2 Corinthians 10-13

2 Corinthians 10-13

Second Corinthians 11:14–15 contains perhaps the most important bit of information all believers need to remember concerning the nature of Satan and his work. Paul tells us in today’s passage that the Devil “disguises himself as an angel of light” (v. 14). Of course, Satan and his minions are often the direct source of much of the outright perversity and evil that we see on this planet. However, since he is the “father of lies” (John 8:44), the Evil One would much rather approach us in the guise of something good and not something wicked. If he came at us blatantly, Satan would be easy to resist. We are more likely to embrace his lies if he approaches us under the guise of the good.

With respect to his influence on believers, the Adversary comes at us to accuse us and tempt us. The Devil can often appear to us as an angel of light when he works to accuse us. The story of Job gives a good example of the accusatory nature of Satan. Appearing before God on His throne, Satan once accused Job of being upright only because the Lord had blessed him (Job 1:6–11). In like manner, the Devil likes to remind us of our sin, to tell us the Father cannot possibly love us because we always serve Him with mixed motives. This work is very hard to distinguish from the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of our wickedness and makes us feel the pain of offending God as well as the terrible sense that we are absent from His presence. Yet the Holy Spirit always wounds us so that He may bring healing and restoration with the Father (Ps. 147:1–3). Satan’s work of accusation only keeps us away from God and paralyzes us with the horror of sin, preventing us from serving the Lord and others. This is why we must remember God’s grace in the Gospel. True, every sin is deeply offensive to the Lord, but in light of our justification (Rom. 8:31–39) no charge can be laid against us. When we repent, God really does forgive us.

Our Creator is sovereign, not the Devil. As the story of Job also illustrates, anything that Satan does is done only because the Father has permitted it (Job 1:12). Sometimes God lets the Evil One tempt us and assault us, but even in these cases our Lord’s purpose is our ultimate good and His final glory (Rom. 8:28).

2 Corinthians 6-9

2 Corinthians 6-9

Any study of the Mosaic law and its role in the new covenant cannot help but note that some elements of it are no longer binding on the Christian. Sacrifices that were made for atonement, for example, do not continue to be offered in the church because Jesus accomplished the purpose of the burnt offering in His death (Heb. 10:1–18). On the other hand, the New Testament is clear that new covenant believers will continue to live in a manner consistent with the other laws revealed to Moses. Stealing, for instance, did not suddenly become permissible once Jesus came to redeem His people (Ex. 20:15; Eph. 4:28).

The principles behind the grain offering (Lev. 2) are still in operation under the new covenant. God’s promise of restoration to Israel upon their repentance included the restoration of their fruitfulness that they might offer the grain offering once more (Joel 2:12–27). We live in the period of restoration, when God by His Spirit is restoring the fortunes of Israel, adding representatives of all nations to His covenant people (Isa. 55; Matt. 28:18–20). As such, Christians are expected to bring the fruit of their labors to God, just as believers brought their grain offerings during the old covenant period. In this way, the principles of the grain offering are fulfilled today.

The grain offering was originally given to support the work and ministry of worship and education at the tabernacle/temple (Lev. 2:3, 10). Giving in the new covenant serves a similar purpose, which is one of the points of today’s passage. Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth to contribute to a collection he is taking up to benefit the poor people who are members of the Jerusalem church (2 Cor. 8:1–9:5). In 9:6–15, the apostle reaches the high point of his appeal, calling on the Corinthians to give generously and so experience God’s blessing.

Our Lord wants our hearts, so it does little good to give to His work with a clenched fist holding onto every last coin. Instead, we must give joyfully, understanding that giving is not mere obedience to a command but a chance to further the work of the kingdom. Nothing could be more joyful, and what is more, the Lord Himself adds to this joy.

Acts 23-25

Acts 23-25

Acts 24:27 says, “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.”

Why would God not “bless” Paul here, and allow him to be set free? If struggles in this life, whether they be physical or financial, are from a lack of faith, then why did Paul have to suffer? Surely his faith was stronger than that of anyone reading this post. Examples like this completely destroy the prosperity gospel. In addition to the numerous passages in scripture where suffering and trials for the believer are assumed, actual examples of people of great faith who suffer are the rule not the exception in God’s redemptive history. Most importantly, our Savior suffered, and told us that we would as well.

In John 15:20 we read:

Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

Thankfully, this life is not where our hope lies. If we have an eternal perspective grounded in biblical truth, we’ll know that trials are from the Lord, and are part of this life so that we would grow in trusting Him.

