Sunday Sermon Notes: January 29, 2023

Mark 3:7-12

Parallel Text: Matthew 12:13-21

With the plot to kill Him underway, Jesus and His disciples go to the Sea of Galilee, followed by ever-growing crowds of people. Many, maybe hundreds pushed to be close to Him, hoping to be healed, and security became an issue with the pressing of bodies and precautions had to be taken, so great was the rush of the crowds.

People possessed by impure spirits became a problem, as the spirits within them cried out that He was the Son of God, and Jesus silenced them. Can it be any wonder that both the Pharisees and Herodians wanted Jesus out of the way? Neither Herod nor his partisans wanted him deposed and replaced by a legitimate king. The Pharisees, pose another interesting question for us to consider.

It has long been my view, that the Pharisees, of all people should have known exactly who and what they were dealing with in Jesus of Nazareth. As I’ve mentioned before, they knew the prophecies and they knew the timing; they saw the prophecies playing out with Jesus, and though it may sound odd to point this out, they not only had the testimony of John, but that of the impure spirits regarding His identity.

It seems apparent to me, however, that they did not see the Messiah they wanted in Jesus, for they could care less about redemption, they wanted power. Jesus was not the king who would defeat the Romans and rule a powerful and influential Israel with the Pharisees being the center of Jewish life. No sir, they saw a Kingdom that was not an earthly one developing before them, one that would undermine their position instead of strengthening it, so it had to be stopped at all costs.

We all might be well advised to carefully consider what lessons God has for us today in all of this…

Mark 3:20-35

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:22-37, 46-50; Luke 11:14-23; 8:19-21

After Jesus appoints the Twelve, things start to become strange; something isn’t quite right in this story.

Jesus and the disciples are in a house, and the crowd pushes in, there are so many people, Jesus and His party can’t finish their meal. Jesus’ Mother and brothers hear He is there and set out to “take charge” of Him, for they are sure He’s crazy. His family might have something in common with my family… but this isn’t the picture most of us expect to hear at this point; Jesus out of His mind? Why right now, He’s a rock star! (figuratively speaking)

But wait, there’s more!

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

Mark 3:22

You know, these guys really should have thought about what they said before they said it…

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Mark 3:23-29

This is a masterpiece, a classic of rhetorical discourse, a thing of utter beauty.

Borrowing from this paragraph, Abraham Lincoln crafted his most important speech, the one that lost him the senate in 1858, but won him the White House in 1860. Lincoln isn’t the only one who has ripped this little bit or oratory off in the centuries since.  Not only did Jesus annihilate their accusation, not only did He crush their credibility with those they spewed this foolishness to, He showed them that they would spend their future in very warm climes.

He also has taught us that we should avoid attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the work of the devil. Mark makes this clear in the next verse, pointing out that these guys had claimed Jesus was possessed by an impure spirit.

There is one more odd thing in this story. Remember, Jesus’ family was on their way to “take charge” of Him… well they’ve arrived. They send someone inside to tell Jesus they were outside, and Jesus doesn’t come running:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:33-35

This is a tough few verses, but we should understand this concept. I don’t think it would be fair to say that Jesus didn’t love His earthly family; Jesus loves everyone and died for all of us, so great is His love. Yet at that moment, well-meaning as His family was, they were working against God’s will. In Christ, we are God’s sons and daughters, we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters, members of the family. Outside of this context, we place ourselves in opposition to Him; not good.

We know that this changed, and His family came to become His followers, so this isn’t like what He told those teachers of the Law earlier, but it is something we should be aware of and guard against.

Well, for me anyway, this has been an odd passage, as though there is more going on that would have met the eye on that occasion.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: January 22, 2023

Mark 2:23-28

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

Mark has shifted the scene to the countryside. Jesus and the disciples, and apparently some Pharisees, are walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. They are hungry and the disciples pluck a few heads of grain to eat as they go along, and the Pharisees object, for it is unlawful to harvest a field on the Sabbath. The law on this point is contained in Exodus 20:10 if you’d like to read it just to bring in a little context. By the way, if you do look it up, you will notice that the law doesn’t say this. It says you shall do no work. Were the disciples actually working? Well, that is the real question.

As the years went by, it became apparent that Exodus 20:10 was subject to interpretation, and many well-intentioned leaders believed that there was a great potential for misunderstanding Exodus 20:10, so they adopted a very long list of additional rules to help people avoid an unintentional violation of the Sabbath. This list of rules is not actually part of the law, but as more time went by, it was treated as if it were the law itself; this is what the Pharisees were actually referring to.

In verses 25-26, Jesus cites a well-known example of David feeding his men food reserved by the law for the exclusive use of the priests when necessity required it, with the implication that necessity required the disciples’ actions that the Pharisees were objecting to. He concludes His answer in the following verses:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

I wish I could have been there to see the look on the faces of those poor Pharisees when they heard that!

