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October 2, 2017, 8:28 AM

SEMPER REFORMANDA part 2

Scripture Alone – Scripture’s Clarity & Sufficiency

Deuteronomy 29:29, Psalm 119:9-11, 119:105-106, Acts 17:10-12, II Timothy 3:14-17

Rev. Grady Davidson 100117

         

INTRODUCTION  We’re counting down to October 31st, and the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  I’m returning today to the Reformation battle cry of “Sola Scripture,” Scripture Alone.   Two weeks ago I gave you two headings to think about:  Authority and Reliability.  Today I add two more, Clarity and Sufficiency.

I. THE QUESTION OF CLARITY.  This is a huge issue for many Christians in every age. The question is, Does the Bible have meaning, and if so, can that meaning really be discerned and understood?  This is a collection of 66 different books, after all, written by many different human writers, spaced out over centuries (1200 years, perhaps?).  Is it morally & intellectually honest for this preacher or anyone else for that matter, to make a statement, “The Bible says….”?  These aren’t new questions. To these questions the Reformers would speak of the perspicuity of scripture.

perspicuous: clearly expressed, lucid; Antonym: “opaque”

A.A. Hodge (1926): “The Scriptures are in such a sense perspicuous that all that is necessary for man to know, in order to his salvation or for his practical guidance in duty, may be learned therefrom, and that they are designed for the personal use and are adapted to the instruction of the unlearned as well as the learned.”

 

Everything we need to know to be made right with God, and to live a life pleasing to God, can be learned in Scripture.  The Scriptures are sufficiently clear.  Not every passage is equally simple or equally clear.  But taken as a whole, and interpreting passages in their plain, literary, historical context, interpreting scripture by scripture, the scriptures bear a consistent message and are sufficiently clear. 

ILLUS:  Progressive lenses’ 3 zones of vision, taken together, provide a unified picture of what is both near and far

          It’s noteworthy that the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that from the time Timothy was a young child, he had known and understood the Scriptures unto salvation (3:15). 

          The doctrine of Scripture Alone / perspicuity, the way the Reformers meant it, is a safeguard against three errors. 

a.) A safeguard against the error that says that only the “professionals” can read and understand the Bible.  In the Middle Ages, very few people had actual access to the Scriptures, and those who did tended to be the educated clergy. In fact the scriptures were intentionally kept out of the common languages spoken by the people.  The 16th century Englishman William Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Bible out of Hebrew and Greek into English.  When Pope Leo X was hunting for Luther, wanting to burn him at the stake, and Luther was hidden away in a castle tower in Germany under a false identity, Luther took that opportunity to translate the scriptures into German.  The Bible is not just for the professionals.  The Bible is for everyone! By the way, that’s why everywhere missionaries have taken the gospel, literacy follows.  We want everyone to have God’s Word in their hands, in their own language. 

b.) A safeguard against the opposite error of radical private interpretation of the Scriptures: “it means whatever I think it means.”[i] “I read the Bible, I pray about it, God tells me what it means, and no one can tell me I’m wrong.”  Our culture is very individualistic, and radical individualism has worked its way into the way that many read the Bible.  Unfortunately, there are entire denominations founded on this individualistic approach to interpreting the Scriptures.  “Toss out everything that’s ever been said or written in the past, just open your Bible, and let it speak to you.”[ii]  What invariably happens when the Church cuts itself off from the riches of 2000 years of biblical study and theology, is that the Church recycles all the old heresies that the Church muddled through in its first 300 years.  Is Christ the Eternal Son of God, or a created being?  Is He fully man? Is He fully God?  You may think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you I’m not.  Examples: TD Jakes and Joyce Meyer have both espoused blatantly heretical notions about Christ. 

          For the Christian in the pew, this is where a good study Bible is helpful.  A faithful study Bible will provide some footnotes and a little commentary, which are NOT equal to Scripture, but in which you are hearing the echoes of Christians in the past. 

