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August 2016

Knowing Jesus: Jesus got angry

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When we think of Jesus, we think of someone who was meek and mild. Drawings of Jesus almost always show him with a tranquil, calm, almost placid expression. We see him as being infinitely patient, perpetually kind, always speaking graciously.

We don’t spend much time talking about the angry Jesus. The Jesus who didn’t speak kindly. The Jesus who demanded much more than many in his audience were willing or able to give.

The same Jesus who turned the other cheek—who did not return evil for evil—still had reason to be angry.

 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand,” Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ” Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. — Mar 3:1-6

There are very few passages that specifically say Jesus was angry, but there are plenty in which the word usage and context would indicate that he was. Whether we want to consider it anger, agitation, irritation or some milder version, we would most likely have witnessed the scene and come up away with the impression that the person was angry.

When Peter tried to correct Jesus concerning his impending death (Matthew 16:22), telling him “This shall never happen to you,” Jesus responded by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” That sounds a lot like anger to me.

What made Jesus angry?

Jesus seemed to become angry resulting from four different scenarios. We’ll talk about all of these in greater detail as we get deeper into the series, but for now it’s worth pointing them out in a more general sense.

Hypocrisy from religious leaders

This is the one I suspect most of us think of first, and with good reason. Jesus spent a lot of time arguing with the religious leaders of the day, leading to his most heated exchanges. Invariably, Jesus’ anger led him to condemn the Pharisees and scribes because of their insincere devotion to piety and the law.

In Matthew 23, Jesus rips the leaders who had been constantly criticizing and undermining him throughout his ministry. Here he pointed out the various inconsistencies between their teachings and actions, calling them “children of Hell” (v. 15), blind guides (v. 16), comparing them to tombs filled with uncleanness and dead men’s bones (v. 27). But the worst rebuke is reserved for their claims to be upright children of Abraham, who loved and revered the prophets sent in past centuries by God:

 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. — Matthew 23:33-35

As we’ll see, hypocrisy was involved in almost all the instances in which Jesus was moved to anger.

Lack of compassion for sinners

Jesus clearly saw this a lot in dealing with men and women who were marginalized from Hebrew society for their sins. There is a difficult balance for a child of God in rejecting sinful activities and lifestyles while continuing to reach out to call the sinner back to the fold. Jesus found that balance, and it greatly bothered much of the religious community.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, ” Simon, I have something to say to you.” — Luke 7:36-40

We’re not told that Jesus is angry here, but clearly he wasn’t happy with Simon’s attitude. I suspect if someone responded to any one of us by turning around and saying, “I have something to say to you,” we would have already felt the sting of rebuke before the thought was complete.

Jesus went on to elaborate, pointing out that this sinful woman was genuine in her sorrow and desire for forgiveness, while the host hadn’t even bothered with the common courtesies typically afforded a guest in that culture (v. 44-46).

Unwillingness to listen

As already mentioned, Peter received a strong rebuke because he was so invested in his own ideas on how Jesus’ reign would work that he simply was not listening to what Jesus was trying to explain to him. It must have been difficult for Jesus to talk about his own death, and there’s nothing more irritating than trying to explain a gravely serious subject to someone who simply dismisses your concerns as invalid.

As seen in the passage from Mark 3, Jesus was angered “because of their hardness of heart”; they were so concerned with holding onto their own traditions that they had lost sight of what Jesus had been trying to teach them: that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Law of Moses taught that the Israelites should do no work on that day (Exodus 20:10, 31:14), but it said nothing about not helping someone in need or caring for someone’s injury or illness, or otherwise refusing to show compassion. Jesus pointed out that they gave more consideration for an animal in a ditch (Matthew 12:10) than they did for someone who wished for Jesus to heal him.

There was likely very little dispute about offering aid on the Sabbath in general, but there was a great deal of dispute about whether Jesus could do so.

Displays of irreverence toward God the Father and His word

The most vivid description of an angry Jesus is found when the gospel writers depict him chasing the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17). John specifically notes that Jesus is enraged as a result of zeal for the house of God—witnessing it turned into a house of merchandise (and in some cases a dishonest one, at that).

