Thursday, May 29, 2014

Still Humble, As This Little Child

Life of Christ 92

          We saw, in Life of Christ 91, that Jesus dealt with the proud Apostles, desirous of the chief place in the Kingdom, by placing a little child on His lap and calling on them to be humble, like that child (Matthew 18.1-6, Mark 9.33-37). The humility of little children is seen in that they eagerly serve, are naturally free from prejudice, and unashamedly dependent. In this post we will look at three additional evidences of the humility of little children, and examine how this may be applied to us.
          Fourthly, their humility is seen in their willingness to receive instruction. As a teacher, perhaps the most frustrating phrase you can hear from a student is not 'I don't understand', but rather, 'I know.' The only person you can't teach, in the final analysis, is the one who already knows everything. Little children combine, very wonderfully, a humility that is willing to learn with a literal childlike faith that just trusts what the teacher says.
          I can remember how well this was driven home to me, years ago, as a teacher, when once a week I was assigned to monitor a kindergarten class for an hour each week. It became my custom to gather them around me on the floor of their classroom, and tell them a story. I soon learned I didn't need to plan my stories ahead of time for whatever I told them they eagerly accepted as the gospel truth. Yes, I confess I had great fun with that, happily explaining many of life's mysteries with completely bogus explanations. To this day I am afraid that some of them may still think root beer was discovered when a tree root on a cave roof fell into a little boy's glass of drinking water. But even in this silliness we see a sweet humility and faith.
          One of the identifying characteristics of a fool in the book of Proverbs is his refusal to receive instruction (Proverbs 1.7). Conversely, one who has enough humility to embrace instruction Solomon labeled as a wise man (Proverbs 9.9). Are you and I as teachable as a little child?
          Fifthly, their humility is seen in their sweet obedience to authority. There is a large difference between not understanding how to obey, and just blatantly refusing to do what you are told. The former can be taught; the latter can only be disciplined until his will yields. But what is the root of such willful disobedience? I believe it is pride. 'Only by pride cometh contention' (Proverbs 13.10). The willful spirit that sets itself against the commands of its authority, and fights with them comes only by a pride that says, 'A person like you can't tell a person like me what to do.'
          We've all seen this illustrated in the grocery store, as some willful screaming child turns the checkout line into a torture chamber for the rest of us. Contrast that with the yielded, obedient child, waiting quietly and still beside his mother as the line crawls forward and you see my point. Do we obey God like that good little child, or do we, in pride, insist we know better than He does, and insist on getting our own way as we refuse to obey?
          Sixthly, their humility is seen in their worship of God. Little children kneel easily. Their lisping voices sweetly and instantly ask God to protect them. Their willingness to pray about things, to ask God to intervene, puts us to shame. Because they are humble they believe you when you teach them that God loves them, is always with them, and wants to help them, so they just naturally turn to Him.
          Humility is so intrinsic to the worship of God that it is found in the very definitional concept of the word. 'I am not worthy. You are.' Humility is so intrinsic to the worship of God that it is found in the posture. If you study the Bible you will see that every person who met God responded the same way: they fell down prostrate at His feet.
          Do we worship God with the same instinctive trust? Do we approach Him, in prayer, with the same childlike faith? Do we view Him as so big and us as so small? Do we revel in His love and care for us?

          So you want to be great in God's kingdom. Okay. Here's what you do. Humble yourself, as a little child. There is no other path.    

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Humble, As This Little Child

Life of Christ 91

         Jesus and His Apostles have just returned to Capernaum after a weeklong trip into the mountains north of Galilee. On that trip we saw Peter's sublime confession of faith, much discussion about the Kingdom, and the Transfiguration. At the same time, three of the Apostles, Peter, James, and John, had been noticeably brought into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. At the same time, the other nine Apostles were humiliated in their inability to cast a devil out a boy.    With all of this, and some human nature thrown in, it is to be expected that an argument arose amongst the Apostles over which one of them was to be the greatest in the Kingdom (Matthew 18.1-6, Mark 9.33-37). They thought they had kept this argument private until Jesus questioned them about it, and, even then, they refused to answer, probably realizing how petty their bickering must have sounded to Him.
          What a weariness this must have been to our Lord. He is heading into the final six months of His life. He is facing intense earthly pressure from His family, Israel's religious leadership, and Israel's political leadership. He is facing intense spiritual pressure from the devil. He is preparing Himself, setting His face like a flint, for the horrors of Calvary. He is giving everything He's got to train and prepare the Apostles to lead an infant Church without Him. These Apostles have just had some spectacular failures, with Peter's constant impetuosity and the other Apostles inability to cast out a devil, and now, to top it all off, they are fussing with themselves about who is going to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom when the Kingdom isn't even coming anytime soon.
          Edersheim says, in relation to the grief this all must have been to Jesus:

Surely the contrast between Christ and His disciples seems at times almost as great as between Him and the other Jews. If we would measure His stature, or comprehend the infinite distance between His aims and teaching and those of His contemporaries, let it be by comparison with even the best of His disciples. It must have been part of His humiliation and self-exinanition to bear with them. And is it not, in a sense, still so as regards us all?