          This is also where the Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, etc.) and Confessions of the Church are helpful.  These summaries help us know where our forefathers, studying the Word and filled with the Holy Spirit, understood the lines of truth and error to fall. 

 

c) A safeguard against the third error: The humble plea of ignorance.  “It’s impossible to say that the Bible means this or that, or says this or that.” This is often expressed with humility:  The Bible’s difficult to understand, and there are so many conflicting interpretations, that it’s virtually impossible to say that ‘the Bible says this’ or ‘that.’

  • Emerging Church’s influence.  A movement that peaked just a few years ago.  Worshipers would gather and read the scriptures together, reverently and respectfully.  But there was no teaching, no proclamation.  The E.C. is in decline, as a matter of natural consequence; there was no unifying doctrine.  “Their feet were firmly planted in midair.”
  • The E.C. itself was influenced by the philosophy of “deconstructionism” (Jacques Derrida, 1930 -2004).  The idea is that it’s difficult, if not impossible to find any meaning in anything we read, except for the biases of the author. 

So let’s acknowledge that the written word has limitations. Language is imperfect.  Let’s also acknowledge that in the Bible, we do encounter the human writers, writing out of their world, their experiences.  Yet the God of the Bible does speak.  The way that John Calvin talked about this problem was by saying that God talks “baby-talk” to us.  A daddy holds his 9-month old in his lap: “Dada is home! Dada loves you! You are a sweet boy, yes you are!”  Baby doesn’t know all the words, but baby knows what Daddy is saying. Daddy wouldn’t talk that way in the office, but Daddy stoops down to the level of baby to love and communicate.  Similarly, in the scriptures, Daddy God is condescending to talk “baby-talk” to us.  We acknowledge that the intellectual chasm between the mind and thoughts of God and the mind and thoughts of man is wide and deep.  But God made us in his image, and he humbles himself to communicate.  Does baby know what Daddy means when baby hears, “Dada loves you?” Yes.  The communication is sufficiently clear. 

II. THE QUESTION OF SUFFICIENCY.  Is scripture enough?  By “sola Scriptura,” we are affirming that the Scriptures are more than sufficient, over-the-top sufficient, to teach us what we are to believe concerning God, and what living response of faith God requires from us.  The scriptures are sufficient for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16).

  • Psalm 119:9-11, 105-106 (sufficient instruction as to what is morally pleasing to God)
  • Luke 16:19-31, The Rich Man and Lazarus – sufficient for salvation.  (29) Abraham: “They (5 brothers) have Moses and the Prophets.  Let them listen to them.”  No need of a miracle! The scriptures are sufficient!
  • Deuteronomy 29:29. The secret things, and the things revealed. 

The Scriptures don’t tell us everything we’d be interested to know; but in God’s gracious providence the scriptures are faithful to teach us what we do need to know. 

My dear friend, the Scriptures faithfully teach you what you need to know about God; and what you need to know about yourself; which way is up, and which way is down. 

What a gift! 

CONCLUSION This Reformation battle cry of “Scripture Alone” is every bit as timely today as it was 500 years ago.  Is it the cry of your heart? Do you love the Scriptures the way Saint Augustine did in the 4th century, who said that the Holy Scriptures are our letters from home? 

          Do you receive the 66 books of the Bible as a precious and undeserved gift from the Holy Spirit? 

          This is so very important.  If we take a step back and look at the “Five Solas” of the Reformation, they fit together: We’re justified before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone.  If we waver at all about the authority, reliability, clarity and sufficiency of scripture, all else becomes unglued – because all that we know about faith, grace, Christ, and the glory of God comes from this precious Book. 

          Charles H. Spurgeon:  “I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith at best. It is little better than a dry-land faith, and is not good for much.” May we rediscover the Bible Alone, unto a new Reformation!  Amen. 

           

 

  

 

 

[i] Consider the Trinitarian heresies of TD Jakes & Joyce Meyer in this regard.  Those who abandon the theological boundaries of the orthodox faith inevitably repeat the old heresies. 