As you know, there are those critics out there who claim that Jesus never said He was divine. Even if that were true, He sure implied it strongly on many occasions, and this is another of those.  If the Sabbath was made for man, and that makes the Son of Man the lord over the Sabbath, then it is because He’s also the Lord over Man.

Mark 3:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4

I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…

Jesus healed the man.  Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem. When you consider the fact that the Pharisees and the Herodians were sworn enemies, their sudden alliance in a plot to kill Jesus should raise some questions, don’t you think?

 

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Our Good Shepherd

I don’t know about you, but for me, the idea of God as our shepherd is one of the most comforting and inspiring images of being in relationship with Him.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—

John 10:14

Just sit back and think for a moment: A domesticated sheep is completely dependent on the shepherd. If the sheep is separated from the flock, out in the wild, it is vulnerable to attack by any predator, likely to starve, and should the sheep fall over, it’s probably unable to get up on its own. A shepherd keeps it safe, fed, and secure… and that is precisely what our God does for us.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

In our daily lives, He will see to our needs, provide us with the strength we need to face the challenges of life, guard us against the attacks of evil, of danger, and of temptation if we ask Him. In His presence, our Good Shepherd will take on our burdens of life, of guilt, shame, doubt, and worry; He will even protect us from our own thought process if the need arises. He guides us in His righteous paths, He leads us in the ways of peace and love― He makes us whole. Yet like the sheep, we must remain in His loving care. We mustn’t just take off and run away from Him, for that is where the dangers lie, out there, on our own in the wilderness of life.

Even so, like the Good Shepherd that He is, when we wander off and are found once again, He rejoices with us, happy in our reunion with the flock as He holds us close in His loving arms.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: January 15, 2023

Mark 2:1-12

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:2-8; Luke 5:17-26

In this passage, Jesus has returned to Capernaum from His Kingdom Tour, and the people are excited to have Him back in town. During this period, Capernaum is His ‘home base’. As the crowd grew with the usual curious listeners, sick and damaged people, it became impossible for everyone to gain entry into the house where Jesus was staying as He preached, and a very enterprising group of men climbed up to the roof, bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher with them. They opened the roof door which was a common feature in those flat-roofed houses, and lowered the paralyzed man into the room where Jesus was teaching.

When Jesus saw this, He went over to the man on the stretcher and told him that his sins were forgiven.

There was a group of teachers of the law in the room, who may have come from Jerusalem to investigate the report that had reached the city about the Kingdom Tour, and these guys were pretty amazed at what they saw. It occurred to them that Jesus had just made a mistake in telling the unfortunate man his sins were forgiven, because only God can forgive sins: Blasphemy… Gotcha!

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Mark 2:8-12

I love this part! Jesus, knowing their thoughts goes over to these guys and asks a question: So boys, what’s easier, to tell this guy his sins are forgiven, or to tell him to get up, pick up his mat and walk?

Who says Jesus had no sense of humor?

Then, He went back to the paralyzed man and told him to get up, take his mat and walk… and that’s just what the guy did!

I can just imagine what those old boys from Jerusalem thought then… hilarious! Boy, did they have a report for the bigwigs back home.

Of course everyone was amazed at what they had witnessed, but I wonder if they fully comprehended the scene. Right in front of the teachers of the law, Jesus had forgiven a man’s sins, the teachers were correct in what they were thinking, for only God can forgive sins. Jesus read their thoughts; a little miracle nobody seemed to notice, and went right for the jugular, so to speak. He told a paralyzed man to get up and walk, and the man was made whole again, and did just that. Thus, Jesus had taken upon Himself God’s role to forgive, and then backed it up by making the man whole physically.

Wholeness, spiritually and physically: Jesus removed the consequences of sin, at least symbolically, right in front of their eyes. To state what happened in another way, Jesus had just shown the whole crowd that He was the Son of God… and the teachers of the law, by definition if nothing else, would have had to know that.

So, what do you think was in their report to HQ?

Mark 2:13-17

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:27-28

Still in Galilee, Jesus calls another disciple, and this time He has a questionable choice: Levi (Matthew) the tax collector. Tax collectors are none too popular in our day, but back then they were outright crooks in most cases. They would be informed of the amount they had to collect, and whatever they collected over and above that amount would be theirs to keep. Oh yes, this was all nice and legal under Roman law. So, say you are a tax collector and you are supposed to collect $100.00 from 10 people. Let’s see, if you can get $10.00 from each one, you could turn the money over to the authorities and be done, but your family would go hungry. If you collected $ 12.50 each, you’d make $25.00 and maybe that would be fair, but if you could force them to pay $150.00 each, even better!

Jesus called Levi to discipleship, and then they go to a party with tax collectors and other unsavory characters: The stage is set for another round with His critics.

