Posts Tagged With: forgiveness

 
 

Ascension and Pentecost III. The Gospel of Forgiveness

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19–23).

(This is Part 3 of a series. Part 2 appears here.)

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Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection. By William Hole (1846-1917), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On the night before Jesus died, He gave a final “pep talk” to His disciples, often referred to as “the upper room discourse” (John, chapters 13–17). During that discussion, He went into some depth about a few topics that He had touched on over the past three years: Serving one another; loving others; the promise of everlasting life; the coming, presence, and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life; and the believers’ responsibility to spread His Gospel.

 

Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would go into greater detail on some of these topics. A few subjects that received passing mention earlier in the Gospels take greater emphasis during the 40 days after His resurrection. At that time, He gave them final instructions for continuing His work after He ascended to heaven. On Pentecost, He gave them His Holy Spirit so that they could fulfill those instructions. A few key themes continually arise in His final instructions.

One of the most important, and in many churches least emphasized, elements of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching is the message of forgiveness. Yet, it is central to Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples, and it should be central to our message. As He prepared them for their forthcoming ministry, He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21–23).

Churches debate what this means. Some Roman Catholics will point to this passage to defend the practice of sacramental confession: according to them, this passage authorizes the priest to pronounce forgiveness of sins to those who confess their sins and request absolution. Some Protestants will say that this is little more than authorization to preach the Gospel so that people may receive forgiveness by believing in Jesus.

The Catholic view I described is definitely an exaggeration of that passage’s teaching; in fact, it is actually a caricature of Catholic teaching about forgiveness (from what I read in a few books and learned from a few devout Catholics). On the other hand, though, the Protestant view above (that Jesus was merely authorizing His disciples to preach the Gospel) seems a little inadequate. He did not say, “If you tell people they are forgiven, they might be forgiven”—but that really is the essence of much evangelical teaching on this subject. However, Jesus implies that the disciples had some kind of authority to extend OR withhold forgiveness in such a way that it is counted that way in heaven. God honors that forgiveness as if He extended it Himself. (I will add that this is an application of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:19, when He told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This had everything to do with preaching and teaching with divine authorization, and nothing to do with “naming and claiming” health and wealth for yourself. It also seems to be related to Matthew 9:8, where, after Jesus healed a paralytic by forgiving his sins, the crowd “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”)

How do we, as ordinary twenty-first century Christians, exercise this authority to forgive? That is a complicated question, but here I offer at least three ways we can extend God’s forgiveness with His authority.

First, we need to actually live the message of forgiveness in our own lives. We need to live, think, and speak as people who know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but who have been fully forgiven of our sins through faith in Jesus. We must live as forgiven people.

Then, we need to forgive others as He has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Instead of harboring bitterness and resentment, we should forgive. Instead of gossiping about the sins and indiscretions of others, we pray for them, with a heart of forgiveness, seeking God’s mercy in their lives. Instead of looking down on those who sin differently than we do, we should forgive and love them, looking on them with mercy and compassion.

We see this in the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As he was being stoned to death, his last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). On the basis of John 20:23, it is a safe bet that none of them would have found the sin of killing Stephen held against them when they stand before God’s judgment seat. Furthermore, one of those people whom Stephen forgave (Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul) would experience the forgiveness of Christ and become one of its greatest spokesmen.

Finally,  we must proclaim a message of forgiveness:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-47).

The Gospel we are called to preach contains a few key points: Jesus died for our sins; He rose again; in response to that, we repent of our sins; on the foundation of all that, we receive His forgiveness. St. Paul would later describe it as a “free gift.” If Christ’s work on the cross is absent, it is not the Gospel. If repentance is absent, it is “cheap grace” that tramples the Son of God underfoot (Hebrews 10:29). If forgiveness is absent, we are without hope, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

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In “History of the World,” Moses drops one of the tablets, thereby losing five commandments and leaving us with 10. It seems like many Christians try to add new commandments. Jesus summarized them in two.

