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Jesus and Beelzebub March 30, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:22-37.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus casts out a demon from a man who was blind and mute – healing him of his infirmities. Many are astonished by this miracle and wonder if Jesus is the Messiah. Yet the Pharisees dismiss this speculation, asserting that Satan is actually empowering Him.

Jesus responds by debunking this argument; in particular, He:

  • asserts that Satan would not be divided against himself
  • contrasts His genuine acts of healing with the counterfeit acts performed by Jewish exorcists.

Indeed, His acts of healing:

  • prove His superiority to Satan
  • are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, they must either accept Him or reject Him. Those who reject Him – and the Holy Spirit – are eternally condemned by God the Father.

He concludes by asserting that their rejection of the Holy Spirit stems from the fact that they have not been renewed by God. Only those who have been renewed by God will acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus condemns those who reject the work of the Holy Spirit. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

The brighter the light, the greater the guilt of the person who rejects it; the clearer a person’s knowledge of the nature of the Gospel, the greater the sin in willfully refusing to repent and believe…Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Judas Iscariot, the Emperor Julian and Francis Spira are fearful illustrations of our Lord’s meaning.

I was unfamiliar with Francis Spira before I read this section in Ryle’s commentary, and I was inspired to learn more about him. Perhaps his story highlights the importance of regular reflection on Christ’s finished work for our salvation. If we fail to meditate on this point, we might dwell on our inherent sinfulness and begin to question the truth of our salvation. Indeed, Satan constantly attempts to exploit the fact that almost two millennia have passed since Christ completed His work for our salvation; thus, we must combat this tempter on a daily basis – with the invaluable assistance of the Holy Spirit.

We also see that Jesus highlights the connection between our words and our hearts. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Let us be humble as we read this passage and recollect time past. How many idle, foolish, vain, light, frivolous, sinful and unprofitable things we have all said! How many words we have used which, like thistle-down, have flown far and wide and sown mischief in the hearts of others that will never die!

While these thoughts may be somewhat depressing, it is important to note that we will never be perfect in this life; we cannot hope to avoid speaking “unprofitable” words. Thus, we should consider this question: how can we maximize the profitability of our words? One thought is that we should:

  • attempt to pause before speaking
  • evaluate our thoughts and reject as many foolish notions as possible
  • attempt to consider the thoughts and feelings of our audience.

Of course, it is extremely difficult to execute these steps; we need constant grace as we navigate a thicket of misunderstandings.

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Stephen Seized June 3, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 6:8-15.

Summary: In this passage, Stephen performed many miracles and signs. Yet he was opposed by several Jews from sundry parts of the Roman Empire, as they:

  • made several futile attempts to disprove his presentation of the Gospel message
  • then resorted to the underhanded tactic of accusing him of blasphemy.

He was then charged with advocating the:

  • destruction of the temple in Jerusalem
  • abolition of the Mosaic law.

His face had the appearance of that of an angel at his subsequent trial before the Sanhedrin.

Thoughts: I wonder how the Jews in this passage attempted to disprove Stephen’s presentation of the Gospel message. Perhaps their position could be summarized as follows:

  • the Old Testament passages predict the arrival of a political – not a spiritual – Messiah
  • since the Jews were still vassals of the Roman emperor, the Messiah had not arrived
  • consequently, Jesus of Nazareth could not be the promised Messiah.

Although Stephen repeatedly debunked their arguments, I assume that they refused to yield any ground; otherwise, their consciences would have been seared when they gathered false witnesses against him. Did these Jews eventually accept the validity of the Gospel message? I certainly hope that they saw the error of their ways after they put another innocent man to death.

The Beast out of the Sea January 31, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 13:1b-10.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a beast emerging from the sea. The dragon – from the preceding passage – furnishes the beast with his authority; all unbelievers worship the dragon and the beast. The beast then spends forty-two months blaspheming God and attacking believers. Thus, God calls believers to hold fast to Him – even if the beast forces them into captivity or kills them.

Thoughts: This passage should be lumped in with the subsequent passage, so I will defer my thoughts on this passage until my next blog post.

False Teachers and Their Destruction July 26, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 2.

Summary: Peter begins by reminding his readers that there were true and false prophets in the Old Testament; similarly, Christ predicted that they would encounter true and false teachers, and he confirms His prediction. These false teachers encourage them to deliberately sever themselves from righteous thoughts and actions. These false teachers also fight against the absolute dominion of Christ – their Redeemer – and they involve themselves in destruction. Now their influence is:

  • widespread
  • immoral
  • blasphemous
  • treacherous.

He reminds his readers that God threatened long ago to judge these false teachers; although they have not been punished, their punishment is absolutely certain.

To support this point, Peter cites the following examples from the Old Testament:

  • the fall of the angels
  • the Flood
  • the destruction of the cities of the plain – Sodom and Gomorrah.