          Jesus, instead of chewing them out, uses an illustration to get His point across to them. He calls a little child to come to Him, and, sweetly setting the child on His lap, He points out that this child has something which is sorely lacking in the supposedly more mature Apostles. This something is the lesson for us: Jesus calls for us to be humble, as little children. 'Whosoever therefore shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18.4).
          Now, I freely confess, I've met a fair number of children in my life that seemed entirely unacquainted with the concept of humility. But these are obviously not the type of children of which Jesus was speaking. No, take those spoiled, bratty, selfish, whining, demanding, aggressive, disobedient children and put them out of your mind. That is most definitely not who Jesus was taking about. Instead, I want you to picture a child you know that is obedient, cheerful, sharing, and of a sweet disposition.
          First, their humility is seen in their servant's heart. For 12 years now I've had a pre-schooler in my home, and it never ceases to amaze me, when they are having a good day, how happy they are to help you to do anything. They will step and fetch it at the slightest request. They will hold tools patiently, and carry dishes carefully. They will, with a smile, hand you a book or prop open a door. There is in them very little of the pride that demands a higher position or more recognition, or views a certain kind of work as beneath them.
          So often those that desire greatness want that greatness to be in the form of being noticed and served, of being in authority, calling the shots. And yet our Saviour consistently emphasized a different ethic, one in which greatness was defined as serving rather than being served. 'If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all' (Mark 9.35).
          Secondly, their humility is seen in their acceptance of all kinds of people. Did you ever notice that children are naturally un-prejudiced? They have to be taught to dislike classes and groups of people. Why? Because they do not think they are better than anybody. They don't care about ethnicity, zip codes of origin, languages, clothes, or who is in the in crowd. Yes, as they grow up they learn to care about those things, but as little children they just gather together and play with whoever shows up in the McDonald's Playland.
          We've discussed before the endemic racism that was so deeply inbred in the Jews of Jesus' day. But those little Jewish children weren't born with that. They were taught it as they humanly matured. Racism, classism, prejudice, and bigotry are learned, not instinctive. Little children are too humble to have them.
          Not coincidentally, mature Christianity is supposed to be the same way. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3.28).    
          Thirdly, their humility is seen in their dependence. No kid comes out of the womb and says, 'Ok, Mom, I'll take it from here.' What is the first thing they do? Cry. Because they need something, even if they don't know what that something is or how to say it. As they mature they learn to verbalize their dependence, and 'help me' becomes a significant feature of their vocabulary. They readily request help in getting dressed, brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, or using a fork. It is rare, in little children, to see a spirit of independence.
          Of course, it is only right that this spirit of independence come naturally with human maturity, but spiritual maturity takes the exact opposite tack from human maturity. Humanly speaking, we are birthed small, and gradually grow larger, stronger, smarter, and independent. Spiritually speaking, we are birthed large, and gradually grow smaller, weaker, and less knowledgeable in our own sight. We move, in the human life, at birth, from being completely dependent upon our parents for everything to being completely independent of them for everything. We move, in the Christian life, at birth, from being dependent on God for only our eternal salvation to becoming dependent upon Him for absolutely everything.
          The truth is that in the spiritual realm my flesh doesn't like this. I don't want to be dependent on anybody but myself. I want to handle everything myself. I want to be secure in myself. But as long as I am then I'm not dependent on God, I'm not letting Him handle things, and I'm not finding my security in Him rather than myself.
          David was undeniably a great man, the kind of man that the Apostles desired, in their argument, to be. He was a world class empire builder, a tremendous tactician, a matchless leader of men, and an author whose works have lasted for millennia. Yet he wasn't great because of his great literary ability, administrative talents, or military capacity. No, he was great, at least in part, because of his constant reliance on God for protection, encouragement, direction, provision, and timing.

          We, like the Apostles, so often harbor a desire to be lifted up. David was humble and great. The Apostles were proud and insignificant at this point. Why? 'Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up' (James 4.10).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lest We Should Offend Them

Life of Christ 90

          In the last summer of His life Jesus is going out of His way, literally, to avoid Judea and Galilee. He keeps making side trips outside of these territories to avoid provoking a premature confrontation with Israel's political and religious leadership. In our story today (Matthew 17.24-27) we find that He and His Apostles have just returned to Capernaum after a weeklong trip north of Galilee into the mountains.
         As they enter Capernaum, the Temple taxmen approach Peter and ask him if Jesus pays the annual tribute due to the Temple. This was used to maintain the priesthood, support the flocks that provided the sacrifices, etc. and was required of all Jews. Peter, as was his custom, gives an answer without thinking it through, and his answer was, 'Yes' (Matthew 17.25). Later, in private, Jesus remonstrates with Peter, and explains to him that since He is Who He is He doesn't owe any tax. After all, a tax that was taken to support the worship of God didn't need to be paid by that God Himself, did it? Yet even though Jesus was well within His rights to refuse to pay it He chose to anyway, sending Peter out to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth. He did, and the tax was paid.
          I find several lessons in this story. I see that Jesus and His Apostles were basically broke, financially. It is curious how that the prosperity gospel types never bring that up. I also see that God always provides for the genuine needs of His own. But the largest lesson I see here, and the one that I think is the point of the whole story, is that Jesus gave up His rights in order not to cause offense. 'Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them' (Matthew 17.27).
          We live in an age in which we hear a lot of chatter about rights. Some of these claimed rights are valid, and some are not. Regardless, Jesus chose giving in over asserting His rights, and He did it explicitly in order not to offend someone. It wasn't that Jesus was afraid of offending people, for He was willing to do so, if it was an important issue (Matthew 13.57). However, unless it was a matter of vital truth Jesus chose to act as inoffensively as possible.
          This is the clear scriptural position. 'It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby they brother stumbleth, or is offended' (Romans 14.21). 'Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth' (I Corinthians 8.13). 'Give none offence' (I Corinthians 10.32). 'That ye may be sincere and without offence' (Philippians 1.10).
          I can hear it already, the response forming on your lips.
          'Well, if they're offended, that's their problem. After all, great peace have they which love thy law and nothing shall offend them.'
          Yes, that is true. They shouldn't be offended, and it is their problem. But in asserting this you've clearly missed the point. We are to seek to be inoffensive, not because they are close to the Lord and in love with Him, but because they aren't. We are to seek to be inoffensive precisely because of the fact that if we do offend it will be their problem. And they don't know how to handle problems very well. Yes, if they were stronger they wouldn't be offended. So, since they are weak, don't blame them for being offended, rather don't offend them. I know you have rights, but weak people take offense easily. We ought to try not to give them the opportunity. If it is an issue of right and wrong, of truth and error, of a clear scriptural mandate, then we ought to have a backbone of steel and not give an inch. But if it's a matter of preference or rights, and they will be offended, then we ought to seek to structure things in such a way so as to be as inoffensive as possible.
          There is a segment of Christianity that embraces persecution as evidence that they are holy. The practical result is that they go about seeking to be attacked, or behaving in such a way so as to provoke virulent opposition. Then, when that opposition comes, they wrap themselves in their sanctimonious spirituality and feel superior because someone is mad at them. The simple truth is that people are often not mad at us because of the truth but rather because we did something that frightened or provoked them.
          Consider Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, for instance. They are notorious for traveling all around the country to picket the funerals of soldiers killed in the line of duty, asserting that each death is a direct evidence of God's judgment on America because of her position supporting homosexuality. They are correct that homosexuality is wrong, and that God will judge America in some way at some time as a result. However, they are incorrect in saying that each individual death is attributable to this, and further, they are even more incorrect in seeking to go about their stand in as purposely an offensive way as possible. There may come a day when we, as God's people, will have to be willing to endure persecution because of our beliefs about homosexuality, but we don't need to provoke it by having a Hunt-a-Homo Sunday during the Spring Program.

