Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Reflections on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke

 “And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger,” Luke 2:12, NKJV.

“Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against,” Luke 2:34, NKJV.

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven,” Luke 10:20, NKJV.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation,” Luke 11:30, NKJV.


The performance of signs and wonders was a help to the Lord’s ministry, but it was not the His ministry itself. More vital was His teaching, and the integral purpose—His death, burial, and resurrection. We see the irrelevance of “signs” expressed, even vehemently, throughout scripture, and are led time and time again to the only necessary sign: Jesus Christ Himself. In Luke 2:12, the “sign” the angels speak of is not the spectacle of angels singing in the heavens, nor the great, magnificent star in the east, but the Babe Himself, “wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” In Luke 2:34, Simeon says “this Child is destined…for a sign which will be spoken against.” By no means is this sign one of those healing miracles He performed in the presence of the Jews, but, rather, the fulfillment of the salvation plan itself.

The Lord Himself, in Luke 10:20, seeks to divert His disciples’ attention from the signs He has enabled them to perform and admonishes them to “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” This is the chief miracle, and it is what distinguishes Christ as not a prophet or a great teacher, but as the Holy One of God. We, in the weakness of the flesh, are easily distracted by wonders of the physical realm and are quick to blur over the magnificence of the gospel and the miracle of our salvation. “O faithless and perverse generation!” When shall we understand that the glory of God does not consist merely in external show, but in the inner workings of a renewed spirit, in the intangible but distinctly real transformation of a soul saved by God! Seek not after a sign, but after the Lord. Indeed, the Son of Man is a sign unto us—the sign of salvation.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here,” Luke11:30-32, NKJV.

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Reflections on the New Testament: Mark

 “And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?’” Mark 4:13, NKJV.

It is essential that we, as Christians, understand the Word of the Lord in its entirety—it is essential that we continually learn. We are not to feed solely on the milk of the Word, for then we are but moderately strengthened; we are not familiar with the full context and implications and are therefore incapable of accurate application. Rather, we must proceed to the meat of the Word, and pursue a full and accurate understanding of “all the parables.” The Lord has fully equipped us for this task—He has sent us the Helper and opened the avenue of prayer. We are without excuse. Jesus’ question to His disciples in Mark 4:13 has the tone of a reprimand, as though He genuinely expected His disciples to have understood the parable and was rather disappointed that they did not. It is as though He said to them: “Children, you ought to understand this, for it is simple, and there are a great many deeper things I am eager to teach you.” How many blessings of wisdom we miss when we neglect study and prayer, and choose, rather, to cling to a few basic concepts we ought to have understood and built upon long ago! The Lord is, indeed, eager to reveal many things to us—let us not prefer ignorance.

 

“And He said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’ Then He said, ‘To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all the herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade,” Mark 4:26-32, NKJV.
The kingdom of God flourishes by the power of the Holy Spirit—“we ourselves do not know how.” It is our immense privilege, as sinners saved by grace, to plant the mustard seed—a task which may seem small and ordinary enough at first—but the Holy Spirit shall see that the seed sprouts and grows, flourishes and yields a crop. We shall awake one day and find a harvest ready to be gathered in, or a great tree sprung up from, as we thought, bare earth—if we do not despise the labor, however menial, God has assigned to us, but rejoice in it, knowing that the Holy Spirit will make much of it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from you Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly,” Matt. 6:1-4, NKJV.

Why does the Lord urge us to such secrecy in this regard? In essence, because the righteousness of the children of God is not attained by works, but by the grace of God. The children of God must understand this and be humbled before God and man as mere servants—from this understanding shall inevitably come the good works the Lord desires. Not a vain attempt to prove to God or man a worthiness that does not exist, but a genuine, humble desire “not to be served, but to serve.” Such a desire does not seek recognition. Nevertheless, to those who thus serve secretly, the Lord promises open reward. That this reward is to be material is doubtful, and that it refers to our eternal reward is impossible, since that is not attained by works. Rather, it is likely that this reward refers to a refinement of character, a more marked visibility of the Holy Spirit within you, which is at once more spiritually attractive and more spiritually fruitful than any showy charity. In this way, the unbeliever is struck not by the Christian’s open display of good works, which can be easily imitated and is insufficient for salvation, but by the mark of character and unfeigned faith of a humble servant of God. Indeed, what reward could be sweeter than to see the eternal destinies of loved ones secured by the power of the Holy Spirit?