Notice that once again, Jesus called a disciple, and the disciple followed, leaving everything behind immediately to do so. In this case, Levi, who was well-to-do threw a dinner party for Jesus that night, inviting all his friends. Jesus did not tell Levi that he had to attend class, do penance, or somehow work his way into favor; Levi did not need to get his act together before he could follow Jesus, instead Jesus called, Levi obeyed.

Then, this dinner party!

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:15-17

I can well imagine, and even sympathize with the thinking of the Pharisees, after all most of us are quite used to this kind of thinking; Levi and his friends weren’t “suitable” people at all; they were at the very bottom of the social order.  Yet Jesus came that such as these could be saved; in our day, these are exactly the ones who need to hear about Jesus.

Here’s a question: If you and I don’t reach out to “tax collectors and prostitutes” with the message of Christ, then who will; the Pharisees? From this text, it would seem that Pharisees are not likely to get the job done.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 25, 2022

Matthew 24:35-51

Unlike the section we’ve been studying, the last part of chapter 24 is not difficult to understand as long as we remember to keep it in its proper context. As we discovered back at the beginning, verse 34 signals transition from the first part of the question that the disciples put to our Lord in verse 3 to the second. Verse 35 then picks up with a new subject: Jesus’ coming and the end of the age.

The Day and Hour Unknown

Jesus makes very clear the fact that nobody knows when He will return. There will be no signs, no check lists, and no way to discover when He will return until it happens. The section from verse 35 through verse 41 uses the days of Noah to show a comparison to His coming; people will be surprised. Notice also that for those who are not prepared to enter into the ark, for those who have not heeded the call to righteousness, this will be a day of doom. Verses 40 and 41 use the picture of two people; one is taken and one is left. This has caused some problems with interpretation, but when taken in the context of the entire passage (35-51) it becomes most likely that Jesus is indicating that one will be taken to judgment, and the other left alone. This seems to be the strongest interpretation in context, even though many commentators liken it to a “rapture” scenario seeking to apply 1Thessalonians 4 here. A case can be made, and you are free to choose your favorite. The most important point is to remember that Jesus will return, and we will all be surprised when He does.

Verses 42 and following repeat and reinforce the fact that Jesus’ return will come at a time when it is not expected, and begins to assert the imperative of readiness on our parts. This will be the entire theme of chapter 25, and goes on to a major covenant priority: our need to keep the terms of the New Covenant to live our lives as Christ would live. If we keep faith with our Covenant, we will be surprised and delighted at His coming. If we do not, then when He comes, we will be surprised and horrified.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 18, 2022

Matthew 24:5-15

So much has been written of this passage! It’s kind of troubling, isn’t it? Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes… what does it all mean?

Surely this is talking of the present day. Surely, we need to worry that the end is coming; what will we do?

First of all, don’t forget CONTEXT.

Second, why must we arrogantly assume that everything is about us? (It isn’t)

This is a great time to quote one of my boyhood heroes:

The only thing new in the world is history that you don’t know.”

Harry S Truman

Many recent authors and speakers have made much of this passage to attempt to put Matthew 24 into the future, and out of context. Almost to a man, they write about these verses saying that they refer to a time when there have been the most wars, the most earthquakes, the most famines and so on…

Kindly take note of the less exciting fact that Jesus simply didn’t say that! And… try to force yourself to keep the context in mind: “When will these things happen…?” (The destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem)

Were there wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem? Were the faithful being persecuted during this time? Were there false teachers during this time? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!

When the Roman Emperor Caligula ordered his statue erected in the Temple and the Jews of the city reacted by rebelling against the Romans, do you suppose they weren’t talking about a war when the news got back to Rome? According to the first century historian Josephus, they were so concerned that many neglected to even till their fields.

Nation will rise up against nation… When the Jews and Syrians clashed in Caesarea, the Syrians drove the Jews from the city, and the death toll amongst the Jews was staggering, which is one of the reasons that the Jews attacked in Syria. Before the Roman garrison could respond, the killings numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and Josephus has recorded it all for your reading… This was not the only example of war, rumors of war and nation rising against nation in the region of Judea during this period. Also, during this period, during the short reign of Claudius, there were the beginnings of civil war in Italy and elsewhere, which would obviously make the “evening news” in Judea.

Famines?

Acts 11:28 is interesting to remember: “One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)” This fact is confirmed by Josephus, Tacitus and Eusebius among others.

Earthquakes? During the period between the Discourse and the fall of Jerusalem, history records quite a few, maybe even a record number in the Roman world: All in all, there are 15 recorded during this time, in places such as Rome, Italy, Judea, Syria, Asia Minor and Crete among others.

Persecution? OK, don’t even pretend that persecution didn’t take place during this period! It is well documented in the New Testament, along with the false teachers and the rest of it. Note verses 13 and 14:

but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Verse 13 gives the main point: stand firm in all things, and you will be saved. In the last lesson we saw exactly how that took place; Jesus was good and reliable in His words.