          Three thousand years ago Solomon wisely said, 'A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle' (Proverbs 18.19). If I want to bring people to see my side on an issue I will come nearer and faster getting it done if I don't have to first besiege the castle I unknowingly built when I offended them. There are rights, and then there is right. And right is more important than rights. If I must offend in order to be right, then so be it. If the truth offends, then so be it. But if it is just a matter of my rights then let me learn to give in, graciously, lest I should offend them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This Kind

Life of Christ 89

          Yesterday, Peter, James, and John walked up Mount Hermon toward a date with destiny. They got to see Jesus, unveiled of His flesh, transfigured in glory before them. Today, as they come back down the mountain they see a crowd of people gathered around the other nine Apostles (Mark 9.14-29). It turns out that a man in the area was father to a son possessed of a devil. This man brought his son to Jesus for healing, but He was away up on the mountain. The remaining Apostles took it upon themselves to cast out the devil, and they failed miserably.
          The Jews of Jesus' day had a wide variety of quack cures for demonism. Josephus says that Solomon advised placing a certain root in the nose of the afflicted and that the demon leaving was proven when a pot of water placed nearby overturned. In a sense, the Jews viewed the casting out of a demon as a kind of magic. Most magic was forbidden them, though they believed some people practiced it, having learned it in Egypt. In fact, the Talmud written post-Jesus would credit His miraculous powers to a magic He had learned in Egypt as a young boy. Apparently He had written the formulas for it underneath His skin so as to be able to smuggle it back out of Egypt safely. So it was, that in Jesus' day, magical amulets and incantations were believed capable of controlling demons, such as this particular gem quoted by Edersheim, supposedly said in order to protect yourself when dealing with a witch:

Hot filth into your mouths from baskets with holes, ye witching women! Let your head become bald, and the wind scatter your breadcrumbs. Let it carry away your spices, let the fresh saffron which you carry in your hands be scattered. Ye witches, so long as I had grace and was careful, I did not come among you, and now I have come, and you are not favorable to me.

          I can imagine that the young man's father had tried all of these, and more, and viewed Jesus and His group as just another in a long line of desperate attempts. Thus it is that Jesus so carefully sought to establish the facts of the father's genuine faith in Himself before healing the boy. Remember, He isn't doing miracles to authenticate Himself anymore, but He is still doing miracles of compassion – but He must needs find belief. 'Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth' (Mark 9.23). The father gives a completely honest answer, and one which has comforted my heart more times than I can count, since I have shared its sentiments so completely, 'And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief' (Mark 9.24).
       Jesus, of course, heals the young man, and later, when things quiet down, the nine Apostles who had been working at doing the same thing, and failing miserably, asked Jesus why they couldn't but He could. Jesus' answer is wonderful, convicting, and enlightening all at the same time. 'And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting' (Mark 9.29). To me, Jesus' main point here is this: there are certain things that you can only get from God by combining fasting with prayer.
          Fasting is a lost art in American Christianity. For some reason, either through laziness, lack of self-discipline, or a misplaced sense that it belongs in the Old Testament we have largely placed it on the shelf. But to Jesus, fasting was normal and expected. He said, in the greatest of all sermons, 'when ye fast' (Matthew 6.16), not 'if ye fast'. He said that His own disciples didn't fast because He was still with them but after He left His disciples would fast (Matthew 9.15). Fasting was modeled by the early Church (Acts 14.23).
          I'm not of the opinion that fasting gets you any more of God's attention. His attention, after all, isn't wandering. But it does give you more time to pray, and it does get your own attention. I am one of those guys who just likes to eat, and I freely admit it. Because of that, when I fast, every time I notice food, or feel a hunger pang, which both happen frequently, I am reminded again to ask the Lord for the request on my heart.
          I think the best passage in the Bible about fasting is Isaiah 58. In it, Isaiah goes through a lengthy list of blessings and benefits that come to us when we fast. I would encourage you to spend some time studying it while preparing to fast, or during a fast.

          I don't believe that God is up in Heaven laughing at your feeble prayers, and demanding that you pray harder, but I do believe in satanic opposition, and I do believe that God doesn't give away big things lightly. Hence, when you want to get one of those big things, and your requests don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps you ought to come back to Mark 9 and ask, with the Apostles, 'Why could not we cast him out?' The answer will still be the same. 'This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.'  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Atonement Wasn't Plan B

