Faith

Britain built theirs by faith.

Abraham’s was tested by difficulties:

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the feminine was severe. – Genesis 12:10

When famine struck, Abram went to Egypt where there was food.  Why would there be a famine in the land where God had just called Abram?  This was a test of Abram’s faith, and Abram passed.  He didn’t question God’s leading when facing this difficulty.  Many believers find that when they determine to follow God, they immediately encounter great obstacles.  The next time you face such a test, don’t try to second-guess what God is doing.  Use the intelligence God gave you, as Abram did when he temporarily moved to Egypt, and wait for new opportunities.

 

Made Abraham right with God:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:6

Although Abram had been demonstrating his faith through his actions, it was his belief in the Lord, not his actions, that made Abram right with God (Romans 4:1-5). We too can have a right relationship with God by trusting him.  Our outward actions – church attendance, prayer, good deeds – will not by themselves make us right with God.  A right relationship is based on faith – the heartfelt inner confidence that God is who he says he is and does what he says he will do.  Right actions will follow naturally as by-products.

 

Lack of it brings series problems:

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. – Genesis 16:3

Sara took matters into her own hands by giving Hagar to Abram. Like Abram she had trouble believing God’s promise that was apparently directed specifically towards Abram and Sarai.  Out of this lack of faith came a series of problems.  This invariably happens when we take over for God, trying to make his promise come true through efforts that are not in line with his specific directions.  In this case, time was the greatest test of Abram and Sara’s willingness to let God work in their lives.  Sometimes we too must simply wait.  When we ask God for something and have to wait, it is a temptation to take matters into our own hands and interfere with God’s plans.

Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a substitute wife, a common practice of that time. A married woman who could not have children was shamed by her peers and was often required to give a female servant to her husband in order to produce heirs.  The children born to the servant woman were considered the children of the wife.  Abram was acting in line with the custom of the day, but his action showed a lack of faith that God would fulfil his promise.

 

Grows with exercise:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  – Genesis 50:24

Joseph was ready to die. He had no doubts that God would keep his promise and one day bring the Israelites back to their homeland.  What a tremendous example!  The secret of that kind of faith is a lifetime of trusting God.  Your faith is like a muscle – it grows with exercise, gaining strength over time.  After a lifetime of exercising trust, your faith can be as strong as Joseph’s.  Then at your death, you can be confident that God will fulfil all his promises to you and to all those faithful to him who may live after you.

This verse sets the stage for what would begin to happen in Exodus and come to completion in Joshua. God was going to make Jacob’s family into a great nation, lead them out of Egypt, and bring them into the land he had promised them.  The nation would rely heavily on this promise, and Joseph emphasised his belief that God would do what he had promised.

 

Complaining can show lack of:

They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we ay to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”  – Exodus 14:11-12

This is the first instance of grumbling and complaining by the Israelites. Their lack of faith in God is startling.  Yet how often do we find ourselves doing the same thing – complaining over inconveniences or discomforts?  The Israelites were about to learn some tough lessons.  Had they trusted God, they would have been spared much grief.

Trapped against the sea, the Israelites faced the Egyptian army sweeping in for the kill. The Israelites thought they were doomed.  After watching God’s powerful hand deliver them from Egypt, their only response was fear, whining, and despair.  Where was their trust in God?  Israel had to learn from repeated experience that God was able to provide for them.  God has preserved these examples in the Bible so that we can learn to trust him the first time.  By focusing on God’s faithfulness in the past we can face crises with confidence rather than with fear and complaining.

 

Is following God despite the difficulties:

Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out th eland for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” – Deuteronomy 1:22

The spies were sent into the land to determine not whether they should enter, but where they should enter.  Upon returning, however, most of the spies concluded that the land was not worth the obstacles.  God would give the Israelites the power to conquer the land, but they were afraid of the risk and decided not to enter.  God gives us the power to overcome our obstacles, but like the Israelites filled with fear and scepticism, we often let difficulties control our lives.  Following God regardless of the difficulties is the way to have courageous, overcoming faith.

 

Involves endurance to the end:

Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb sonof Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to you, “You know what the LORD said toMoses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land.  And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, – Joshua 14:6-12

Caleb was faithful from the start. As one of the original spies sent into the promised land (Numbers 13:30-33), he saw great cities and giants, yet he knew God would help the people conquer the land.  Because of his faith, God promised him a personal inheritance of land (Numbers 14:24; Deuteronomy 1:34-36).  Here, 45 years later, the land was given to him.  His faith was still unwavering.  Although his inherited land still had giants, Caleb knew the Lord would help him conquer them.  Like Caleb, we must be faithful to God, not only at the start of our walk with him, but through our entire lives.  We must never allow ourselves to rest on our past accomplishments or reputations.

 

Affected by relationships:

The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hitties, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.  The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.  – Judges 3:5-7

The Israelites discovered that relationships affect faith. The men and women of the surrounding nations were attractive to the Israelites.  Soon their intermarried, and the Israelites accepted their pagan gods.  This was clearly prohibited by God (Exodus 34:15-17; Deuteronomy 7:1-4).  By accepting these gods into their homes, the Israelites gradually began to accept the immoral practices associated with them.  Most Israelites didn’t start out determined to be idolaters; they just added the idols to the worship of God.  But before long they found themselves absorbed in pagan worship.

A similar danger faces us. We want to befriend those who don’t know God, but through those friendships we can become entangled in unhealthy practices.  Friendships with unbelievers are important, but we must accept people without compromising or adopting their patterns of behaviour.

Baal was the most worshipped god of the Canaanites. Most often cast in the form of a bull, he symbolised strength and fertility and was considered the god of agriculture.  Asherah was Baal’s female consort, mother goddess of the sea who was worshipped by means of wooden pillars that substituted for sacred trees.  In times of famine, the Canaanites believed Baal was angry with them and was withholding rain as punishment.  Archaeologists have uncovered many Baal idols in Israel.  It is difficult to imagine the people of Israel trading worship of the Lord for worship of idols of wood, stone, and iron, but we do the same when we forsake worshipping God for other activities, hobbies, or priorities.  Our idols are not made of wood or stone, but they are every bit as sinful.

 

How well does yours take pressure?

That same night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s heard, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.  Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height.  Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.” 

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

In the morning when the men of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly-built altar!

They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

The men of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”  – Judges 6:25-30

After God called Gideon to be Israel’s deliverer, he immediately asked him to tear down the altar of the pagan god, Baal – an act that would test Gideon’s faith and commitment. Canaanite religion was very political, so an attack on god was often seen as an attack on the local government supporting that god.  If caught, Gideon would face serious social problems and probable physical attack.  (For more on Baal and Asherah, see the notes on 2:11-15 and 3:7.)

Gideon took a great risk by following God’s higher law, which specifically forbids idol worship (Exodus 20:1-5). After learning what Gideon had done, the people wanted to kill him.  Many of those people were fellow Israelites.  This shows how immoral God’s people had become.  God said in Deuteronomy 13:6-11 that idolaters must be stoned to death, but these Israelites wanted to stone Gideon for tearing down an idol and worshipping God!  When you begin to accomplish something for God, you may be criticised by the very people who should support you.

 

Criteria by which God works through people:

The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realised that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ “  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  – 1 Samuel 3:8-9

One would naturally expect an audible message from God to be given to the priest Eli and not the child Samuel. Eli was older and more experienced, and he held the proper position.  But God’s chain of command is based on faith, not on age or position.  In finding faithful followers, God may use unexpected channels.  Be prepared for the Lord to work at any place, at any time, and through anyone he chooses.  [‘Priest’ means ‘give it to them’]

 

God’s provision as large as your faith:

When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” – 2 Kings 4:6

The woman and her sons collected jars from their neighbours, pouring oil into them from their one pot. The oil was probably olive oil and was used for cooking, for lamps, and for fuel.  The oil stopped pouring only when they ran out of containers.  The number of jars they gathered was an indication of their faith.  God’s provision was as large as their faith and willingness to obey.  Beware of limiting God’s blessings by a lack of faith and obedience.  God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

 

Opens the door to new resources:

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 

And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.  – 2 Kings 6:16-17

Elisha’s servant was no longer afraid when he saw God’s mighty heavenly army. Faith reveals that God is doing more for his people than we can ever realise through sight alone.  When you face difficulties that seem insurmountable, remember that spiritual resources are there even if you can’t see them.  Look through the eyes of faith and let God show you his resources.  If you don’t see God working in your life, the problem may be your spiritual eyesight, not God’s power.

 

Is believing in the impossible:

Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria. 

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!” – 2 Kings 7:1-2

When Elisha prophesied God’s deliverance, the king’s officer said it couldn’t happen. The officer’s faith and hope were gone, but God’s words came true anyway (7:14-16)!  Sometimes we become preoccupied with problems when we should be looking for opportunities.  Instead of focusing on the negatives, develop an attitude of expectancy.  To say that God cannot rescue someone or that a situation is impossible demonstrates a lack of faith.

