Sunday, October 25, 2020

#Jesus: Anointed And Sent Out To Preach #JesusFollowers

Jesus came into, and went out into, "the world," when, leaving the country around the Jordan River, he returned to Capernaum after the imprisonment of John, and began to teach in the synagogues and preach, saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

In general it is to be observed, that "to come into the world," do not ordinarily, if ever, in the language of the New Testament, signify to be born, but publicly to assume the character of a divinely-appointed teacher: and "to be sent" signifies to be invested by God with this position, and to be begin an active mission to support it. 

When this public mission came upon him, he says, "I came not of my own accord, but He [God] sent me." (John 8:42) And says, "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve." (Matt. 20:28) These words cannot either with propriety or truth be referred to his entrance into life, for he did come at birth to serve others, and did not anoint himself to this mission, and certainly not as a baby.

Here he is proposing an example to his disciples, and appeals to the knowledge they had of his conduct among them, from his first entrance on his ministry at the age of 30.

He did not make disciples for his own sake, but for theirs; he came not out into towns of Judea to be served by them, but to serve them, and was hereafter to carry his services so far, as even to lay down his life in their behalf.

Jesus, speaking of himself, says, "him whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world." (John 10:36) He was first consecrated, when "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth," says Peter, "with the holy Spirit and with power," to go about doing good. (Acts 10:38)

At the baptism of Jesus, God was heard to say of Jesus, "you are my Beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22) And an old reading of this same verse reads, "You are my son, today I have begotten you [become your father]," echoing Psalm 2:7 (and Hebrews 1:5) Both versions testify to his anointing for his mission at his baptism.

Thus this man was set apart, consecrated to his office, and qualified to discharge it, and then was commissioned to go out into the world to execute this mission. According to our Master's own words, he "came into the world" only after his baptism, at which God's holy Spirit descended upon him, and not before.

Jesus, addressing himself to God, and speaking of his disciples, says, "As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." What is it that he here says of his disciples? How was it that he sent them into the world? 

After they had been fully instructed in things about to the kingdom of God, he sent them out unto all nations to preach to others the doctrine he had delivered to them.

When he says of himself, therefore, that God "sent him into the world," since he was sent by the Father, as they were sent by him, he speaks of the authority with which he was invested, of the command that had been given him to publish to the world the doctrine which he had himself received from the Father.

The spirit was not poured out on Jesus, he was not in vested with divine authority and power, thus qualified to execute the will of God and sent out into the world, to take vengeance on them for their sins; but to impart to them, at the expense of all worldly comforts, and, in the end, of life itself, the most consolatory and the most salutary doctrine, the belief and the obedience of which will entitle them unto eternal life.

Is it an advantage that such a great example should was held up to our imitation? Definitely. Would not any person, who aspires to perfect virtue, wish that a perfect model of it should be placed before them, to illustrate and recommend its maxims and its precepts, to guide and to encourage, to animate desires, to invigorate endeavors, and to excite emulation?

This advantage is enjoyed by us far more perfectly than could have been if our Master had not gone out into the world; for by this means his virtues are rendered more conspicuous, they are seen by us in a greater variety of lights, proved by a greater variety of difficulties and temptations, and his example is made applicable to a greater variety of circumstances and conditions.

We see what, if he had continued in obscurity, we could not have seen in him that our duty is in every instance practicable; that virtue is in every condition possible, and abounds with such comforts as can make any circumstances tolerable.

By this means we have the instructions, and encouragements, and incitements, that are contained in his example, who was in all points tempted as we are, and yet was without sin. We may be pure in heart, we may be holy in all manner of conversation; we may have the same mind that was in Jesus; we may walk as he also walked; we may be like God, and acceptable to him; ever growing in his likeness and his friendship. To what dignity, to what comforts of the Gospel of Jesus may we achieve! How good is God! How great a gift is Jesus!

(Adapted from the works of Newcombe Cappe, 1733-1800)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Attainment And Use Of Gospel Knowledge #JesusFollowers

The Gospel of Jesus was certainly a plain doctrine at first, and in general readily and easily understood by those who heard it.

No one can doubt this who reads the accounts how and to whom it was preached by Jesus. Indeed, it is hard to believe that in a revelation of His will, intended for all humanity, the Almighty Being would fail to find a spokesman to speak clearly on his behalf, so that He would be understood by all.

Not that everything is so obvious and upon the surface, to offer itself to us without any thought or labor. It is not the way of the Almighty to easily bestow anything that is good or excellent upon his creatures.

