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'The Wisdom of Winning Souls' (Exodus 4:12-15)

On Sunday we had Glen Richards from Operation 513 sharing from Exodus 4:12-15 on 'The Wisdom of Winning Souls'. Like Moses, we all have our reasons why not when it comes to sharing the gospel. Perhaps it’s ineloquence of speech, concerns that we don’t have all the answers, past sins that we think might disqualify us, or thinking that there are others that might do a better job. It’s worth noting though that our reasons why not are largely us focused – ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m not’, ‘I don’t’ – rather than God focused. It’s good to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about God. It’s His gospel! It’s His power! It’s Him that saves! He wants to use you, and intend He commands you, and every Christian, to play your part in the Great Commission. The only way people are saved is by hearing the gospel and this necessarily requires Christians to be bold and brave and to open our mouths and share the good news.   

 

I headed out with Glen and Craig to Upper Hutt yesterday and we all had some great gospel conversations with people. Something that always amazes me is that there are people out there, a lot of people, who are happy to talk about spiritual things and are open to what we have to say. Sharing the gospel can be a daunting thing but, as Glen said, it’s important to take steps, no matter how small, in doing so. A good place to start is by praying for the lost, asking for a love for the lost, and praying to God for opportunities to share your faith. Put your gospel shoes on each morning and be prepared for whatever opportunities may come your way. Another simple step is to have gospel tracts on hand that you can give to people that you encounter. With God’s strength, you can say, ‘Here, this is for you – please read it.’ Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” Daniel 12:3 says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” There is nothing more eternally consequential than sharing the gospel and seeing sinners come to faith, and the wise understand this. 

'Jesus Laying down the Law' (Luke 11:37-54)

In this heavy hitting passage, Jesus pronounces six woes on the religious leaders. We noted that there were some who genuinely sought Jesus and, it would seem, came to faith, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, however, for the most part, the Pharisees and the lawyers (!!) did not believe in Jesus. What two words might best describe these religious leaders? Legalism and hypocrisy. Their approach to God and His law was legalistic in nature. They were all about the minutiae (tithing herbs) but missed the bigger picture (“justice and the love of God”). They added their man-made laws to God’s word and in so doing made religion a burdensome thing for those who would come to God. Their religion was also hypocritical in that they were all about the outward appearance, like a cup that is outwardly clean, but were not right before God on the inside. They would place burdens on others but, hypocritically, would not touch those burdens themselves.

 

Legalism and hypocrisy are not, of course, unique to the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. We can all fall into the trap of relating to God on a works-based-performance-what-you-do basis. We can all make the form and the ceremony, the rite and ritual, more important than our hearts before God and our relationships with God. Similarly, we can all fall into the trap of hypocritically not practising what we preach. Putting requirements, expectations and burdens on others that we ourselves do not live up to. We touched upon how Jesus laid it on heavy with the heart-hearted, the proud, and the hypocritical. That tough soil needed to be broken. To the humble, the contrite, and to those who earnestly sought Him, however, Jesus was always ever so gracious. How important it is that we check our own hearts before God, and allow the Holy Spirit to check them, for any trace of legalism of hypocrisy in you. How sweet it is to have a heart that is right before God because you are in right relationship with Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

 

'The Sign of Jonah Shines Bright' (Luke 11:29-36)

One thing we looked at in this passage is how Jesus didn’t shy away from hard words and hard sayings. Jesus said to the Jews of His day, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” As Christians, we must be submitted to God’s word and willing to allow the spotlight of the Holy Spirit to freely and openly inspect our hearts. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul emphasised how the Greeks sought wisdom and the Jews sought a sign. We see this in Jesus’ words where the Jews – despite the astounding Messianic sign of the mute demon possessed man having just been healed – sought yet another. When it comes to signs and wonders, they can boost and encourage a person’s faith, but they are not the foundation of faith. Signs in Jesus’ ministry, and during the early church, validated and confirmed the truth of God’s word and the life-changing realities of the gospel. I say that signs are not the foundation of faith but I should clarify that in one key respect. The sign of the prophet Jonah, by which Jesus spoke of His resurrection, is absolutely the foundation of our faith. Our faith rises and falls on the truth of the resurrection. Jesus has resurrected from the dead, even as Jonah came out of that big fish, and He is alive today. I pray that you will be filled with the light of the Lord this week as you open His word, submit and surrender your life to it, and enjoy fellowship with your risen Lord.

'Our God is Greater' (Luke 11:14-28)

In this passage we see Jesus casting out a demon from a mute person which, was believed by the Jewish leaders to be a miracle that only the Messiah could and would perform. It was of great significance then that, in response to this great miracle, rather than believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Jewish leaders attributed the miracle to the working of Satan. There is much in Jesus’ response to their unbelief, including: certain learnings regarding demonic possession; the reality that Satan’s demonic kingdom, though the epitome of evil and wickedness, is not divided against itself (such division, as Spurgeon is said to have said, is sadly reserved for fallen men in God’s greater kingdom); Jesus is the stronger man who has defeated the devil; significant theological implications for Israel due to their national rejection of Christ as Messiah; and that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven anyone who comes to God through Christ.  