Whatever you believe is meant by the “unpardonable sin” of Matthew 12, it’s clear that it relates to an irreverence toward the Holy Spirit. Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus refutes them with simple logic, pointing out that the Spirit of God is the true source of his authority and power. He then adds:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 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. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. — Matthew 12:31-37

Jesus loved God the Father, and was completely devoted to doing God’s will and bringing glory to Him. He would not tolerate refusals to revere God or His law.

Isn’t anger sinful?

As we discussed last week, Jesus lived a life without sin. We never see Jesus becoming indignant because of his own pride or sense of self-worth. He did not return insults when insulted, he did not slander or speak evil of someone out of malice. The implication of Matthew 5:22 would seem to be that we are not to be angry “without a cause”, which is how the New King James renders the verse.

But some things are worth being angry about! Paul, under the inspiration of the same Spirit which came from Christ, wrote to “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). James wrote that we ought to be slow to anger, because “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

What is the difference between a justified anger and the anger condemned by scripture? I believe there is a clue found in one last example from Jesus’ life.

Jesus’ controlled anger

When Jesus came to Bethany to raise Lazarus, he has an interesting reaction to the scene that awaited him:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ” Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ” Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. — John 11:32-38

The word translated by the ESV as “deeply moved” is much disputed, because the word itself literally means “to snort like a horse” and is used as its primary meaning to describe a reaction of sternness, outrage or anger. Some translators have softened the meaning because they don’t see how Jesus would be angry in this situation and find the primary meaning inconsistent with the context. Others have noted (and I believe rightly so) the hypocrisy of a group of people gathering to weep and mourn a man whom they will shortly seek to kill in order to disprove the miracle Jesus is about to perform (John 12:9-10). It’s also possible (although less likely to me) that Jesus was angry at mourning that discounted a hope of the resurrection (which Martha confessed to anticipating in verse 24).*

Regardless, the word is only used in scripture three times and carries a connotation of sternness. But there’s something else in the grammar that comes out: in verse 33, we read that Jesus was “deeply troubled.” The term here describes a visible, physical reaction, and based on what I have read, the verb is active; in other words, it could be translated that Jesus “agitated himself.”* Whatever the emotion, Jesus was not surrendering to it, but rather controlling it completely and expressing it exactly how he chose to express it.

When we’re angry, are we in control? Are we angry for reasons that are in line with glorifying God, or are they based on our own injured pride and need for vindication?

Jesus was angry, and did not sin.

*NOTE: I’m not a Greek scholar, so please don’t take my word for anything I say on the subject of translations and grammar. I found the resources below to be of great help, and I’d encourage you to research for yourself to draw your own conclusions.


Knowing Jesus: Jesus did not sin

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The more we know, the more jaded we often become. And as society has changed over time, our need for heroes has changed as well.

There was a time when we wanted people that we could look up to—who were just better than we were in some way, usually in terms of their character. But as time has gone on, we’ve become somewhat jaded as more and more of the people we put on pedestals cannot withstand scrutiny. We idolize athletes for their physical ability and then are shocked to find that their character is flawed. We learn that a large number of so-called public servants are nothing of the kind, and as their deeds come to light, we realize that the image we constructed was wrong, and we often feel betrayed by that. We feel fooled.

It’s just safer to pick heroes who are more like us. They’re flawed, they make mistakes, they don’t force us to evaluate our own moral or ethical character, because they tend to do the things that feel right emotionally. Maybe that’s why our society loves to elevate celebrities who live lives of complete moral abandonment: they’re doing what we wish we could do!

On the other hand, if heroes are too “good,” we distrust them. Or we just find them dis-interesting. We like our role models dark, complex, maybe even a little twisted. We like them in many cases because the anti-hero doesn’t shine a light on our own failings.

More and more, people try to do that with Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t fit the earthly hero mold

“He was just a man. He liked to go drinking with friends. He fantasized about sex. He didn’t care about following the law. He was a lot more like me than the “religious types” have been telling me. And you know what? He didn’t like religious types, either!”