Life of Christ 88

The Transfiguration, Gustave Dore, 1885
          I wrote, last time, of that signal event in the life of our Lord known as the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John were taken by Jesus to the top of Mount Hermon and there, as He prayed, the veil of His flesh that covered His essential deity and majesty dimmed, and Who He really was shone forth in glory. Jesus had allowed them to see this so that they might remember it, and be strengthened by that memory in the dark days to come. Our story this time takes place as they walk back off of Mount Hermon, literally coming down from a mountain top experience (Mark 9.9-13).
          Jesus was accompanied in His Transfiguration by the Heaven sent pair of Moses and Elijah. The conversation amongst the three of them had been about Jesus' soon coming atoning death. This subject has now come up repeatedly on this week long trip into the mountains north of Galilee, and Peter, James, and John are discussing this whole idea as they walk back down the mountain. 'And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean' (Mark 9.10).
          To us, reading this story from the perspective of 2000 years of church history, the concept of Jesus' resurrection is both precious and patently obvious. It was necessary in order for Him to defeat sin and death. It was necessary in order for a Second Coming to make sense. A belief in it is absolutely essential for salvation. From our vantage point, we can even see hints of it in the Old Testament. 'For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption' (Psalm 16.10).
          Though obvious to us, the fact of the Messiah's resurrection was certainly not obvious to the Jews of Jesus' day. In fact, it hadn't even occurred to anybody then. The Jews of His day believed, for the most, in a resurrection, yes, but it was a general resurrection of all dead people at the Last Day. In other words, the concept of a messiah who died, and then was personally and physically resurrected from the dead was a completely new idea. It was also one they were having great trouble understanding, and this is what they were discussing amongst themselves as they walked down the mountain after the Transfiguration.
          One of the puzzling aspects to this, for these three Apostles, was that they knew the Old Testament prophecies which predicted the coming of Elijah prior to the Messiah being revealed in the glory of His kingdom (Malachi 3.1, 4.5). Elijah appears, and then the Messiah is King. We must keep in mind that Peter, James, and John had, literally, just seen Elijah up there on top of that mountain. And yet, just as emphatically as that literal appearance of Elijah, Jesus keeps pointing them, not to a rosy end with a coronation, but to a depressing disaster of an execution. 'And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?' (Mark 9.11).
          Jesus' answer was to tell them that Elijah had indeed come first, in type, in the form of John the Baptist, whom Scripture tells us clearly was Jesus' forerunner sent to prepare the people of Israel for her coming messiah (Matthew 17.10-13). And even in His own answer He points them, not only to John the Baptist, but also yet again to His own death. Elijah, in the form of the Baptist, had come. They killed him. 'Likewise shall the Son of man suffer of them'.
          One of the things I pre-determined before starting this series on the life of Christ was that I was just going to let it take me wherever it would. Consequently, I've felt a few times like I'm repeating myself, and saying the same thing over and over again. The truth is that I have been, but the other truth is that I have been because Jesus did. I believe that when God repeats Himself in the Scripture He does so in order to emphasize something, and in that light there are certain things that Jesus must have meant to emphasize for they come up again and again. One of these is the necessity of His atoning death and the primacy of the resurrection.
Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1650
        Those closest to Christ during His lifetime completely failed to grasp this. They insisted on looking for a coronation and a kingdom when He would have them transition to look instead at a cross and a resurrection. They failed to grasp that there was not just one coming or arrival of their Messiah, but actually two. Thus, they failed to grasp that the sacrificial atoning death of the Messiah as the necessary requirement for our redemption and salvation had been the plan of God from the very beginning (Psalm 22.15-16, Daniel 9.26, Isaiah 53.5-8, Zechariah 12.10). This idea was no new development. It wasn't some radical turn in the plan necessary because Israel wouldn't receive Christ. It had been the plan all along. Jesus was 'the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world' (Revelation 13.8).
          Would the Apostles ever come to realize this? To that I answer a resounding yes. Peter, preaching 50 days after Jesus' death, 47 days after His resurrection, and a week after His ascension, said it this way in his great sermon at Pentecost:

Acts 2.22  Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
23  Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
24  Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
25  For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
26  Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
27  Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

          The atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross as our substitute was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, it was planned from the very beginning. Not only that, but the fact that He would then rise from the dead, ascend to Heaven, and return at some future date to claim the kingdom denied to Him in His first advent was likewise planned from the very beginning.

          Our salvation isn't the result of an accident. It isn't Plan B. It was the gracious design of a merciful and loving God from the very dawn of time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Transfigured Before Them

