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The Parable of the Wedding Banquet August 12, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:1-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a king who hosts a wedding feast for his son. He sends his servants to those whom he has already invited to inform them that it is time for the feast – but they are unconcerned with his request. Some of them head to their farms and businesses, while others murder his servants. Enraged, he sends his troops to destroy them.

He then commands his servants to go to the crossroads and invite anyone they find to the feast, and they respond accordingly.

Later, he observes that one of his guests is not wearing the proper garments. He queries this guest on this point, but this guest has no excuse for his action. Thus, he orders his servants to permanently expel this guest.

Similarly, while God has invited many to enter His kingdom, He has only chosen a few to accept His invitation.

Thoughts: We see that many of the guests whom the king initially invited to the wedding feast subsequently reject that invitation. While I have declined wedding invitations in the past, I believe that my reasons for declining them were valid (e.g. I had already accepted an invitation to another wedding on that day). Indeed, the notion of declining a wedding invitation for a relatively frivolous reason is almost unfathomable; if I had extended an invitation in that instance, I would have been insulted. Perhaps this bolsters the king’s rationale for destroying the guests in this parable – and God’s rationale for punishing the Jews who had rejected the Gospel message.

We also see that the king in this parable expels a guest for his improper attire. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

So long as a man claims to submit to the Gospel, and lives an outwardly correct life, we dare not say positively that he is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But there will be no deception at the last day: the unerring eye of God will discern who are his own people, and who are not…It will avail the hypocrite nothing that he…had the human reputation of being an eminent Christian.

My understanding is that no believer can be completely certain – in this life – as to whether they are actually “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” We may have faith that this is the case – and that our words and deeds support that belief. Yet only God knows for certain whether we have truly put on His righteousness. Given this unavoidable state of uncertainty, how can we live victoriously? Perhaps we would do well to consider the fact that uncertainty is inherent to faith. Instead of being paralyzed by uncertainty, we should embrace it and aim to thrive in it, trusting that He will enable us to grow closer to Him in the process.

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The Parable of the Sower April 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus sits in a fishing boat by the sea and presents several riddles to a crowd. He begins by telling them a parable about a sower whose seed lands in the following places:

  • hard, beaten paths – where it is snatched up by birds
  • soil that lies on top of limestone rock – where plants die because their roots cannot penetrate the rock to access water
  • soil that contains weeds – where plants die because their roots must compete those of the weeds for moisture and sunlight
  • soil that is deep and clean – where plants grow abundantly.

He then informs His disciples that He tells parables because parables enable those who:

  • accept Him – including His disciples – to attain a deeper understanding of His kingdom
  • reject Him to become more perplexed regarding His kingdom – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 6:9-10.

He then explains the parable about a sower to His disciples, asserting that the sower represents those who preach the Gospel message. Moreover, when the Gospel message is preached to those who:

  • reject it, Satan causes it to have no impact on them
  • respond with exuberance, they later fall away due to trouble and persecution
  • are occupied by worldly things, these worldly affections prevent them from praising God
  • accept it and genuinely repent of their sins, they will praise God.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, we see that Jesus pronounces the disciples “blessed” as they are able to hear directly from Him. In some sense, I envy this privilege of His disciples. The “prophets and righteous people” whom Jesus references looked forward to the day when the people of God could hear directly from the Messiah – instead of hearing indirectly from Him through their words. We, as modern-day believers, look backward to Jesus’ earthly ministry. While Jesus has spoken to us through the human authors of Scripture, we know that it would be better to see Him and hear His voice. Perhaps this should spur us to long for the Second Coming when we will see Him with our own eyes and hear Him with our own ears.

Verse 23 shows that the one who “understands” the Gospel message will praise God with their lives. When I read this passage, I pondered the following question: what does it mean for a believer to understand the Gospel message? Perhaps one should consider the connection between the four potential responses to the Gospel message that Jesus describes in this passage. In order to understand it, we should be cognizant of the following facts:

  • Satan is still active in this world
  • believers experience trouble and persecution
  • worldly things distract believers from praising God.

I believe that “understanding” the Gospel message implies receiving it in humility in light of these facts. We must calmly and soberly respond to the Gospel message, trusting that God will empower us to praise Him with our lives. Indeed, we bear fruit by facing these facts and overcoming them on a daily basis by His wisdom and strength.