 

As I consider this passage, something that is very clear from it is that there is a spiritual realm that we must consider in our walks as Christians. In the great scheme of things, there are two kingdoms in the world, the kingdom of darkness that is the devil’s and the kingdom of light that is God’s. Every person who walks on this earth finds themselves in either of these kingdoms and so it is that there is no neutrality with Christ. As Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” We must see with spiritual eyes the reality of these two kingdoms and the spiritual and eternal implications as to which kingdom a person is in. But know that these kingdoms are not static! God wonderfully plunders the devil’s domain one soul at a time through the transforming power of the gospel. Praise God today that you were once in darkness, blinded by the enemy, but God has opened your eyes to the glory of the gospel. And pray to God this day that you might have opportunity today and this week to share the hope of salvation that you have found in Christ.

 

'Continue in Prayer' (Luke 11:5-13)

In this passage, Jesus twice argues from the lesser to the greater to emphasise the importance of consistently and persistently praying to God. In the first example, where one man banged on another’s door and asked for bread late at night, Matt highlighted both the importance of hospitality in Middle Eastern culture and how, in that day, a closed door at night was indeed a closed door. However, in response to persistent door knocking and calling, the man opened and provided the bread. In the second, Jesus spoke of how earthly fathers, though evil by nature, do good and respond to the requests of their children – giving bread, fish, or an egg. In both examples, the point ultimately is, “how much more will your heavenly Father give…” (It is interesting to note that in Matthew Jesus says “give good things” whereas Luke says “give the Holy Spirit”). How important it is that we remember how willing our heavenly Father is to answer our prayers! And like an earthly father, and so much more, He delights to do so! The exhortation from Jesus then is to ask, seek, and knock. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

 

The last two Sundays have been focused on prayer. I have been challenged by this quote from Murray M’Cheyne that I read this past week, “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.” It’s good at times to take stock of our spiritual lives and, this week, perhaps you might take some time to consider your prayer life. A praying Christian is a healthy Christian and a praying church is a healthy church. Let’s be praying for one another, and for our church, that we would all grow in the area of prayer.

'Lord Teach Us To Pray' (Luke 11:1-4)

Over the past two Sundays we have considered different aspects of the Christian’s devotional life. Some refer to them as devotionals, others their quiet time or simply their time with God. It doesn’t matter so much what you call it but that make this a priority in your life. In the account of Martha and Mary, we saw how Martha “was distracted with much serving” whereas Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” We talked about the importance of service, that the mindset of the Christian is to be ‘I serve’, and that Jesus came as a servant. But service, as important as it is, can at times be a distraction from what matters most which is the Lord. One aspect of the devotional life that we see from Mary is the importance of sitting and being still before the Lord in His presence. And what was Mary doing? “hear[ing] His word”. Spending time in the Bible each and every day is so important for your spiritual growth because it is through the Bible that we learn more about God and understand how He would have us live for Him and serve Him.

 

This past Sunday, we considered the other important aspect of the devotional life which is prayer. In response to a disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray”, Jesus gave His disciples, and us, a short model prayer that we know as The Lord’s Prayer. It is not a formula but a wonderful prayer and pattern from which we can base other prayers. We pray to God on the basis of relationship, with Him as our Heavenly Father and we as His children. We also pray to God from a place of reverence, recognising that He is holy and that His name is to be “hallowed”.Something important to note is that Jesus begins by fixing our eyes on God – His attributes and His worthiness – and to pray for God’s ultimate purposes in the world to be fulfilled: “Your kingdom come”. Having placed God first, Jesus then would have us pray for our needs in God’s provision, pardon, and protection. How awesome it is that we can pray to God about anything! There is nothing too great or too small that we cannot talk to God and ask of Him about it. If you are diligent to have that fixed devotional appointment with God every day, I encourage you keep at it and ask God for a freshness in your quiet time with Him. If time alone with God is not currently a feature of your life, I encourage you to get into the habit of setting aside time each day to sit at Jesus’ feet, hear His word, and spend time in prayer.

'Like A Flint' (Luke 9:51-62)

In this passage, we see Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem”. We talked about how Jesus had steadfast determination regarding the timing of His mission, the location of His mission – Jerusalem, and the purpose of His mission. Jesus was laser-beam focused on the great task His Father had given Him, and He obediently saw it through. We should be reminded from this of God’s great love for you! The Father loves you and He sent His beloved Son to die on the cross for you. The Son loves you also and He willingly died for you. How important it is that we be reminded again and again of God’s great love for the world, and for you personally, and that we thank Him each and every day for His love, grace and mercy.