[ii] Campbellites, et al




September 18, 2017, 8:41 AM

SEMPER REFORMANDA part 1

SEMPER REFORMANDA part 1

Scripture Alone – Authority and Reliability of Scripture

II Timothy 3:14-17

Rev. Grady Davidson 091717

         

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS In a little more than a month, we’ll be joining Protestant Christians worldwide in celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.  It was on October 31, 1517 that a German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther compiled a list of his theological grievances with both the doctrine and the practices of the RC Church, and nailed his list – the 95 Theses – on the door of the Wittenberg Church.  It would be kind of like writing a letter to the editor.  Somebody read it, and liked it, translated it from Latin into German and took it down to the print-shop and ran a bunch of copies, and Luther was an overnight celebrity—or villain! —depending on your perspective.  Unwittingly, Luther had struck a match, a light in the darkness, that would lead to the sweeping 16th century reformation of the church.  In celebration of the Reformation, we’re taking several Sundays to focus on the 5-fold battle cry of the Reformation: Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and Glory to God Alone.  You’ll see in your bulletin that today the focus is on Scripture Alone.

SCRIPTURE TEXT: II Timothy 3:14-17

TRANSITION This Reformation doctrine of “Scripture Alone” addresses four major questions that every single one of us must wrestle with. These questions were timely 500 years ago, and they’re no less timely today.  These are the questions of the Authority of God’s Word; the Reliability of God’s Word; the Clarity of God’s Word; and the Sufficiency of God’s Word.  We’ll be looking at the first two of those concerns this morning (authority and reliability).   

BODY OF MESSAGE

I.  THE QUESTION OF AUTHORITY. 

  • II Timothy 3:16—the manifold scope of scriptural authority, to teach, rebuke, correct, etc…

When we say “Scripture Alone,” we’re not saying that Scripture is the only authority that we recognize in the world.  There’s the authority of county, state and federal law. There’s the authority of the teacher in the classroom. There’s the authority of the chemist in the lab. There’s the authority of a police officer on patrol, and the judge in the courtroom. Scripture is not the only authority; but Scripture is the final and ultimate authority on all matters to which it speaks.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we recognize no higher authority than Scripture.  And we recognize that the primary way Christ rules over His people is by the Scripture.  (The primary way that we live out our profession that “Jesus is Lord” is by obedience to His Word, the Scriptures. Jesus is the word “enfleshed.” We cannot separate the Lordship of Christ from the authority of the Word of God.) 

  • John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
  • John 14:21 “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”
  • John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”
  • Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

This issue of the authority of the Scriptures is often called the “formal cause” of the 16th century Reformation.  The more obvious debate was the question of how we’re made right with God (sola fide, faith alone).  But the issue behind the issue – and Luther saw this with much more clarity than did Pope Leo X– was the question of authority. The Popes and Bishops of the day held to a 2-source of authority: the Scriptures, PLUS  the words and decrees of Popes and church councils.  Luther: “The popes and councils contradict each other all the time.  If I’m in error, then show me my errors in the scriptures, and I’ll burn the books I’ve written.  But with the apostles and prophets and church fathers, we recognize no higher authority than Scripture.” 

          My friend, this is an incredibly timely doctrine to wrestle with.  Do you recognize the reign of Christ through the Word of God as the highest authority, shaping your core convictions, thoughts, values, actions?  Or is your approach a 2-fold, or 3-fold approach to authority?  Perhaps, scripture PLUS what your grandparent, or your favorite teacher once said? Plus what you’ve heard on cable news? Plus your favorite soapbox ideology? If it’s “Scripture PLUS” anything else, then I beseech you in the name of Christ to repent and be humbled under the Word of God. 

II.  THE QUESTION OF RELIABILITY.  There are those who would say, Yes, Scripture is God’s Word and as such it has authority, but it’s not totally reliable.  The way this skepticism is expressed by some is to say that the Bible “contains” the Word of God.  Not, the Bible “is” God’s Word, but it “contains” God’s Word, so that in a worship service, the pastor about to read the scripture text will say, “Listen for the Word of God.” (Not, “Listen to the Word of God.”) 