Specifically, James 1:2-4 tells us:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Acts 9-18

Acts 9-18

Herod’s death is recorded in Acts 12, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, also records the same. He describes this occasion when Herod met with the people of Tyre and Sidon in what we now call Lebanon. These people were dependent upon Judea, and especially upon Galilee, for food. So when the king came out, dressed in his royal robes, they flattered him. When he spoke to them they cried out, “Why, this is a voice of a god, and not a man!” And this pompous, vain king believed them. It is almost incredible — the tragic, twisted mentality of a man like this, who could actually believe that he had so much power that he had become a god.

But this was not uncommon in those days, nor is it in our own day. This, of course, is exactly what happens in any man’s mentality when he begins to think of himself as what we call a “self-made” man. Sometimes you talk to men who own a lot of property and they will tell you, “Well, I worked for it. I produced it all myself. Nobody helped me.” They are falling into the same tragic error as this vain and fatuous king who imagined that he had power in himself to operate. But Luke tells us that he was immediately stricken by an angel of the Lord, and he was eaten of worms and died. I do not know what Luke’s exact diagnosis is here, but some sudden catastrophe befell Herod and, as Josephus tells us, within two or three days he died.

What does this mean? This is God’s way of demonstrating the ultimate folly of the person who thinks that he can live without God, who thinks that we are not dependent people. This is the tragedy of mankind. You can frequently discern from listening to others that, as a people, we imagine that we have what it takes to produce all that life requires, and that we do not need anyone or anything else — especially God. The great tragedy is that, more often than not, in a sense, we are saying to God, “Please, God, I’d rather do it myself!” We want to do it all ourselves. But God often strikes to remind us that our very life, our very breath, all that we have and are, is coming from him, and that we are fools to think that we can exist and live, act and react, on our own. This episode shows how blinded, how distorted, how tragically twisted becomes the thinking of men who depart from a sense of dependence upon God.

Acts 5-7

Acts 5-7

In Acts 6, we see the creation of the positions of Elder and Deacon within a local church. It would be very easy to read this as though the apostles were saying, “We’re too good to serve tables. After all, we’re apostles. Let’s pick out seven flunkies who can do that, while we devote ourselves to the tremendously spiritual work of prayer and preaching the word.” If you read it that way you completely misread this passage because that is not what they did at all.

Remember that these apostles had been in the upper room with the Lord Jesus. They had seen him divest himself of his garments, gird himself with a towel, take a basin of water, and wash their filthy, dirty feet. They had heard his words, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves….” (Luke 22:26). They were not, in any sense, downgrading the ministry of serving tables. They made this decision on the basis of a difference in spiritual gifts. Here we have a very clear example of the way the early church assigned duties upon the basis of the distribution of gifts by the Holy Spirit.

The glory of this church was that they were conscious of the superintendency of the Holy Spirit — so aware that the Lord Jesus himself, by means of the Spirit, was the head of the church. He was apportioning gifts, giving certain ministries to various individuals and sending them out, giving the orders. All through this book of Acts you can see tremendous manifestation of the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Here, then, they recognize that he had given various gifts. The apostles understood that their gift was that of an apostle. They were to lay the foundation of the church, for it was given to the apostles to lay foundations. That foundation is the Scriptures. It is on the Scriptures that the church rests. The minute the church departs from these Scriptures it loses its strength, its light and understanding, and its ability to operate. That has always been true. Whenever the church has rested upon the foundation laid by the apostles, the truth as it is in Jesus, the church has always had strength, power, and grace.

Therefore it was necessary that the apostles give themselves to the ministry of apostleship, which involved, “prayer and the ministry of the word.” As they met together in prayer they learned and understood the mind of God. The Spirit of God reminded them of things which the Lord Jesus had taught them, and they in turn imparted this to the church. At that time, none of the New Testament was in writing. Yet all of the truths which we have reflected in these New Testament pages were being uttered by the apostles as they taught the people from place to place. They taught them what we now have written down for us. And all we have, of course, is the word of the apostles. This whole New Testament is nothing but the word of the apostles given to us. So it was essential, as they understood it, to devote themselves to this.

John 16-21

John 16-21

John 21 includes an intense private conversation between the Lord and Peter that the apostle John was allowed to overhear. Even though Peter was still very tender from his devastating failure during the events leading up to the crucifixion, when he denied knowing Christ, Jesus welcomed him back.