Nor can we understand the Scriptures without taking the necessary pains, attending to the phrases and customs of the times in which our Master preached.

But by this exertion of ourselves, along with a sincere desire to become pious, wise, and good, we cannot fail to succeed. And we shall be let into all the Truth that is needful for our fulfilment.

It is a bad symptom in any person to see them indolently acquiesce in the principles of their faith without examining them, whether well or ill founded, and making their religion a series of thoughtless assents to forms and doctrines to which they have been accustomed, without any serious application to the practice of piety and virtue.

There is more hope for persons living in open vice coming to their right mind and being awakened to see their errors and be reformed, than those people.

There were men of this character from among the Jews and of the heathen world, who were satisfied with themselves that everything taught to them in their youth was right and true, and nothing further needed to be learned. They rejected without inquiry the teachings of Jesus, and to their utmost, they opposed his teachings.

And thus, all spiritual improvement for them was at an end.

Religion, divine truth, the way to please God, is not the objective of life to such persons. What was instilled into them when they were young was to ill-serve them throughout life.

They were always to remain children. But the Gospel exhorts us to a diligent and careful search after truth, and to grow in knowledge and all wisdom.

Not, indeed, to employ ourselves on barren useless speculations, merely to gratify our curiosity; but on such points that relate to a holy life and practice, and are of the utmost consequence to our true happiness.

We are to seek out: What directions God has given for our conduct, by whom it is that He has revealed himself to us, and what assistances He has taught us to look for in the way of our duty. Finally, we seek after what motives and promises God has laid before us to encourage us in it in all circumstances, to strengthen us against dangerous temptations, to calm and moderate our affections, to give comfort under the unavoidable ills and calamities of life, and carry us safely hereafter to some better state.

This is the knowledge to which Jesus invites us in his Gospel, in which we are to make advances, and surely, we would find much more knowledge to attain, if our lives were greatly extended.

A review of our own errors and recovery from them contributes a method to endear the truth to us, and to confirm us in it. In this way, our wise and good Creator give us a method to produce the greatest good out of the errors and mistakes into which we have fallen.

And although we may at times be involved in darkness and perplexity, and our progress will not always be as rapid and continual as we could wish; yet by an honest, persevering diligence we shall get further into the daylight, and see our way clearer before us. We shall discern greater tokens of divine wisdom in the words of Jesus.

And then we shall find fresh motives and encouragements to our duty, and be more and more animated in our task to overcome the world, and every obstacle that would divert us from the love of God and the obedience we owe to Him.

(Adapted from the sermons of Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1810)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Is Human Perfection Possible? [JesusFollowers]

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matt. 19:16 NIV)

When the various appetites and passions that take place in man are constantly and uniformly directed to, and placed upon, their proper objects and when each and every one of these are kept in due bounds, one not indulged to the suppressing of another such a creature may be said to be perfect.

When the springs of action in us, namely selfishness and benevolence, hope and fear, and the like, are duly balanced, so as that one isn't greater than the others; and, when all these, together with the principle of activity or self-motion, are wholly subject to that principle of intelligence which is likewise a part of the human constitution, and which was intended to guide and direct the whole; then, according to his nature, this is called human perfection, not in distinction from, but considered to be the same as, Christian perfection.

The design of Christianity was to engage us to act the part, and to fill up the just and proper characters of human beings; and. not to enable us to resemble the characters of Angels. The design of Christianity was to make us good people; and not to make us more or better than human beings; and therefore, Christian perfection must be the same as human perfection.

Great riches are likely to engross the hearts and affections of those who possess them, and this shuts up their tenderness and compassion to the rest of their fellow-creatures. And although a person's benevolent actions ought to be proportioned to his wealth and riches, and to the needs and circumstances of his neighbors; Jesus knew, as we do, that great possessions and great benevolence seldom meet in the same person; and this justifies our Master's remark to the rich young man.

People like the young man he referred to are too ready to rest satisfied with not having done evil, whereas, our Master assures us, that as great a regard must be had for doing good, as for simply not doing evil, and that not actively doing good will render us just as blameworthy, and condemnable. "For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you didn't take me in, naked and you didn't clothe me, in prison and you didn't visit me." (Matt. 25:41)

A benevolent disposition is the most noble and God-like part of our Nature, and, is therefore called the perfection of it. Jesus clearly states (Luke 6:36) "Be merciful (or kind, or benevolent) just as your Father is merciful." and as is recorded in Matthew, 5:48, is the same as to say, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." When Jesus called us to be the kind of tree that bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18) he makes it clear that we have the ability to do good and become morally perfect: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the Tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." He notes that we must build treasure in Heaven and in our own hearts, so that "a good man brings good things out of the good stored within him." (Matt. 6:20; 12:35) 

Jesus requires a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action that is founded in the reason of things; and makes or declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, and the only way to life eternal.