          But what does Scripture say about itself?

  • II Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is God-breathed…”  Verbal, plenary (full) inspiration.  Every word is God’s Word, and therefore reliable—in the original manuscripts! 
  • Jesus certainly believed and taught this high view of Scripture.  Every jot and tittle – the dot on the “I” and the cross on the “t” is inspired. 
  • II Peter 1:21, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  The human authors of scripture weren’t stenographers, taking dictation from the Holy Spirit.  They wrote using their own vocabulary, their own sentence structure and so forth: and yet they were keenly aware that they were writing the Word of God.  The Holy Scriptures are reliable. 
  • Are our translations reliable?  Has God’s Word been lost over time?  This is a valid question to ask. Time doesn’t permit us to go into the history of how we got the Bibles in our laps today.  But let me make one point of comparison that might help.  Take, by way of example, the ancient text of Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  Some of you probably took a year of Latin in high school, and read some of the Gallic Wars.  We have 10 ancient copies of the Gallic Wars to study and attempt to work out way back to the original.  By contrast, we have some 14,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament.  The text in your lap is incredibly reliable.  Along with recognizing that scripture is inspired, we recognize that God has preserved the scriptures for us.  We recognize that this book is supernatural both in the process of it being written, and in its preservation—therefore, authoritative and reliable.
  • Revelation 22:18-19

ILLUS Look at it this way:  Does God love you? Are you convinced that God the Father knows you by name, and that He has revealed himself to you in the Gospel, and that He’s called you into a relationship with himself through Jesus Christ? 

          If you truly believe that God is God, and that God loves you, then it’s a short logical step to say, Since He loves me this much, I can trust His Word as authoritative and reliable.  He’s not going to leave me theologically and morally and intellectually stranded, in which I have to discover the right plumb line to drop over the Scriptures, that I might determine which parts are reliable (and authoritative) and which parts are not.  Since He loves me, I can trust that He is going to tell me what He wants me to know, what He wants me to believe, and how He wants me to live.  Anything less calls God’s love into doubt.

ILLUS Romantic letter writing… wouldn’t it be bizarre to read letters from the love of your life, knowing that every 10 or 15 sentences, he / she is writing you a fiction?

ILLUS If I were stranded on a desert island, just me and some coconut trees and a cave like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway, you know what I’d want more than anything else?  If I could have just one thing?  (No, not a Bible. I’d want a fully charged satellite phone! I’d be calling somebody to get me off that rock.)

          We are stranded on this rock, and God the Father, who did not spare his own Son, but sent him to live among us on this Rock, and freely gave Him up for us all on Calvary so that we could be rescued from this Rock, loves us and would not give us an uncertain or unreliable Word that is our only source to know what we are to believe about Him, and what duty he requires of us (WSC #3).[i]

CONCLUSION  I’ve attempted to lay out (part) of the wonderful doctrine of Scripture Alone – Authority and Reliability.  Next time, we’ll consider the themes of Clarity and Sufficiency.  The takeaway, Christian, is that we’re “people of the Book.” 

ILLUS: B.I.B.L.E. – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  In a world of ambiguity and confusion and uncertainty, we can say, “Jesus is Lord, and my Lord has told me everything I need to know to get me home before the dark, and to invite others along on the journey.”  What a gift! 

 

  

 

 

[i] Q: What do the scriptures principally teach? 
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

 




September 11, 2017, 7:28 AM

PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM part 7

The Dragnet

Matthew 13:47-50

Rev. Grady Davidson 091017

         

INTRODUCTION  Today we come to the end of our study of the Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew chapter 13 with the Parable of the Dragnet, which the Lord Jesus tells us is about the end of the age (49).  We find an almost universal belief that this present age will not, indeed cannot continue forever; and consequently people are very interested in how this world will end. Jesus in the Parable of the Dragnet gives us a partial picture of that astonishing Day.