He also reminds them that a few were saved at the Flood and that Lot was righteous in terms of his judicial standing before God. Thus, God will be able to reserve the ungodly for punishment while protecting the godly.

Peter now characterizes false teachers as:

  • unclean
  • willfully contemptuous of all authority – in contrast to the good angels
  • self-indulgent
  • reckless
  • sensual – since they are riotous in the daytime
  • hypocritical – since they associate themselves with the Christian love feasts while living in sin
  • infamous – since they indulge in awful iniquity and entice weak and young Christians to imitate them
  • empty – since they have no real vitality
  • unstable – since they lack settled principles
  • boastful – since they bluster in order to dupe
  • seductive
  • heartless
  • deceptive
  • powerless.

Peter concludes by stating that these false teachers are entangled in their sin and experience spiritual degeneration; thus, moral disaster will befall them, and they will engage in utter apostasy – since they treat the Gospel message unfairly.

Thoughts: When I read through this passage, I was reminded of my stroll through the book of Jude. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

The relationship between 2 Peter and Jude…There is an evident use of one writing by the author of the other (compare 2 Peter 2:1-16 and Jude 4, 11)…Authorities differ as to which is earlier; some arguing for the priority of Jude (Alford, Salmon), others for the priority of 2 Peter (Lumby, Bigg).

I am certainly eager to meet Peter and Jude in the next life and learn 1) who wrote the earlier letter and 2) how the writer of the subsequent letter was inspired by it. Also, I wonder if the debates over the priority of these two letters were part of the larger debate over their inclusion in the New Testament canon (i.e. those who supported the priority of a particular letter might argue that the other letter should be excluded from the New Testament canon). I suppose that if I had participated in that larger debate at the Council of Carthage in 397, I would have balked at including Jude in the New Testament canon, since it contains some odd extra-biblical allusions…

In verses 20-22, Peter asserts that those who have known “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and then become “entangled in” the “corruption of the world” are “worse off” than those who never knew Jesus Christ. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

See Matthew 12:43-45. Peter is making a clear allusion to the Master’s teaching.

This is certainly an interesting passage, and it has played a prominent role in the debate over whether a Christian can lose their salvation. While I am currently unable to resolve that debate, I have studied the above-mentioned passage from Matthew. My understanding of that passage is that Jesus is attacking the Pharisees, who strive to break all of their bad habits – yet fail to invite Him to dwell in their hearts, which would permanently transform them. Instead, the Pharisees trust in their own strength to break their bad habits, and they are convinced that they do not need a Savior. Thus, this passage in 2 Peter may be a valuable reminder for believers to continue seeking after Christ and asking Him to work in their lives – even if they are not young Christians.

This passage extensively criticizes false teachers and their erroneous beliefs and actions. I thought about this in terms of how believers can evaluate their pastors and determine if they are genuine teachers of God’s Word. One difficulty in this regard is that believers generally do not interact with their pastors outside of organized church activities, and so they are unaware of how their pastors live outside of church. If a pastor leads a double life and skillfully conceals it from their church, then their church would probably assume that they have been called by God to shepherd them. Also, a pastor who happens to be a false teacher of God’s Word might be quite adept at cloaking their false doctrines with a veneer of doctrinal purity. Now I should note that adopting the opposite attitude where believers automatically distrust their pastors is usually counterproductive. Truly believers require the assistance of the Holy Spirit to discern truth from error in the last days.

The Sin and Doom of Godless Men January 8, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on Jude 3-16.

Summary: Jude begins by conveying agape to his readers (who are with him in Christ); he is concerned for their spiritual welfare and wants to help their faith. In this letter, though, he must focus on the fact that the school of Simon, the Gnostics, and other heretics are trying to cut them off from the truth; thus, they must contend earnestly for the sound teaching that is to be absorbed and believed for salvation. This teaching has been given to them – as members of the church – so that they might keep it. Now these heretics, who crept in unawares into the church, were condemned by God from all eternity since they:

  • do not worship God
  • use the Gospel to justify their indulgence in luxury and the impurities of lust
  • openly renounce and secretly attack Jesus Christ, who is their only ruler and mediator.

Jude then states that his readers have certainly and irrecoverably received the following truths:

  • God delivered His special people from Egypt – yet He later destroyed those among them who neglected and refused Him
  • some angels had a high and dignified nature – yet they rebelled against God; thus, He will condemn them in the sight of the whole world and sentence them to eternal misery and torment
  • the people of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim had a vehement addiction to unclean practices and practiced sodomy; thus, He placed them under everlasting judgment, and their experience instructs the world to keep His law.

Likewise, these heretics, who have been bewitched and enchanted:

  • pollute themselves with libidinous practices
  • display utter enmity toward civil policy and government
  • curse the officers of the church.