And, to prove this proposition, the young man's question, that he put to Jesus, namely, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" And likewise our Mater's plain and full answer to this important question was, "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matt. 19:16-17)

So that to be perfect, according to the plain sense and meaning of our Master, Jesus, is to put on such a benevolent disposition, as will dispose and engage us to pursue the good and happiness of our neighbors as well as our own, and so far as we have power and opportunity for doing it; and if the circumstances of things require it, to part with our all, in this world, for their sakes. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions an give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

 (Adapted from "An Enquiry Into the Ground and Foundation of Religion" by Thomas Chubb)

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

#Jesus Says: We Must Forgive Others [#JesusFollowers]

"Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matt. 13:21-22) 

Our Master, Jesus, told the disciples the Parable of the Wicked (or "ungrateful") Servant to teach them, and us, how God forgives and how we must also forgive others. In the Book of Matthew, it follows the "seven times seventy" verse above, and both the verse and the parable are related to one another.

The Parable goes like this: A king had a servant, who owed him a vast sum of money. And because he couldn't pay, he begged the king to forgive the debt. And the king forgave the entire debt.

But as this servant went out of the king's court, he met a fellow servant, who owed him only a small amount; and he took him by the throat, choked him, and said, “Pay me all you owe me!" The fellow servant said, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all of it.” But he wouldn't listen, and had him thrown into jail.
 
When the king got wind of how his servant had acted, having had the lesser servant thrown into prison after getting mercy for himself, he was angry.

Jesus finishes the parable in this way, "'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master [the king] delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

The lesson of the parable (coming after the "seventy times seven" lesson as it does) is clear: that we are bound, every one of us, to forgive any wrong that our brothers and sisters do to us, if we expect God to forgive us.

In fact, if we expect to be forgiven by God, we must first freely offer forgiveness to others, and do so continually, as a condition of our forgiveness. Or so teaches Jesus. (Mark 11:25) Forgiveness is given to us by God freely when we ask for it, but we must in turn give forgiveness freely to others, not as a grudging act (or just when we feel like it) but willingly, and from our hearts.

As we saw, Peter asked how many times we must forgive others, and Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven” times. In other words, continually and without end. This must have shocked Peter, and it comes as a great shock today to those who believe they need “do” nothing in this life to achieve communion with God eternally in Heaven in the next. But they have been greatly misled.

And when the Scribes tried to tell Jesus that only God can forgive sins, Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all those who follow him should forgive others’ sins and trespasses. (Mark 2:7, John 20:23) 

In opposing the Scribes, Jesus said we must be as forgiving as God is. "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36) There are some Scribes today who doubt we have the ability to do what Jesus calls us to do.

But forgiveness, more than almost any other doctrine, is at the core of the Gospel that Jesus preached. And if Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him, we can certainly forgive those who offend us with their gossip and other petty offenses. Our God, revealed to us by the teachings of Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them.  We should believe Jesus and the God that he preaches, then act accordingly.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

There is Nothing Mysterious In the Gospel of Jesus. #JesusFollowers


Our Master, Jesus, left us a legacy of hope with his words, his life, his teachings and his death. All remain an example to us of a life lived perfectly for God. In this, Jesus was clear that he was not hiding anything from his disciples. Nor is anything hidden from us, today.

Jesus said: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father I have MADE KNOWN to you." (Matt. 15:15)

And Jesus said: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU." (Matt. 13:11) "Because whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." (Mark 4:22)

This was not true for some religions of the ancient Roman world in which Jesus lived. For some, faith was built around a "mystery." Priests of these "mystery religions" were charged with revealing the secrets of the gods to those who had been initiated. Only then were these "mysteries" unfolded to the one who had committed to worship the deities that were the focus of those faiths.

But Jesus and HIS Gospel were different.

Jesus revealed ALL THINGS to the world during his lifetime, and did so openly, and to all.

There was nothing the remained hidden, nothing left out. There were no "mysteries" left to unfold or reveal after the ministry of Jesus ended.

Just as he spoke to his disciples, Jesus speaks to us today - through the simple, clear teachings in the Gospels. We follow Jesus and obey God with our eyes wide open, with our full understanding, as well as our hearts and minds.

Jesus calls us to repent of our sins, to seek to live righteously and in a Godly way, to forgive others, to love and pray for our enemies, to do Good Works (in humility) and to love God and serve others in God's name. He says we will be rewarded according to our deeds alone, judged by God alone: we are not to judge ourselves or each other. That, and nothing more, is the Gospel.