But it was a welcome accompanied by truth. Jesus had work for him to do. He refused to sugarcoat the reality of the life to which Peter had returned. Jesus basically let him know, “This is going to be hard, Peter. If you’re going to follow Me, the way won’t be easy. Feeding My sheep is going to take everything you’ve got.”

When Jesus said, “Where you do not want to go,” we know what He meant because of John’s side note: “(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)” Jesus could see what Peter would face in the future and He knew His disciple would endure.

Church history records that in about AD 65 Peter was executed in Rome under orders from Nero. By the end of his life Peter had been on the road for several decades proclaiming the gospel. He had penned a couple of New Testament letters and probably been Mark’s main source for the second gospel. Peter had a great life of serving God, but he had a tough finish.

Following Christ is not easy. Our Lord never hid that fact. But following Him is best. We’re not sugarcoating anything here. The Christian life is not always smooth going, but it is exactly what we were designed to do and be. It’s the real life. It’s the best life you can possibly have: giving your life to Jesus Christ, living for Him, obeying His Word, having fellowship with His people, and serving in His kingdom.

You don’t know what lies ahead for you. Jesus does. He won’t tell you beforehand, except to assure you that whatever happens, He will be with you every step of the way. He has made that promise (Matthew 28:20) and He will keep it.

John 1-15

John 1-15

In John 4, Jesus interacts with a woman at the well. She came to the well at midday, not out of choice but out of necessity, for the other women would not tolerate her presence in the cool of the morning. The well was usually deserted during the hot hours, but on this day a man was sitting there. Then she noticed that the man was a Jew, and Jews hardly ever ventured so far into Samaria. But then, most surprising of all, for the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, the man turned to her and asked for a drink. She was flabbergasted, and rather than fulfilling the request she paused to ask why this man was violating so many social customs.

“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ ” Thus, the woman at the well came face to face with Jesus and He began teaching her how to find eternal satisfaction.

Just as Nathanael had doubts about Philip’s claim that Jesus was the Messiah, this woman was skeptical about Jesus’ ability to supply living water. “ ‘Where then do You get that living water?’ ” she asked. Jesus didn’t answer, but began to describe the wonderful qualities of His living water in comparison to the water in the well. The living water, He said, would satisfy forever. That got her attention, for she was a hedonist, a seeker after pleasure, spending her life in search of something to satisfy her. And so she asked Him to give her a drink.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband.’ ” She had to admit she had no husband, to which Jesus replied that she had had five husbands and now had an illicit relationship. That raised Him, in her estimation, to the status of a prophet, and she brought up the topic of worship. Jesus then spoke to her about true worship, and when He was finished she ventured to mention her theory that Jesus might be more, that He might be the Messiah the Samaritans, too, were looking for. And Jesus, in a rare self-disclosure, said, “ ‘I … am He.’ ”

We’re never told whether the woman accepted Jesus’ claim. She went back to town and asked the men whether Jesus could be the Christ. Many of the people did believe on Him. But the woman had been the first of that town to see and hear Jesus. He offered Himself to her as living water that would satisfy always. Did she drink?

Luke 22-24

Luke 22-24

One of the most famous backsliders in the history of the church is Simon Peter. This man, who had followed Jesus faithfully in the midst of hunger, storm, and public unrest, denied Him when He made that final journey to the cross. He publicly and boldly denied that he ever had known Jesus of Nazareth. Could such a man, who had turned His back on his Savior, his Lord, his friend, ever again be confident that he would one day enter into that inheritance promised by God?

We can, of course, easily answer the question because we have a record of Jesus forgiving Peter of his sin and restoring him. But what if we did not have that scene recorded at the end of John’s gospel? What if we had no way of knowing for sure that Peter had been forgiven, only that he had continued in the ministry after Jesus had ascended into heaven? Could we, then, know for certain that Peter was restored? It might surprise you that we could.

In Luke 22:31–34, we have a record of Jesus’ prediction concerning Peter’s denial. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” A time would come when Satan would sift Peter, and he would fall under the weight of temptation and deny his Lord. But what did Jesus say about that time? He comforted Peter by assuring him that he would not lose his faith. And the reason his faith wouldn’t fail was that Jesus had prayed for him.

Peter would not fall away from the faith because Jesus had interceded for him. What an amazing thing! And it is even more amazing to consider that He prays for each and every Christian alive today. If you are a Christian, Jesus is praying for you. He is praying that your faith will not fail, no matter how far you fall.