As a believer who grew up in a Christian home, I have attended church for many years and listened to countless sermons. Based on my experiences, I believe that those who have studied the Scriptures for many years readily grasp the main point of an arbitrary sermon. Yet it appears that at least some of those whom Jesus addressed in this passage did not grasp the main point of the parable of the sower. This raises the following questions:

  • Did any of them ponder the meaning of this parable?
  • Did the Holy Spirit enlighten any of them in this regard?
  • Did any of them immediately forget it, dismissing it as a mere riddle?
  • Did the Pharisees and teachers of the law pressure any of them to ignore it?

I hope to meet at least some of them in the next life and learn how they initially responded to this parable.

Jesus Heals the Sick November 4, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:23-25.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels throughout Galilee, where he:

  • teaches in the Jewish synagogues
  • proclaims the Gospel message
  • heals those who are brought to Him for healing.

In the process, He accumulates many followers.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus healed everyone who was brought to Him for healing. This caused me to consider a tangential point: sometimes God places me in situations where I sense that He wants me to interact with someone whom my peer group would view as an outcast. As I am an introvert, these situations are discomforting, and I respond by attempting to extricate myself from that set of circumstances. Yet I also sense that God wants me to grow as a believer by stepping out of my comfort zone. Also, obedience in these situations – especially in the midst of discomfort – would enable me to see God at work in new ways. My prayer is that I would be able to respond with obedience in these situations and lift the spirits of those who are also made in the image of God.

Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard January 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 28:17-31.

Summary: In this passage, Paul met with the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome. He conjectured that they had heard unflattering reports of him; thus, he asserted his integrity. They allayed his fears and invited him to present the Gospel message to them. He accepted their invitation and subsequently preached the Gospel message to a large crowd of Jews. While some of them believed it, the rest rejected it. Paul anticipated those negative reactions, as he knew that Isaiah 6:9-10 predicted their behavior in that regard. He spent the next two years boldly preaching the Gospel message to those in Rome who visited him.

Thoughts: In verse 24, we see that Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message to the Jews in Rome yielded mixed results. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

We know that the apostle had such grace of the Spirit that he could have moved stones, and yet he could not win everyone to Christ even after debating and testifying for a long time. Therefore, let us not be surprised today if many people’s unbelief resists the plain teaching of the Gospel and if many people remain obstinate, although the truth of Christ is just as clear as the midday sun.

We should remember that God displayed His sovereignty in this instance, as He knew beforehand who would accept Paul’s teaching and who would reject it. That being said, I ponder the following questions:

  • does genetics play a role in determining someone’s openness to novel teachings?
  • how does one’s upbringing – including the influences of parents, teachers and peers – impact their response to a novel argument?
  • how can God supernaturally intervene in the life of a hardened skeptic to enable them to accept the Gospel message?

Verse 31 is an apt conclusion of this book, as it reminds me of Jesus’ command to the eleven apostles in Acts 1:8 to preach the Gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This stroll through Acts has shown me how God enabled His followers to fulfill that command and bring many souls into His kingdom. Now that I have completed this stroll, I am inspired to continue engaging with nonbelievers in this world. I believe that we:

  • must not conceal our worldview from the nonbelievers around us – though we must be tactful in that regard
  • should continue to build our relationships with them
  • should pray that God would be glorified through our interactions with them
  • should pray that He would bring their souls into His kingdom – if it is His will.

Paul Before Agrippa December 21, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 25:23-26:32.

Summary: In this passage, Festus brought Paul before Agrippa, Bernice and several dignitaries. He solicited the assistance of Agrippa in presenting the case against Paul in the requisite letter to Caesar. Agrippa then called on Paul to present his defense; he responded by asserting that:

  • he was entirely zealous for God before his conversion experience
  • he demonstrated that zeal by persecuting Christians
  • Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him on the road to Damascus
  • Jesus then commissioned him as His apostle to the Gentiles
  • he fulfilled that commission by preaching the Gospel message
  • the salient point of the Gospel message is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

At that point, Festus interjected and asserted that Paul was insane. Yet Paul deflected that comment and attempted to persuade Agrippa that the story of Jesus of Nazareth was the logical conclusion of the Old Testament. While Agrippa did not concur with Paul’s argument, he – and the other dignitaries – concluded that Paul had not broken any Roman laws.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus completely reshaped his worldview. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10 of chapter 26:

The facts themselves proved how zealously he fought against Christ, until a greater force stopped him and made him go in the opposite direction. Furthermore, his adversaries were witnesses of his vehemence; so it was quite certain that he had changed suddenly, for the priests would never have commissioned him as they did if he had not been vigorous in inflicting cruelty. He had to be very bold to satisfy their fury.