 

We spoke also of the steadfast determination required of Jesus’ followers – you and me – in following Jesus. There are three short sharp accounts between Jesus and some would-be disciples. Jesus’ words seem perhaps hard-nosed to us but this is fitting in view of Him having “set [His] face like a flint” for His journey to Calvary (Isaiah 50:7b). In the first account, the man said “Lord, I will follow you wherever You go”, but Jesus somewhat rebuffed him by saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” From this, we see that there is a cost to following Jesus and you must be prepared for that cost. In the second account, Jesus said, “Follow Me”, but the would-be disciple responded, “Lord, let me first go and bury my Father.” In response, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” From this, we emphasised how important it is that we as followers of Jesus keep the right priorities in life. There is no higher caller than following Jesus and we are to let nothing keep from that high call. In the third account, the would-be disciple asked to first say goodbye to his family before following. Again, Jesus’ response was direct, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Followers of Jesus must have steadfast determination to move forward and not look back. These are all hard words but necessary for us to hear and heed. In view of the steadfast determination of Jesus to die for us, how can we not but live for Him – to the full – each and every day?

'The Crucified Life' (Luke 9:18-27)

In this passage we see something of an inflection point in the gospel with Jesus, for the first time, speaking openly about His coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem. We looked at this in three parts. First, Confessing Christ, where Jesus asked His disciples two questions: “Who do the crowds says that I am?” and “But who do you say that I am?” It’s always interesting and informative to know what other people think but, when it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ, what truly matters is what you think and who you believe Him to be. The only answer that counts is that which Peter gave, “The Christ of God”. Peter here declared Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the one that Israel had long waited for, and in Matthew’s gospel his answer was even more emphatic, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Second, The Cross of Christ. Having established that Jesus is indeed the Christ, Jesus then shattered His disciples conceived notions of what the Messiah had come to do. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected…,and be killed, and be raised the third day.” A dead Messiah, a crucified Christ, didn’t fit with the disciples’ expectations and hopes about Jesus. But Jesus walked according to the ‘divine must’ and there could be no salvation without suffering, no redemption without rejection, no deliverance without death. It was this very purpose that Jesus came into the world! He lived to die! He came to save!

 

Third, The Crucified Life. Having established that He was indeed the Christ, and having corrected His disciples understanding of what the Messiah had come to do (though they did not understand at that time), Jesus then dropped a further bombshell by telling His disciples what following Him entailed. In verse 23, Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” This is not a recommendation, a suggestion or a proposal. This is not something for the super spiritual elite saints, whoever they may be, but for every Christian who believes that Jesus is the Christ and calls Him Saviour. Jesus must also be Lord of your life and this means embracing two crosses: the cross of Christ and your own. The Christian life is to be characterised by self-denial – put God and others above self. The Christian life is to be characterised by the taking up of ones cross and this necessarily means embracing reproach, shame and daily dying to self and living for the Lord. The Christian life is to be characterised by following Jesus. We have in the scriptures the perfect example of Jesus laid out for us to follow. We are to live in vital relationship with Him as we follow Him day by day. This would have been a hard word for the disciples when they first heard it and it is a hard word for us today! But remember that we follow Jesus not in our own strength but in the mighty power and bountiful supply of the Holy Spirit who has been graciously give to us. Remember also that Jesus is with us and that “[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

'The Bread of Life' (Luke 9:1-17)

There were two aspects to the backdrop to the feeding of 5,000. Jesus’ disciples, the twelve, had just returned from their short-term mission trip throughout Galilee where they had “preach[ed] the kingdom of God and heal[ed] the sick”. Jesus had also just heard the ill news that Kind Herod had beheaded John the Baptist. Despite the disciples’ need for rest, and Jesus’ desire to get alone, the needs of the people trumped these other considerations and Jesus “received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing”. It was here that the feeding of 5,000, an important miracle recorded on all four gospels, took place. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, “blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude”. Jesus fed the multitudes with truth and bread. There are many spiritual applications to this, however, on the physical side, we see in this miracle that Jesus has concerned with human need and compassionately met those human needs.

 

On the spiritual side, we highlighted five applications regarding Jesus who is the bread of life. In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” First, Jesus is the bread of life unto eternal life. Bread in that day, and for many today, was essential for physical nourishment and life. Jesus, the true bread from heaven, is essential for eternal life. Second, Jesus is the bread of life who satisfies in this life. There are many things that people look to in life for satisfaction and fulfilment but nothing satisfies the hungry soul like a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Third, Jesus is the bread of life in daily life. We spoke here about the manna that Israel ate in the wilderness where they were required to gather bread each and every day. So it is with Jesus. We need to be in the Bible each and every day, feeding upon God’s word. Yesterday’s manna was perfect…for yesterday! You need fresh bread from God each ned day. Fourth, Jesus is the bread of life to be shared with others. You must first receive broken bread from God so that you can then give to others. Part of the wonder of the feeding of the 5,000 was that the disciples played a part in that they got to distribute the bread. It is privilege for us as Christians to be able to be co-labourers with God in sharing the gospel. Fifth, Jesus is the bread of life who we commemorate in communion. He is the bread of life who gives life to the world.  I pray that you would be blessed this week as your draw near to God, feed upon His word and serve Him each day.  