 

Don’t get so preoccupied with yours that you don’t share it:

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die?  If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’  – the famine is there, and we will die.  And if we stay here, we will die.  So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender.  If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and the Egyptian kings to attack us!”  So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys.  They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp and entered one of the tents. They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them.  They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

Then they said to each other, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.  If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us.  Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” 

So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them. “We went into the Aramean camp and not a man was there – not a sound of anyone – only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.”  –  2 Kings 7:3-10 *

The lepers discovered the deserted camp and realised their lives had been spared. At first they kept the good news to themselves, forgetting their fellow citizens who were starving in the city.  The Good News about Jesus Christ must be shared too, for no news is more important.  We must not forget those who are dying without it.  We must not become so preoccupied with our own faith that we neglect sharing it with those around us.  Our “good news”, like that of the lepers, will not “wait until daylight”.

 

Your life must show evidence of:

Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favour, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. The LORD provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram.  So the Israelites lived in their own homes as they had before.  But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them.  Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria. –  2 Kings 13:4-6

The Lord heard Jehoahaz’s prayer for help. God delayed his judgment on Israel when they turned to him for help, but they did not sustain their dependence on God for long.  Although there were periodic breaks in their idol worship, there was rarely evidence of genuine faith.  It is not enough to say no to sin; we must also say yes to life of a commitment to God.  An occasional call for help is not a substitute for a daily life of trust in God.

 

God can rekindle the smallest amount:

For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.

The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. – 2 Kings 19:31

As long as a tiny spark remains, a fire can be rekindled and fanned into a roaring blaze. Similarly, if just the smallest remnant of true believers retains the spark of faith, God can rebuild it into a strong nation.  And if only a glimmer of faith remains in a heart, God can use it to restore blazing faith in that believer.  If you feel that only a spark of faith remains in you, ask God to use it to rekindle a blazing fire of commitment to him.

 

Of Esther:

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day, I and my maids will fast as you do.  When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.  And if I perish, I perish.”  – Esther 4:16

Save your own skin and Watch out for number one are mottoes that reflect our world’s selfish outlook on life.  Esther’s attitude stands in bold contrast to this.  She knew what she had to do, and she knew it could cost her her life.  And yet she responded, “If I perish, I perish.”  We should have the same commitment to do what is right despite the possible consequences.  Do you try to save yourself by remaining silent rather than standing up for what is right?  Decide to do what God wants, and trust him for the outcome.

By calling for a fast, Esther was asking the Jews to pray for God’s help on her dangerous mission. In the Old Testament, prayer always accompanies fasting (see Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; Ezra 8:21-23).  An important function of a community of believers is mutual support in difficult times.  When you are experiencing struggles, turn to fellow believers for support by sharing your trials with them and gaining strength from the bond that unites you.  Ask them to pray for you.  And when others need your support, give it willingly.

 

Not knowing all the answers develops it:

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.  – Job 1:1

As we read the book of Job, we have information that the characters of the story do not. Job, the main character of the book, lost all he had through no fault of his own.  As he struggled to understand why all this was happening to him, it became clear that he was not meant to know the reasons.  He would have to face life with the answers and explanations held back.  Only then would his faith fully develop.

We must experience life as Job did – one day at a time and without complete answers to all of life’s questions. Will we, like Job, trust God no matter what?  Or will we give in to the temptation to say that God doesn’t really care?

The location of the land of Uz is uncertain. We only know that Uz had plentiful pastures and crops (1:3), was located near a desert (1:19), and was close enough to the Sabeans and Chaldeans to be raided (1:14-17).  Uz is also mentioned in Jeremiah 25:19, 20.  Most scholars believe Uz was located east of the Jordan River near Canaan (Israel), where the Jews (those to whom God first revealed himself) lived.  Job probably knew about God because he knew God’s people.

As we see calamity and suffering in the book of Job, we must remember that we live in a fallen world where good behaviour is not always rewarded and bad behaviour is not always punished.  When we see a notorious criminal prospering or an innocent child in pain, we say, “That’s wrong.”  And it is sin.  Sin has twisted justice and made our world unpredictable and ugly.

The book of Job shows a good man suffering for no apparent fault of his own. Sadly, our world is like that.  But Job’s story does not end in despair.  Through Job’s life we can see that faith in God is justified even when our situations look hopeless.  Faith based on rewards or prosperity is hallow.  To be unshakable, faith must be built on the confidence that God’s ultimate purpose will come to pass.

 

Adversity destroys counterfeit faith:

Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. – Job 1:9

Satan attacked Job’s motives, saying that Job was blameless and upright only because he had no reason to turn against God. Ever since he had started following God, everything had gone well for Job.  Satan wanted to prove that Job worshipped God, not out of love, but because God had given him so much.

Satan accurately analysed why many people trust God. They are fair-weather believers, following God only when everything is going well or for what they can get.  Adversity destroys this superficial faith.  But adversity strengthens real faith by causing believers to dig their roots deeper into God in order to withstand the storms.  How deep does your faith go?  Put the roots of your faith down deep into God so that you can withstand any storm you may face.

 

Could you trust God if you lost everything?

At this, Job got up and tore his rob and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  –  Job 1:20-22

Job had lost his possessions and family in this first of Satan’s tests, but he reacted rightly towards God by acknowledging God’s sovereign authority over everything God had given him. Satan lost this first round.  Job passed the test and proved that people can love God for who he is, not for what he gives.

Job did not hide his overwhelming grief. He had not lost his faith in God; instead, his emotions showed that he was human and that he loved his family.  God created our emotions, and it is not sinful or inappropriate to express them as Job did.  If you have experienced a deep loss, a disappointment, or a heartbreak, admit your feelings to yourself and others, and grieve.

 

Does not guarantee prosperity:

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.  – Job 2:10

Many people think that believing in God protects them from trouble, so when calamity comes, they question God’s goodness and justice.  But the message of Job is that you should not give up on God because he allows you to have bad experiences.  Faith in God does not guarantee personal prosperity, and lack of faith does not guarantee troubles in this life.  If this were so, people would believe in God simply to get rich.  God is capable of rescuing us from suffering, but he may also allow suffering to come for reasons we cannot understand.  It is Satan’s strategy to get us to doubt God at exactly this moment.  Here Job shows a perspective broader than seeking his own personal comfort.  If we always knew why we were suffering, our faith would have no room to grow.

 

Mustn’t be based on personal comfort:

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.  – Job 2:10

Many people think that believing in God protects them from trouble, so when calamity comes, they question God’s goodness and justice.  But the message of Job is that you should not give up on God because he allows you to have bad experiences.  Faith in God does not guarantee personal prosperity, and lack of faith does not guarantee troubles in this life.  If this were so, people would believe in God simply to get rich.  God is capable of rescuing us from suffering, but he may also allow suffering to come for reasons we cannot understand.  It is Satan’s strategy to get us to doubt God at exactly this moment.  Here Job shows a perspective broader than seeking his own personal comfort.  If we always knew why we were suffering, our faith would have no room to grow.

 

Linked to optimism:

In the LORD I take refuge.

How then can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to your mountain.

For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings

to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.

He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. –  Psalm 11:1-4

David seems to be speaking to those who are advising him to run from his enemies. David’s faith contrasted dramatically with the fear of the advisers who tell him to flee.  Faith in God keeps us from losing hope and helps us resist fear.  David’s advisers were afraid because they saw only frightening circumstances and crumbling foundations.  David was comforted and optimistic because he knew God was greater than anything his enemies could bring against him (7:10; 16:1; 31:2, 3).

David was forced to flee for safety several times. Being God’s anointed king did not make him immune to injustice and hatred from others.  This psalm may have been written when he was being hunted by Saul (1 Samuel 18-31) or during the days of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 15-18).  In both instances, David fled, but not as if all was lost.  He knew God was in control.  While David wisely avoided trouble, he did not fearfully run away from his troubles.

When the foundations are shaking and you wish you could hide, remember that God is still in control. His power is not diminished by any turn of events.  Nothing happens without his knowledge and permission.  When you feel like running away – run to God.  He will restore justice and goodness on the earth in his good time.

 

When you feel stagnant in:

Restore me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  – Psalm 51:12

Do you ever feel stagnant in your faith, as though you are just going through the motions? Has sin ever driven a wedge between you and God, making him seem distant?  David felt this way.  He had sinned with Bathsheba and had just been confronted by Nathan the prophet.  In his prayer he cried, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”  God wants us to be close to him and to experience his full and complete life.  But sin that remains unconfessed makes such intimacy impossible.  Confess your sin to God.  You may still have to face some earthly consequences, as David did, but God will give back the joy of your relationship with him.

 

Comes alive when we apply Scripture:

I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statues. –  Psalm 119:125

The psalmist asked God for discernment. Faith comes alive when we apply Scripture to our daily tasks and concerns.  We need discernment so we can understand, and we need the desire to apply Scripture where we need help.  The Bible is like medicine – it goes to work only when we apply it to the affected areas.  As you read the Bible, be alert for lessons, commands, or examples that you can put into practice.

 

Won’t eliminate feelings of rejection or disappointment:

The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. They said: “Enquire now of the LORD for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us.  Perhaps the LORD will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us.”  – Jeremiah 21:1-2

Pashhur came to the prophet for help. (This is not the same Pashhur as in 20:1.)  God still had work for Jeremiah to do.  In living out our faith, we may find that rejection, disappointment, or hard work has brought us to the point of despondency.  But we are still needed.  God has important work for us as well.