We know from Acts 9:19b-31 that the Jews completely rejected Paul’s initial presentation of the Gospel message after his conversion experience. Did any of them make a genuine effort to comprehend his conversion experience – or did they immediately dismiss it as the hallucination of a madman? Did the Pharisees – who did believe in the resurrection of the dead – nevertheless dismiss his account because they viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a criminal and a heretic? Did they believe that Paul had been afflicted by a lying spirit? Did they question any of Paul’s companions from his journey to Damascus – and if so, what did they learn from them?

In verses 24 and 25 of chapter 26, we see that Paul and Festus had a brief exchange regarding the rationality of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

Although the things Paul was quoting from the Law and the Prophets had no trace of madness but were thoroughly rational, Festus called it all madness, because he rejected what he did not understand…That was why he could not bear to pay attention to what Paul said, lest he make him mad too.

It is evident that Festus’ main concern with the Gospel message centered on the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead. It is important to stress the incredible nature of that event; indeed, one cannot minimize how difficult it is for an unbeliever to accept it – especially since it contradicts the laws of science. In light of this difficulty, I am reminded of John Lennox’s discussion of miracles – especially his assertion that the universe is not a closed system. If we can accept the possibility of God supernaturally intervening in the world at certain points in time, then we can accept the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is evident that Festus believed that the universe is a closed system, while Paul believed that it is not. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways to help us believe in the possibility of miracles…

In verses 27 and 28 of chapter 26, we see that Paul and Agrippa also had a brief exchange regarding the rationality of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 28:

Commentators explain the Greek in different ways. Valla thought it should be translated, “You almost make me a Christian.” Erasmus translates it, “to a small extent.” The translation “in such a short time” is perfectly appropriate, as if Agrippa had said, “You will make me a Christian in a moment.”

What were Agrippa’s thoughts and emotions as he listened to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message? Did he see the connection between 1) the teachings concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament and 2) the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth? Did he have a nagging sense that Paul was correct – or did his love of worldly things blind him to the truth? Did Agrippa ever come to believe the Gospel message? Did Paul’s eloquent presentation of the Gospel message eventually lead to the conversion of the other dignitaries in attendance?

Paul Speaks to the Crowd November 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:37-22:21.

Summary: In this passage, the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem allowed Paul to address those who clamored for his death. Paul then asserted the following points:

  • before his conversion experience, he displayed unparalleled zeal for the Mosaic law by persecuting Christians
  • Jesus of Nazareth – through His disciple, Ananias – divinely commissioned him as His witness
  • in particular, Jesus divinely commissioned him as His witness to the Gentiles.

Thoughts: In verses 37 and 38 of chapter 21, we see that the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem initially regarded Paul as an Egyptian rebel. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Paul offered to defend his cause, which all God’s servants must do. We must try to let people know our integrity, so that no discredit comes to the name of God because of us. But when the commander asked whether Paul was the Egyptian who had incited a rebellion, we see that however well Christ’s ministers behave, they cannot escape the slander of the world. We must note this so that we may accustom ourselves to reproaches and be prepared to be blamed.

One of the recurring themes in this book concerns the mistreatment of Paul by the governing authorities. In this case, perhaps the Roman commander assumed that since a large crowd clamored for Paul’s death, he had to be guilty of some crime. This spurred me to consider the following point: believers who were born and raised in First World countries – where one is innocent before proven guilty – may find it difficult to relate to Paul’s plight. This should also spur believers in First World countries to continue to pray that God would – in His timing – remove injustice from this world.

In verses 6-10 of chapter 22, Paul recounted his encounter with God the Son on the road to Damascus. This spurred me to consider the following points:

  • Christians have no doubts regarding the veracity of Paul’s conversion experience
  • Christians have many doubts regarding the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine encounters – especially those instances where the angel Moroni allegedly appeared to him
  • it is possible that many Jews view Paul’s conversion experience in the same way that Christians view Joseph Smith’s divine encounters.

Perhaps we, as Christians, would do well to consider why we accept Paul’s account of his conversion experience while we reject Joseph Smith’s accounts of the angel Moroni. What is the body of evidence that supports each account? Are these accounts analogous? Delving into these questions will increase our confidence in our faith and enable us to be better witnesses to Mormons.