'The Touch of Christ' (Luke 8:40-56)

On Sunday we were in Luke 8:40-56 ‘The Touch of Christ’. In this passage, two life-changing miracles were connected through the same twelve-year duration. Jairus had twelve wonderful years with his daughter but she was sick and dying. The woman with the issue of blood had been unwell for twelve long years. Jairus, as ruler of the synagogue, was a man of prominence, well known, likely of some wealth and certainly of significant social standing. The woman was poor, unknown, socially outcast, regarded as unclean. They both, however, came to Jesus and they both received the healing they were after. The woman was healed when she reached out and touched the border of Jesus’ garment. In response, Jesus had her confess her healing, the people came to know that she was clean, and He made sure that she knew that the cause of her healing was because she had placed her faith in Him. After Jairus received the ill news that his daughter had died, Jesus exhorted him to continue to have faith, to keep believing, and so it was that Jesus resurrected Jairus’ daughter. It was to me a beautiful thing to learn that the Good Shepherd’s words in Aramaic, “Talitha, cumi” might be properly translated “Little lamb, arise!”

 

By way of application, we considered the eternal and the temporal. The hope of every Christian is that, because Jesus lives, we too will live eternally with God. Jesus said, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping” and so it is that Christians in the New testament who died are described as being asleep in the Lord. This is because death does not have the final say but rather death, for the believer, is merely the portal, the door, to eternal life. When it comes to the temporal, the here and now, it is important to remember that God cares about our lives and He cares about the hard times and sufferings that we go through. Sometimes we can feel like an anonymous face in the crowd that no one sees or cares about. But God sees and He cares. When it comes to physically healing, God can and does heal today all in accordance with His will. When it comes to spiritual and emotional healing, God can and does heal and He desires that His children be whole, complete in Him. Whatever you may be facing this week or this month or this year, God is able to work in your life! Do you believe that? Come to Him! Ask of Him! “Do not be afraid; only believe”.

'The Gadarene Demoniac' (Luke 8:26-39)

On Sunday we were in Luke 8:26 – 39 ‘The Gadarene Demoniac’. It is quite a confronting passage as we observe really the most comprehensive case and description of demon possession in the scriptures. We looked at how the Gadarene demoniac was held in bondage to Satan, healed by the power of God and called to herald the “great things God had done” for him. First, he was held and what horrific bondage it was! He lived a naked, isolated, dark, fearful, crazed and self-harming existence. The man, indwelt as he was by a legion of unclean spirits, was reduced to an animal like state. Quite different for us, but we too were all at one time held in bondage to sin and blinded in our minds by Satan to the glory of the gospel. Our lives were once dominated by the flesh and we were powerless to free ourselves from it. Second, the man was healed by the power of God. Jesus crossed the lake, I believe, with the intention of healing this man and so He did. The demons, fearful of Christ, were cast into the swine and the man was then found “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind”. What a powerful picture this is of God’s power and ability to bring healing to even the most dire of situations! However bad your life may have been, this man had it worse and yet Jesus was still able to reach him and heal him. For the Christian, we too have been healed through Christ’s death on the cross where the power of sin and of Satan was broken. You have been loosed from the bonds of sin and shame that once held you and have been wonderfully freed. You once had a futile mind but have been and are being transformed by the renewing of your mind. Praise God for the healing that is found in Christ!

 

Third, the man was called by Jesus to herald the “great things God had done” for him. Quite naturally, the man wanted to go with Jesus but Jesus refused and instead sent the man out as a missionary to tell his own town, and ultimately the whole of the Decapolis, all that God had for him and “how He has had compassion on [him]” (Mark 5:19). An application from this is that missionary ministry begins at home! Oftentimes this can be the hardest place to be a witnesses for Jesus but it can also be the most impactful. What a witness and testimony it is to those who know you best, and who know what you were like before you came to Christ, to see the change that God has made in your life. You can tell strangers what God has done for you, and so you should, but it a powerful thing for people to see first-hand the genuine transformation of a redeemed soul. God is good and God is faithful! Be praying this week for opportunities to herald the gospel and tell others what God has done in your life and to tell of His great love and compassion.

'Family and Faith' (Luke 8:16-25)

Something that has caught my attention in recent weeks is how Jesus over and again emphasises the importance of doing and obeying the word of God. In the story of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, Jesus said, “Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like…” (C6:47). Last week, in the parable of the four soils, Jesus said of the good soil that these are they who, “having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (C8:15). And again, in Sunday’s teaching, in response to Jesus being told that His mother and brothers desired to see Him, He said, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” (C8:21). As a church, I hope you would agree that we are a well-fed people when it comes to the word of God. But hearing and receiving God’s word is only one part of the equation. It is important that we hear! But we must also be faithful and obedient “doers of the word” (James 1:22). In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Obedience to the word, keeping His commandments, is vital in showing your love for Jesus and I pray that we would all grow as both hearers and doers of the word.