King Zedekiah was probably referring to God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in the days of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36; 37). But Zedekiah’s hopes were dashed.  He was Judah’s last ruler during the time of the exile of 586 B.C.

 

Being faithful regardless of the circumstances:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of GOLD you have set up.  –  Daniel 3:16-18 *

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were pressured to deny God, but they chose to be faithful to him no matter what happened!  They trusted God to deliver them, but they were determined to be faithful regardless of the consequences.  If God always rescued those who were true to him, Christians would not need faith.  Their religion would be a great insurance policy, and there would be lines of selfish people ready to sign up.  We would not be faithful to serve God whether he intervenes on our behalf or not.  Our eternal reward is worth any suffering we may have to endure first.

 

Is yours real?

And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 3:9-10

Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God’s people should produce crop of good deeds.  God has no use for people who call themselves Christians but do nothing about it.  Like many people in John’s day who were God’s people in name only, we are of no value if we are Christians in name only.  If others can’t see our faith in the way we treat them, we may not be God’s people at all.

God’s message hasn’t changed since the Old Testament – people will be judged for their unproductive lives. God calls us to be active in our obedience.  John compared people who claim they believe God but don’t live for God to unproductive trees that will be cut down.  To be productive for God, we must obey his teachings, resist temptation, actively serve and help others, and share our faith.  How productive are you for God?

 

Doesn’t always exempt us from suffering:

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  – Acts 5:17-18

The apostles experienced power to do miracles, great boldness in preaching, and God’s presence in their lives, yet they were not free from hatred and persecution. They were arrested, put in jail, beaten, and slandered by community leaders.  Faith in God does not make trouble disappear; it makes troubles appear less frightening because it puts them in the right perspective.  Don’t expect everyone to react favourably when you share something as dynamic as your faith in Christ.  Some will be jealous, afraid, or threatened.  Expect some negative reactions, and remember that you must be more concerned about serving God than about the reactions of people (see 5:29).

The religious leaders were jealous – Peter and the apostles were already commanding more respect than they had ever received. The difference, however, was that the religious leaders demanded respect and reverence for themselves; the apostles’ goal was to bring respect and reverence to God.  The apostles were respected not because they demanded it, but because they deserved it.

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holds in the ground.

These were all commanded for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. – Hebrews 11:35-39

Many thing that pain is the exception in the Christian life. When suffering occurs, they say, “Why me?” They feel as though God has deserted them, or perhaps they accuse him of not being as dependable as they thought.  In reality, however, we live in an evil world filled with suffering, even for believers.  But God is still in control.  He allows some Christians to become martyrs for the faith, and he allows others to survive persecution.  Rather than asking, “Why me?it is much more helpful to ask, “Why not me?” Our faith and the values of this world are on a collision course.  If we expect pain and suffering to come, we will not be shocked when it does.  But we can also take comfort in knowing that Jesus also suffered.  He understands our fears, our weaknesses, and our disappointments (see 2:16-18; 4:14-16).  He promised never to leave us (Matthew 28:18-20), and he intercedes on our behalf (7:24, 25).  In times of pain, persecution, or suffering we should trust confidently in Christ.

 

ELIZABETH is an example of faith despite disappointment, her PROFILE is in Bible Family

 

Discipline not always strong in:

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him. 

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.  –   Mark 1:16-20

We often assume that Jesus’ disciples were great men of faith from the first time they met Jesus. But they had to grow in their faith just as all believers do (14:48-50, 66-72; John 14:1-9; 20:26-29).  This apparently not the only time Jesus called Peter (Simon), James, and John to follow him (see Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-42 for two other times).  Although it took time for Jesus’ call and his message to get through, the disciples followed.  In the same way, we may question and falter, but we must never stop following Jesus.

Fishing was a major industry around the Sea of Galilee. Fishing with nets was the most common method.  Capernaum, the largest of the more than 30 fishing towns around the lake at that time, because Jesus’ new home (Matthew 4:12, 13).

 

What motivates your faith?

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  – Luke 3:7

What motivates your faith – fear of the future, or a desire to be a better person in a better world? Some people wanted to be baptised by John so they could escape eternal punishment, but they didn’t turn to God for salvation.  John had harsh words for such people.  He knew that God values reformation above ritual.  Is your faith motivated by a desire for a new, changed life, or is it only like a vaccination or insurance policy against possible disaster?

(“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” – Luke 2:14.  The story of Jesus’ birth resounds with music that has inspired composers for 2,000 years [Sonata, e.g. “opera, and classical”].  The angels’ song is an all-time favourite.  Often called the Gloria after its first word in the Latin translation, it is the basis of modern choral works, traditional Christmas carols, and ancient liturgical chants.)

Some of the Jews were waiting for a saviour to deliver them from Roman rule; others hoped the Christ (Messiah) would deliver them from physical ailments.  But Jesus, while healing their illnesses and establishing a spiritual kingdom, delivered them from sin.  His work is more far-reaching than anyone could imagine.  Christ paid the price for sin and opened the way to peace with God. He offers us more than temporary political or physical changes – he offers us new hearts that will last for eternity.)

(An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  – Luke 2:9, 10.  The greatest event in history had just happened!  The Messiah had been born!  For ages the Jews had waited for this, and when it finally occurred, the announcement came to humble shepherds.  The good news about Jesus is that he comes to all, including the plain and the ordinary.  He comes to anyone with a heart humble enough to accept him.  Whoever you are, whatever you do, you can have Jesus in your life. Don’t think you need extra-ordinary qualifications – he accepts you as you are.)

 

Relationship between faith and deeds:

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  –  Luke 3:8-9

Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable.  Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26).  Jesus’ harshest words were to the respectable religious leaders who lacked the desire for real change.  They wanted to be known as religious authorities, but they didn’t want to change their hearts and minds.  Thus their lives were unproductive.  Repentance must be tied to action, or it isn’t real.  Following Jesus means more than saying the right words; it means acting on what he says.

Many of John’s hearers were shocked when he said that being Abraham’s descendants was not enough for God. The religious leaders relied more on their family lines than on their faith for their standing with God.  For them, religion was inherited.  But a personal relationship with God is not handed down from parents to children.  Everyone has to make his or her own commitment.  Don’t rely on someone else’s faith for your salvation. Put your own faith in Jesus, and then exercise it every day.

(When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened  – Luke 3:21.  Luke emphasises Jesus’ human nature. Jesus was born to humble parents, a birth unannounced except to shepherds and foreigners.  This baptism recorded here was the first public declaration of Jesus’ ministry. Instead of going to Jerusalem and identifying with the established religious leaders, Jesus went to a river and identified himself with those who were repenting of sin.  When Jesus, at age 12, visited the temple, he understood his mission (2:49).  Eighteen years later, at his baptism, he began carrying it out.  And as Jesus prayed, God spoke and confirmed his decision [i.e. “get the colour”] to act.  God was breaking into human history through Jesus the Christ.)

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – Philippians 3:2-3

These “dogs” and “men who do evil” were very likely Judaisers – Jewish Christians who wrongly believed that it was essential for Gentiles to follow all the Old Testament Jewish laws, especially submission to the rite of circumcision, in order to receive salvation. Many Judaisers were motivated by spiritual pride.  Because they had invested so much time and effort in keeping their laws, they couldn’t accept the fact that all their efforts couldn’t bring them a step closer to salvation.

Paul criticised the Judaisers because they looked at Christianity backwards – thinking that what they did (circumcision – cutting or mutilating the flesh) made them believers rather than the free gift of grave given by Christ.  What believers do is a result of faith, not a prerequisite to faith.  This had been confirmed by the early church leaders at the Jerusalem council 11 years earlier (Acts 15).  Who are the Judaisers of our day?  They are those who say that people must add something else to simple faith.  No person should add anything to Christ’s offer of salvation by grace through faith.  [such as Magna Carta]

It is easy to place more emphasis on religious effort (confidence in the “flesh”) than on internal faith, but God values the attitude of our hearts above all else. Don’t judge people spiritually by their fulfilment of duties or by their level of human activity.  And don’t think that you will satisfy God by feverishly doing his work.  God notices all you do for him and will reward you for it, but only if it comes as a loving response to his free gift of salvation.  [Wood-Planes: “Don’t” means do the bit that comes after it]

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.  – James 2:1

In this chapter James argues against favouritism and for the necessity of good deeds. He presents three principles of faith: (1) Commitment is an essential part of faith.  You cannot be a Christian simply by affirming the right doctrines or agreeing with biblical facts (2:19).  You must commit your mind and heart to Christ.  (2) Right actions are the natural by-products of true faith.  A genuine Christian will have changed life (2:18).  (3) Faith without good deeds doesn’t do anybody any good – it is useless (2:14-17).  James’ teachings are consistent with Paul’s teaching that we receive salvation by faith alone.  Paul emphasises the purpose of faith – to bring salvation.  James emphasises the results of faith – a changed life.