Life of Christ 87

Mount Hermon
    The highest spot, and the only snow-capped mountain in all of Palestine is Mount Hermon. It was in this vicinity, north of Galilee, that Jesus has been traveling for the last week or so. In that week we have seen Peter's sublime confession of faith, the founding of the Church on that confession, Jesus' announcement about His coming death and resurrection, as well as the very first church service. Jesus and His Apostles continued for the rest of the week in the same general area winding up somewhere along the top of the mountain. It was here that the signal event known as the Transfiguration would take place (Mark 9.1-8).
          The Transfiguration was an unveiling or an uncovering of Jesus' flesh (Hebrews 10.20), and a revelation of Jesus as He really was, Almighty God and King of Kings (Matthew 16.28). The Transfiguration allowed Peter, James, and John, the only three of the Apostles allowed to come along for this event, a peak behind that veil. In the process Jesus shone. There is no other word for it. In this it reminds me of Moses' time on Mount Sinai when his face shone with the reflected glory of being with God for a month. It reminds me of the presence of God that hovered like a shining cloud above the Tabernacle, that which we commonly call the Shekinah Glory. In this it especially reminds me of Heaven, and of the fact that there is 'no need of the sun' for 'the Lamb is the light thereof' (Revelation 21.23).
W. Graham Scroggie
          Accompanying Jesus in this majestic Transfiguration were Moses and Elijah. The three stood together and talked. Their conversation revolved around the soon coming atoning death of Christ (Luke 9.30-31). I have a wonderful old book in my office called 'The Unfolding Drama of Redemption' by W. Graham Scroggie, a graduate of Spurgeon's college who would later pastor that great church during World War Two. In it, Scroggie takes the reader from one end of the Bible to the other, watching, as acts in a play, the events unfold that point toward Christ. I believe that the Old Testament saints in Heaven did exactly that, and Moses and Elijah had a wonderful opportunity to leave the audience and actually converse with the starring actor in the play just prior to the key scene. No wonder they spoke of the atonement!
          Peter, the mouth of the Apostles, seems driven to always speak his mind. 'Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias' (Mark 9.5). In my opinion, Peter was here referencing the temporary booths the Jews built each year during the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast pictured Israel's past exodus out of Egypt, and her future exodus in triumph into the millennial kingdom. Peter, perhaps, grasped that what he was witnessing in the Transfiguration was a revealing of Christ's glory such as will be seen in the Kingdom, and with Moses and Elijah returned from Heaven I think that he thought the Kingdom had come. Whether he understood that or not, he clearly and instinctively still wanted the Jesus on a throne rather than the Jesus on a cross. In fact, he had made that exact argument earlier in the week when Jesus spoke of His atoning death.
          So much of the Christianity of today is precisely the same. They say, 'it is good for us to be here', in the brightness and glory of the kingdom, but when the valley of the shadow of death comes all too often the response is, 'not so, Lord'. But the truth is that you don't get the blessing of the former until you first go through the agony of the latter. It is now cross bearing time. Later, we'll exchange our cross for a crown.
          As this scene in the drama of redemption draws to a close a cloud arrived, and a voice out of the cloud announced 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him' (Matthew 17.5). This is, of course, similar to Jesus' baptism. The first direct announcement was at the conclusion of Jesus' private life and at His entrance into public ministry. The second announcement was at the conclusion of Jesus' offering of Himself to Israel, and comes in conjunction with the rejection that happens in Matthew 12, the transition of the kingdom and the parables in Matthew 13, the founding of the Church in Matthew 16, and the direct turn toward the atonement. Additionally, this announcement marks not only a hinge pivot point in the life of Christ, but it also marks His Deity and His moral perfection as well, and it calls us, most of all, to listen to Him.
       While we have already seen some applications along the way there is one in particular I wish to emphasize here. 'And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them' (Mark 9.2). Jesus' Transfiguration, unlike His Baptism, wasn't for the public. It was for the inner circle of His Apostles.
          We are at the point of Jesus' ministry in which He is primarily spending His time ministering to the Apostles, and preparing them for His absence and to be the human foundation of the Church. In the next few months they will face the pressure and sadness of Israel's ultimate rejection of Christ, the horror of His crucifixion, and the loss of His physical presence permanently. With the Transfiguration He was able to get across to His three key men such a deep rooted sense of His own glory and divinity as to stay with them for the rest of their lives.
          For instance, John mentioned it years later. 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth' (John 1.14). Peter refers to it as well, and even more explicitly in the context of a strengthened faith. 'For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount' (II Peter 1.16-18).
          In other words, via the Transfiguration, Jesus was carefully storing up what they would need for the days ahead. Here is the lesson: He is careful to do the same for us.
          He does this in two ways. First, He does it by providing us with the Word of God. After specifically mentioning the Transfiguration as a faith strengthener, Peter goes on to reference the Scriptures themselves in the next verse. 'We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well to take heed' (II Peter 1.19). What a sweetly precious truth Peter give us here. What could possibly be a more sure foundation for our faith than to see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in one spot, with Jesus' essentially divine glory shining through? Yes, you guessed it; the Bible we sling onto the dashboard of our car so carelessly on the way back and forth to church. The Word of God contains sufficient provision for our soul and spirit this side of Heaven. Contrary to what our charismatic friends would have us believe, we don't need extra-biblical dreams and visions and words of knowledge. We have all we need in the Scriptures.
          The second way God so graciously stores up for us what we need is by providing encouragement for the future. God is already in our future. He is, after all, El Olam, the everlasting God. He never began and He will never end. He lives outside of time. Thus, He knows that in the tough times to come we will need memories of His previous goodness. We see this well-illustrated in the 77th and 42nd Psalms:

Psalm 77.7  Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?
8  Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?
9  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.
10  And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.
11  I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

Psalm 42.6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

          When I find myself, for instance, in need of God's provision, and it looks like nothing good is happening, I remind myself of God's goodness to me in the past. I remind myself of the time God gave me a good job at a steel mill at the last possible moment as a freshman in Bible college. I remind myself of how often, as a struggling young pastor with a new wife and a baby son, I found a bag of groceries on the front seat of my car after church. I remind myself of the time I had just enough gas to get to church for soul winning one Saturday and no money to buy any more, and somebody handed me an envelope with $200 inside. 'I will remember.'
          James and Peter would, years later, die martyrs' deaths. John would, as an old man, undergo an attempt on his life. In between the mountain top experience of the Transfiguration and these martyrdoms would come a veritable plethora of persecution, pressure, loneliness, burden, and rejection that comes with ministry to the lost and the saved. They would need the memory of a singularly bright shining day in the past, on top of the world, where they saw Jesus for Who He really was.
          God knows what you need for what you face in the future. And so He's given you the Word of God and the memories of tremendous evidences of Himself in your past to succor you in that time of need.

          He's a good God, isn't He?   