 

We saw also how Jesus stilled the storm. We were reminded that the disciples were in the boat at Jesus’ instruction and that they were therefore in the center of God’s will and yet they experienced a significant storm. As Christians, we are not immune from the storms of life and indeed oftentimes they are ordained by God to stretch us, test us and grow our faith. We saw also that Jesus, being God, is the agent of creation and Lord over creation and so the wind and waves obeyed Him. Upon stilling the storm, however, Jesus rebuked His disciples, saying, “Where is your faith?” Cristian highlighted here that they were exactly where God wanted them, they were doing their very vest in rowing against the storm, they were even looking unto Jesus as He slept in the back of the boat, and they cried out to Jesus for help. So why then the rebuke? Perhaps they should have remembered that Jesus had mentioned “the other side of the lake” and had faith that they would not perish. Perhaps they should have known that Jesus was to die on the cross and not during that ill-fated crossing. Perhaps it was the fact that, with Jesus in their lives, they need not fear death. Whatever the case, they lacked faith in that moment and Jesus exhorted them to have faith. God values faith in the lives of His people and we should have great faith in God. In our lives, so much the answer to fear and anxiety is prayer. We know these verses well, but be reminded of them again and reflect upon them once more: Philippians 4:6 – 7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”    

  

'The Parable of the Four Soils' (Luke 8:4-15)

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. We see from this, the first of Jesus’ parables and the key parable to understanding other of His parables, that when the word of God is preached, there are different heart responses to it. The exhortation for us is to be careful how we hear and respond to the word of God. I asked the question, which soil are you?

 

The wayside soil is the unresponsive heart. This is the hard and unrepentant heart that does nothing with the word. It goes in one ear and out the other so to speak. It finds no home in the heart and Satan soon snatches it away. The rocky soil is the impulsive heart. They “[received] the word with joy” and soon shot up but had no root and soon wither. There are many who respond to a gospel that emphasises God’s wonderful plan for your life, the filling of a God-shaped hole or that Jesus will in some way give a better life here and now. The true gospel though is first and foremost about forgiveness of sins found in Christ’s death on the cross. It’s important that in sharing the gospel that we be faithful to the gospel message. Faith rooted in the cross will withstand all manner of trials, temptations and persecutions. The thorny soil is the preoccupied heart. Jesus spoke of thorns that grow and choke out the seed so that it “bring[s] no fruit to maturity”. The thorns spoken of are cares, riches and the pleasures of life. This should be a warning to us all to be constantly weeding the soil of our hearts and removing that which will prevent spiritual growth and fruitfulness. Some things in our lives are not sins but they nonetheless are thorns that keep us from the best that the Lord has for us. The good soil is the responsive heart. This is the heart that you want to have! What kind of heart is this? First, it is one that “heard the word with a noble and good heart”. Second, it is a heart that keeps the word, not just hearing but obeying. Third, it is a heart that “bear[s] fruit with patience”. The world loves a good fireworks display but the Christian life isn’t about razzle dazzle, here for a good and not a long time, but rather faithfully bearing fruit to the glory of God day by day, month by month, year by year, decade by decade until Christ comes. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

'The Gospel of Women' (Luke 8:1-3)

On Sunday we were in Luke 8:1 – 3 ‘The Gospel of Women’. We read how, “certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities…and many others [] provided for Him from their substance”. In many ways we take for granted today in a country like New Zealand with its Christian heritage the elevated status of women. But clearly in parts of the world today this is not the case and in Jesus’ day it also was not the case. Indeed, Jewish Rabbis had a statement, which is quite shocking to our ears, “Blessed are you, O God, for not making be a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” The gospel, however, says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither make nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We see from Jesus’ interactions with women, both those He ministered to and how they ministered to Him, that Jesus’ attitude towards women was wonderfully radical and revolutionary. He loved, cared for, respected, accepted and involved women during His earthly ministry, and He still does the same today. Truly no one has done more for the position and status of women in the world than the Lord Jesus Christ! Old barriers, ancient divisions and deep-rooted prejudices are removed when Jesus enters the equation. Praise God that as Christians – whether male or female – that we are one in Christ!

 
'His Mercy Is More' (Luke 7:36-50)

In Matthew 21, Jesus said to Israel’s religious leaders, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” and we see this in the account of Simon the Pharisee and the unnamed sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. It is a really powerful scene as this known sinner enters the home of a strict Pharisee and proceeds to weep on Jesus’ feet before washing them, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with the precious oil she had in hand. Self-righteous Simon didn’t get it and was rather repulsed by the whole thing. Jesus saw the woman’s deed as a great act of love from a repentant soul and recipient of grace. 

 

We considered three applications. First, we all have a sin debt that we cannot pay. Whether 500 or 50 denarii, we are all sinners who must trust solely in the gracious forgiveness of the great Creditor, God who forgives on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross. As humans we are prone to compare ourselves with others – who has sinned more and more significantly – but this is foolishness as we’re all on the same footing at the cross as sinners in need of mercy, grace and forgiveness. Second, we should all show great gratitude to God for His grace. It is true that those who have particularly known the depths of sin and depravity, those who have felt great guilt and shame, are particularly grateful to God and show great love to Him for their salvation. But haven’t we all been forgiven so much and forgiven so much more than we even know? Your sins are many. My sins are many. His mercy and grace are more! Third, as we mature as Christians, our appreciation for God’s grace should grow. It can be easy for Christians who have been Christians for a long time, with old sins in the rear view mirror and well on the sanctification journey, to lose their gratefulness to God. But it shouldn’t be this way. We have a great example in the life of the Apostle Paul who, as he matured as a Christians, saw the depth and pervasiveness of his sin more clearly and so even more appreciated the greatness of God’s grace. The “least of the apostles” came to see himself as the “least of all the saints” and further still came to see himself as "chief of sinners". “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:47).