James condemns acts of favouritism.  Often we treat a well-dressed, impressive person [e.g. the Pope] better than someone who looks shabby [e.g. Pope John Paul didn’t wear glasses].  We do this because we would rather identify with successful people than with apparent failures.  The irony, as James reminds us, is that the supposed winners may have gained their impressive life-style at our expense.  In addition, the rich find it difficult to identify with the Lord Jesus, who came as a humble servant.  Are you easily impressed by status, wealth, or fame?  Are you partial to the “haves” while ignoring the “have nots”?  This attitude is sinful.  God views all people as equals, and if he favours anyone, it is the poor and the powerless.  We should follow his example.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. – James 2:18

At first glance, this verse seems to contradict Romans 3:28, “man is justified by faith apart from observing the law”. Deeper investigation, however, shows that the teachings of James and Paul are not at odds.  While it is true that our good deeds can never earn salvation, true faith always results in a changed life and good deeds.  Paul speaks against those who try to be saved by deeds instead of true faith; James speaks against those who confuse mere intellectual assent with true faith.  After all, even demons know who Jesus is, but they don’t obey him (2:19).  Truth faith involves a commitment of your whole self to God.

…remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. – James 5:20

The book of James emphasises faith in action. Right living is the evidence and result of faith.  The church must serve with compassion, speak lovingly and truthfully, live in obedience to God’s commands, and love one another.  The body of believers ought to be an example of heaven on earth, drawing people to Christ through love for God and each other.  If we truly believe God’s word, we will live it day by day.  God’s word is not merely something we read or think about, but something we do.  Belief, faith, and trust must have hands and feet – ours!

But if anyone does not have them, he is short-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. – 2 Peter 1:9

Our faith must go beyond what we believe; it must become a dynamic part of all we do, resulting in good fruit and spiritual maturity. Salvation does not depend on good deeds, but it results in good deeds.  A person who claims to be saved while remaining unchanged does not understand faith or what God has done for him or her.

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. – 1 John 2:28-29

The visible proof of being a Christian is right behaviour. Many people do good deeds but don’t have faith in Jesus Christ.  Others claim to have faith but rarely produce good deeds.  A deficit in either faith or right behaviour will be a cause for shame when Christ returns.  Because true faith always results in good deeds, those who claim to have faith and who consistently do what is right are true believers.  Good deeds cannot produce salvation (see Ephesians 2:8, 9), but they are necessary proof that true faith is actually present (James 2:14-17).

 

New believers can share it too:

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  – Mark 2:14-15

Going to Egypt was not unusual because there were colonies of Jews in several major Egyptian cities. These colonies had developed during the time of the great captivity (see Jeremiah 43; 44).  There is an interesting parallel between this flight to Egypt and Israel’s history.  As an infant nation, Israel went to Egypt, just as did a child.  God led Israel out (Hosea 11:1); God brought Jesus back.  Both events show God working to save his people.

 

Of the royal official:

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” – John 4:48

This miracle was more than a favour to one official; it was a sign to all the people. John’s Gospel was written to all mankind to urge faith in Christ.  Here a government official had faith that Jesus could do what he claimed.  The official believed; then he saw a miraculous sign.

 

Our faith affects others:

Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  – Luke 5:18-20

It wasn’t the paralytic’s faith that impressed Jesus, but the faith of his friends. Jesus responded to their faith and healed the man.  For better or worse, our faith affects others.  We cannot make another person a Christian, but we can do much through our words, actions, and love to give him or her a chance to respond.  Look for opportunities to bring your friends to the living Christ.

In Bible times, houses were built of stone and had flat roofs made of mud mixed with straw. Outside stairways led to the roof.  These men carried their friend up the stairs to the roof where they took apart as much of the mud and straw mixture as was necessary to lower him in front of Jesus.

 

Why some may resist yours:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”  – John 3:19-21

Many people don’t want their lives exposed to God’s light because they are afraid of what will be revealed. They don’t want to be changed.  Don’t be surprised when these same people are threatened by your desire to obey God and do what is right, because they are afraid that the light in you may expose some of the darkness in their lives.  Rather than giving in to discouragement, keep praying that they will come to see how much better it is to live in light than in darkness.

 

Often proved through persecution:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  – Matthew 5:11-12

Jesus said to rejoice when we’re persecuted. Persecution can be good because (1) it takes our eyes off early rewards, (2) it strips away superficial belief, (3) it strengthens the faith of those who endure, and (4) our attitude through it serves as an example to others who follow.  We can be comforted to know that God’s greatest prophets were persecuted (Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel).  the fact that we are being persecuted proves that we have been faithful; faithless people would be unnoticed.  In the future God will reward the faithful by receiving them into his eternal kingdom where there is no more persecution.

With Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom was near (4:17), people were naturally asking, “How do I qualify to be in God’s kingdom? Jesus said that God’s kingdom is organised differently from worldly kingdoms.  In the kingdom of heaven, wealth and power and authority are unimportant.  Kingdom people seek different blessings and benefits, and they have different attitudes.  Are your attitudes a carbon copy of the world’s selfishness, pride, and lust for power, or do they reflect the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus, your King?

 

 

It alone brings eternal life:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’  Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus exposed those people who sounded religious but had no personal relationship with him. On “that day” (the day of judgment), only our relationship with Christ – our acceptance of him as Saviour and our obedience to him – will matter.  Many people think that if they are “good” people and say religious things, they will be rewarded with eternal life.  In reality, faith in Christ is what will count at the judgment.

“That day” is the final day of reckoning when God will settle all accounts, judging sin and rewarding faith.

Some self-professed athletes can “talk” a great game, but that tells you nothing about their athletic skills. And not everyone who talks about heaven belongs to God’s kingdom.  Jesus is more concerned about our walk than our talk.  He wants us to do right, not just say the right words.  Your house (which represents your life, 7:24) will withstand the storms of life only if you do what is right instead of just talking about it.  What you do cannot be separated from what you believe.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – Galatians 1:6

Some people were preaching “a different gospel”. They were teaching that to be saved, Gentile believers had to follow Jewish laws and customs, especially the rite of circumcision.  Faith in Christ was not enough.  This message undermined the truth of the good news that salvation is a gift, not a reward for certain deeds.  Jesus Christ has made this gift available to all people, not just to Jews.  Beware of people who say that we need more than simple faith in Christ to be saved.  When people set up additional requirements for salvation, they deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross (see 3:1-5).

 

Of the centurion:

There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  – Luke 7:2

A centurion was a Roman army officer in charge of 100 men.  This man came to Jesus not as a last resort or magic charm, but because he believed Jesus was sent from God.  Apparently the centurion recognised that the Jews possessed God’s message for mankind – it is recorded that he loved the nation and built the synagogue.  Thus, in his time of need, it was natural for him to turn to Jesus.

 

Difference between faith & belief:

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no-one could pass that way.  – Matthew 8:28

Demon-possessed people are under the control of one or more demons. Demons are fallen angels who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and are now evil spirits under Satan’s control.  They help Satan tempt people to sin and have great destructive powers.  But whenever they are confronted by Jesus, they lose their power.  These demons recognised Jesus as God’s Son (8:29), but they didn’t think they had to obey him.  Just believing is not enough (see James 2:19 for a discussion of belief and devils).  Faith is more than belief.  By faith, you accept what Jesus has done for you, receive him as the only one who can save you from sin, and live out your faith by obeying his commands.

The region of Gadareness is located southeast of the Sea of Galilee, near the town of Gadara, one of the most important cities of the region (see map).  Gadara was a member of the Decapolis (see the note on Mark 5:20). These ten cities with independent governments were largely inhabited by Gentiles, which explains the herd of pigs (8:30).  The Jews did not keep pigs because pigs were considered unclean and thus unfit to eat.

Matthew says there were two demon-possessed men, while Mark and Luke refer to only one. Apparently Mark and Luke mention only the man who did the talking.

According to Jewish ceremonial laws, the men Jesus encountered were unclean in three ways: they were Gentiles (non-Jews), they were demon-possessed, and they lived in a graveyard. Jesus helped them anyway.  We should not turn our backs on people who are “unclean” or repulsive to us, or who violate our moral standards and religious beliefs.  Instead, we must realise that every human individual is a unique creation of God, needing to be touched by his love.

 

When it isn’t popular to believe:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.  –  John 2:23-25

The Son of God knows all about human nature. Jesus was well aware of the truth of Jeremiah 17:9, which states “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  Jesus was discerning, and he knew that the faith of some followers was superficial.  Some of the same people claiming to believe in Jesus at this time would later yell “Crucify him!”  It’s easy to believe when it is exciting and everyone else believes the same way.  But keep your faith firm even when it isn’t popular to follow Christ.

 

Strengthened by waiting:

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no-one knows about this.”  – Matthew 9:27-30

Jesus didn’t respond immediately to the blind men’s pleas. He waited to see if they had faith.  Not everyone who says he wants help really believes God can help him.  Jesus may have waited and questioned these men to emphasise and increase their faith.  When you think that God is too slow in answering your prayers, consider that he might be testing you as he did the blind men.  Do you believe that God can help you?  Do you really want his help?

“Son of David” was a popular way of addressing Jesus as the Messiah because it was known that the Messiah would be a descendant of David (Isaiah 9:7). This is the first time the title is used in Matthew.  Jesus’ ability to give sight to the blind was prophesied in Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7.