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The First Church Service

Life of Christ 86

          Here, in the last summer of His life, Jesus, seeking to avoid unnecessary provocations with Israel's religious leadership and desiring some private time alone to train the Twelve, has traveled north of Galilee into the mountainous region around Caesarea Philippi. There, over the course of a week, three earth shaking events take place. The first two, Peter's sublime confession of faith and the founding of the Church on that confession happen over the course of one story or conversation. Next, in the same conversation, Jesus emphasizes the necessity of the atonement, and rebukes Peter for trying to be an obstacle to His death. This post is the next stage of the same conversation.
          If I am correct that Jesus had on this day founded the Church then what we find here (Mark 8.34-38) is nothing less than the first sermon ever preached to the Church. We would call this an auspicious occasion indeed. Preachers think very carefully about the first message they preach in a pastorate, or in a new building, or at the very beginning of a new church. What will He say? What will be the theme of His message?
          'And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.'
          We know what it meant to Jesus to take up His cross. It meant His crucifixion, and the corresponding atonement that comes to humanity as a result. But it cannot mean quite the same thing for us. We do not hang on a literal cross to atone for ours or anybody else's sins. At the same time, there is clearly a similarity. The Jews of His day understood the cross to mean a torturous and shameful death via Roman crucifixion.
          The inimitable Matthew Henry says that to bear one's cross means to willingly, cheerfully, and patiently bear trial and affliction. I agree with him, but I believe he stops short of it somehow. I think it means that, yes, but it means more than that.
          First, taking up our cross involves dying to self. Paul said in I Corinthians 15.31, 'I die daily.' What did he mean? Well, it was neither a physical nor a spiritual death. It was the death of his own fleshly desires that he sought to constantly bring about, not on just one occasion, but every day. 'And he said unto them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me' (Luke 9.23).
          Scripture tells us that we are to crucify the flesh (Galatians 5.24, Colossians 3.5). That is what a cross is for – to crucify something. Dead things have no desires. Dead things have no responses. If Matthew Henry is right, and taking up our cross is to bear suffering, then part of the reason for that suffering is to promote in us the growth of holiness. 'Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin' (I Peter 4.1).
          George Mueller, that matchless prayer warrior and compassionate provider of care to England's orphaned in the 19th century, was once asked the secret to his success. He said, 'There was a day when I died, utterly died – died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends – and since then I have only to show myself approved unto God.' In other words, Mueller learned the secret of placing himself on that cross, daily, and in so bearing that cross George Mueller vanished and Jesus Christ lived through him.
          This does not come naturally to us. Self-preservation is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, human drives. Yet Christ repeatedly told us we have to lay such aside if we are to learn to properly live the Christian life. It is such a fallacy to swallow the old hackneyed advice 'follow your heart.' My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I'm trying to crucify it today. And if I want to live holy, like Christ, I will need to do it again tomorrow too.
          Second, taking up our cross involves what we suffer for the furtherance of the gospel. 'Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lost it, but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it' (Mark 8.34-35).
Pastor Kevin Bruursema, New Life Community Church
West Lakeview,  Chicago
          A friend of mine who pastors another church here in Chicago did something highly unusual this Easter. The Lord worked on his heart, and he decided that during the 40 days of Lent he was going to spend his lunchtime every day carrying a cross down the sidewalks of his neighborhood. The local Fox News outlet here in Chicago published an article about it which you can here here. He did not preach on the corners or even specifically try to witness. He simply carried it on his shoulder, greeted people, and let the conversation go where it might. Some people encouraged him. Some people spit on him. Some people came to him for prayer. But very few people ignored him. In a very wonderful way, he picked up his cross, daily, and in so doing furthered the gospel.
          Bro. Hyles used to say, 'Jesus suffered to make salvation possible; we suffer to make it available.' If you want to get the gospel out it will take your time, your money, your courage, your humility, your faithfulness, and in some cases even your whole life. But if you give your life away for the furtherance of the gospel I promise that you will find a better life has replaced it. Why? Because you took up your cross and followed Him.
          You cannot follow Him without taking up a cross, daily.
          What a theme for the first sermon ever preached in a church service!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On the Importance of the Atonement

Life of Christ 85

          This is startlingly true: Jesus was willing to call a man He dearly loved 'Satan' because that man spoke against the atonement (Matthew 16.23). Jesus had set His face like a flint (Isaiah 50.7), and nothing and no one was going to bar His march toward the being of our substitutionary atonement. In this we see the tremendous importance He attached to it, and thus that we ought likewise to attach to it.
          What is the atonement? The simplest answer is sometimes the best. The atonement is an at-one-ment. Between God and man a great barrier was fixed. Sin had separated the two, and it took the blood of the God-man, Jesus Christ, shed at His death, to break down that barrier and reconcile the two former enemies.

Colossians 1.20  And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
21  And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22  In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

          In fact, the entire point of the Jewish religious sacrificial system in the Old Testament was to represent the necessity for this atoning death. 'For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul' (Leviticus 17.11).
          The word 'atonement' is used 70 times in the Bible, 69 of them in the Old Testament. The dictionary defines the word as satisfaction for a wrong or injury. The original language in the Old Testament gives the idea of covering over something i.e. our sins.
          The illustrations of this in the Old Testament are many and varied, beginning all the way back in the Garden of Eden when an animal was sacrificed, and its skins used to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve after they had sinned. We see it in the atonement money paid by the Jewish people to the Temple. We see it in the great feast known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, with its famous scapegoat. We see it in the constant references to atonement in the various sacrifices instituted to care for the sins of the Jewish people in the Old Testament. No, these sacrifices never permanently covered sin. 'It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin' (Hebrews 10.4). But they did provide a constant and ever-present reminder that the sin must be paid for in death and blood in order for God's justified wrath to be appeased.
          We see this even more clearly in the only use of the word 'atonement' in the New Testament.

Romans 5.6  For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
11  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
          How could Jesus be so harsh on Peter when all Peter wanted was to speak out against the death of His beloved Messiah? Because in speaking thus, Peter was seeking to throw up a road block on Jesus' journey toward the atonement.

          Doctrine. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Seeing What We Want to See

Life of Christ 84

          Jesus is at the point in His ministry in which He has clearly turned away from offering Himself to Israel as her king and into the pathway that would lead Him instead straight to the cross. The Apostles, who gave up everything to follow Israel's Messiah, were not expecting this. They shared the traditional Jewish understanding of the day that the Messiah would sit on David's throne, and be the king of Israel. So Jesus takes great care, beginning with the hinge pivot point in Matthew 12, of explaining and emphasizing to His Apostles that He will soon die.