The Gospel Jesus gave us wasn't lacking in anything when his ministry finished with his death on the cross. We need no further explanations, no further revelations, and no interpretations, in order to determine what we must do to please God.

The clarity of Jesus' message is obvious to all who read it. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God.

Jesus challenges us to do all that God asks of us, and has given us an example we can follow.

He points us to God, calling us to repent of our sinful acts, seek forgiveness, and live the way God wants us to live.

God continues to grant us all the strength, love and support we need to continue growing into Spiritual Completeness and maturity.

We are told by Jesus to "do as I have done" and to "follow my example." We are not to hide our good works under a bushel basket, but to Do Good, and do so in humility, not simply to be seen by others.

Accepting this knowledge of God's path which Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith as friends and followers of Jesus.

Let us do so with faith, humility and joyful obedience to God, who sent us Jesus to reveal His will to us!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers


"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27-31)


What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"

Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.

They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.

But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.

If people really put a faith in our God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.

Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience that would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven based only on our deeds.

That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)

That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings unused, and unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.

Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said just the opposite.

His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.

If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?

If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?

If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?

Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.

And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?

God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.

God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

In Praise of Reason #JesusFollowers

Some view Reason as opposed to God, and its use as somehow usurping, insulting or opposing Him, as if Reason was by its nature opposed to God.

But Human Reason must be seen as a gift of God, which He implanted within us for us to discover, using the other gifts which He entrusted to us.

We should never base our opinion of a thing based on a false judgement of it, or by the worst belief someone holds of it.

Human Reason can, if not truly reasonable, lead us astray. It can lead us to believe we are greater than the creator, that Reason is itself greater than that which created us, and it.

Once it’s considered to be such a thing, it is condemned, but falsely, since that’s not human Reason IS.

Reason and Faith are not opposed to one another, but are instead both necessary for us to understand God and God's will for us.

Rationality walks hand-in-hand with Spirituality. When irrational elements of religion are stripped away, we may focus clearly on the mission God's Anointed One, Jesus sends us to do.

God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him, and Reason is a God-given gift we must use to discern His Will.

Just as we ought to not condemn someone based on others’ opinions of them – or mere rumors ABOUT them, which often are not true or are based on false assumptions, biases or slanders – we ought to assess Reason in its truest and purest form, rather than the worst assumptions about it.

Many do the same for te Religion Jesus left us. They consider all the horrific things done it its name, the abuses done to people, the wars, the complicated and contradictory doctrines – and assume them to be the highest version of that religion. Then they say, “See, these examples ARE the religion of Jesus, therefore, we must reject it.”

Such things SHOULD be rejected, but to assume that this is the True Religion of Jesus is to start with a false assumption

It would be as if we judge a tree in autumn, with its leaves fallen out or yellow with age to be “dead,” not knowing about, or deliberately not remembering, the vibrant greens of spring.

Those who have rejected God, also often base that rejection on only the worst aspects of the Christian religion: the toxic additions of men, not the purity of its founder, Jesus. 

So too, rejecting the Godly faculty of Reason, it’s been said, prepares one for worse and worse delusions. [Channing, Discourse, 1826]

The teachings of Jesus are reasonable. Jesus calls us to love God with all understanding (Matt. 15:10.) Jesus reminds us that God wishes us to “love the Lord your God with ALL YOUR MIND” (Mark 12:30.) We cannot fully love God, therefore, unless we use ALL of the understanding and knowledge God Himself gave us, and continues to give us.

Reason in fact plays a huge and important role in God’s religion, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. And just as Reason finds a place, so also is Wisdom, knowledge and understanding greatly praised by scripture, though often, as in Jesus’ time, they are degraded by men who are assumed to be “wise” in religious knowledge.

We must fully embrace the Reasonableness of the Gospel that Jesus has taught, just as the former Prophets of God testified to God’s wisdom and knowledge, which He shares with all of us when we seek it.

When Yahweh says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) He expresses his desire to engage and converse with us, His creation, and make reasonable terms by which we may be His children.

In the Proverbs, we read, "By wisdom Yahweh founded the earth. By understanding, he established the heavens. By his knowledge, the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew. My son, let them not depart from your eyes. Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won't stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:19-24)

We are to use our gift of Reason, just as our gifts of wisdom and knowledge, to walk in the way of Jesus, who walked perfectly in the way of God. Our feet stumble less when we adhere to the correct path, guided by these gifts.