These blind men were persistent. They went right into the house where Jesus was staying.  They knew Jesus could heal them, and they would let nothing stop them from finding him.  That’s real faith in action.  If you believe Jesus is the answer to your every need, don’t let anything or anyone stop you from reaching him.

Jesus told the people to keep quiet about his healings because he did not want to be known only as a miracle worker. He healed because he had compassion on people, but he also wanted to bring spiritual healing to a sin-sick world.

 

Taking the final step in:

…for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. – Mark 6:52

The disciples didn’t want to believe, perhaps because (1) they couldn’t accept the fact that this human named Jesus was really the Son of God; (2) they dared not believe that the Messiah would choose them as his followers – it was too good to be true; (3) they still did not understand the real purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. Their disbelief took the form of misunderstanding.

Even after watching Jesus miraculously feed 5,000 people, they still could not take the final step of faith and believe that he was God’s Son. If they had, they would not have been amazed that Jesus could walk on water.  The disciples did not transfer the truth they already knew about Jesus to their own lives.  We read that Jesus walked on the water, and yet we often marvel that he is able to work in our lives.  We must not only believe that these miracles really occurred; we must also transfer the truth to our own life situations.

 

No excuses for not believing:

“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!  If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies?  No, you will go down to the depths.  If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” –  Matthew 11:21-24

Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom were ancient cities with a long-standing reputation for wickedness (Genesis 18; 19; Ezekiel 27; 28). Each was destroyed by God for its evil.  The people of Bethsaida, Korazin, and Capernaum saw Jesus firsthand, and yet they stubbornly refused to repent of their sins and believe in him.  Jesus said that if some of the wickedest cities in the world had seen him, they would have repented.  Because Bethsaida, Korazin, and Capernaum saw Jesus and didn’t believe, they would suffer even greater punishment than that of the wicked cities who didn’t see Jesus.  Similarly, nations and cities with churches on every corner and Bible in every home will have no excuse on judgment day if they do not repent and believe.

(“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang and dirge, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’  But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”Matthew 11:16-19.  Jesus condemned the attitude of his generation.  No matter what he said or did, they took the opposite view.  They were cynical and sceptical because he challenged their comfortable, secure, and self-centred lives.  Too often we justify our inconsistencies because listening to God may require us to change the way we live.)

 

What to do when yours falters:

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  – Matthew 14:30-31

Although we start out with good intentions, sometimes our faith falters. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have failed.  When Peter’s faith faltered, he reached out to Christ, the only one who could help.  He was afraid, but he still looked to Christ.  When you are apprehensive about the troubles around you and doubt Christ’s presence or ability to help, you must remember that he is the only one who can really help.

(“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus.  – Matthew 14:29)

 

Turning small faith into sufficient faith:

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy here to me.”  Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. 

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  – Matthew 17:17-20

The disciples were unable to drive out this demon, and they asked Jesus why. He pointed to their lack of faith.  It is the power of God, not our faith, that moves mountains, but faith must be present to do so.  The mustard seed was the smallest particle imaginable.  Even small or undeveloped faith would have been sufficient.  Perhaps the disciples had tried to drive out the demon with their own ability rather than God’s.  There is great power in even a little faith when God is with us.  If we feel weak or powerless as Christians, we should examine our faith, making sure we are trusting not in our own abilities to produce results, but in God’s.

The disciples had been given the authority to do the healing, but they had not yet learned how to appropriate the power of God. Jesus’ frustration is with the unbelieving and unresponsive generation.  His disciples were merely a reflection of that attitude in this instance.  Jesus’ purpose was not to criticise the disciples, but to encourage them to greater faith.

 

Christ can increase yours:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  – Matthew 17:20

Jesus was not condemning the disciples for substandard faith; he was trying to show how important faith would be in their future ministry. If you are facing a problem that seems as big and immovable as a mountain, turn your eyes from the mountain and look to Christ for more faith.  Only then will your work for him become useful and vibrant.

 

Despite doubts and questions:

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.”  And the disciples were filled with grief.  – Matthew 17:22-23

Once again Jesus predicted his death (see also 16:21); but more important, he told of his resurrection. Unfortunately, the disciples heard only the first part of Jesus’ words and became discouraged.  They couldn’t understand why Jesus wanted to go back to Jerusalem where he would walk right into trouble.

The disciples didn’t fully comprehend the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection until Pentecost (Acts 2). We shouldn’t be upset with ourselves for being slow to understand everything about Jesus.  After all, the disciples were with him, saw his miracles, heard his words, and still had difficulty understanding.  Despite their questions and doubts, however, they believed.  We should do no less.

The disciples didn’t understand why Jesus kept talking about his death because they expected him to set up a political kingdom.  His death, they thought, would dash their hopes.  They didn’t know that Jesus’ death and resurrection would make his kingdom possible.

 

Two way people lose it:

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!  – Matthew 18:7

Jesus ward the disciples about two ways to cause “little ones” to sin: tempting them (18:7-9) and neglecting or demeaning them (18:10-14). As leaders, we are to help young people or new believers avoid anything or anyone that could cause them to stumble in their faith and lead them to sin.  We must never take lightly the spiritual education and protection of the young in age and in the faith.

 

Anything is possible with:

“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”  – Mark 9:23

Jesus’ words do not mean that we can automatically obtain anything we want if we just think positively. Jesus meant that anything is possible if we believe, because nothing is too difficult for God.  We cannot have everything we pray for as if by magic; but with faith, we can have everything we need to serve him.

 

An attitude of expectation:

A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified.  – John 6:18-19

The disciples, terrified, probably thought they were seeing a ghost (Mark 6:49). But if they had thought about all they had already seen Jesus do, they could have accepted this miracle.  They were frightened – they didn’t expect Jesus to come, and they weren’t prepared for his help.  Faith is a mind-set that expects God to act.  When we act on this expectation, we can overcome our fears.

The Sea of Galilee is 650 feet below sea level, 150 feet deep, and surrounded by hills. These physical features make it subject to sudden windstorms that would cause extremely high waves.  Such storms were expected on this lake, but they were nevertheless frightening.  When Jesus came to the disciples during a storm, walking on water (three and a half miles from shore), he told them not to be afraid.  We often face spiritual and emotional storms and feel tossed about like a small boat on a big lake.  In spite of terrifying circumstances, if we trust our lives to Christ for his safekeeping, he will give us peace in any storm.

 

Must be put to work:

Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”  Immediately the tree withered.  – Matthew 21:19

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? This was not a thoughtless, angry act, but an acted-out parable.  Jesus was showing his anger at religion without substance.  Just as the fig tree looked good from a distance but was fruitless on close examination, so the temple looked impressive at first glance, but its sacrifices and other activities were hollow because they were not done to worship God sincerely (see 21:43).  If you only appear to have faith without putting it to work in your life, you are like the fig tree that withered and died because it bore no fruit.  Genuine faith means bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.  For more information about the fig tree, see the note on Mark 11:13-26.

 

As a constant process:

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  – Mark 9:24

The attitude of trust and confidence that the Bible calls belief or faith (Hebrews 11:1, 6) is not something we can obtain without help.  Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8, 9).  No matter how much faith we have, we never reach the point of being self-sufficient.  Faith is not stored away like money in the bank.  Growing in faith is a constant process of daily renewing out trust in Jesus.

I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. – John 6:47

Believes as used here means “continues to believe”.  We do not believe merely once; we keep on believing in and trusting Jesus.

The religious leaders frequently asked Jesus to prove to them why he was better than the prophets they already had. Jesus here referred to the manna that Moses had given their ancestors in the desert (see Exodus 16).  This bread [not the “flesh”] was physical and temporal.  The people ate it, and it sustained them for a day.  But they had to get more bread [not the “flesh”] every day, and this bread [not the “flesh”] could not keep them from dying.  Jesus, who is much greater than Moses, offers himself as the spiritual bread [not the “flesh”] from heaven that satisfies completely and leads to eternal life.

 

Aided by prayer:

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” – Mark 9:29

The disciples would often face difficult situations that could be resolved only through prayer. Prayer is the key that unlocks faith in our lives.  Effective prayer needs both an attitude – complete dependence – and an action – asking.  Prayer demonstrates our reliance on God as we humbly invite him to fill us with faith and power.  There is no substitute for prayer, especially in circumstances that seem impossible.

 

How much is necessary?

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. – Luke 17:6

A mustard seed is small, but it is alive and growing. Like a tiny seed, a small amount of genuine faith in God will take root and grow.  Almost invisible at first, it will begin to spread, first under the ground and then visibly.  Although each change will be gradual and imperceptible, soon this faith will have produced major results that will uproot and destroy competing loyalties.  We don’t need more faith; a tiny seed of faith is enough, if it is alive and growing.

The disciples’ request was genuine; they wanted the faith necessary for such radical forgiveness. But Jesus didn’t directly answer their question because the amount of faith is not as important as its genuineness.  What is faith?  It is total dependence on God and a willingness to do his will.  Faith is not something we use to put on a show for others.  It is complete and humble obedience to God’s will, readiness to do whatever he calls us to do.  The amount of faith isn’t as important as the right kind of faith – faith in our all-powerful God.