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly,” Matt. 6:5-6, NKJV.

Similarly, to the humble believer, prayer is not a vain show of superiority to be performed before men, but an intimate, sacred communion with God to be performed appropriately in a secret place. The open reward spoken of here could well be the fruition of the believer’s prayer, but more likely, it is the shining countenance characteristic of one who has communed with God.

 

“When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them,’” Matt. 8:1-4, NKJV.

To begin with, note the humility and sincerity of the leper’s faith! “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” He is confident in the Lord’s cleansing power, but acknowledges his own inferiority and complete dependence on the Lord’s will. Overall, his statement has the air of “Who am I, that Thou art mindful of me?” which ought to be present in the supplications of every Christian.

In a different vein, note Jesus’s final statement: “…Go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Why does the Lord thus deem it necessary for the cleanse leper to undergo this formality? What is this “testimony” He speaks of? In delivering this commandment, Jesus presents the Law of Moses as it was intended by God to be interpreted: a mere picture of the cleansing that has already taken place, the sacrifice that has already been made, and the gift that has already been given. The law cannot cleanse, but can only condemn, for it is merely external. The priest, upon examining a leper, pronounces him either clean or unclean according to what God has already determined. If the leper is cleansed, it is of God, not of the Law. If, indeed, a leper is found to be healed, the priest then guides him through a sort of cleansing ritual as an external show of the internal work God has already done (Lev.14:2-9). The Law itself has no true power. In the case at hand, Jesus, having heard the leper’s humble but deeply sincere request, cleanses him with a word. The writer then expressly states: “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Jesus then commands that he show himself to the priest and undergo the usual formalities by no mean as a necessity, but as a testimony.

 

“He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But He said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn,’” Matt. 13:28-30, NKJV.

Before the harvest is ripe, it is difficult to distinguish between the tares and the wheat, therefore it is necessary to allow them to fully mature, that the reapers may know where each must go. While even at the beginning, the wheat is wheat and the tares are tares, a certain growth and inner work is necessary to visibly distinguish them as such. In similar fashion, we, as Christians, were set apart as children of God before the foundations of the earth, but were not distinguished as such until the Holy Spirit moved within us. Before this movement, we are indistinguishable from the world to all but God, and should the reapers come at that unfortunate moment, we would surely be uprooted with the tares. Rather, the movement of the Holy Spirit matures us as children of God, that when harvest time comes, we may be gathered to Him.
“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn,’” Matt. 13:30.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew

 
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. 5:17-20, NKJV.

Herein Jesus identifies Himself as the fulfillment of the law. He also presents something of a riddle: He declares that whoever breaks even one small portion of the law shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. In saying this, He implies that such a person may be within the kingdom of heaven despite his/her crime, but in the following verse He declares that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who are blameless according to the law, in order for one to enter the kingdom of heaven. He then compares the letter of the law with the true spirit thereof, and, in so doing, clearly illustrates that the Pharisees’ “righteousness” does not even begin to approach God’s standard:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire,” Matt. 5:21-22.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” Matt. 5:28-28.

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery,” Matt. 5:31-32.
The point being made is that corrupt man is incapable of truly fulfilling God’s law or remotely approaching His perfect standard. Man cannot attain true righteousness through works: this is the whole premise of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and the explanation behind His previous statement: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” The LORD God demands perfection; the scribes and Pharisees aspired to an external, superficial perfection through the law, but could never overcome the natural imperfection of the human spirit. Indeed, Jesus illustrates through His descriptions of the complexity and deeper meanings of the law, that even that outward perfection is virtually unattainable for mortal man. Nevertheless, such is the lofty standard the LORD God sets for us. The closing statement of Jesus in this chapter is: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt.5:48)—far be it from us to perceive this as a commandment, as if we could, by our own might, be made perfect just as God is perfect! No, indeed! Rather, our Lord herein sets the tone for His redeeming work—for in His blood and by the Holy Spirit we are made perfect, and the law is fulfilled.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. 5:3, NKJV.