Verse 14 takes us back to the Covenant priority: and the Gospel will spread throughout the world, even though there are to be difficulties.

Finally, the end will come: remember the context: the end is that of Jerusalem.

 Matthew 24:15-28

Synopsis

In this section, Jesus tells the disciples what the people of God will need to know when Jerusalem is besieged in 70 AD. Verses 15-16 give a sign of warning to the people regarding the time to flee the region, giving a reference to Daniel’s prophecy; that will be discussed below. When this sign appears, the people in Judea are to flee to the mountains, and along this route, they can travel through the back country all of the way to Lebanon behind the Roman advance to safety.

Verses 17-20 underscore the need for haste in their flight from the region. It is important to note that he said “in Judea” and not in Jerusalem which is the capital of Judea. This is because by the time they see the sign he referred to, it will be too late for Jerusalem, as we shall see.

Verses 21 and 22 detail just how horrible the coming siege will be, and gives the believers the hope that the horror will be cut short so that they may be able to escape destruction. In verses 23-25, Jesus warns the believers not to be fooled by rumors, and urges them to stick with what he is telling them, ending with the note that they will be spared from Jerusalem’s doom. In verse 25, He reinforces the thought that He is giving them advance warning of the situation. Our text ends with a curious section from 26-28, where Jesus warns that some will be fooled into thinking that the destruction of Jerusalem is the end of the world and the time of his coming. This is clearly not the case, and the believers mustn’t be fooled, for when He does come, it will not be in secret.

The Sign

The sign in our text is “the abomination that causes desolation,” and is used by Daniel in describing military attacks on Jerusalem in chapters 9, 11 and 12. To a Jew, “abomination” would be something that defiles something that is holy. A Gentile army surrounding the Holy City would be a possibility. “Desolation” means emptiness, so what we are looking for is a gross defilement that results in emptiness.

Looking to the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Luke, we find the answer:

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-24

By comparing Matthew 24 to Luke 21, we see that the sign they were to look for was when a Gentile army surrounded the Holy City of Jerusalem, and this happened in 66 AD. A question may arise as to why Matthew refers to Daniel, and Luke does not.

Remember that Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel written for the Jews, and Luke’s was the one written for the Greeks. Frequently, Matthew refers back to prophecies that are fulfilled, while Luke just spells out what happened. This is because the Jews were aware of the prophets, and by reminding them of the prophecies that are fulfilled, Matthew is lending credibility to Jesus Messianic claim. Luke’s audience is largely ignorant of Jewish tradition, and such comparisons would be of little value to those readers; Luke spells things out that Matthew relates to Scripture. Thus, we come to see that what Jesus is giving as a signal to flee the area is the Roman siege at Jerusalem; those outside the city are to flee immediately, and those within the city will have to wait for another sign for deliverance…

This signal comes in verse 22: those days will be cut short!

History of the Siege

At this point, it is useful to give a brief synopsis of the history of the siege of Jerusalem. This history is told by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who not only wrote the history of the Jewish people from Genesis to the time shortly before their last war of destruction, (65-70 AD) Antiquities of the Jews, but another volume entitled The War of the Jews which gives his eyewitness account of the entire Roman campaign against the Jews, including his eyewitness account of the siege of Jerusalem. The war began when the Emperor Caligula commanded that his statue be erected in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. This so outraged the Jews that they flew to arms and began to attack Roman outposts, beginning in Syria, and spreading throughout the region. A large Roman army under Vespasian began its counter assault in that region, and then moved through Galilee destroying all Jewish opposition in its wake. After ravaging the north, Vespasian returned to Rome, where he participated in a coup that overthrew Caligula (who was insane) and was replaced by Cestius, who was the general who began the siege. Josephus tells of the horrors of this period, and to read his account is truly disturbing. The believers trapped in the city, recalling the words of Jesus must have wondered how they were going to be able to flee as the conditions grew steadily more desperate; then a miracle― The Romans suddenly withdrew!

According to Josephus, while the Jews celebrated their divine deliverance, the Christians fled to the hills and escaped.

What had actually happened was that the general Titus had arrived in the region with reinforcements. Cestius withdrew, joined up with Titus, and with Titus (the higher-ranking officer) in command, they soon returned to finish the job, only this time there were no Christians in the city: they had all fled because they had been forewarned by none other than Jesus Himself! “See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matt. 24:25)

As Josephus tells the story, and he was no supporter of the Christians, not a single Christian died in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The Jewish deaths were over 100,000.