 

Having childlike faith:

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  – Mark 10:14

Adults are not as trusting as little children. To feel secure, all children need is a loving look and gentle touch from someone who cares.  Complete intellectual understanding is not one of their requirements.  They believe us if they trust us.  Jesus said that people should believe in him with this kind of childlike faith.  We should not have to understand all the mysteries of the universe; it should be enough to know that God loves us and provides forgiveness for our sin.  This doesn’t mean that we should be children or immature, but we should trust God with a child’s simplicity and receptivity.

Jesus was often criticised for spending too much time with the wrong people – children, tax collectors, and sinners (Matthew 9:11; Luke 15:1, 2; 19:7). Some, including the disciples, thought Jesus should be spending more time with important leaders and the devout, because this was the way to improve his position and avoid criticism.  But Jesus didn’t need to improve his position.  He was God, and he wanted to speak to those who needed him most.

(“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. – Mark 10:6-9.  Women were often treated as property.  Marriage and divorce were regarded as transactions similar to buying and selling land.  But Jesus condemned this attitude, clarifying God’s original intention – that marriage bring oneness (Genesis 2:24).  Jesus held up God’s ideal for marriage and told his followers to live by that ideal.)

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  – Luke 18:15-17

It was customary for a mother to bring her children to a rabbi for a blessing, and that is why these mothers gathered around Jesus. The disciples, however, thought the children were unworthy of the Master’s time – less important than whatever else he was doing.  But Jesus welcomed them, because little children have the kind of faith and trust needed to enter God’s kingdom.  It is important that we introduce our children to Jesus and that we ourselves approach him with childlike attitudes of acceptance, faith,  and trust.

 

Results in changed behaviour:

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  – Luke 19:8

Judging from the crowd’s reaction to him, Zacchaeus must have been a very crooked tax collector. But after he met Jesus, he realised that his life needed straightening out.  By giving to the poor and making restitution – with generous interest – to those he had cheated, Zacchaeus demonstrated inward change by outward action.  It is not enough to follow Jesus in your head or heart alone.  You must show your faith by changed behaviour.  Has your faith resulted in action?  What changes do you need to make?

To finance their great world empire, the Romans levied heavy taxes on all nations under their control. The Jews opposed these taxes because they supported a secular government and its pagan gods, but they were still forced to pay.  Tax collectors were among the most unpopular people in Israel.  Jews by birth, they chose to work for Rome and were considered traitors.  Besides, it was common knowledge that tax collectors were making themselves rich by “milking” their fellow Jews.  No wonder the people muttered when Jesus went home with the tax collector Zacchaeus.  But despite the fact that Zacchaeus was both a cheater and a turncoat, Jesus loved him; and in response, the little tax collector was converted.  In every society, certain groups of people are considered “untouchable” because of their political views, their immoral behaviour, or their life-style.  We should not give in to social pressure to avoid these people.  Jesus loves them, and they need to hear his Good News.

 

Wealth not always a by-product of:

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” – Mark 10:26

The disciples were amazed. Was not wealth a blessing from God, a reward for being good?  This misconception is still common today.  Although many believers enjoy material prosperity, many others live in hardship.  Wealth is not a sign of faith or of partiality on God’s part.

 

Faith without substance:

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he want out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig-tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit.  When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.  Then he said to the tree, “May no-one ever eat fruit from you again.”  And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”?

But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’.”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

When evening came, they went out of the city. – Mark 11:11-21

In this passage, two unusual incidents are related: the cursing of the fig tree and the clearing of the temple. The cursing of the fig tree was an acted-out parable related to the clearing of the temple.  The temple was supposed to be a place of worship, but true worship had disappeared.  The fig tree showed promise of fruit, but it produced none.  Jesus was showing his anger at religious life without substance.  If you claim to have faith without putting it to work in your life, you are like the barren fig tree.  Genuine faith has great potential; ask God to help you bear fruit for his kingdom.

Fig trees, a popular source of inexpensive food in Israel, require three years from the time they are planted until they can bear fruit. Each tree yields a great amount of fruit twice a year, in late spring and in early autumn.  This incident occurred early in the spring fig season when the leaves were beginning to bud.  The figs normally grow as the leaves fill out, but this tree, though full of leaves, had none.  The tree looked promising but offered no fruit.  Jesus’ harsh words to the fig tree could be applied to the nation of Israel.  Fruitful in appearance only, Israel was spiritually barren.

Jesus became angry, but he did not sin. There is a place for righteous indignation.  Christians are right to be upset about sin and injustice and should take a stand against them.  Unfortunately, believers are often passive about these important issues and instead get angry over personal insults and petty irritations.  Make sure your anger is directed towards the right issues.

Money changers and merchants did big business during Passover. Those who came from foreign countries had to have their money changed into temple currency because this was the only money accepted for the temple tax and for the purchase of sacrificial animals.  Often the inflated exchange rate benefited the money changers, and the exorbitant prices of animals made the merchants wealthy.  Their stalls were set up in the temple’s court of the Gentiles, frustrating the intentions of non-Jews who had come to worship God (Isaiah 56:6, 7).  Jesus became angry because God’s house of worship had become a place of extortion and a barrier to Gentiles who wanted to worship.

 

Not admitting yours:

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.  – John 12:42-43

Along with those who refused to believe, many believed but refused to admit it.  This is just as bad, and Jesus had strong words for such people (see Matthew 10:32, 33).  People who will not take a stand for Jesus are afraid of rejection or ridicule.  Many Jewish leaders wouldn’t admit to faith in Jesus because they feared excommunication from the synagogue (which was their livelihood) and loss of their prestigious place in the community.  But the praise of others is fickle and short-lived.  We should be much more concerned about God’s eternal acceptance than about the temporary approval of other people.

 

Life’s central issue:

Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ‘ 

David calls him ‘Lord’. How then can he be his son?”  – Luke 20:41-44

The Pharisees and Sadducees had asked their questions. Then Jesus turned the tables and asked them a question that went right to the heart of the matter – what they thought about the Messiah’s identity.  The Pharisees knew that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, but they did not understand that he would be more than a human descendant – he was God in the flesh.  Jesus quoted from Psalm 110:1 to show that David knew that the Messiah would be both human and divine.  The Pharisees expected only a human ruler to restore Israel’s greatness as in the days of David and Solomon.

The central issue of life is what we believe about Jesus. Other spiritual questions are irrelevant unless we first decide to believe that Jesus is who he said he is.  The Pharisees and Sadducees could not do this.  They remained confused over Jesus’ identity.

 

Can yours withstand persecution?

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. – Matthew 26:35

All the disciples declared that they would die before disowning Jesus. A few hours later, however, they all scattered.  Talk is cheap.  It is easy to say we are devoted to Christ, but our claims are meaningful only when they are tested in the crucible of persecution.  How strong is your faith?  Is it strong enough to stand up under intense trial?

 

Never too late to believe in Jesus:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.” 

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43

As this man was about to die, he turned to Christ for forgiveness, and Christ accepted him. This shows that our deeds don’t save us – our faith in Christ does.  It is never too late to turn to God.  Even in his misery, Jesus had mercy on this criminal who decided to believe in him.  Our lives will be much more useful and fulfilling if we turn to God early, but even those who repent at the very last moment will be with God in paradise.

The dying criminal had more faith than the rest of Jesus’ followers put together. Although the disciples continued to love Jesus, their hopes for the kingdom were shattered.  Most of them had gone into hiding.  As one of his followers sadly said two days later, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21).  By contrast, the criminal looked at the man who was dying next to him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  By all appearances, the kingdom was finished.  How awe-inspiring is the faith of this man who alone saw beyond the present shame to the coming glory!

 

What happens to unproductive believers:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. – John 15:1

Christ is the vine, and God is the gardener who cares for the branches to make them fruitful. The branches are all those who claim to be followers of Christ.  The fruitful branches are true believers who by their living union with Christ produce much fruit.  But those who become unproductive – those who turn back from following Christ after making superficial commitment – will be separated from the vine.  Unproductive followers are as good as dead and will be cut off and tossed aside.

The gravevine is a prolific plant; a single vine bears many grapes. In the Old Testament, grapes symbolised Israel’s fruitfulness in doing God’s work on the earth (Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 19:10-14).  In the Passover meal, the fruit of the vine symbolised God’s goodness to his people.

 

Stages of:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. – John 20:1

People who hear about the resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief.  (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe (20:2).  (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled [hunger] about what happened (20:6).  (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the resurrection (20:16).  (4) Then, as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them (20:28).

Other women came to the tomb along with Mary Magdalene. The other Gospel accounts give their names.

The stone was not rolled away from the entrance to the tomb so Jesus could get out.  He could have left easily without moving the stone.  It was rolled away so others could get in and see that Jesus was gone.  [“Stone” = allegation]

 

Jesus’ resurrection is the key to:

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  – Matthew 28:6

Jesus’ resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. Why?  (1) Just as he promised, Jesus rose from the dead.  We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised.  (2) Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ is ruler of God’s eternal kingdom, not a false prophet or imposter.  (3) We can be certain of our resurrection because he was resurrected.  Death is not the end – there is future life.  (4) The power that brought Jesus back to life is available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.  (5) The resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.  Jesus is more than just a human leader; he is the Son of God.