The Gospel is not a new set of rules, designed to make us act like we are better than others. The Bible has enough clear commandments: We do not need to add “Thou shalt not listen to this music” or “Thou shalt not dance” (or some of the other extra-canonical commandments that some Christians place on equal footing with the clear teaching of Scripture). In the Mel Brooks movie, “History of the World,” Moses initially comes down from the mountain with three stone tablets, containing 15 commandments, and accidentally drops one (leaving us with 10). Many Christians try to make up for this fumble by adding 666 new sins to the list. Jesus simplified it for us (and yet, in some ways, made it more intensive) by summarizing God’s will in the two commandments to love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40).

 

The Gospel is not a self-improvement program either. We do not accept Jesus Christ, then try to fix our lives to make ourselves acceptable to God, out of fear that He will reject us when we fail. We do not improve ourselves to make ourselves acceptable to God. Instead, God accepts us as we are when we come to Him in faith, and then He changes our lives on His own schedule.

This is the Gospel we are called to preach. Jesus died to forgive us. We come to Him to receive that forgiveness. That is why He came, and that is our source of confidence that we will enjoy eternal life with Him. If forgiveness is not at the center of your message, it is the wrong message. And, if the person is responsible for improving himself, it is not the Gospel; Scripture tells us it is the work of the Holy Spirit to improve us.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Ascension and Pentecost I: A Unified Gospel Message

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:44–51).

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6–11).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

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Jesus’ ascension into heaven, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), public domain painting via Wikimedia Commons

On the traditional church calendar, the Easter season lasts 50 days, beginning with Easter Sunday and ending seven weeks later with the Feast of Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost are not merely bookends on a cycle of Scripture readings for Sunday worship. Along with the Feast of the Ascension (on the 40th day of Easter, 10 days before Pentecost), they provide a significant unified summary of the Gospel and its impact on the Christian’s life. This series of articles will examine the message of Ascension and Pentecost, with particular emphasis on how the key themes of these days intertwine.

The passages from Luke and Acts above give the biblical accounts of the Ascension. Jesus had appeared to His disciples periodically during 40 days after His resurrection. Throughout His post-resurrection earthly ministry, His teaching focused on a few key points which are summarized in the above passages (and repeated in the other post-resurrection accounts in the Gospels).

It is helpful to discern the context of these passages. Many Christians think of Matthew 28:18–20 (commonly known as the Great Commission) as an account of the Ascension. However, I think this occurred some time earlier: first, because it occurred in Galilee (Matt. 28:16), which would contradict Luke 24; and second, because Matthew does not mention the Ascension here. Matthew 28:18–20 simply presents some of Jesus’ final instructions for His disciples. It is possible (though uncertain) that this could be the appearance to 500 brethren that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:5.

Luke 24:50–51 tells us that Jesus ascended to heaven from Bethany, a village close to Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. A more in-depth summary of those verses appears in Luke 1:6–11.

Some of Jesus’ key points in His post-resurrection teaching (to be more fully discussed later in this series) are:

  • The significance of the cross in light of Old Testament prophecy
  • The message of forgiveness
  • Jesus’ exaltation, authority, transcendence, and immanence
  • The authority of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the Church

You may note that I do not list “end-time prophecy” here, since Jesus specifically told His disciples that the timing of His return was not their concern (Acts 1:6–7). Far too many churches violate Jesus’ clear biblical mandate here by spending too much time claiming to have figured out the entire order of the second coming of Christ, while ignoring the core teaching of the Gospel that Jesus calls us to preach. However, Jesus used their question to focus on the disciples’ role: to receive the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses. I know some Christians who, whenever I ask them what they are studying at church or in their small group, will bounce between “The Book of Revelation” and end-time prophecy. This overemphasis is unbiblical. Our core message, especially to the lost, should be Christ’s work on the cross and the forgiveness of sins. Let us not forget the message He has entrusted to us.

(Part 2 of this series appears here.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Joseph in God’s Leadership Training Program

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:18–21, ESV).

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Joseph’s story did not start well, as he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, via Wikimedia Commons.

The last fourteen chapters of Genesis focus mainly on the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob (also known as Israel). Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins by describing the origins of the human race, before focusing in on the birth of the nation of Israel. It also chronicles the faith journeys of several key patriarchs, particularly Abraham and Jacob. With Joseph, it describes his development as a man of God and as a leader.