          Just after Peter's great confession of faith and the founding of the Church on that confession, He does it yet again. 'From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day' (Matthew 16.21). Peter's reaction, voiced as the mouthpiece of what the rest of the gathered Apostles thought and felt, was completely contrary. 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee' (Matthew 16.22).
          Why did Peter voice such opposition to the idea of Jesus' death? Because the Apostles wanted to see the prophecies regarding the triumphant, reigning Messiah come to pass. They didn't want to see the prophecies regarding the suffering Messiah come to pass. Both sets of prophecies are in the Old Testament, and they point, as we understand it now, to the same Messiah but in two different advents. The first time He came to suffer and die. The second time He comes to rule and reign. But this dichotomy produced puzzlement and confusion in interpretation, and the Apostles, with their hopes, dreams, and very lives invested in Jesus' claim to the messiahship chose to cling to the optimistic side, even when He was plainly telling them otherwise.
          In this I see an interesting truth: all too often we see in the Bible only what we want to see.
          To me, one of the marks of maturity in a believer, is when he begins to seek in the Bible for what God says, period – regardless of whether that makes him feel badly, regardless of whether it calls for him to do more, regardless of whether it asks him to give something up, regardless of whether it seems to be, for the moment, bad news, and regardless of whether it is hard to do or to understand. He has grown to the place where he just wants to know what God says. He seeks, as much as possible, to lay aside his own desires and wants in order to discover God's desires and wants.
Joseph Prince
        This is out of step with the times in our day. Last week, while I was watching the Cubs lose yet another game in the late innings, I channel surfed during a commercial break. I stumbled across a blow dried, leather jacket wearing, well-spoken preacher holding court before at least ten thousand people. It turns out his name is Joseph Prince, and he has a church of 30,000 members in Singapore. He runs around with Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Creflo Dollar. His television program, 'Destined to Reign', is broadcast worldwide. I hadn't watched him for five minutes before I figured out he was a prosperity gospel preacher. Now I freely admit that I'm not a Joseph Prince expert, but based on what I saw on his show and later on his website I'm betting there are whole sections of the Bible that he doesn't preach. Passages such as, 'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth' (Hebrews 11.3). Passages such as, 'Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution' (II Timothy 3.12). Passages such as, 'If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf' (I Peter 4.16). Passages such as, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me' (Matthew 16.24).
          Scripture is clear about such wolves in sheep's clothing: 'Men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself' (I Timothy 6.5), yet their ministries are exploding in popularity in Asia, South America, North America, and Africa. Why? Because those tens of thousands packed into the New Creation Church in Singapore, and the hundreds of thousands that tune into Prince's TV show, and the millions drawn to copycat ministries all around the world are looking into the Bible and seeing what they want to see. They want to see that they have the power to speak a word of blessing and chase away evil spirits and ill health. They want to see that God has promised them money and success. They want to see in the precious blood-stained gospel of our Saviour an earthly prosperity that guarantees them health, wealth, and happiness, and since that is what they want to see in the Bible it is what they find.
          As a young teenager I thought God had revealed to me, in the prophecies of Isaiah, the devotional psalms, and the epistle of Jude, the name of the girl I was going to marry when I grew up. Interestingly, it was the name of the girl I wanted to marry at that moment. I saw in the Bible what I wanted to see – and I was flat out wrong.

          Beloved, let us not make the mistake the Apostles made with the prophecies regarding Jesus Christ. Let us not make the mistake that the millions of prosperity gospel adherents around the globe make. Let us not make the mistake I made as a young man. Instead, let us see in the Bible what God actually put there rather than seeing what we want to see.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Great Faith and Great Mistakes

Life of Christ 83

        Jesus and His Apostles have stolen away from Galilee yet again, in this, the last summer of His life. They have gone north into the uplands, and walked the gradually rising trails that ascend to Mount Hermon. Along the way, He asked them that immortal question, 'Whom do ye say that I am?', and received Peter's sublime response, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' In my opinion, we have right here the founding of the very first New Testament church (Matthew 16.18).
          As the conversation continues Jesus begins to expand on His prophecies regarding His own future (Matthew 16.21-23). He explains that He must yet do four things: 1) travel to Jerusalem, the appointed place of sacrifice, 2) suffer many things there from Israel's religious leadership, 3) be killed, and 4) be resurrected. Peter, the mouth of the Apostles, began to rebuke Him for saying such depressing and pessimistic things. After all, Peter and the other Apostles knew that Jesus, as Israel's rightful Messiah, was headed for a crown and a throne.
          Jesus' reaction to Peter's objection about His prophecy relating to His death and resurrection was both swift and harsh. 'But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men' (Matthew 16.23). Peter, of course, was wrong to rebuke God, disrespectfully and awfully, but, more than that, he was wrong because in issuing such a rebuke he was doing the work of Satan.
          Jesus was not here asserting that Peter was unsaved. After all, just moments before, Peter had made the great confession of faith on which the Church itself is founded. No, Jesus is here assigning to Peter the motives or work of Satan.
          Satan was all about preventing Jesus from fulfilling His role as our substitutionary atonement. He had tried to kill Jesus as a baby. He had tried to have Jesus thrown off a cliff in Nazareth. Even now, he was stirring up the Jews to kill Jesus. Whether Satan understood, ahead of time, that Jesus' death would atone for the sins of a lost world or not, the point was that in trying to stop Jesus from getting to it, whether out of love, pride, or ambition, Peter was still placing an obstacle in His path.
          The simple truth is that Jesus had to die in order to atone for our sins, and He had to die in a certain way at a certain time in order to fulfill the various Old Testament types and prophecies. Thus, anything that became an obstacle to Him in this He had no patience with, and this was even more true as His ministry came to the crisis point. Isaiah prophetically phrased it this way, 'I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint' (Isaiah 50.6-7).
          This entire subject was confusing to the Apostles. They believed, as the Messiah, that Jesus was going to usher in the Kingdom. In faith, they continued to believe this no matter how it looked, and no matter how much Jesus sought to tell them differently, all the way up to the end. This, the concept of the Messiah as King, was the overwhelmingly prevailing Jewish mindset of the day, and the only difference, in this respect, between the Apostles and the other Jews is that they had chosen to rightly believe Jesus was that Messiah.
          In a sense, you can understand their confusion, can't you? The Old Testament, after all, predicts a messiah that would both suffer and yet also rule as a king forever. The solution, which we now clearly see in both Scripture and perspective, was two separate comings, but the Apostles couldn't or wouldn't see that.
          Jesus, knowing this full well, constantly sought to get across to them that the time was soon to come for Him to suffer and die. He brings it up again and again. This was why He had set His face like a flint. He was headed toward the atonement, come hell or high water. He marched, consciously, toward His own sacrificial death for you and me.
          We must keep in mind that Peter had, only moments earlier, boldly professed a genuinely great faith in Jesus Christ. The very next thing out of his mouth, however, was a genuinely great mistake. In this I see a crucial lesson, one that is absolutely necessary for God's people and God's ministers in our day: men of great faith are still capable of great mistakes.
          You and I both know what it is like to sit amongst gigantic crowds, and hear a powerful preacher, clearly called and blessed of God, wonderfully explain and declaim the Word of God. We have watched these men, leaders in Christianity, launch bold endeavors in full faith, and then seen God build wonderful things. But, far too often, we have assumed that such great men, full of such great faith, were then incapable of great mistakes. Apparently, such great men have also assumed the same thing about themselves. What tragedies have flowed from these misguided assumptions!
          For seventeen years I have had the rare privilege of standing in a pulpit as the pastor a New Testament church, and preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. I know what it is like to both hear, and to speak, with some measure of boldness and power, the precious Word of God. I have tasted the heady nectar of the ability to persuade men, and to move them to action. I have done this, in sincerity, to advance the cause of Christ, to edify the brethren, and to glorify the Lord. But none of that makes my decision making process somehow immune to mistakes, and none of that makes me right all the time about everything in my ministry, my family, or my church. I am perfectly capable of preaching a tremendous message one moment, and then making a tremendous mistake the next, and the day that I forget this, or that I allow my church to forget this, is the day I step foot on the road to ruin.