The angel who announced the good news of the resurrection to the women gave them four messages: (1) Do not be afraid.  The reality of the resurrection brings joy, not fear.  When you are afraid, remember the empty tomb.  (2) He is not here.  Jesu sis not dead and is not to be looked for among the dead.  He is alive, with his people.  (3) Come and see.  The women could check the evidence themselves.  The tomb was empty then, and it is empty today.  The resurrection is a historical fact.  (4) Go quickly and tell.  They were to spread the joy of the resurrection.  We too are to spread the great news about Jesus’ resurrection.

 

Based on facts:

In my former books, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  – Acts 1:1-3

Luke says that the disciples were eyewitnesses to all that had happened to Jesus Christ – his life before his crucifixion (“suffering”), and the 40 days after his resurrection as he taught them more about the kingdom of God. Today there are still people who doubt Jesus’ resurrection.  But Jesus appeared to the disciples on many occasions after his resurrection, proving that he was alive.  Look at the change the resurrection made in the disciples’ lives.  At Jesus’ death, they scattered – they were disillusioned, and they feared for their lives.  After seeing the resurrected Christ, they were fearless for their lives.  After seeing the resurrected Christ, they were fearless and risked everything to spread the Good News about him around the world.  They faced imprisonment, beatings, rejection, and martyrdom, yet they never compromised their mission.  These men would not have risked their lives for something they knew was a fraud.  They knew Jesus was raised from the dead, and the early church was fired with their enthusiasm to tell others.  It is important to know this so we can have confidence in their testimony.  Twenty centuries later we can still be confidence that our faith is based on fact.

The book of Acts continues the story Luke began in his Gospel, covering the 30 years after Jesus was taken up into heaven. During that short time the church was established, and the gospel of salvation was taken throughout the world, even to the capital of the Roman empire.  Those preaching the gospel, though ordinary people with human frailties and limitations, were empowered by the Holy Spirit to take the Good News “all over the world” (17:6).  Throughout the book of Acts we learn about the nature of the church and how we today are also to go about turning our world upside down.

Luke’s former book was the Gospel of Luke; that book was also addressed to Theophilus, whose name means “one who loves God”.

Verses 1-11 are the bridge between the events recorded in the Gospels and the events marking the beginning of the church. Jesus spent 40 days teaching his disciples, and they were changed drastically.  Before, they had argued with each other, deserted their Lord, and one (Peter) even lied about knowing Jesus.  Here, in a series of meetings with the living, resurrected Christ, the disciples had many questions answered.  They became convinced about the resurrection, learned about the kingdom of God, and learned about their power source – the Holy Spirit.  By reading the Bible, we can sit with the resurrected Christ in his school of discipleship.  By believing in him, we can receive his power through the Holy Spirit to be new people.  By joining with other Christians in Christ’s church, we can take part in doing his work on earth.

Jesus explained that with his coming, the kingdom of God was inaugurated. When he returned to heaven, God’s kingdom would remain in the hearts of all believers through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  But the kingdom of God will not be fully realised until Jesus Christ comes again to judge all people and remove all evil from the world.  Before that time, believers are to work to spread God’s kingdom across the world.  The book of Acts records how this work was begun.  What the early church started, we must continue.

 

Holy Spirit marks beginning of:

For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:5

At Pentecost (2:1-4) the Holy Spirit was made available to all who believed in Jesus. We receive the Holy Spirit (are baptised by him) when we receive Jesus Christ.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit must be understood in the light of his total work in Christian/Wood-Planes.

(1) The Spirit marks the beginning of the Christian/Wood-Planes experience. We cannot belong to Christ without his Spirit (Romans 8:9); we cannot be united to Christ without his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17); we cannot be adopted as his children without his Spirit (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:6, 7); we cannot be in the body of Christ except by baptism by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

(2) The Spirit is the power of our new lives. He begins a lifelong process of change as we become more like Christ (Galatians 3:3; Philippians 1:6).  When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relation with God.  The Holy Spirit works in us to help us become like Christ.

(3) The Spirit unites the Christian community in Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22).  The Holy Spirit can be experienced by all, and he works through all (1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:4).

The Trinity is a description of the unique relationship of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  If Jesus had stayed on earth, his physical presence would have limited the spread of the gospel, because physically he could be in only one place at a time.  After Christ was taken up into heaven, he would be spiritually present everywhere through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was sent so that God would be with and within his followers after Christ returned to heaven.  The Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know his truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power (see Joh 14-16).

 

Sharing it no matter what the cost:

His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged.  Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after Day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.  – Acts 5:40-42

Peter and John were warned repeatedly not to preach, but they continued in spite of the threats. We, too, should live as Christ has asked us to, sharing our faith no matter what the cost.  We may not be beaten or thrown in jail, but we may be ridiculed, ostracised, or slandered.  To what extent are you willing to suffer for the sake of sharing the gospel with others?

Have you ever thought of persecution as a blessing, as something worth rejoicing about? This beating suffered by Peter and John was the first time any of the apostles had been physically abused for their faith.  These men knew how Jesus had suffered, and they praised God that he had allowed them to be persecuted like their Lord.  If you are mocked or persecuted for your faith, it isn’t because you’re doing something wrong, but because God has counted you “worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”.

Home Bible studies are not new. As the believers needed to grow in their new faith, home Bible studies met their needs, as well as serving as a means to introduce new people to the Christian faith.  During later times of persecution, meeting in homes became the primary method of passing on Bible knowledge.  Christians throughout the world still use this approach when under persecution and as a way to build up believers.

 

God will help when yours is under fire:

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”  When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.  (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)  – Acts 23:6-8

Paul’s sudden insight that the council was a mixture of Sadducees and Pharisees is an example of the power that Jesus promised to believers (Mark 13:9-11). God will help us when we are under fire for our faith.  Like Paul, we should always be ready to present our testimony.  The Holy Spirit will give us power to speak boldly.

The Sadducees and Pharisees were two groups of religious leaders, but with strikingly different beliefs. The Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, but the Sadducees did not.  The Sadducees adhered only to Genesis through Deuteronomy, which contain no explicit teaching on resurrection.  Paul’s words moved the debate away from himself and towards their festering controversy about the resurrection.  The Jewish council was split.

 

Why does God save us by faith alone?

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. – Romans 3:28

Why does God save us by faith alone? (1) Faith eliminates the pride of human effort, because faith is not a deed that we do.  (2) Faith exalts what God has done, not what people do.  (3) Faith admits that we can’t keep the law or measure up to God’s standards – we need help.  (4) Faith is based on our relationship with God, not our performance for God.

Most religions prescribe specific duties that must be performed to make a person acceptable to a god. Christianity is unique in teaching that the good deeds we do will not make us right with God.  No amount of human achievement or progress in personal development will close the gap between God’s moral perfection and our imperfect daily performance.  Good deeds are important, but they will not earn us eternal life.  We are saved only by trusting in what God has done for us (see Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

Does it cancel Judaism?

Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law.  – Romans 3:31

There were some misunderstandings between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. Worried Jewish Christians were asking Paul, “Does faith wipe out everything Judaism stands for?  Does it cancel our Scriptures, put an end to our customs, declare that God is no longer working through us?  (This is essentially the question used to open chapter 3.)  “Absolutely not!” says Paul.  When we understand the way of salvation through faith, we understand the Jewish religion better.  We know why Abraham was chosen, why the law was given, why God worked patiently with Israel for centuries.  Faith does not wipe out the Old Testament.  Rather, it makes God’s dealings with the Jewish people understandable.  In chapter 4, Paul will expand on this theme (see also 5:20, 21; 8:3, 4; 13:9, 10 Galatians 3:24-29; and 1 Timothy 1:8 for more on this concept).

 

How much do you need?

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the obligation. – Romans 4:5

When some people learn that they are saved by God through faith, they start to worry. “Do I have enough faith?” they wonder.  “Is my faith strong enough to save me?”  These people miss the point.  It is Jesus Christ who saves us, not our feelings or actions, and he is strong enough to save us no matter how weak our faith is.  Jesus offers us salvation as a gift because he loves us, not because we have earned it through our powerful faith.  What, then, is the role of faith?  Faith is believing and trusting in Jesus Christ, and reaching out to accept his wonderful gift of salvation.

 

Why it is key to Christian life:

…through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  – Romans 5:2-5

As Paul states clearly in 1 Corinthians 13:13, faith, hope, and love are at the heart of the Christian/Wood-Planes life. Our relationship with God begins with faith, which helps us realise that we are delivered from our past by Christ’s death. Hope grows as we learn all that God has in mind for us; it gives us the promise of the future.  And God’s love fills our lives and gives us the ability to reach out to others.

Paul states that, as believers, we now stand in a place of high privilege (“this grace in which we now stand”). Not only has God declared us not guilty; he has drawn us close to himself.  Instead of being enemies, we have become his friends – in fact, his own children (John 15:15; Galatians 4:5).