Genesis depicts Joseph as the first Israelite to emerge as a world leader. As a youth, he dreamed that his brothers and parents would one day bow before him (Genesis 37:5–11). By the time that actually happened, he was a changed man, equipped by God to lead. He started with dreams and ambition. He developed through God’s leadership training program, and found himself in a place where he could serve others for God’s glory. This should be the pattern for all Christians who seek to become leaders, whether in the church or in secular institutions.

At the beginning of his story, Joseph did not look like he was destined for greatness. Since he was the eleventh of twelve sons, it would be assumed in his culture that he would rank near the bottom of the family’s social order. His status in the family took a downward spiral as sibling rivalry gave way to complete hatred. Joseph brought a “bad report” about four of his brothers to his father after they had pastured their flock together. Did he have to bring the bad report, or was he trying to score points with Dad to get special treatment? If Joseph was trying to win his father’s favor, he succeeded. Jacob gave him a robe of many colors (Genesis 37:3), which showed Joseph’s status as “dad’s favorite.” (A note to the fathers and grandfathers out there: It is one thing to treat your children differently because they are unique individuals; it is not OK to play favorites.) Before long, all of the brothers conspired to sell Joseph to slave traders (who eventually sold him to an officer of Egypt’s Pharaoh), telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was not off to a good start on the path to power and prestige. Playing off of favoritism to build yourself up by tearing others down tends to backfire. It may bring short-term benefits, but it usually backfires in the long term.

Now, let us fast-forward many years. Joseph began to show some genuine potential while in Egypt, but he cycled between opportunities and setbacks. His master promoted him to be head of all his household slaves. Then, he was falsely accused of sexual assault and imprisoned. He earned the respect of the jailer, who put him in charge of the other prisoners. He interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants, thereby showing that he had divinely inspired wisdom. Finally, after years of hardship and disappointment, Pharaoh needed someone to interpret dreams for him. Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered the gifted dream-interpreter and recommended him to Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams (a warning that a severe famine would come upon the land), but proposed a way to prepare for it so that the people would survive. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to administer his economic programs.

Joseph had endured a turbulent journey: from favorite son and despised bratty tattle-tale brother; to slave; to prisoner; to the top of an empire’s government. The man who was exalted by Pharaoh was not like the boy who had been rejected by his shepherd brothers. Pharaoh may have ordered people to bow before Joseph, but Joseph was more concerned about serving those God had placed under his care.

His brothers would bow before him several times, but that was not Joseph’s big concern. In Genesis 50, after Joseph had brought the family to Egypt so he could provide food for them, his father died. His brothers though he might seek revenge, now that he had power and nobody could not stop him. However, Joseph had learned God’s design for leadership. He did not need them to bow before him. His title did not matter. He did not see himself as the Egyptian ruler who could seek revenge: He was God’s servant, called to serve others.

Joseph’s focus was on God’s purposes: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph no longer thought about how he could gain power and how others would honor him. Instead, he wanted to know God’s will. What was God doing? How can God bring good out of this situation? What could he do to manifest God’s will? These are the questions every leader should ask when facing difficult circumstances.

Instead of seeking his brothers’ respect, Joseph was committed to providing for his brothers and their families. True leaders look for ways to build others up and make sure their needs are met.

Most importantly, Joseph forgave his brothers. Great leaders are not so obsessed with their feelings or what others have done to them that they forget their mission. God had entrusted Joseph with an important job, which would ensure that his family would fulfill the covenant God had made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). Christ calls His disciples to forgive others, and leaders—especially Christian leaders—must exercise patience and not allow insults or offenses to derail them from God’s plan:

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).

Joseph had grown beyond the pride and impulsiveness of youth to become the prototypical servant leader. He could remain focused on his mission, seek to provide for those below him, and forgive others so that negativity would not derail his mission. This is God’s call for all who seek to be leaders or make a positive impact on their world.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Heart, A New Life—Ezekiel 36:25–27

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, ESV).

The_Holy_Bible

These words come from a prophecy wherein God promises to restore the fortunes of His people, the Israelite tribe of Judah, to their own land after a period of exile. At the same time, though, they find greater fulfillment in the New Covenant.