In verses 17-21 of chapter 22, God overcame Paul’s reluctance to serve as His witness to the Gentiles. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

…for he began to deal with his ministry, showing that he did not leave the Jews of his own accord, as if he had deprived them of his services out of malice, but rather was drawn to the Gentiles against his expectation and intention. He had come to Jerusalem purposely to share with his own nation the grace that had been given to him. But the Lord cut off his hope of doing any good there and drove him away.

Perhaps Paul viewed the statement of Ananias in verse 15 of chapter 22 as a license from God to preach the Gospel message to the Jews (and the Gentiles). In any event, these verses hint at the depth of Paul’s love for his people and his earnest desire that they receive the free gift of salvation (which is described more fully in Romans 9-11). Paul must have agonized over the fact that his people consistently rejected his message of life and hope. It is probable that he offered frequent – and fervent – prayers to God that He would remove the stumbling blocks in their hearts. I wonder if the anguish in his heart concerning his people persisted even while God achieved great success through Him among the Gentiles.

Paul in Ephesus October 18, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 19:1-22.

Summary: In this passage, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he baptized twelve of John’s disciples in the name of Jesus Christ. He then entered the synagogue and preached the Gospel message for three months. Eventually some of those in attendance rejected it; consequently, he rejected them and encouraged those who accepted it. Those disciples helped spread the Gospel message throughout Asia. Later, God demonstrated His power through Paul by enabling him to heal the sick and drive out evil spirits. Some of the Jews attempted to appropriate the name of Jesus Christ to that end, though, including the seven sons of Sceva. Consequently, God humiliated them – compelling the Ephesians who had been ensnared by the occult to confess their sins and burn their scrolls of magic spells. After that, Paul decided to travel to Jerusalem; he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to Macedonia.

Thoughts: In verses 3-5, we see that Paul baptized several believers in Ephesus in the name of Jesus Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

Because people in those days had the mistaken idea that John’s baptism was different from Christ’s, there was nothing absurd about people being baptized again if they had only been prepared with John’s baptism. But the two were pledges and signs of the same adoption and new life that we have in our baptism today; that is why we do not read of Christ rebaptizing those who came to him from John.

I find Calvin’s point here to be rather confusing, as I had always understood that the baptism of John was distinct from the baptism of Christ that we practice today. In fact, my reading of Paul’s statement in verse 4 indicates that the baptism of John was limited to a particular time period – it was meant to prepare people for the arrival of Jesus Christ. Those who participated in that ceremony were aware of their “sin problem” and their need for a solution to that problem; they expressed their desire for that solution by publicly repenting of their sins. Once Jesus Christ arrived and revealed Himself as the solution to the “sin problem,” the baptism of John became irrelevant. Then again, it is possible that I am misinterpreting Calvin’s point; comments are welcome.

In verses 17-20, we see that the believers in Ephesus repented of their sins – especially those pertaining to the occult. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

We know how hard it is to wring true confession out of those who have offended, for since people count nothing more precious than their reputation, they are more concerned about shame than about truth. Indeed, as much as possible they try to conceal their shame. So this voluntary confession was evidence of repentance and fear.

Since the total value of the scrolls that were burned in verse 19 was equivalent to fifty thousand days’ wages, I pondered the modern-day equivalent of that drastic action. Perhaps a group of modern-day sinners could repent by burning the following items:

  • pornographic material
  • illegal drugs
  • potpourri pertaining to idol worship.

A secondary application entails conducting a regular assessment of our walk with God; in particular, what prevents us from focusing on Him? Any distraction along those lines should be removed. While breaking bad habits is a fiendishly difficult task, we must remember that God is holy; moreover, He is both willing and able to punish those who – knowingly or unknowingly – besmirch His holiness.

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos October 14, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 18:18-28.

Summary: In this passage, Paul left Corinth and traveled with Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus. After he preached the Gospel message in that city, he traveled to Antioch in Syria. Later, he traveled to Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples in that region.

Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos built on the work that Paul had begun in Ephesus; he was assisted in that regard by Priscilla and Aquila, who sharpened his understanding of the Gospel message. He exercised his gift of public speaking by eloquently stating and defending the Gospel message in that city and in Corinth. In particular, he repeatedly used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Christ.