And the only thing those claims are based on is the simple truth that we don’t like the idea of a pure and undefiled savior who might actually demand the same from us. Hebrews 7:26 describes Jesus as “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”

Does that sound like a hero who would fill the theaters? Not from a worldly standpoint, but it’s the kind of hero we needed to save us from our own sins.

We’ll talk more in future blogs about Jesus’ relationship to the law of Moses, the legal system under which he lived. But whatever we say about how Jesus lived and the decisions he made, we have to start with the simple fact that Jesus did all things by the will of God, and without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. — 1 Peter 2:21-23

The penalty of sin is death

Why is this so important to understand? Because it is a cornerstone of faith in Jesus Christ, in that he came to this earth to die for our sins. If Jesus had sinned, then he would have been deserving of the penalty for sin, which is death. We often don’t like to think about that, because it seems so unreasonable that a single relatively harmless act—such as lying, being disrespectful to a parent, swiping something that the other person didn’t even need anyway, or any number of minor offenses—should result in a death sentence.

But that is exactly what the Bible teaches: “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. — Jam 1:14-15

Why is sin such a big deal to God? Because it is a violation of God’s purity. John talks about the concept of light and darkness a lot in relation to God’s nature, whether because it is literally true or because it is the best analogy available to describe why God cannot abide sin. Darkness cannot co-exist with light, and sin cannot co-exist with God because it is foreign to His nature.

Sin was not in Jesus’ nature

Jesus was tempted “in every respect as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). When we recognize that Jesus was divine as well as human, we can understand how he could withstand temptation time after time, while we find ourselves failing. It was not in Jesus’ nature to sin, because Jesus was divine . But he understands what it feels like when the world and its influences tugs at your being. I’m not sure how that worked, although I have some opinions on it. Regardless, all we need to know is that Jesus lived a sinless, blameless life, and no one before or since has done that (Romans 3:23).

If Jesus did sin, then he could not have offered a perfect sacrifice “one time for all” on behalf of you and me (Hebrews 9:27-28). We would still be without hope, and our guilt would still separate us from God.

That should impact the way we think about sin in our own lives. Do we just accept it? Do we believe that we can come to God and have fellowship with Him if we’re unwilling to deal with the sin in our own lives? Jesus’ message was consistent: if we want to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we need to be willing to repent of our sins and seek a life of holiness (Matthew 3:2, 11:20, Luke 13:2-5).

Are we setting that expectation? Being a Christian means being a disciple (Acts 11:26), which means we try to follow him, emulate him, obey him in every way that we can. We know that we often fail, and when we do, Jesus is the advocate for all who are in his body (1 John 2:1-6, Ephesians 5:23). But are we seeking the Lord when we’re holding on to our own sinful lifestyle?

 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” — 1 Peter 1:14-16

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. — Ephesians 5:1-12

Our message to the world is not that we’re following a flawed, fleshly man who will make us feel good about the people we are now. We’re following the pure and holy lamb of God, who can make us into the people God wants us to be.

Knowing Jesus: Jesus noticed individuals

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One of the things that becomes evident when you spend time in a large urban environment is that there are a lot of people. But sometimes there aren’t a lot of “people.”

We walk through crowds on the way from Point A to Point B. We are surrounded by faces and bodies whose paths just happen to intersect with ours for a few seconds. We are usually oblivious aside from the fact that their presence is what we see as normal city life. If they weren’t there, we’d think something was wrong.

But unless something breaks us out of the routine, or someone does something unusual that catches our attention, we have to really work to make ourselves think of all those faces and bodies as being anything more than scenery and the subject of occasional casual observations.

Now imagine what it must have been like to follow Jesus during his three years on earth. When Jesus walked from Point A to Point B, the “urban environment” basically followed along behind. Thousands of people flocked to him when he taught in the temple, followed him out into the wilderness, even anticipated his travels and ran to meet wherever his boat was going to land.

Jesus looked at those crowds and saw individuals. He saw men and women who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). And even while seeing the crowds, he had a knack for finding the soul who had a need and responding to them as a unique individual. Sometimes they needed to be commended (Mark 12:34). Sometimes they needed to be challenged (Luke 18:22). Sometimes they needed to be corrected (Luke 7:40.).