Many Christians fall into a trap of forcing ourselves to live by man-made rules, trying to do so in our own efforts. “If I just try harder, I will kick this addiction all by myself. If I come up with stricter to rules to follow, I will not be tempted in this area of my life.” Okay, we may not say those exact words. Yet, how often are we tempted to believe that our rules or efforts somehow make us more spiritual, or more holy, or better equipped to be a better person? To some, it is not enough to try to live by the commandments that are clearly spelled out in the Bible; we need to add rules. “Don’t listen to that kind of music! Don’t drink that! Don’t go to movies or watch television!”

God has not called us to follow new rules. He calls us to be a new kind of person: One in whom His Holy Spirit can dwell. These verses provide three elements of the new birth we receive when we surrender to Jesus:

  • Cleansing: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” This is where it begins. We accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus’ death for our sins. God cleanses us. He forgives us for our sins. Cleansing can be a process. At salvation, we are forgiven completely, but we often find ourselves struggling with sin. (Or, at times, not struggling enough: We may just continue to willfully give in to temptation, because we enjoy it.) Forgiveness may be immediate and complete, and not based at all on our performance. Sanctification—the process whereby we become more like Christ—takes a lifetime. But, that is where the other elements come in.
  • Renewal: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Perhaps the greatest challenge we face as believers is that we do not truly believe this promise. Do I still have the same old heart of stone (spiritually dead, hardened against the will of God) or do I have a heart of flesh (in this sense, a living heart, one that has been softened to the will of God; one that beats in tune with the heart of God)?  Do I truly believe that I have a new spirit? Do I identify myself as a child of God, or do I still identify myself by my sins and failings?
    As a Christian, I do not merely have a new lifestyle. I have a new life. I have a new identify as a child of God.
  • Indwelling: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This may be a continuation of the previous promise, but with more detail perhaps. God does not merely give us a new life with a new identity. He gives us the resources we need to live that new life.  The Holy Spirit dwells within those who have received salvation through Christ. He enables us to live the new life.

Part of growing in a relationship with Christ is recognizing what He has done for and in us and trusting Him to do His perfect work in us. At the same time, we have to recognize when the “old me” is popping up again. The old me can take many forms. It can be outright sinful behavior. It can be a bad attitude. It can be fear, worry, or anxiety. It can be bitterness or unforgiveness. When the old me emerges, I must remind myself of who I am in Christ, turn to Him, and allow His Spirit to guide me in the right direction.

When temptation comes, let us learn to lean on our Saviour and seek His strength to live the kind of life to which He calls us.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Have Sinned—Romans 3:21–25

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:21–25, ESV).

Several of my recent posts have addressed the believer’s need for confession and repentance. These do not tell the full story of salvation. However, they lay a firm foundation for one to come to faith in Jesus Christ. True Christian faith must begin from the perspective expressed in Romans 3:23—“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….”

Jesus came, died, and rose again because all of are sinners who need forgiveness. We need redemption; we need propitiation by His blood. Far too many professed Bible-believing Christians have not accepted the biblical Christian gospel, but a heretical distortion of it which some have called moralistic therapeutic deism (or MTD). I gave a more detailed summary of this worldview in Faith and Provision. (I urge readers who are not familiar with this term to read the section of that post which describes MTD; a more detailed description can be found on Wikipedia.) Many Christians talk, think, and live as if Jesus’ purpose was to give us our “best life now,” to offer us purpose and personal satisfaction. They are seeking what humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow called “self actualization.”

Jesus did not come into this world, live, die, and rise again so that we could achieve self actualization. He did not come to give us a sense of self-satisfaction. He came because all of us have sinned in some way. We all need forgiveness, justification, and redemption.

Let us emphasize that all have sinned. We may be tempted to think that “I am not so bad because I have not committed sin X or sin Y.” For example, I may not be a murderer, child molester, rapist, terrorist, or some other big-league sinner. Maybe my sins are less controversial, more common, or more socially acceptable. The Scripture reminds us that we have fallen short of the glory of God: That is our standard. God is our standard of righteousness: not Adolf Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or Osama bin Laden. Although I may not be as bad as Hitler, I am not as good as Jesus. Therefore, I need His forgiveness.