'John's Doubts and Jesus' Praise' (Luke 7:18-35)

During our study we saw how John the Baptist, imprisoned by Herod for speaking truth to power, sent disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” John had doubts about whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Perhaps this was because his expectation of Jesus hadn’t been met – a great, and for many, vexing truth of scripture of course is that there is one Messiah with two comings – or perhaps because his incarceration had taken its toll on John. Regardless of the reason, Jesus pointed to the His deeds done “that very hour” of curing many infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits, and healing the blind. These deeds, and more, spoke to the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah as prophesised (see Isaiah 35 and 61). Jesus therefore reassured John as to who He was and also gave a gentle rebuke by saying, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Jesus was encouraging John to stay the course, to keep believing and trusting in Him. 

 

Jesus then heaped the highest praise upon John – speaking of his mighty character and one-of-a-kind ministry – before making what is for us a startling statement: “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” How can this be? You and me greater than one such as John? The answer I believe is that it’s not about us but about who we are connected to. As Spurgeon said, “The least in the gospel stands on higher ground that the greatest under the law.” John still had an incomplete picture regarding the Messiah whereas we have a complete picture of salvation. John still looked forward to Messiah’s death whereas we look back to Christ’s death. John was among those Old Testament saints under the Old Covenant with its animal blood sacrifices and the law that brings death. We are under the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, know the grace of God and have new life in the Spirit who indwells every Christian. John was herald of the Kingdom but we are children of the Kingdom and friends of the King. We are those who have been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). As Christians we stand on altogether different and far higher ground.

'The Greatest Sermon Ever Told: Your Fruit and Your Foundation' (Luke 6:43-49)

In this passage Jesus closes out the Sermon on the Mount with two illustrations regarding the radical change that must take place in a believer’s life. Jesus first focuses on your fruit where He says, “For every tree is known by its own fruit.” Good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. The good fruit that God looks for in the life of a Christian include the fruit of repentance, the Spirit, good works and the fruit of our lips. Second, Jesus focus on your foundation with the illustration of the two builders. The wise builder dug deep and laid a solid foundation on the rock whereas the foolish builder laid no foundation. The flood and stream arise and beat vehemently and only the wise man’s house stands. We talked about various appropriate applications of this illustration, including that the Lord Jesus Christ is the rock of our salvation and the one who we are to build our lives upon. Jesus’ point, however, is specifically to do with obedience to His word. He says, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like…” It is one thing to know God’s word, but it is another altogether to know it and obey it.

 

The exhortation and challenge is that we would each examine ourselves, test ourselves and be diligent to make our call and election sure (see 2 Corinthians 13:5 and 2 Peter 1:10). Christian trees produce good fruit so is your life producing good fruit? Genuine faith is shown by obedience so is your life marked by obedience to the word of God? This is not intended as a condemnation but if the Holy Spirit brings conviction then we need to respond. The encouragement and comfort that I closed with is that the Christian life is not marked by perfection but by growth. If you’re looking for perfection in yourself or in others then you will be disappointed. None of us are perfect and we won’t be until we are in the Lord’s presence. Consistent growth is what should characterize your life. Perhaps there was a certain sin you were caught up in last year but not anymore – that’s growth. Perhaps there is a spiritual discipline that for the longest time you were lacking in but you have made strides in that area – that’s growth. None of us are perfect and we have not yet attained but we are to press on and press on and keep pressing on in the Lord (Philippians 3:12-14). Perhaps your life hasn’t been as fruitful as it should have been. Confess, repent and start bearing fruit. When is the best time to plant a tree? Ten years ago or today.   

The Greatest Sermon Ever Told: Critical Judgment ' (Luke 6:37-42)

During our time, we considered seven critical points regarding ungodly judgmentalism and godly judgment which were: 1. It is critical that we not judge others critically. 2. It is critical that we realise that we reap what we sow. 3. It is critical that we follow Jesus’ example. 4. It is critical that there is proper judgment of sin in the church. 5. It is critical that we not judge non-Christians but rather point them to Jesus. 6. It is critical that we first see our own sin before we help others with theirs. 7. It is critical that we realise that Jesus is our judge.