By the time the Romans launched their final assault, there was no resistance, and they had only a mop up operation; murdering the last of the survivors who couldn’t get away. According to Josephus, the Romans discovered to their delight that the Temple itself was full of gold. In fact (as we know) it was inlaid with gold within the wood framework of the stone construction. To render the gold from its structure, Josephus tells that the Romans set it ablaze, and then pried the stones loose from one another to get at the melted gold that had fallen, leaving not one stone upon another. (Matt. 24:2

Putting it all together

We have at this point completed the first section of the Discourse, and a fairly awesome picture is before us:

  1. There will be difficulties, these are normal and a regular part of life on this earth. There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, calamities and persecutions; even false teachers, but hold firm in your faith, and you will be delivered. Most importantly, the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ will go forth. (5-14)
  2. When the day of God’s judgment comes, our Lord will see you through its peril. If you are in the countryside, when you see the sign, get out. Flee through the mountains to the north. If you are in the city, hang in there for the Lord will deliver you, too. When the time comes, flee to the mountains of the north. Those who are followers of the Lord will be saved; those who are not will be judged. (15-28)
  3. When God’s judgment against those who have refused to follow Him comes, it will be terrible to behold for it will be sure and complete. Those who claim to follow Him, but who do not really, will be devastated, for God will not be mocked, nor will He be fooled by performing the old rituals after they have been rendered obsolete by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. (29-33)
  4. This will all be completed within the natural lifetimes of those who heard Him say it, even though that is not necessarily mean they will all live to see it. (34)
  5. Even though this has all been accomplished by the end of the year 70, there are lessons for us to draw from this text as well. What could they be? Well, for that you’ll need to wait for the next lesson!
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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 11, 2022

Today’s Text: Matt. 24:29,34,35, 36

How many questions did they ask in Matthew 24:3?

No interpretation of this text will succeed until we determine how many questions the disciples actually asked in Matt. 24:3. In simply looking at the question, we have three possibilities that we identified last week, but there is really no way to determine which is correct by only considering verse 3. There are two ways to figure this out: One way is to look at our favorite Millennial theory and see what everyone else says about it and go from there. Using this approach, we find that the premillennialists say there’s one question, the postmillennialists claim three questions and the amillennialists claim two. The other two theories (which are not very common theories) claim one.

The other way to determine how many questions are asked is to examine the structure of the answer to determine how many questions Jesus answered. Since we are not advocating any of the three main (or the two smaller) theories, the approach we will take is to figure out how Jesus answered and let the chips fall where they may. In interpreting the Bible, this is the best approach to any difficult text because it allows for the possibility, likelihood actually, that none of the theories are right one hundred percent of the time. Please note that if we come up with an answer that differs from your favorite theory, that does not mean that the whole theory is wrong, and if we come up with an answer that matches your theory, it doesn’t mean that your theory is entirely right. We are entirely neutral in here.

In searching the text for transitional clues, we come across four verses that are indicative of transition. (Transition denotes the grammatical change in the language that indicates that the response to the question is moving on from one topic to the next by changing the subject.) In this case, there are 4 such verses: 29,34, 35and 36. Verse 35 is indicative of time which is the key to the first part of verse three: “…when will this happen…” “This” relates to what was said in verse two, where Jesus was telling them that the Temple will be destroyed, “…not one stone will be left on another…” Verse 34 says: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Verse 34 appears to be what you might call a time stamp. The time stamp feature here is “…this generation will certainly not pass away until…”. Assuming that He means the generation that was alive at the moment He said this, it would appear that He was referring to the destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 AD. If we could find Jesus saying the same thing about something else, we could tie this down for certain. As luck would have it, Jesus said substantially the same thing in Matthew 16. Right after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, and right after Jesus said that this was the rock upon which he would build His church, Jesus was telling the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, including death. Peter and the others had great difficulty understanding that Jesus could both die and build His Kingdom. The problem was that they were assuming the wrong kind of Kingdom; they were looking for an earthly kingdom based in Jerusalem that would re-establish the glory of old Israel. Of course, Jesus had plans that were quite different, because His plan was to build a heavenly Kingdom that was not of this world. This is confusion shared by many Christians to this day.

In 16:28, Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” It is universally understood that Jesus was referring to the church and the Day of Pentecost when He said this, and it is universally understood that He was referring to those who lived at the time He said it, and for all of the same reasons, His reference to the generation living in verse 34 is indeed those who were living at the time.

If we are correct in our understanding of verse 34, then it should be followed by a change of subject. This is found in the very next verse: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”(v. 35) If Jesus meant to indicate that the topic between verses 4 and verse 34 was the destruction of the Temple (and Jerusalem) then this is definitely transition to another topic.: “Heaven and earth shall pass away”.