May God give each of us the courage to recognize that each one of us is a sinner, and we need His forgiveness to receive the eternal life that He offers us. If we can begin from that perspective, we will be open to receiving the free gift of salvation on God’s terms. For those of who are followers of Christ, we must remember day-by-day that He came to save us from our sins, not from our low self-esteem or sense of purposelessness.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Repentance Brings God Joy—Luke 15:7

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

The Lord is my Good Shepherd
“The Good Shepherd,” by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Luke 15 centers around three parables about repentance. Each story focuses on something or somebody that was lost, but which is eventually found. The most famous part of this chapter is the parable of the prodigal son (vv. 11–32). However, the parable of the lost sheep deserves special attention. This is the first parable in the series, when Jesus responds to complaints by religious leaders, who think it is inappropriate for Him to eat and drink with “sinners”:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4–7, ESV).

The story is simple enough: A man has 100 sheep. He loses one of them; most likely, the sheep has wandered away. Think about it, though: Is it worth the risk to look for that one sheep? It may already be dead, eaten by a wolf or another predator. Many more may wander off while he is looking for the lone sheep. Nevertheless, he goes off looking for his sheep, finds it, and then invites his neighbors to a party to celebrate the return of the lost sheep. (The party would probably cost more than the sheep would be worth.)

This is a picture of the grace of God. It is radical. It defies logic. It assumes a great risk when it seeks to save the lost. Most importantly, it cares about an unworthy individual.

Jesus tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than there is over ninety-nine righteous people. God is not satisfied with those who are already following Him. He is seeking more lost souls to add to His kingdom and welcome into His family. When one child of God backslides, He is seeking to draw them back. No matter how many people are living in fellowship with Him and on their way to heaven, it is not enough.

No matter how far any of us may stray from Him, it is not far enough to draw us away from His care. Your sins are not bad enough to bring God’s love to an end. If you have strayed from Him, or if you have never entered a relationship with Jesus Christ, He still loves you; no sin will change that.

This parable also speaks against self-righteousness. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, were asking, “What kind of great religious leader spends time with people like these guys? Jesus, do you know what that guy over there does for a living? Do you know how many crimes that one has committed? Do you know what that one is smoking, or drinking? Do you know who that woman is sleeping with?” It does not matter to Jesus: He came to seek and save that which was lost. These are the people He came to receive: People who know they need forgiveness and salvation. He came for those who know that they deserve eternity in hell, instead of salvation and the love of God.

When Jesus speaks of the ninety-nine who have no need of repentance, it is sort of like a trick statement. Nobody is truly righteous. To another leader, Jesus would say “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So, in reality, we all need repentance. Some of us have been fortunate enough to realize that and come to Jesus already. Others need to repent of sins that have become socially acceptable, or that many churches think are “not so bad.” We may look good and moral to others, but we still need the grace of God.

It does not matter how far you have wandered, or in what kind of mire you have soiled your soul. Forgiveness is available. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking you. Run into His arms for protection and preservation. He is looking for a reason to celebrate.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—John 20:21–23

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:21–23, NASB)

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The four Gospels give different accounts about Jesus’ last days on Earth. While there are some apparent differences between them, these highlight the whirlwind of activity surrounding His death and resurrection. The Gospels agree on a few key issues: Christ died on the cross; He rose; He was seen alive by His apostles; and now, He has ascended to heaven and lives forever. Jesus is still alive, and He is still active on Earth, although now He acts through His body, the church.

John 20:21–23 recounts Jesus’ visit with the disciples on the evening following His resurrection. It was Sunday night, and while a few people have seen Jesus alive, this was the first time He met with 10 of the 11 remaining apostles. (Judas Iscariot had committed suicide, and Thomas was not present.) The disciples remained fearful and confused.

The focus of Jesus’ teaching turned in a new direction after His resurrection. For three years, He taught the disciples the gospel and principles of the kingdom of God. After His resurrection, He focused on how they would proclaim that gospel throughout the world.