 

Honing in on points 1 and 4, there is a world of difference between ungodly judgmentalism and godly judgment. Jesus said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.” This command is wrongly used by some Christians, and many non-Christians, as a shield and a cudgel when it comes to talking about and addressing issues of sin. What Jesus was talking about, however, was being overly critical, fault-finding or censorious. Part of our loving others is that we not be harshly critical of them and, as the Golden Rule would have it, we would not want them to treat us this way. In commanding us to ‘Stop judging’, Jesus was clearly not placing an absolute bar on judgment. Indeed, due discernment and godly evaluation are critical in many areas of the Christian life. In the church context, 1 Corinthians 5 is clear that we are not to judge unbelievers but judgment of sin is to take place in the body of Christ. What’s important though in responding to others’ sins, is that we first see our own sin before we help them with theirs. Or, as Jesus put it, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” You are only in a position to help someone with their sin if you are first honest about your own.You can help others spiritually when you do so in the right spirit and are aware of your own weakness. You can help others when your heart is right and you have their good restoration in mind (see Galatians 6:1).

'The Greatest Sermon Ever Told: Supernatural Love' (Luke 6:27-36)

On Sunday we heard part two of our mini-series ‘The Greatest Sermon Ever Told.' In this radical teaching, Jesus commands His followers – you and me – to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”. How contrary this is to human nature! Human nature has it that we do good to those who are good to us, that we love those who are loveable, that we are kind to those who are kind to us. And human nature has it that we respond in kind – hurting those who hurt us and hating those who hate us. But that’s not God’s way and that’s not the way for those who are part of God’s Kingdom! God calls us as Christians to show His agape love in our interactions with all people, including those who are hostile to us personally and who are enemies of the church generally. Agape love does not come naturally to us. Agape love is God’s self-sacrificial love, a love not based on feelings but one which recognises the inherent worth of the object of that love. Agape love is a love borne of God’s Spirit at work in us (Romans 5:5). 

 

Jesus says verse 36 'Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful' showing us that we are to show mercy and love to others because God has been so merciful and shown such love to us. Indeed, in Romans 5:8 – 10 we read, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” We were once enemies of God, living our own way and doing our thing, and it was while we were in this sinful state when Christ died for us. Now having reconciled to God as not just friends but sons and daughters of the Most High, we are to show the love of God to our enemies and to those who are still enemies of God.  

'The Greatest Sermon Ever Told: The Beatitudes' (Luke 6:20-26)

We've begun a four-part mini-series within a series looking at the Sermon on the Mount and so began with Luke 6:20-26 'The Greatest Sermon Ever Told: The Beatitudes'. The Beatitudes are in many ways so familiar to us as Christians that we can forget how truly radical they are. Like a series of bombshells dropped on the perceived worldly wisdom and indeed on Messianic expectations of the day, Jesus declares who are supremely blessed and happy. Is it the wealthy, the healthy, the jocular, or the popular? No! Rather Jesus says, “Blessed are you poor…who hunger now…who weep now…when men hate you…” Are the poor and the hungry granted a free pass into heaven? No, the scriptures are clear that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. The key, I believe, is what Jesus says in verse 22, “For the Son of Man’s sake.” There is no blessing in poverty, hunger, weeping or being hated per se, however, the one who experiences these things for the Lord’s sake because they are a Christian is blessed. It comes down to perspective. Jesus promised, “For your is the kingdom of God” and “For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” From the world’s perspective? Those who suffer and experience hardship in this life for Jesus are thought very little of. From the perspective of eternity? Such ones are supremely blessed!

 

Jesus also pronounced four woes that mirror the blessings. “But woe to you who are rich…who are full…who laugh now…when all men speak well of you”. Again, are riches or being full of food or laughing bad per se? No, I don’t believe so. Money is a tool, food is a necessity, and there is a place for joy and laughter. The key here is what verse 24 says, “For you have received your consolation”. What is Jesus saying? If your overriding goal and objective in life, the things which you pursue above all else, are riches, abundance of food, amusement, pleasure, and popularity, then chances are you can get these things. As I said, there are self-help books in abundance to help you ‘get ahead’. If you look to get the most out of this life and ‘live your best life now’ then you can get it. But that’s all you’re going to get. You have “received your consolation” or, like Abraham said to the rich man, “in your lifetime you received your good things” (Luke 16:25). Woe to the one who only cares for and makes provision for this life but thinks little of and makes no provision for eternal life. The encouragement for us is to keep eyes on the prize and to live our lives in light of the eternal. God knows that we need food, drink, clothes, and other material goods in this life but this is not the sum total of life. We are to put things in their proper place by “lay[ing] up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and “seek[ing] first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:19 & 33).

'The Chosen' (Luke 6:12-19)

On Sunday we had Greg Brown teaching on Luke 6:12-19 ‘The Chosen’ where we looked at four C’s. First, The Communion where Jesus spent all night up the mountain in prayer before He chose the twelve. Jesus diligently sought His Father before making this significant decision and we likewise should be prayerful in our decision-making. Second, The Choice where Greg highlighted that, out of the many disciples, Jesus chose a select few as apostles. This selection was not for salvation but for a close apprenticeship under Jesus during His time on earth and they received a unique commission and authority to carry on the work of Jesus in the early church after He had resurrected. There are those today with the spiritual gift of prophecy and there are those today who in a more general sense have an apostolic ministry in that they have been sent out by the Lord. However, the foundational role “of the apostles and prophets” as referred to in Ephesians 2:20 was unique to the early church.

