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The Great Commission November 26, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:16-20.

Summary: In this passage, the eleven disciples go to a certain mountain in Galilee that Jesus has appointed. When He appears, they prostrate themselves in adoring worship. He then approaches them and asserts that He has freedom without limitation. Therefore, they – having gone around the world – must make disciples by:

  • immersing them in water – to demonstrate their union with Him
  • teaching them all of His commands – which they must obey.

To this end, He will empower them – by His presence – until His Second Coming.

Thoughts: This passage contains the Great Commission. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Let us never forget that this solemn injunction is still in full force. It is still the duty of every disciple of Christ to do all he can in person, and by prayer, to make others acquainted with Jesus. Where is our faith if we neglect this duty? Where is our love? It may well be questioned whether people know the value of the Gospel themselves if they do not desire to make it known to all the world.

I have found that obeying the Great Commission requires striking a delicate balance. On the one hand, we want unbelievers to know that God has graciously extended an offer of salvation to them; He has initiated this transaction, and they simply need to respond to Him. On the other hand, we should have empathy for unbelievers; if they are not prepared to respond to Him, then we must not compel them to accept His offer of salvation. I should note that I am naturally reserved, and so I often fall into the trap of placing undue weight on this latter point; thus, I often shy away from sharing the Gospel message. I need to pray for more wisdom (to be able to discern when an unbeliever may be prepared to respond to Him) and strength (to actually share the Gospel message when the timing is right).

Now that I have completed my stroll through Matthew, I have been reflecting on this journey. At this point, I believe that in this Gospel, Jesus sets an extremely high bar in terms of righteousness; moreover, He calls us to strive to clear it. In particular, His commands to:

  • love my enemies (or even those whom I dislike)
  • refrain from judging others (as I am rather judgmental)
  • make the advancement of His kingdom my highest priority (especially as I struggle with unfulfilled desires)

continue to challenge me. Upon further reflection, I believe that I was naive in assuming that I would be able to flawlessly obey all of these commands after completing this stroll through Matthew. Perhaps the mere fact that I am cognizant of my weaknesses (and continue to strive to overcome them) shows that God is at work within me, though. Indeed, I believe that God will continue to bear fruit through me as I wrestle with the interplay between His commands and my sinfulness.

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The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees May 25, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:5-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples return to the Decapolis. The disciples have failed to make arrangements in terms of food – and Jesus uses this opportunity to exhort them to shift their focus from physical needs to spiritual needs. In particular, they must shun the evil influence of the external religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples fail to comprehend this exhortation; thus, He reminds them of two instances where He met their physical needs. In light of this, they should focus on spiritual needs.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus exhorts His disciples to reject the words and deeds of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Some want to add to the Gospel, and some want to take away from it; some would bury it and some would pare it down to nothing; some would stifle it by heaping on additions, and some would bleed it to death by subtraction from its truths. Both parties agree only in one respect: both would kill and destroy the life of Christianity if they succeeded in having their own way. Against both errors let us watch and pray.

Of course, one must determine the entirety of the Gospel to answer the following question: are others attempting to add to it or subtract from it, and if so, how? I would assert that the Five Solas constitute the entirety of the Gospel, but that is debatable (e.g. the phrases “grace alone” and “faith alone” often yield divisions between Catholics and Protestants). Some may advance arguments that are clearly heretical (e.g. they deny the dual nature of Christ), but others may advance arguments that are difficult to assess (e.g. they believe that the Holy Spirit still dispenses charismatic gifts). Truly we need God’s guidance in:

  • making our best effort to discern truth from error
  • placing unresolved issues in His hands.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve March 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 10.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus commissions His twelve disciples – giving them the right to cast out demons and heal the sick.

These twelve disciples include:

  • Peter (the foremost in rank) and his brother, Andrew
  • James (a son of Zebedee) and his brother, John
  • Philip and Nathanael
  • Matthew (formerly a tax collector) and Thomas
  • James (a son of Alphaeus), Judas (a son of James), and Simon (full of zeal)
  • Judas (from the town of Kerioth).

He states that their mission is to preach to the Jews that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. They should trust that God will meet their needs, and they should focus on those who are open to their message – while rejecting everyone else.

He then asserts that people will persecute them – since they oppose Him. Thus, they should choose their words wisely while treating their persecutors with humility and gentleness. They should also trust that God will sustain them in the midst of their persecution.

He exhorts them to fear God and preach boldly – since He determines the destiny of their souls. Indeed, their loyalty to Him – or lack thereof – will be revealed on the day of judgment. If they are loyal to Him, then they – and those who are open to their message – will be rewarded, even if their loyalty leads to death.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Jesus asserts that those who hear the Gospel message and reject it will be punished more severely than those who never heard it. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It will not save us to have lived in the full sunshine of Christian privileges, and to have heard the Gospel faithfully preached every week. We must experience acquaintance with Christ; we must receive his truth personally; we must be united with him in life; we must become his servants and disciples.

Given Ryle’s thoughts, one might ask: what does it mean to “experience acquaintance with Christ?” My thought is that as we continue to serve Him with our gifts and abilities, we will come to a deeper understanding of Him (and ourselves). Indeed, I have found that serving Him reveals my weaknesses and faults; for example, I often judge those whom I serve, and that judgmental attitude is occasionally revealed in my words and deeds. Also, I often fall short of the standards that I have set for myself, which can be frustrating. Yet I continue to serve, knowing that God will work through me to bless others; He will also enable me to (painfully) draw closer to Him in the process.

In verse 16, we see that Jesus calls His disciples to display wisdom. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

In this, however, as in every other respect, our Lord Jesus Christ himself is our most perfect example: no one was ever so faithful as he, but no one was ever so truly wise. Let us make him our pattern and walk in his steps.