These verses introduce a section that contains some difficult concepts. To understand the next four chapters, it helps to keep in mind the two-sided reality of the Christian life.  On the one hand, we are complete in Christ (our acceptance with him is secure).  On the other hand, we are growing in Christ (we are becoming more and more like him).  At one and the same time we have the status of kings and the duties of slaves.  We feel both the presence of Christ and the pressure of sin.  We enjoy the peace that comes from being made right with God, but we still face daily problems that often help sus grow.  If we remember these two sides of the Christian/Wood-Planes life, we will not grow discouraged as we face temptations and problems.  Instead, we will learn to depend on the power available to us from Christ, who lives in us by the Holy Spirit.

 

What is weak faith?

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. – Romans 14:1

What is weak faith? Paul is speaking about immature faith that has not yet developed the muscle it needs to stand against external pressures.  For example, if a person who once worshipped idols were to become a Christian, he might understand perfectly well that Christ saved him through faith and that idols have no real power.  Still, because of his past associations, he might be badly shaken if he knowingly ate meat that had been used in idol worship as part of a pagan ritual.  If a person who once worshipped God on the required Jewish holy days were to become a Christian, he might well know that Christ saved him through faith, not through his keeping of the law.  Still, when the feast days came, he might feel empty and unfaithful if he didn’t dedicate those days to God.

Paul responds to both weak brothers in love. Both are acting according to their consciences, but their honest scruples do not need to be made into rules for the church.  Certainly some issues are central to [e.g. the position of St. Paul cathedral to London] the faith and worth fighting for – but many are based on individual differences and should not be legislated.  Our principle should be: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in everything, love.

 

Talking about it vs. living it:

Some of you have become very arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.  – 1 Corinthians 4:18-20

Some people talk a lot about faith, but that’s all it is – talk. They may know all the right words to say, but their lives don’t reflect God’s power.  Paul says that the kingdom of God is to be lived, not just discussed.  There is a big difference between knowing the right words and living them out.  Don’t be content to have the right answers about Christ.  Let your life show that God’s power is really working in you.

It is not known whether Paul ever returned to Corinth, but it is likely. In 2 Corinthians 2:1, he writes that he decided not to make “another painful visit”, implying that he had had a previous painful confrontation with the Corinthian believers (see 2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1; and the note on 2 Corinthians 2:1).

 

Does not free us from obedience:

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  – 2 Corinthians 5:9-10

While eternal life is a free gift given on the basis of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8, 9), each of us will still be judged by Christ. This judgment will reward us for how we have lived.  God’s gracious gift of salvation does not free us from the requirement for faithful obedience.  All Christians must give account for how they have lived (see Matthew 16:27; Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

 

Why it is superior to the law:

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.  – Galatians 3:19-20

When God gave his promise to Abraham, he did it by himself alone, without angels or Moses as mediators. Although it is not mentioned in Exodus, Jews believed that the Ten Commandments had been given to Moses by angels (Stephen referred to this in his speech, see Acts 7:38, 53).

The law has two functions. On the positive side, it reveals the nature and will of God and shows people how to live.  On the negative side, it points out people’s sins and shows them that it is impossible to please God by trying to obey all his laws completely.  God’s promise to Abraham dealt with Abraham’s faith; the law focuses on actions.  The covenant with Abraham shows that faith is the only way to be saved; the law shows how to obey God in grateful response.  Faith does not annul the law; but the more we know God, the more we see how sinful we are.  Then we are driven to depend on our faith in Christ alone for our salvation.

 

Paul lost his possessions but not his faith:

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.  – 2 Timothy 1:12

Paul was in prison, but that did not stop his ministry. He carried it on through others like Timothy.  Paul had lost all his material possessions, but he would never lose his faith.  He trusted God to use him regardless of his circumstances.  If your situation looks bleak, give your concerns to Christ.  He will guard your faith and safely guard all you have entrusted to him until the day of his return.  For more on our security in Christ, see Romans 8:38, 39.

The phrase “guard what I have entrusted to him” could mean: (1) Paul knew that God would guard the souls of those converted through his preaching; (2) Paul trusted God to guard his own soul until Christ’s second coming; or (3) Paul was confident that, though he was in prison and facing death, God would carry out the gospel ministry through others such as Timothy. Paul may have expressed his confidence to encourage Timothy, who was undoubtedly discouraged by the problems in Ephesus and fearful of persecution.  Even in prison, Paul knew that God was still in control.  No matter what setbacks or problems we face, we can trust fully in God.

 

Combines assurance & anticipation:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. –  Hebrews 11:1

Do you remember how you felt when you were very young and your birthday approached? You were excited and anxious.  You knew you would certainly receive gifts and other special treats.  But some things would be a surprise.  Birthdays combine assurance and anticipation, and so does faith!  Faith is the conviction based on past experience that God’s new and fresh surprises will surely be ours.

 

The beginning & end of:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. –  Hebrews 11:1

Two words describe faith: sure and certain.  These two qualities need a secure beginning and ending point.  The beginning point of faith is believing in God’s character – he is who he says.  The end point is believing in God’s promises – he will do what he says.  When we believe that God will fulfil his promises even though we don’t see those promises materialising yet, we demonstrate true faith (see John 20:24-31).

 

Paul’s view vs. James’s view:

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. – James 2:18

At first glance, this verse seems to contradict Romans 3:28, “man is justified by faith apart from observing the law”. Deeper investigation, however, shows that the teachings of James and Pau are not at odds.  While it is true that our good deeds can never earn salvation, true faith always results in a changed life and good deeds. Paul speaks against those who try to be saved by deeds instead of truth faith; James speaks against those who confuse mere intellectual assent with true faith.  After all, even demons know who Jesus is, but they don’t obey him (2:19).  True faith involves a commitment of your whole self to God.

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.  – James 2:21-24

James says that Abraham was “considered righteous” for what he did.  Paul says he was justified because he believed God (Romans 4:1-5).  James and Paul are not contradicting but complementing each other.  Let’s not conclude that the truth is a blending of these two statements.  We are not justified by what we do in any way.  True faith always results in deeds, but the deeds do not justify us.  Faith brings us salvation; active obedience demonstrates that our faith is genuine.

 

God will help us remain true to:

…who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:5

God will help us remain true to our faith through whatever difficult times we must face. The “last time” is the judgment day of Christ described n Romans 14:10 and Revelation 20:11-15.  We may have to endure trials, persecution, or violent death, but our souls cannot be harmed if we have accepted Christ’s gift of salvation.  We know we will receive the promised rewards.

Do you need encouragement? Peter’s words offer joy and hope in times of trouble, and he bases his confidence on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  We’re called into a living hope of eternal life (1:3).  Our hope is not only for the future, eternal life begins when we trust Christ and join God’s family.  No matter what pain or trial we face in this life, we know that it is not our final experience.  Eventually we will live with Christ for ever.

 

Never forget basics of faith:

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.  – 2 Peter 1:12-15

Outstanding coaches [e.g. Edgar Allen Poe] constantly review the basics of the sport with their teams, and good athletes can execute the fundamentals consistently well.  We must not neglect the basics of our faith when we go on to study deeper truths.  Just as an athlete needs constant practice, we need constant reminders of the fundamentals of our faith and of how we came to believe in the first place.  Don’t allow yourself to be bored or impatient with messages on the basics of the Christian life.  Instead, take the attitude of an athlete who continues to practise and refine the basics even as he or she learns more advanced skills.

(But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.  They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.  Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight.  They are blots and blemishes, revelling in their pleasures while they feast with you.  With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood!  They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.  – 2 Peter 2:12-15.  The feast may have been part of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The feast was a full meal that ended with Communion.  The false teachers, although they were sinning openly, took part in these meals with everyone else in the church.  In one of the greatest hypocritical [flesh] acts, they attended a sacred feast designed to promote love and unity among believers, while at the same time they gossiped and slandered those who disagreed with their opinions.  As Paul told the Corinthians, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).  These men were guilty of more than false teaching and promoting evil pleasures; they were guilty of leading others away from God’s Son, Jesus.)

 

 

The world will always challenge yours:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever!  Amen.  – 2 Peter 3:18

Peter concludes this brief letter as he began, by urging his readers to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – to get to know him better and better. This is the most important step in refuting false teachers.  No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, no matter how mature we are in our faith, the sinful world will always challenge our faith.  We still have much room for growth.  If every day we find some way to draw closer to Christ, we will be prepared to stand for truth in any and all circumstances.

Peter and Paul had very different backgrounds and personalities, and they preached from different viewpoints.  Paul emphasised salvation by grace, not law, while Peter preferred to talk about Christian life and service.  The two men did not contradict each other, however, and they always held each other in high esteem.  The false teachers intentionally misused Paul’s writings by distorting them to condone lawlessness.  No doubt this made the teachers popular, because people always like to have their favourite sins justified, but the net effect was to totally destroy Paul’s message.  Paul may have been thinking of teachers like these when he wrote in Romans 6:15: “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!”  Peter warned his readers to avoid the mistakes of those wicked teachers by growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  The better we know Jesus, the less attractive false teaching will be.

(c)Dodgsons, Kingsway, 1971.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s