Jesus heard the cry of the blind

In Luke 18, we see a couple of examples as Jesus walked toward Jericho on the way to Jerusalem in the final days of his life. Constantly followed by throngs of people, most of them likely shouting to him and asking him for something, Jesus stopped when he heard a man crying out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me (v. 38)!” (Mark calls the beggar by name: Bartimaeus.)

Jesus probably had a lot on his mind. He understood completely what awaited him at the end of this walk (Luke 18:31-33). But hearing this man cry out—along with the rebukes of those in the front who apparently didn’t think a blind man was worth the master’s time—Jesus stopped the procession and had Bartimaeus brought to him.

Calling Jesus the son of David was significant; it indicated that this man knew Jesus was the seed of the king, and probably that he knew Jesus to be the Messiah, the promised king who would sit on the throne of David according to prophecy (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Isaiah 11:1-5). Much as he does with us today, Jesus always seemed ready to recognize the cry of faith from someone who knew who he was and recognized him as the fulfilled promise of God. And so Jesus healed him.

Jesus saw the spiritually needy

Once Jesus was in the city, the crowds no doubt got even thicker. But one man was determined to see Jesus. Zacchaeus—the “wee little man” that so many of us sung about when we were children—was determined to see Jesus. We aren’t told why; we don’t even know if Zacchaeus knew anything about Jesus. The passage just says that he was trying to see who Jesus was (ch. 19:3).

We do know Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and he was rich, which probably means he was a cheat (v. 8). It’s very unlikely that Zacchaeus would have ever dreamed Jesus would regard him at all. The Jews hated tax collectors because they were traitors to Israel, collecting money for their captors and often doing it with an eye of enriching themselves in the process. He was beneath contempt; why would Jesus ever speak to him?

Why would Jesus speak to a leper? To an adulteress? To a condemned thief? The question answers itself when we know Jesus. Not only did he notice the man climbing up into a tree, but he called him by name and invited himself over to his house for dinner.  And when Zacchaeus repented, Jesus summed it up well: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham. For the son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Whether it was Nathaniel under the fig tree (John 1:48), the tax collector-turned-apostle (Mark 2:13), the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus was always looking for people who were looking for him.

Are we looking for those people as well? Do we notice when people around us are in need? Or do we become so absorbed in our own walk that we miss those who are stumbling around us?

God requires that you show your work

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Most of us at some point in our lives have sat in math class, staring at a sheet of paper containing all kinds of equations, some of which quite literally looked like Greek to us!

We spotted one of the problems, and we just happen to remember that the teacher worked it out on the board a while back, and the answer was 144. So we wrote “144” in the answer blank. But the problem was we knew the teacher wouldn’t accept the answer. She told us we had to show our work.

The reason for that, looking back, is pretty obvious. It’s not about just knowing the answer; it’s about understanding how to get to the answer. Because we probably won’t memorize the answer to every single math problem that comes our way in the future, and at some point, we’re going to have to work through the reasoning processes that help us figure out the answer on our own.

The case study in an obedient faith

So what does any of this have to do with following Christ?

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “ Abraham!” And he said, “ Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” — Genesis 22:1-2

To fully understand the gravity of this statement, you have to go back even farther, to chapter 15, when a childless, aging Abraham is reminded by God of the promise that he would become a great nation. Abraham asks how this is possible.

And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. — Genesis 15:3-6

Abraham believed against any rational expectation (Romans 4:19-21) that God would bless him with a child. This wasn’t just Abraham saying “Well, I guess it might happen, and if it does, that’s great.” He was convinced that it was going to happen, and it was going to happen the way God told him it would take place.

He was so convinced, that when God told him to go offer that son on an altar, he got up early the next morning and went to do just that. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham was so sure of God’s promise that he believed that if he killed Isaac, God would simply raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).

When Abraham took Isaac up the mountain, he told the servant that accompanied them, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” One way or another, Abraham was planning to come back down the mountain with his son, alive. And God rewarded that faith: “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”

Faith leads us to obedience, not rationalization

There are so many lessons here that it’s hard to pick just one, but the easiest is the one that we often don’t seem to understand from a theological standpoint. God expects us to show our work. And if we refuse to show our work, He is not going to consider us faithful.