Verse 36 appears to be another time stamp: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If this is the beginning of an answer to a second question, then “that day” must follow after a change of subject. Verse 35 has a change of subject from “…when will this happen…” to “…what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (question in v. 3) I include these two together because there isn’t any more transition after this. This change of subject takes us from the destruction of the Temple to heaven and earth will pass away. At this point, we have a thesis that the disciples asked two questions in verse three because that’s how many questions Jesus answered. This would indicate that to Jesus, there were two issues raised, and that His coming and the end of the age are the same thing, or will be simultaneous. Before we can be absolutely certain that our thesis is correct, we need to check out verse 29, which might cause a problem, based upon the rules of internal consistency. Internal consistency means that our case does not contradict itself, and that we do not support our case with supposition that is the same as our conclusion. Verse 29 sounds to many to be speaking of the end of the world, and many would take it to indicate that the entire passage refers to the end of the world, even though it appears to start with the destruction of the Temple.

Verse 29 says:

“Immediately after the distress of those days ” ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

Let’s begin by noting the difference in tense between “that day” in verse 36 and “those days” in verse 29. The fact that verse 29 refers to a plural number of days and verse 36 refers to a single day would lend significant credence to our thesis: they are talking about different things. Even with that said, and the fact that the grammar is different between “those” and “that”, verse 29 is a tough one to understand. The method we use in determining what is intended will be to examine other passages in the Bible to see if we can find a trend as to the intended meaning that we can apply to this verse to ensure that our thesis is correct.

Once again, the difficulty that we must face is related to how we understand prophetic language. There are two schools of thought on this subject. The first school of thought is the Apocalyptic school which asserts that these are word pictures intended to transmit meaning about things through the use of descriptive language which reveals something to the reader. The second school is the Literalist school which asserts that everything must be taken literally; if the sun, moon and stars are said to fall, then they will fall. In looking at other passages, we should be able to discern which approach is correct. If the Apocalyptic school is right, then so is our thesis. If the Literalists are right, then our thesis may or may not be right. Let’s check out one passage to see if we can get an idea: Isaiah 13:1-22 deals with God’s wrath and judgment against Babylon, in context the highlights are as follows:

v. 1 An oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw:…

v.6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty….

V. 9 See, the day of the LORD is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger— to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.

V. 10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light….

V. 13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.

For the full effect, you should read the entire passage. For now, note that two things are very clear: First, the sun, moon and stars are said to be darkened, and second, God’s judgment is being poured out. As we will see next week, this is a common connection in Bible prophecy. Isaiah is talking about the destruction of Babylon in chapter 13, and God’s judgment on them. In Matthew 24, Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s judgment upon the Jews. This, along with the change from plural in 24:29 to singular in 24:36 is enough to determine that we are dealing with two questions being under discussion in the Olivet Discourse: One relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in particular, and the other being of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age. As mentioned, we will look at some more Old Testament passages next week which will solidify this position. In the meantime, let’s prepare for that by taking a quick look at Literalism.

Literalism

This school is based upon a reverent respect for Scripture which is both admirable and worthy of praise. Sadly, however, it is taken to an extreme when it is applied to prophecy where it is inappropriate. We use a literal approach much, maybe most of the time. We certainly do so in works of history for example, which the Gospels, Acts and the Old Testament books of history, including the Pentateuch are. We also use it in understanding the Epistles. It does not work in passages of prophecy, however; they were not intended to be understood that way, and this approach results in problems of internal consistency as well as non-starter errors. Here’s the sort of problem we run into: Clearly, in Matthew 24 Jesus begins talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was destroyed within the time guidelines He set forth. Yet a literal interpretation says that He must have been talking about something else because the sun, moon and stars are still up there. What was He talking about then? Isaiah 34 relates to the destruction of Edom, using much the same language Jesus used about Jerusalem. Edom was destroyed in 72 AD. But, since the sun, moon and stars are still up there, “Edom” must mean something other than the Kingdom of the Edomites, which has been it’s meaning throughout the entire Old Testament. If Edom doesn’t mean Edom, then what does it mean? If it doesn’t mean what it should mean, then what does it stand for? The catch is that as soon as you say that it stands for something else, it is no longer literal, thus you have defeated your own presupposition and your internal consistency crumbles into dust. This is why I say that Literalism doesn’t work with these prophetic passages. A literalist will run into this problem each and every time he uses it in prophecy.

Conclusion: Matthew 24:3 contains two questions which were answered by Jesus: First, when will the Temple be destroyed, and second, what will be the signs of His coming and of the end of the age?