Several key themes occur repeatedly throughout Jesus’ post-resurrection preaching. I will not cover all of those themes, but will address four that appear in the above passage:

  • First, He was truly, fully alive. The disciples were not seeing a ghost. They could feel His breath when He breathed upon them. One week later, He would invite Thomas to touch His hands and side. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that Jesus is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20), so His resurrection is a preview of our own resurrection and eternal life. “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19) is His promise that we too will live in resurrected glorified bodies someday, not as amorphous spirits floating around in cosmic nothingness.
  • Second, disciples are called to continue the ministry of Jesus. As the Father had sent Jesus, He was now sending them. He would later tell the apostles to go into all the world, teaching people to observe all that He had commanded them (Matthew 28:18–20). We are called to continue His ministry—not to cast it aside and create something new. Although we may need to adapt to new circumstances, the core message and mindset of Christ’s ministry should permeate the post-resurrection disciple’s ministry.
  • To fulfill that ministry, we need the Holy Spirit within us to empower us. Jesus assured His disciples that He would be with them until the end of the age. His presence is revealed through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. “Receive the Holy Spirit right now, and cling closely with Him. Only three days ago, you received the bread which I identified as My body. In the same manner, receive now the Holy Spirit within you, to permeate every corner of your being. As My Holy Spirit has lived within Me the whole time I have been with you, He will now live in you. Receive it! Believe it! Live by it!”
  • Finally, our ministry and message is good news of forgiveness of sins. The apostles repeated this message constantly, because it was the message He gave them (Luke 24:46–49; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:43). Our message should be good news, assuring our hearers that a free gift of forgiveness of sins is available to all who believe. We are not called to push people away from God with our dogmas, doctrines, and new rules. We are called to invite people to come to Jesus, to receive His forgiveness, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to transform their lives.

The resurrection was more than an event that makes a great story for Easter Sunday services. It is the moment when Jesus conquered sin, hell, and death. He invites us to share that victory. If you have not entered a personal relationship with Jesus, this is a great day to become a partaker of His life and victory. If you already know Him, it is a reminder to continue His earthly ministry by sharing the good news of salvation with those who need to hear it.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Matthew 16:13–19

The Holy Bible

 

During the Blogging 101 course I recently completed on WordPress, one of our assignments was to take part in a “blogging event”; another was to create a regular feature on our blogs. So, to kill two birds with one stone, today I am introducing what I hope will be a weekly feature. Participating in the “Scripture Sabbath Challenge,” I will share some thoughts on a Bible passage that spoke to me during the week. I pray that these meditations will be a blessing to all who read them.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–19. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.)

This is one of those verses that generates much controversy between Christians and churches, because many people do not read it in its context. We need to remember that Jesus speaks as a first-century Jew, not as a 21st-century American. Particularly, many Christians misunderstand what Jesus means by “binding and loosing.” In many churches, we talk about “binding Satan” and “loosing God’s blessings” or “loosing healing” upon ourselves or those we care for.

In rabbinic Judaism, “binding and loosing” meant essentially “forbidding and permitting” (see the Jewish Encyclopedia). As Lonnie Lane observes, “The people to whom {Jesus} spoke understood that He was talking about what was consistent with Torah and what wasn’t. This matter of binding and loosing wasn’t unique to Yeshua. It was entirely familiar to them all because it was how the rabbis would sanction something or ban it according to the teachings in Torah.” For example, the Old Testament law told Jews that they cannot boil a kid in its mother’s milk; rabbis, by binding and loosing, extended this rule to prohibit eating cheeseburgers.

In other words, Jesus is giving Peter divine authority to speak and proclaim God’s will on His behalf. Jesus extended much of this authority to the rest of the disciples later, in Matthew 18:15–20: There, “binding and loosing” is directly connected with fellowship in the church. It is as if Jesus is telling the disciples, “When someone shows no sign of remorse or repentance, treat them like they don’t know Me.”

It is true that this can be abused. Some will use Matthew 18 as an excuse to decide that other people are going to hell. Some will follow Matthew 18’s prescriptions as a checklist: you followed these steps, now you are free to excommunicate this person, to ostracize them, and to call them heretics and pagans.

However, we should always consider the full context of the mission Jesus gave His disciples: “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).

Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples involved authority to proclaim the Gospel to the world. In Matthew 28:18–20, He authorizes them to make disciples and baptize. In John 20:21–23, it is an offer of authority to forgive sins: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’”

This is the believer’s authority: To offer God’s forgiveness to a lost and dying world. To proclaim to sinners that Jesus died for them and offers eternal life to all who will come to Him. We are not called to proclaim condemnation, but to offer life and hope.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E.
Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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