Though Jesus’ work of sacrificial atonement was finished on the cross, His work of redemption did not stop there. He was raised for our justification and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God to intercede for us. We can be confident of our salvation because of Jesus’ promise, “I will pray for you.” We have a living hope and a living Savior, one who is praying every day at the throne of God that our faith will not fail.

Luke 19-21

Luke 19-21

For centuries, God called the citizens of old covenant Israel to stop relying on the gods around them and instead lean on Him, the Rock who is faithful in all His ways and a shelter for those in need (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 71:3). This commandment to shun idolatry in favor of worship of Yahweh, the one true God, was the most basic requirement for the ancient Israelites (Ex. 20:1–3), but the people as a whole failed to keep it. Though the Lord sent prophets again and again to call the people back to covenant fidelity (Isa. 6; Jer. 1; Ezek. 2:1–7), most of them did not abandon their flagrant idolatry. The disobedience got so bad that our Creator was left with no choice but to cast the people into exile if He was to be true to the warnings and stipulations He had given to Israel (Lev. 26; 2 Kings 17:7–23).

Upon the return of the people to the land, there was a new and laudable dedication to obey the Mosaic law in order to prevent an exile from happening again (Neh. 8–10). Regrettably, however, over time the religious leaders began to treat Torah as an end in itself, adding commands and rules that obscured the true intent of that law. When the Rock to whom the law of Moses points finally came, these leaders, by and large, could not receive Him as the One in whom they were to find shelter. This entire story is encapsulated in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s passage, which reveals that He embodies the Rock upon whom His people must stand.

Jesus probably echoes Isaiah 5:1–7 in Luke 20, a passage in which the prophet compares the faithless citizens of Jerusalem to the Lord’s vineyard. Christ changes this image a bit, portraying the religious leaders as the tenants of the vineyard. These tenants continually reject those who are sent by the owner of the vineyard — God — and kill the owner’s son (Luke 20:9–18). The leaders to whom Jesus is speaking recognize that the parable is about them, but instead of doing the wise thing and receiving the Son, they conspire to kill Him, thereby proving Christ’s words to be true (v. 19).

Our Savior is the Rock, and if we do not stand upon Him as our cornerstone, then we will stumble upon Him and be destroyed like the leaders who opposed Him (vv. 17–18). May we always seek to stand on Him and not the sinking sand of idolatry and works righteousness that is ever before us.

Luke 11-18

Luke 11-18

Christianity in the West, especially in the American South is flourishing. At least based on the number of people who would profess to be Christians. However, if religion is such a big part of our lives, why isn’t it making more of an impact on our society? The sad reality is that claims of religious commitment run high, but impact is at an all-time low. The reason: many professing Christians have mistaken views of saving faith although they verbally affirm the necessity of faith alone.

These views fall into a few different categories. One error would be the idea of faith as a mere intellectual assent to propositional truth and not an assent to such truth alongside a personal entrusting of oneself into the arms of the Savior. Far more common, however, would be views of faith that downplay or even ignore God’s demand for repentance. It is not unusual, for example, to find people calling unbelievers to trust Jesus without giving a good definition of the problem in which humanity finds itself. Sometimes, Christ is presented as if He can be added to a life without fundamentally changing that life. In such cases, there is a neglect of the doctrine of hell, the gravity of sin, the terror of God’s wrath, and the necessity of repentance.

When it comes to the fiducia of saving faith, the entrusting of ourselves to Christ alone, there can be no real turn to Christ Jesus unless we turn away from sin. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other magisterial Reformers emphasized repeatedly that faith and repentance go hand in hand. Scripture clearly teaches as much. Jesus’ very first message was for us to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15, emphasis added). Acts 2:38 requires both faith and repentance for salvation.

Although we often distinguish faith and repentance for the sake of instruction, they are actually inseparable — two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Christ calls us to give up everything to follow Him, and that includes our sin and any attempt to earn favor from our good works. True repentance does not mean sinlessness in this life, but it does mean a full reorientation of one’s direction and love of self and sin, a marked turn from what opposes Christ to Christ Himself.

True faith is repentant faith, as revealed in Luke 18. The tax collector had true sorrow for his sin and faith in God’s mercy. Therefore, he was justified. The Pharisee, however, showed no repentance, thereby invalidating his profession of faith and revealing he was not justified in the Lord’s eyes.