What is meant by the phrase, “poor in spirit,” that it should here be particularly applied to the children of God? Firstly, is not “poor in spirit” an accurate description of humanity in general? Nevertheless, only those who acknowledge this poverty and submit to God shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Matt. 5:4.

Those who suffer at present shall have the greater joy in the end. Recall a similar passage in Ecclesiastes, which states: “Better to go to the house of mourning that to go the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart,” (Ecc.7:2). Mourning is a sign of humility, and is a word often used in the Old Testament to indicate the brokenness of a righteous person upon recognizing his or her sin. Feasting, on the other hand, is a Biblical term commonly associated with self-indulgence and worldly pleasure; it is perhaps most succinctly described by the phrase: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Those who “feast” view death as the ultimate end, and so comfort themselves with the temporal pleasures of this world; those who mourn face death, are humbled and terrified, and turn not to pleasure, but to evaluation of life and pursuance of purpose. The Lord Jesus promises these “shall be comforted”—for is not the Lord Jesus life, purpose, and comfort embodied?

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Matt.5:5.

What does it mean to be meek? The original Greek word for meek is “praus,” which was commonly used to describe a well-broken war horse. The implications of submissiveness which the English translation possesses are certainly accurate, but we must understand that, in the given context, they are not intended to be applied to our interactions with mankind, but to our relationship with Jesus Christ, the Master. While gentleness and humility in all things are certainly relevant, the superseding principle is to uphold righteousness and oppose wickedness—mildly or vehemently as the case demands.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,” Matt.5:6.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who have received the Holy Spirit and do not quench it, but submit to it and are filled with the power of God. Blessed, indeed, are they.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” Matt.5:7.

Does not the Lord also teach that with whatever measure we use, it shall be measured back to us; that as we judge, so shall we be judged, and that if we refuse to forgive our brother, neither will the Lord Jesus forgive us? So the pattern continues in this verse: if we are merciful to others, we ourselves shall be rewarded with mercy—if not by man, certainly by God.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” Matt.5:8.

Who is pure in heart, save those who are cleansed by Christ? And those who are cleansed cross over the gulf between man and God as one in Christ. God’s glory is not hidden from them, but they see Him, and cry out, “Abba, Father!”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Matt.5:9.

How are we to be peacemakers, when we carry the sword of the Word, are clad in armor, and engage perpetually in spiritual warfare? Indeed, our Lord Himself declared: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword,” (Matt.10:34). The fact of the matter is: those who desire peace must first obtain victory. To attempt to make peace at this point in the spiritual war would be a futile and wicked attempt to reconcile good and evil. True peace ensues when evil is conquered. Since the army of the Lord is assured this victory, those who carry His sword and banner are peacemakers, and “shall be called sons of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matt.5:10.
Blessed are they—for to them belong salvation, eternal life, and all the majesties of the kingdom of God. In light of this, what is persecution? Merely a reminder that we are not of this world, but of the church of God.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew

 
“Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to [John] and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Matt. 3:5-7, NKJV.

Note the contrast here: that John baptized the people, who eagerly went out to him and confessed, but rebuked the religious leaders the instant he saw them approaching! The reason for this is simple, and, indeed, is addressed all throughout the gospels. The Pharisees and Sadducees adhered to the Law, and eagerly embraced its requirement of human effort as a means of self-glorification. They mistakenly believed that this outward display of religiosity was sufficient to gain righteousness—in short, that no divine intervention was necessary. To this, King Solomon soundly replies in Proverbs 26:12, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” The fool who humbles himself and confesses his sins shall be baptized—not by water only, but by the Holy Spirit. These have fled the wrath to come and, by the grace of God, have indeed escaped. But the self-righteous scoff at the wrath to come, believing they have already delivered themselves from it. There is nothing so dangerous as a false assurance of salvation. Do you indeed trust in human morality? You are still in your sins. “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” For flee you must.

