christian, it's easy. It's not easy. It's not easy at all. It's a very narrow gate. You go through all alone and you go through agonizing all the way over your sinfulness. You have to be broken in your spirit. Somebody might say, "Well, that sounds like the religion of human achievement you were talking about." No, it's when you come to the brokenness and the recognition that you of yourself cannot do it then Christ pours into you grace upon grace to strengthen you for that necessary agonizing to enter it. In your brokenness His power becomes your resource.

Fifthly you must enter naked - with no luggage, no self-righteouness, recognizing that you have nothing of worth to offer and that you completely unable to save yourself.

And, quite obviously, you must enter repentantly.

 In utter surrender to Christ. I do not believe that a person can be regenerate as Christ indicates it here by simply adding Jesus Christ to their carnal activities. I don't believe that salvation is addition, I think salvation is transformation. The whole message of I John is that if you are truly redeemed it will manifest itself in a transformed life where sin is confessed, where obedience is characteristic, where love is made manifest. Salvation is marked by a changed life. Jesus even said -I can tell My true disciples for they obey My wordThey obey My word. Somebody says, "Well, I'm a Christian" and there's no sign of obedience in their life they may think they are a Christian but they got on the wrong road. Sure it was marked heaven and sure it may have been marked Jesus but it isn't the right road. A narrow, narrow gate.

The narrow way is a hard way.  It's so narrow it's like you're struggling through a small crevice in a mountain.

The road is hard. And Christianity has never been presented by our Lord as a soft option for the weak kneed and the weak hearted. You declare war on hell when you start. And hell fights pretty tough. And you live the rest of your life with a beatitude attitude. You're constantly trying to deal with your own pride, your own desires, your own selfish will. Jesus said to Peter follow Me, and, by the way, Peter, it will cost you your life. Are you coming on those terms?..

One wonderful thing about it is that all the hardness and all the narrowness and all the restrictions are born by Christ Himself so that His yoke is easy for us and His burden is what? Is light...

 It's hard, it's pressed, it's confined and when you wander off the path you're going to be chastened. You say, well, it sounds awful. No, no, because all the hardness is picked up by Christ and the way becomes a way of beauty.

The narrow way is hard.  But it ends in life more abundant than we could ever imagine.

The wide way is easy, but it ends in destruction more final and more awful than we could ever imagine.

And both are eternal.

There are only two choices.  And you have to choose.  No choice is also a choice.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 7:15-20
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Isaiah 40-43