Next week, we will examine the entire section from 24:29-31 along with Old Testament passages that shed light on its meaning.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 4, 2022

A brief Introduction to the Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24-25

Any time you are engaged in Bible study, you must ask yourself the following questions. I’ve included the answers for this text:

  1. Who is speaking?    Jesus (and his disciples in v. 3)
  2. Who is the author?  Matthew
  3. Why was this written (or spoken in this case?) For the edification of the followers of Christ
  4. When did this take place?   C.34 AD
  5. Under what covenant?       Old Covenant (Its last full day)

Once these questions have been answered, it is important to reflect on several things, since this is an unusually difficult passage.  The first thing to reflect upon is simply the fact that the language is the difficult language of prophetic passages that we refer to as “Apocalyptic” or “Prophetic”:  This type of literature must be understood correctly to mean a specific thing, namely that it reveals something. The word “Apocalyptic” comes from a Greek word meaning “to reveal”. It does not mean the end of the world, or a terrible catastrophe, as it is often used in common speech― it may or may not contain those things. Next, it is important to realize that Jesus is here speaking to his disciples, and that He may or may not have been overheard by others. Verse 3 says they came up to Him privately.  This could mean that they were entirely alone, but the Mount of Olives is not necessarily a private place.  Anybody could walk by if they wanted to. In speaking to them, it is not likely that He would tell them things that they could not possibly understand, or that they would not actually need to know.  There would be no particular expectation that they would transcribe what He told them and then rush to the library to consult their commentaries to figure Him out.

Finally, to fully comprehend this passage, it is necessary to keep in mind the following:

  1. Much has been written about this passage by scholars and by purveyors of certain ‘end time’ theories. For the most part, these good folks have attempted to make this passage fit into a theory, either claiming that it supports their position or that it defeats someone else’s position.  Very seldom is it actually studied by Christians as a passage other than in the context of an already accepted theory. The result of this sad fact (trying to make the text fit into a previously held theory) is that many commentators get it entirely WRONG!
  2. If you want to understand this passage of Scripture for what Jesus actually said here, you MUST forget everything you think you know about it.  If you do not do so, you will miss one of the most amazing and frankly enlightening passages recorded in the Gospels.  Our position for the purposes of this study is that Matthew 24 and 25 neither support nor defeat any end time theory.  You have the opportunity to understand the most difficult passage in the entire New Testament if you will drop the idea that it is “Millennial” in nature: it is not.
  3. Even more than usual, the context of this passage is utterly crucial in understanding it.
  4. The passage can be understood by all Christians if they are willing to forget their pre-conceived notions and look at what it actually says, especially including its grammatical construction.

Context

As mentioned above, the context of this passage is of utmost importance.  This context is set up from Matthew chapter 21 through chapter 23; chapter 24 follows immediately at the conclusion of those events. For convenience, here is a brief synopsis of those chapters:

Chapter 21:

In verses 1-11 we have the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem; Palm Sunday.  This is followed by the second cleansing of the Temple in vv. 12-16. After that He goes to Bethany to spend the night (V. 17). The next day He returns to the city and curses a fig tree en route (18-22). When He reaches the Temple area He runs into the Pharisees who demand to know by what authority He cleansed the Temple on the previous day. He asks them to answer a question first, which they find too hot to handle, and then says that since they didn’t answer His question, He won’t answer theirs (27). This is followed by giving the parable of the son in the vineyard (28-32) and the wicked husbandman (34-45) and applies both of the parables. They would have arrested Him at that point, but they feared the crowds (46).

Chapter 22:

This chapter opens with the parable of the wedding feast (1-14). In verse 15 they decide to set a trap for Him, and the rest of the chapter is a series of questions they ask in this effort, each of which He handles so as to make them look foolish (16-33). Jesus gives them one last question and they fall into a trap, saying that the Christ will be the son of David.  Jesus, quoting from Psalm 110 asking why, then did David call him “Lord”. They ended the conversation.

Chapter 23:

Now, Jesus, addressing the crowd, no doubt in the hearing of the scribes and Pharisees, launched into a major denunciation of them, followed by seven awesome woes upon them (1-36) and ends with His lamentations over Jerusalem (37-39). Chapter 24 picks up with the disciples asking Him about Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Matthew 23:37-39

In these words, Jesus shows His sorrow that Israel would not follow God, and leads to His discussion of what the consequence would ultimately be. 

 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Matthew 24:1-3

Matthew 24:1-3; Points of Interest

v. 1:Immediately after this lamentation, Jesus was leaving the area, and His disciples call His attention to the massive structure of the Temple. Obviously, they were struck by His words.

v. 2:Jesus answers them by telling them that the Temple would be utterly destroyed; there can be no doubt of what He was referring to here.  Understand something about the Jewish view of the Temple:  Not only was it a massive structure that takes up an entire mountaintop, it was the dwelling place of God on the earth. God dwelt in the Holy of holies, the holiest place into which nobody could enter except for the High Priest, one day per year, under strict ceremonial requirements. If the High Priest failed to do it exactly right, or if anyone else attempted to enter through the veil into the Holy of holies, they would be struck dead immediately. The idea of this structure, and of God’s dwelling place being destroyed was, to say the least, traumatic to the Jewish psyche. In fact, this was not the first time that Jesus had spoken of the destruction of the Temple. When He had first cleared the Temple, He had said “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days”. As we know from John’s Gospel, they had taken this literally, and it appears that they may have connected the two events in their minds. John relates that it was only later that they had come to realize that He had spoken of the temple of

His body (John 2:19-22).  How could they have understood that He referred to His body?  They did not yet understand that His body had become the dwelling place of God at His incarnation; God had changed address! In Matthew 24, they still did not understand this, and they did not begin to get it until his resurrection.  They completely understood by the Day of Pentecost.

v. 3:The disciples asked a question… it looks like they equated destroying the Temple with the end of the world.  This shouldn’t surprise us, since it would surely be the end of the Jewish world. The question for us to figure out is this: How many questions did they actually ask?