Thoughts: In verse 20, we see that the Jews in Ephesus did not immediately reject the Gospel message when Paul presented it to them. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Luke shows that they listened to him more patiently in this synagogue than anywhere else and asked him to stay; so it is surprising he did not agree. Presumably, as I said before, he had some strong reason to go to Jerusalem quickly. There is no doubt that when he had settled things in Ephesus he left them amicably, and they seem to have accepted his excuse.

Why did the Jews in Ephesus ask Paul “to spend more time with them?” Did the Holy Spirit influence these Ephesian Jews, enabling them to listen to Paul with open minds? Was Ephesus known for encouraging open and honest debate between adherents to disparate worldviews? Did Paul modify his presentation of the Gospel message after enduring countless rejections by Jews throughout the Roman Empire?

This passage introduces us to Apollos and describes the role that he played in spreading the Gospel message. I hope to meet him in the next life and learn more about him. When did he realize that he had the gift of public speaking? How had he “been instructed in the way of the Lord,” especially since he was from Alexandria? How did God lead him from Alexandria to Ephesus? How did he respond to Priscilla and Aquila’s explanation of the Gospel message? What were his thoughts and emotions as the Jews in Ephesus and Corinth attempted to refute his arguments? Did he meet Paul in this life? How did he glorify God after the events of this passage?

In Corinth October 11, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 18:1-17.

Summary: In this passage, Paul traveled to Corinth, where he rejoined Silas and Timothy. He went to the Jewish synagogue in that city and preached the Gospel message to those in attendance. As expected, the Jews rejected the Gospel message – yet many Gentiles believed it. The Jews attempted to harm Paul – yet God enabled him to continue preaching in their city. At some point, the Jews brought a charge of heresy against Paul before the proconsul, Gallio – yet Gallio refused to hear their grievances, as he correctly reasoned that their complaints were not germane to Roman law.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, we see that the Lord commanded Paul to continue preaching the Gospel message in Corinth despite the opposition of the Jews. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

If the Lord is ever so favorable to us, we must not despise such a comfort for our weakness. Meanwhile, let the following truth be enough for us to quash all corrupt fears of the flesh: as long as we fight under his banner, we will not be forsaken by him.

While I have not faced overt hostility from others in my spiritual walk, I have overcome internal struggles that could have derailed it. For example, I recall preparing for an interview for a position. On the night before the interview, I experienced qualms about my ability to obtain that position – especially since I had failed in several prior interviews. Yet God gave me the strength to proceed, and I performed well enough to obtain an offer from that company. I ended up accepting that offer, moving to a new city and glorifying God through many acts of service. That experience helped me realize that as long as God has tasks for us to complete in this life, He will enable us to complete them.

In this passage, we see that the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, refused to hear the grievances of the Jews against Paul; he then ignored their attack on the synagogue leader, Sosthenes. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

So Gallio would have liked all the Jews to kill one another, so that their religion might die with them. But the Spirit, through Luke, condemns Gallio’s negligence, because he did not protect a man who was being unjustly attacked. In the same way, our magistrates are far more inexcusable if they turn a blind eye to injuries and wrongs, if they do not restrain wrongdoers, and if they do not help the oppressed.

I am ambivalent about Gallio based on my understanding of this passage. On one hand, he did not harm Paul when the Jews brought their charges against him, as he knew that heresy under the Jewish law was not germane to the Roman law. That was commendable – especially in light of the conduct of the authorities in Philippi. On the other hand, why did he allow the Jews to attack Sosthenes? Were assault and battery not expressly prohibited by the Roman law? I hope that Gallio eventually realized his mistake in that regard.

In Thessalonica September 28, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 17:1-9.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions traveled to Thessalonica. They entered the Jewish synagogue in that city on three Sabbath days and preached the Gospel message to those in attendance. Some Jews and Greeks accepted the Gospel message – yet many Jews rejected it and formed a mob, intending to arrest Paul and Silas. When they did not find them in Jason’s house, they hauled Jason and some other believers before the city officials and charged them with aiding seditionists.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the city officials in Thessalonica were influenced – to some extent – by the accusations of the Jews regarding Paul and Silas. Given the conduct of the city officials in Philippi in the previous passage, I wonder if low-level functionaries in the New Testament era ever resisted the rabble-rousers in their cities. Did they ever attempt to fulfill the responsibilities of their positions by conducting a thorough investigation of any accusations that they heard? Did the concept of “innocent before proven guilty” not exist in the Roman Empire? Did these functionaries comprehend the distinction between a political kingdom and a spiritual kingdom?