          Peter rightly gets praised for his sublime confession of faith on the flanks of Mount Hermon, and yet, mere moments later, Jesus calls him out for doing the work of Satan. If greater men than you and I, with a greater faith in God than ours, can be found errant so quickly, than it behooves you and me to walk humbly before both our people and our God.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Founding of the Church

Life of Christ 82

Maplewood Bible Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois
         We all like stories. As God's people, we naturally like the stories of Jesus' life the most. But His life was more than stories. He is 'the Word' (John 1.1), and more than stories flow from the Word made flesh. Doctrine flows from His life as well.
          Doctrine is not popular in our day. Some well-meaning but short sighted Christians have coined the phrase, 'Doctrine divides but love unites.' In this they are accurate, and sadly so. They downplay doctrine at the cost of producing an anemic Christianity, one more enamored with unity than it is with truth. It is certainly possible to examine the life of Christ and only focus on the stories that bring us feelings of spiritual blessing and encouragement, but it is an unbalanced focus on Christ that does so. Scriptural integrity and contextual hermeneutics drive me in another direction today. Brace yourselves. Here comes some wonderful doctrine.
          I mentioned in Life of Christ 81, Whom Say Ye That I Am? that this week that Jesus and the Apostles would spend in the mountainous region around Caesarea Philippi would include three earth shaking events. The first was Peter's great confession of faith. The second is the founding of the Church.
          This event is of tremendous importance. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3.15). The Church is the body of Christ on Earth (Colossians 1.18). The Church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5.32). The Church is one of only three institutions founded by God, and the only one founded by Jesus Christ. The Church is God's divinely ordained method of leading us in the way of holiness and edification (Ephesians 4.11-13). The Church is God's divinely ordained institution for getting out the saving truth of the Gospel (Matthew 28.19-20). The Church is the human center of the mature Christian's life. I've often said in preaching that you cannot be right with God and wrong with church. Jesus shed His blood for two things: to atone for my sin and to purchase my church (Acts 20.28). Everything Jesus came to be and to preach is held by the Church, taught by the Church, propagated by the Church, and kept alive by the Church.
          I freely admit that the vast majority of Christians believe the Church started in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter preached, and 3000 people were saved and baptized. But I also freely admit I'm an independent Baptist and we don't subscribe to what is, at its core, Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Roman Catholic theology insists the Church started in Acts 2, and thus places Peter as the founder of the Church, and as its first pope – which means the Church is universal and invisible, rather than local, visible, and independent; which means that the Church has a human headquarters; which means that said headquarters is in Rome; which means that the Roman Catholic Church becomes the orthodox and traditional expression of New Testament Christianity.
Saint Peter as Pope, Peter Paul Rubens, 1610
          I am not a Catholic. I am an independent Baptist. I do not hold that Peter was the first pope, that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and that the Roman Catholic Church is the New Testament church. I do hold that Peter was a sinner, a married sinner coincidentally; that he was not the first pope but merely perhaps the pastor of the church at Rome for a time; that the present pope, Francis II, is not the vicar of Christ but, in the immortal words of Martin Luther, is the vicar of hell; and that the Roman Catholic Church is not the expression of New Testament Christianity but rather the great whore of Revelation which yokes up with the beast and the false prophet shortly before being destroyed in the Tribulation period. And I share the traditional, though out of step, Baptist position that the Church began, not in Acts 2 with Peter's preaching at Pentecost, but rather during the lifetime of Jesus Christ Himself.
          Now, besides offending billions of Muslims and Catholics in two succeeding posts, what is my point? Simply this: that Peter didn't start the Church; Jesus did.
          What both Catholicism and most of Protestant Christianity misses is the context of the first mention of the church in the Bible. 'And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church' (Matthew 16.18). To assert that there is here some play on words between Peter and rock, and to then point to Acts 2 as the occasion in which Peter became the rock on which the Church is built is to completely ignore when Jesus said it. Just prior to Matthew 16.18 is Peter's great confession of faith in Jesus. 'But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matthew 16.15-16). The rock upon which Jesus built His church was not Peter, but rather Peter's confession of faith. The fact that Peter happened to preach the message at Pentecost has nothing to do with it.
          The truth is that the word church is first found in Matthew 16, not in Acts 2. The truth is that Acts 2 tells us specifically that at Pentecost three thousand believers were saved and baptized, and 'added' to the church (Acts 2.41, 47). In order to be added to something that something had to be in existence prior to that addition. The truth is that two chapters later we find Jesus giving instructions to His Apostles about how to deal with problems amongst the brethren, and He tells them to 'tell it unto the church' (Matthew 18.17). You can't take present problems 14 months forward in time to some future church that is not yet in existence.
          No, beloved, Peter didn't found the Church. Jesus did, in the beautiful mountainous region around Caesarea Philippi in the summer before His death.

          Doctrine. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?