The idea that we don’t have to do anything in order to please God other than to “believe” is one that has taken root over time in religious circles to the point that many think God expects nothing more from us than to acknowledge that he’s there, and maybe try not to kill anyone. Aside from that, they say, God saves us regardless of what we do, what choices we make and whether we do what He asks us to do or not.

The reality is that the belief/faith that the Bible speaks about doesn’t allow for this. Because first and foremost, belief is actually a work. It is something that we do! Jesus calls it a work in John 6:29. And over and over, Jesus insists that faith and inactivity are incompatible:

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great. — Luke 6:46-49

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. — Mat 7:21

The fruits of the spirit are not described as actions (Galatians 5:22-25), but they each inspire action. Does a long-suffering person lose his temper on a regular basis?  Does a person who is kind sit back and do nothing when someone is in need of help and he has the means to assist? When the Spirit of Christ is working in us, those actions ought to be part of our lives not because they are works that earn us approval, but because it’s who we are. And if those works aren’t taking place – if we’re not bearing fruit – then the obvious question is, “what is missing?”

If my faith doesn’t feel like work, it likely isn’t really faith.

Faith accepts God’s terms of salvation

Second, faith does not dictate terms. It does not impose on God the idea that He must save in a personal, unique way for me, as opposed to the way in which He has said He will save all who seek Him.

If Jesus taught that we must be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16) and we tell people, “Actually, he that believes and is NOT baptized” will be saved, how are we showing faith in the teachings of Jesus? Would we not simply say “Maybe I don’t understand everything about how grace, faith and obedience work together, but I know Jesus said do it, and so I’m going to do it and not question him?”

Instead, many teach that we can simply “invite Jesus into our hearts” with a simple sinner’s prayer, which is never once found or taught in scripture. (Please respond to this post if you can find it anywhere, I’d be happy to have that discussion!) The idea is that if Paul says we are saved from faith “apart from works,” then that must mean that there’s nothing I can do to affect salvation.

Faith and obedience can’t be separated

When we start discussing salvation with the premise that all acts of obedience should be lumped under the term “works”, and then say that as a result, Paul is discussing obedience in the book of Romans, and he is therefore talking about “salvation by faith apart from obedience” (as opposed to “faith apart from works”, Romans 4:5), we’ve made a false assumption and our entire premise is now flawed. I know this because in the same letter, Paul says as much:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. — Romans 6:16-18

Paul again says that the ministry of the gospel of Christ is to “bring the Gentiles to obedience” (15:18).  To make it even more clear, Paul goes so far as to spell out in Romans 10 how the concept of “calling on the name of the Lord” works through an active and obedient faith, or as he says in Romans 1:5, “the obedience of faith.”

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. — Romans 10:12-17

Over and over, the Bible speaks interchangeably of the concepts of unbelief and disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19, for one). James talks about the idea that faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26).

So why the apparent contradiction? Because so many use Paul’s treatise on faith as a theological discussion on the method of salvation, when what Paul is really discussing is the reason for salvation. We are saved not because WE willed it, or because God looked at our lives and considered us worthy of salvation, but because God made a way for us through Jesus Christ—”not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

The obedient conversion of Paul

Paul didn’t nullify Jesus’ command that his disciples be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). In fact, he confirmed it in the story of his own conversion, when he recounted Ananias’ statement: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

That’s not a “sinner’s prayer.” Paul had been saying the sinner’s prayer for three days (Acts 9:9), fasting and begging forgiveness for his blasphemy and murder. The answer to that prayer was a man from God telling him to give his life over to Jesus, submitting to his will. That submission started by obeying the command of God without getting into a debate over whether it should really be required of him or not.

It’s God’s plan, and God gets to dictate how it works. He is not bound by the theological conclusions that men come up with because they cannot reconcile a salvation that is not earned and yet still requires obedience—a salvation that offers mercy and forgiveness for those who walk according to the spirit and not according to their own will and sinful impulses.