Indeed, Jesus faced many challenges during His ministry; for example, He had to strike a perfect balance between 1) performing miracles and 2) keeping news of them from spreading (as that could have fueled premature attempts on the part of the Jews to proclaim Him as their political Messiah). We also see that He treated those in need with humility and gentleness – while treating His opponents harshly. As believers in a complex world, we need wisdom and strength from Him to advance His kingdom; properly chosen words and deeds are valuable instruments in that regard.

In verses 35-37, we see that Jesus states that His disciples may need to sever family ties in order to follow Him. I must admit that I am relatively fortunate in this regard, as I was raised in a Christian home. Thus, I greatly respect any believer who was not raised in a Christian home – especially if their family opposed their decision to place their trust in Christ. I cannot fathom the notion of being persecuted by one’s own family; since I tend to attempt to please others and minimize conflicts, I wonder if I would have followed Christ if I had been raised by unbelieving parents. Perhaps we should continue to pray for believers who are being persecuted by their families; we should ask God to grant them the wisdom and strength that they need to stand firm in their faith and bless their relatives – in the midst of their pain and frustration.

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas April 5, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 1:12-26.

Summary: In this passage, the eleven apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and they joined other believers in fervent prayer. Peter then declared that:

  • the betrayal of Jesus by Judas occurred in order to fulfill a prediction in Psalm 69:25
  • Judas must be replaced by another apostle in order to fulfill a prediction in Psalm 109:8.

In particular, the believers needed to select an apostle who could attest to the earthly ministry of Jesus – including His resurrection. They then called upon the Lord for His guidance in this matter – by casting lots between two men: Joseph and Matthias. God selected Matthias as the replacement for Judas.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to prayer. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

From this we learn that true faith is faith that stirs us up to pray to God. The assurance that faith gives is quite different from laziness. God does not assure us that we have his grace so that we may at once become careless, but so that he may give us a keener desire to pray. Prayer is not a sign of doubting but is a witness to our certain hope and confidence, since we ask the Lord for things that we know he has promised.

The prayers of these believers are inspiring; they likely desired the arrival of the Holy Spirit – since Christ had now departed from their midst. While my prayer life has improved over the last few years, I definitely have a lot of room for improvement in this regard. In particular, I need to pray with more confidence that God would help me to comprehend His ways – especially when my other prayer requests are not answered according to my timing. I should note that I often present prayer requests that should be pleasing in His sight (e.g. world peace), yet I often grow discouraged when these requests are not answered, causing me to question Him and His ways. Thus, I need to pray that He would help me to grow in my understanding of His ways and continue to place my trust in Him.

In verses 23-26, we see that the believers in Jerusalem – based on God’s direction – selected Matthias as the twelfth apostle. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 26:

We may infer that Matthias was not rated as highly as Joseph. Not only does Luke name Joseph first, but his two surnames show that he was held in great respect. He was called Barsabbas, which means “the son of an oath or of rest,” as if he were a mirror of faithfulness and innocence or of a quiet and unassuming nature. His other name, Justus, implied outstanding honesty. But God chose Matthias.

How did the believers in Jerusalem select Joseph and Matthias as the two candidates to replace Judas? Were there male disciples outside of the Twelve who were particularly close to Jesus during His earthly ministry? How did Joseph and Matthias distinguish themselves during Jesus’ earthly ministry? Was Joseph actually rated more highly than Matthias by the believers in Jerusalem? How did Joseph respond when God selected Matthias? Where did Matthias preach the Gospel message, and what fruit did he bear in the process? I am eager to meet Joseph and Matthias in the next life and learn about their earthly lives.

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven April 4, 2016

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I’ve recently started reading through the Acts of the Apostles with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Acts. As in my recent stroll through the book of Revelation, I hope to comprehend Acts as a whole. I also hope to be inspired to engage in the mission of the New Testament church: preach the Gospel to all nations.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both this book and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Acts 1:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Luke begins with a concise description of his previous book. He then mentions some of the events that occurred after the resurrection of Jesus; in particular, Jesus reinforced His prior teachings to His apostles. Although they still viewed Him as their political Messiah, He asserted that He was their spiritual Messiah. In light of this great truth, He commissioned them – through the power of the Holy Spirit – to proclaim His true Person and deeds throughout the world. After this, He ascended to heaven; two angels then promised them that He would return someday.

Thoughts: As I am a history buff, I have always enjoyed reading through Acts. In particular, this book features a plethora of fascinating personalities who play critical roles in the growth of the New Testament church – in spite of fierce opposition and internal struggles. For this stroll, though, I hope to gain a greater appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout this book – especially as the same Holy Spirit works in all believers today. While God does not guarantee that we will bear the same fruit that the apostles bore in the early church, I pray that I would be inspired to match them in terms of their faithfulness. I am certainly curious as to how God will lead me in that regard during this stroll.

In verse 6, we see that the apostles still viewed Jesus as their political Messiah. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Their stupidity is incredible. They had been carefully taught for three whole years, yet were as ignorant as if they had never heard a thing!

My opinion is that Calvin’s thoughts are a bit harsh. In particular, I believe that if I had been in the apostles’ position, I would have also failed to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching regarding His identity as their spiritual Messiah. The disciples had been taught – from a young age – that the Old Testament predicted the arrival of a political Messiah; thus, it would have been difficult for three years of intense instruction from Jesus to overcome the biases that they had developed at a young age. While hindsight is always 20/20, in this passage it is evident that the apostles were still struggling to comprehend the wondrous sequence of events that began with Jesus’ death on the cross. It would take another miracle – Pentecost – for them to truly comprehend His teachings.