This question is critical, because the answer to this question will determine how we interpret the entire answer.  Certain theories require certain answers here.  One of them requires this to be one big three-part question, or they can’t quote it to support their theory.  In truth, we will need to decide before we continue with our study.  The possible choices are: one question, two questions, or three questions.

The way to figure out the answer to this is to carefully study the grammatical structure of Jesus’ answer to determine how many questions Jesus answered.  Accordingly, next week, that is precisely what we will undertake to do.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 28, 2022

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:7-11

In approaching this text, you can go one of two ways. The first and most common way of looking at it is to analyze it line by line and word by word.  The second is to read it in its entirety and ask yourself what Peter is getting at. Both approaches should take us to the same place, but sometimes we become sidetracked in the details and forget why we are looking in the first place. Thus, for this lesson, let’s use the second and less common method.  What’s Peter trying to say here?

I think it is something like this: Set aside selfish things so that you may glorify God.

Let’s go back and check…

He starts by telling us that time is short, so let’s get serious: The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.  Yes, this is an easy one… Then he reminds us to love one another with fervor.  Such love is never selfish, for selfish, ‘what I can get out of it’ love, is never “fervent.” This is even clearer when you read the second part of the sentence, for it points directly to forgiveness. Forgiving those whom we love fervently is a selfless act. Here’s how Peter put it:  Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 

Then he tells us to be hospitable without complaint, and since the Greek word can also be rendered as “generous” it’s clear once again that Peter wants us to be selfless. Here are his words:  Be hospitable to one another without complaint. “Without complaint” seals this one for me, how about you?  He goes on to mention that we have each received a special (spiritual) gift from God, and then tells us to use it for the building up of the Body as good stewards, not for our own advancement.  As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Now it gets really interesting. If we speak, we are to speak as though our words were the Word of God, so I see that they are not just my own words, my own thoughts any more. If we serve, we should serve like we are serving from God’s strength and not our own.  This would seem to imply that we are to serve for God’s purpose, since He supplied our strength: whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; nothing of me here…

Finally, we have arrived at the “why” part, so that God will be glorified: so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Looking back to where we started, I’d say we got it just about right―  living for Jesus in love is all about God and other people, and not at all about me. Lord, may each of us take this message from your Word to heart…

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 21, 2022

  1. Spiritual Gifts and the Character of God

Spiritual Gifts go a long way in revealing the character of God. So, before we get into our lesson, let’s have a look at what they will reveal to us about God. To begin, consider the following:

  1. God is generous

            He is a generous God: He gives us gifts beyond our own human potential, power and abilities.  To put it another way, He is a generous giver to provide things for you in life that will enable you and I to travel farther in life, to enjoy life more, do more in life, to have greater impact, and to experience more joy and fulfillment than we could have ever known without Him.

  1. God is creative

            God created all of these gifts; they are His idea. He initiated all of these gifts and He chooses the individual who receives the gift and how it is manifested through them.

  1. God is industrious

            God is on a mission.  He has a purpose and a plan, and the gifts are tools to accomplish that, and He is allowing us to help.

  1. God has given gifts to His people

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

Ephesians 4:7-8

Our God, who set aside the glories of heaven and came down here to the earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, did a great deal more than just to provide for our Salvation.  Yes, I know that sounds a little strange, but He actually did. He had a plan, a really big plan, to build His Kingdom on this earth, and as incredible as it may seem, He wanted each one of His followers, you and me, to have a role in building it to achieve His Purpose for creating Mankind. Doing that rises beyond human limitations, and to ensure that we could each play our parts in this great project, He gave each of us a spiritual gift to help us through.

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (4:9-13)

Can you see His plan in these verses? He spread His gifts through the Body of Christ, so that some would teach and train others, while still others would fill supporting roles, so that when each does his part, the Kingdom is built up.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (4:14-16)

As each one of us does their part in building up the Body of Christ, we all become mature followers of Christ, no longer infants in the faith, but strong, mature and steadfast people who can withstand the perils of this life. We will be sustained in His love, steadfast in His strength and guided by His wisdom as we carry though our lives in Christ. I don’t know about you, but to me, this is the best news I’ve ever heard anywhere… and we haven’t gotten to our glorious eternity yet!

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