God does not expect us to be perfect. But He expects that when He says something, we believe it and we do our best to follow it. Submit to God’s will—all of it. Allow the word of God to shape you, rather than you shaping the word of God. Seek the will of the Father, just as Jesus did.

Show your work.


Knowing Jesus: Jesus depended on scriptures

By | Christianity, Knowing Jesus | One Comment

One of the most significant things that we know about Jesus is seen in the only story we have of his childhood. Jesus’ parents discover that he is missing from the family caravan leaving Jerusalem, and eventually he’s found in the temple (Luke 2:46-47), “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Luke writes that Jesus grew in wisdom, and when we next see Jesus, it is as a man fully equipped to apply and teach the word of God (Luke 4). He stands up to the temptations from Satan with the same response each time:

“It is written.”

Jesus set an example we absolutely must follow in the way that he treasured the word of God. David wrote “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97), but Jesus’ relationship to the law was even more intimate:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14

Jesus understood the word of God better than anyone before or since, because it was part of him. He was the author of that law, and he was the physical embodiment of God’s word. In submission to God, he constantly pointed people back to the word.

The value of the Old Testament

By my count, Jesus quotes or references material from at least 15 different books in the Old Testament. That includes acceptance of the Septuagint as authoritative across all types of writing: law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), history (1 Samuel, 1 Kings), poetry (Psalms), and prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi). Some claim that he cited as many as 27 of the 33 books.

Regardless of the number, Jesus confirmed the value of all the Old Testament writings, indicating that even the Psalms of David were both law and prophecy (Matthew 22:42-44), because they were inspired of God. That doesn’t mean David and the psalmists were inspired in the way that an artist is inspired by a sunset or an inventor is inspired by an observed challenge. It literally means that the psalms of David, the prophecies of Isaiah, and the writings of Moses were all breathed out by God (2 Peter 1:20-21). And Jesus treated them with an appropriate level of reverence.

Understanding how to apply scripture

Jesus shows us the value of a deep knowledge of God’s word that goes beyond simply reading the text, but reading and understanding context, being able to make applications and growing in an understanding of God’s nature and His will for us. He provides an example of proper use of scripture in refuting the Pharisees’ accusations about his disciples working on the Sabbath:

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” — Matthew 12:3-7

Jesus cites:

  • Direct command: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hosea 6:6
  • Approved example: David is permitted by virtue of specific need to eat of food that by law he was not authorized to taste (1 Samuel 21:1-6, Leviticus 24:5-9)
  • Necessary inference: If the priests were commanded to perform “work” on the Sabbath day in order to carry out the worship on that day, then it is logical to say that there are examples where doing God’s will should not be prevented through observance of the Sabbath regulations on work – which in most cases were derived from the Jewish rulers’ interpretations of the idea of “work”, rather than the simple command not to work.

That is the essential model for understanding, interpreting and applying scripture. He does not appeal to opinion, human precedent, teachings of leading theologians, popular sentiment, or even conscience. He simply shows that the Pharisees were misapplying scripture because they did not fully understand it.

The word of God as our source of life

Jesus’ reliance on the word, reflected his teachings. When he told the Jews that he was the bread of life, and that his words were spirit and life (John 6:63), he was reflecting his own attachment to the word. When answering Satan in Luke 4, he quoted from the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 8:

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…  — Deuteronomy 8:2-7

He understood a principle that the Hebrews were meant to learn from their time with Moses in the wilderness: that they were sustained not by their own ability or skill, but by listening to and obeying all that God said.

Imagine being the hero in a movie where you’re required to land a pilot-less plane, with only the instructions from the tower to help. How closely would you follow? How intently would you listen? That is the way in which Jesus viewed God’s law. It is literally the source of life, because it connects us to God. And it is the means by which God guides us into “a good land:” our eternal inheritance.

If the Bible is our lifeline to God, how well do we know it? Is it a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)? Is it dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:16)? Are we able to handle it properly with the understanding of how to apply it to our lives and to our efforts to teach others (2 Timothy 2:15)?

Jesus didn’t just love the word. He lived it. So should we.

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