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” Matt. 3:8-12.
 

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He shall give His angels charge over you, and, In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him,” Matt. 4:1-11, NKJV.
There are a number of remarkable things contained in this passage. To begin with, note that the conversation between Jesus and the devil consists almost entirely of quoted Scriptures. Jesus, fittingly, begins this trend; Satan then cunningly uses two verses, but, naturally, uses them incorrectly and is refuted by Jesus with yet another verse. As Christians, we will certainly be led “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”—will we be able to argue as Jesus argued? It is essential that we know the entirety of Scripture and be able to reconcile each truth as part of a whole, that we may be able to refute those who take one truth and twist it away from the rest. Moreover, notice what is said in verse 11: “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” Herein is revealed the correct interpretation of the statement, “He shall give His angels charge over you”! The Scriptures which the devil quoted are by no means false, but were placed in a blasphemous context. It was this context which the Lord refuted by saying “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” When the devil departed and Jesus was no longer tempted or challenged, the angels came and ministered unto Him. “Every word of God proves true,” and all reconcile to one another to form a living and powerful whole. The devil separates these truths to form lies, and, in so doing, separates the church.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Reflections on the New Testament 

The book of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ—and it is wondrous to note that the salvation message is proclaimed even in this. That our Savior should be descended from a line of sinners (not contaminated by them, for He was born of a virgin)—sinners whom God predestined to be the direct ancestors of the One who was to wash away their sin once and for all. In this genealogy, it is clearly shown that man is sinful, but God is merciful and mighty to save, able to use the meanest of vessels for His glory. Note that the first three verses make no mention of any female ancestor, but of the male only. Then note verse 3: “Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar…” and verse 5: “Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse.” Here we are compelled to acknowledge that Rahab the harlot and Ruth the Moabitess were instrumental in bringing forth the Messiah. Our God is no respecter of persons! But is able to redeem all.

Furthermore, note verse 6: “…and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.” Was not David a righteous man? Yes, indeed—but in verse 6 we are reminded that his righteousness was “a gift from God, not of works”—for his own works were evil. Doubtless, if we continued down the list of names, we would find message after message of redemption and, indeed, each name reminds us that God is able to use weak and broken vessels for His glory.

The great importance of the Old Testament is continually reaffirmed throughout the New Testament—particularly in the fulfillment of the prophecies throughout the gospels. God’s orchestration of events toward that end is made abundantly clear by the writers of the gospels. Notice the following verses:
“So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us,’” Matt. 1:22-23, NKJV.

“So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel,” Matt. 2:5-6, NKJV.

“When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son,’” Matt. 2:14-15, NKJV.

“Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more,’” Matt. 2:17-18, NKJV.

Similar verses are found in many of the succeeding chapters. The question at hand is—what was God’s purpose in the initiation and fulfillment of these prophecies? Certainly, Jesus could just as well have fulfilled his ministry without them! Indeed, we often see Him performing seemingly unnecessary actions simply to fulfill a prophecy. Obviously, God ascribed particular importance to this aspect of the life of Christ. This may be for a number of reasons:

1)      Those who have read and studied the Old Testament with at least a small degree of vigilance are aware that every detail of it is intended to direct us to the Messiah. Is it not, then, logical that God would emphasize this by incorporating Old Testament ideas into New Testament realities, in the form of fulfilled prophecies?

2)      Furthermore, that every detail of Christ’s life was precisely as the LORD foretold (thousands of years earlier) is a testament of itself to the omnipotence and sovereignty of God.
And finally, despite the fulfillment of these manifold prophecies before the very eyes of all the Jews, the Messiah was nonetheless condemned and crucified—at the bidding of the religious leaders themselves, who were the most knowledgeable concerning the prophecies! This, surely, is testament to the gospel truth that man is not redeemed by his own works, but by the grace of God. That, though man should immerse himself in the Scriptures and be blameless according to the Law, unless he believes upon the Lord Jesus Christ, he is damned. The doctrine of election is by no means fallacious!