Jude contrasts their behavior with that of Michael – the leader of the blessed angels – who had an altercation in words with the devil regarding the knowledge of Moses’ place of burial. In particular, Michael did not blasphemously judge the devil in this case – he referred the matter to God’s cognizance. Yet these heretics reproach all spiritual things; they understand other things by natural inclination – which draw down punishment on them.

Jude then denounces these heretics, since they:

  • follow Cain’s example by attacking those who disagree with them
  • follow Balaam’s example by perverting the truth
  • follow Korah’s example by opposing magistrates and the ministry of Christ; thus, they would perish as Korah perished.

Jude also states that these heretics can infect others by their example. In particular, they feast liberally with the rest of the church – at the church’s expense. They eat without respect for the fellowship that should exist between saints. They do not produce positive ideas that will help people in their understanding. Their lives are not characterized by holiness, and their apostasy is incurable; thus, they are very dead. They fill every place with their trouble and strife, revealing their abominable opinions and practices. They pretend to have a great deal of knowledge – yet they are swallowed up by the horrors of eternal darkness.

Now Jude states that Enoch, who is in the seventh generation after Adam, served God by asserting the following fact regarding these heretics: Jesus Christ will come to judge the world with the highest possible number of angels and saints. He will judge the wicked and present damning evidence of their:

  • malicious opposition to His servants
  • abusive language against Him

and so they will be found guilty and condemned. Jude concludes by asserting that these heretics:

  • mutter angrily
  • complain about what God has given them
  • walk after their evil desires
  • use unsavory gibberish to present their own opinions
  • try to win over people to join them.

Thoughts: In verse 7, Jude notes that the Lord destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim for practicing sodomy. Manton offers some insights on this point:

1. Note the quality of the place. There were many good cities, of which Sodom was the principal one, in the plain of Jordan. It was full of people and had plentiful supplies of corn, wine, oil, and all earthly goods…2. Note those cities’ earlier deliverance. Four kings went to war against them and captured them and carried them off before they were rescued by Abraham (Genesis 14:15-16).

Manton quotes from Genesis 13:10 to support his assertion that these four towns had access to abundant resources before their destruction. How did the inhabitants of these towns become enslaved to the most horrible vices? Perhaps their prosperity caused them to become arrogant, and they assumed that they had earned their wealth. Also, did they begin practicing sodomy before Abraham rescued them from their captors? In any case, evidently they did not remember the Lord’s abundant blessings. Indeed, the Bible records numerous instances of God punishing those who did not remember the Lord’s abundant blessings. Ah, if only humans could be more mindful of God on a daily basis…

In verse 9, Jude notes that the archangel Michael did not blasphemously judge the devil when the devil was trying to determine the site of Moses’ place of burial. Manton offers some insights on this point:

We read that the body of Moses was secretly buried by the Lord. “He [the Lord] buried him [Moses] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6). Concerning the circumstances surrounding this, Jude might have received this information by divine revelation, which is here made Scripture. It was quite normal for those who wrote the Scripture to add circumstances that were not mentioned in the passage where the story was first recorded.

When I initially read this passage, I was under the impression that Jude was unique among the New Testament writers in terms of his application of extra-biblical accounts. I then remembered that Paul had referred to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:1-9. The fact that Jude later refers to an extra-biblical prophecy by Enoch in verse 14 makes me wonder, though, if Jude was more inclined than Paul to include extra-biblical references in his letters. Did Jude write other letters that are no longer extant, and if so, were those letters characterized by an unusually large number of extra-biblical references? In any case, this account – whether or not it is historically accurate – makes a powerful point: it is not the prerogative of believers to judge the devil, as that is best left to God Himself.

In verses 12 and 13, Jude states that the heretics are very dead, since their lives do not produce fruit. Manton offers some thoughts on this point:

Our Savior directs us to scrutinize people: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16)…This also means that your lives must be lived according to God’s laws or you will bring shame on God…This implies that they do not bring any honor to God, nor good to others, and are not wise for the benefit of their own souls. To be barren and unfruitful while professing to follow Christ is a sign of great hypocrisy.

Jude and Manton raise some tough points here that believers must consider. I often wonder if I am truly advancing the kingdom of God; are my words and deeds truly bringing glory to God? Sometimes I feel that my life is a mixture of 1) moments where I get the sense that I am honoring God and 2) moments where I know that I am falling short of His holiness. Have my efforts (e.g. in terms of Christian ministry) brought “good to others,” helping them to progress in holiness? Will the lyrics of the song Thank You by Ray Boltz apply to me? Perhaps this passage should spur me toward exhibiting a greater degree of holiness in my life; since it sets a high bar, I can only improve by aiming for it.