 

Third, The Chosen where we looked in some detail at the twelve who Jesus chose. They came from different backgrounds, occupations, regions, political persuasions and had different temperaments but they were all chosen by Jesus. As Christians, we come from different backgrounds, experiences and salvation stories but the Lord has called us all to follow Him. And whether you have the strength and charisma of a Peter, the intellect of a Matthew, the zeal of a Simon or the care and concern of an Andrew, God has made as all unique and called us all to serve Him with what He has given us. Fourth, The Comforted where we saw how Jesus healed all who came to Him. Dr Brown highlighted how Dr Luke makes a distinction between those who were “healed of their diseases” and those “who were tormented with unclean spirits”. Not every physical issue has a spiritual root or cause, though that is a possibility, and not every spiritual issue has a demonic aspect to it, though that it is a possibility (excepting of course that believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit cannot be demon possessed). From all of this, there is a good final reminder for us that it is the Lord Jesus who is The Great Physician. We are but disciples, followers of Him, but it is He that our unbelieving friends, family and acquaintances need. Like Peter we can preach, like Matthew we can tell of all that Jesus said and did, and like Andrew we can introduce others to Jesus. But Jesus is the One that everyone needs. He is the Great Physician of both body and soul.

'Lord of the Sabbath' (Luke 6:1-11)

Sabbath was instituted by God and was incredibly important in the life of Israel, however, in Jesus’ day we see that man-made rules and regulations distracted from the bigger picture of what Sabbath was about. In the first account, Jesus’ disciples plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees viewed as a Sabbath breach. In response, Jesus referred to an account in 1 Samuel 21 where David and his men ate the decommissioned holy bread from the temple which really was a more significant breach. The principle that Jesus highlighted here is the human need is more important than religious ritual. A second principle is that “The Son of Man Is also Lord of the Sabbath”. Jesus, being God and the agent of creation, invented Sabbath and had the right and authority to interpret it. Whether or not the disciples broke Sabbath, He wasn’t offended by what they did due to the human need. In the second account, Jesus healed a man with a withered arm on Sabbath which again the Pharisees regarded as a Sabbath breach. Jesus, again highlighting the importance of responding to human need, asked the pertinent question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” Again, as Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus had the power and authority to heal on Sabbath and so He did.

 

We concluded our time considering the question of Sabbath adherence and whether is something that Christians are required to do today. My encouragement on this is first to consider the bigger question of what Sabbath points to. We know that Sabbath pointed back to God resting on the seventh day after completing the great work of salvation but Sabbath also pointed forward to the Lord Jesus Christ resting after completing the great work of salvation. On the cross He cried out “It is finished” and four times in the book of Hebrews we read that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God the father (see 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2). When it comes to our salvation, Jesus is at rest and we can rest in His finished work on the cross. As to the question of Sabbath adherence, Colossians 2 highlights that Sabbaths are a shadow whereas the substance is Christ. Romans 14:5-6 is clear that whether you esteem one day above another – i.e. have a clear day of Sabbath – or if you esteem every day alike is a matter of personal conviction before God. The principle of rest is important – taking time for physical rest and spiritual rest in the Lord is good. But how you do this is matter of individual conscience between you and God. We are not to judge one another in such matters but rather should be clear of our own convictions before God.        

'20/23 Vision' (Luke 5:27-39)

In our passage we saw Jesus call Levi the tax collector as a disciple. Tax collectors were among the most despised in Israel, grouped together with thieves and murderers, and so it really was a remarkable act of mercy for Jesus to call Levi to follow Him. We saw also how Levi, who we know as Matthew the gospel writer, host a feast for Jesus and invited all his tax collector buddies and other outcasts. The Pharisees – who were separated unto the law and who separated themselves from others – were shocked that Jesus would eat with such sinners. In response, Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” From this passage, I emphasised my heart and vision for discipleship and evangelism. The call to follow Jesus, as Levi did, is a call to discipleship. As a church, I desire that all of our gatherings – be it on a Sunday morning, our mid-week activities and even in informal get-togethers – be geared towards discipleship where we grow together as faithful followers of Jesus. Further, I desire that our church continue to have an evangelistic heart and be effective in reaching the lost in our community. Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and we must be a people who care greatly for the eternal salvation of the unsaved around us. I am convinced that key to our church’s lampstand burning bright is that we maintain a passion and zeal for the salvation of souls.

 

We saw also how Jesus responded to a question regarding fasting in that John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees disciples fasted often whereas Jesus’ disciples did not. It is here that Jesus said, “But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” It is important to emphasize here the context which was that the dead religion of the Pharisees, with its faux fastings, was incompatible with the fresh work that God was already doing with Jesus’ disciples and what He would do in the church. A valid wider application though is that, even in the church which is now God’s vehicle to reach the world, we must guard against dead religion with its form and ceremony, rites, rules and regulations. Until the Lord comes, there is need for discipleship and evangelism. This does not and will never change. But there is that need for a fresh work of God in our lives and in the life of the church. We must always be open to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit. Ours is to pray and to seek God for that fresh guidance so that we can the very best disciplers and soul-winners that we can be.

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