COMPARISON OF WHEAT & WEEDS WITH THE DRAGNET  If you’ve been a part of this study of the seven parables of the kingdom, you’ll recognize that today’s parable has many similarities to the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds.  For all their striking similarities, the difference between the two is in their respective emphases.  In the Wheat and Weeds, the Lord is emphasizing that the sons of the Kingdom and the sons of the Evil One (38) will grow side by side throughout this age; in today’s parable the message is that this situation will come to a sudden and dramatic end.  The Lord’s emphasis in this parable falls on Judgment Day.

          Observe with me, regarding the Day of Judgment: a) Suddenness, b) Thoroughness, c) its Basis, and d) its Miseries.  Along with these themes, this parable presents us with a great chance to remember the essentials of the gospel. 

DAY OF JUDGMENT: ITS SUDDENNESS.  Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishermen. They immediately grasped the mental image the Lord was painting.  The dragnet (Gk: segene, cf. Eng: seine) could be a hundred yards long, and 6 feet wide.  The top edge of the net was lined with buoys; the bottom edge lined with weights.  It was often worked between two boats, but sometimes one end was anchored to the shore and the other end swept around in a great arc on a boat.  As the net is swept through the water, it scoops up everything.  Fish that were doing whatever fish do, enjoying their day, suddenly found themselves swept up, and either dumped in the hull of a boat or dragged to shore.  It all happens (from the fish’s point of view) suddenly.  (CF “like a thief in the night,” Luke 12:35-40, Revelation 3:3, etc.)

          Satan will whisper to us that we have plenty of time – that we can think about eternal destiny next month, or next year; that there’s no need to get excited, that there’s no rush, no urgency.  Jesus, however, tells us over and again that we must be watchful and vigilant, for He will come at a time when nobody expects Him (24:44). 

DAY OF JUDGMENT: ITS THOROUGHNESS (48-49, echoing 41-42).  The separating work conducted by Christ’s holy angels will be complete and thorough.  They will (lit.) “separate the evil out of the midst of the righteous” (echoing 40-41).

          Recall with me the concern Christ had as he preached to the Galilean crowds.  They expected the Kingdom to arrive with shock and awe display of God’s power immediately. But Jesus said, No, that some seed falls among thorns and is choked and unfruitful. The thorns and the grain grow together.  Jesus said that the enemy sows weeds amidst the good grain.  The result is that in this age, there is always “mixture.” There is a mixture of good and evil in our deeds.  In our hearts. In our country.  In our churches. 

          But when Jesus sends his holy angels on that day, the time of mixture will be over.  The angels (41) will weed out of his kingdom “everything that causes sin, and all who do evil.”

DAY OF JUDGMENT: ITS BASIS.  “The wicked from the righteous,” (49). When Peter and the fishermen sorted out a catch, there was a decision to be made with each fish in hand. Lake Galilee carries some 25 separate species of fish, and a typical catch would reflect some of that great variety of species, size, and quality.  Some were trash fish that no one would eat.  Others were not of kosher species.  Some were of an edible species, but immature, and tossed back in the Lake to grow.  Still other fish were edible, mature, and marketable.

          Jesus is assuring us that the angels who do this astonishing work of sorting humanity on that day, will do so with 100% accuracy.  No one, absolutely no one, will end up with the wrong group. 

          And on what basis?  The angels will separate the wicked from the righteous

          Now that should make us pause and reflect. 

          Let’s imagine that this amazing event were to be initiated right now.   And let’s imagine that there is a particular angel assigned to you, to establish you in the grouping of your eternal destiny.  That powerful being will give you your eternal assignment based upon whether you are judged as “wicked” or “righteous.”  These are the words of Jesus. 

          This is a great time to remember the essentials of the gospel.

          All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We enter this world with our natures corrupted and polluted by sin. It’s part of our spiritual inheritance coming down from our first parents.  Because our hearts are corrupt, we have an instinctive and even violent reaction against God’s Holy Law and God’s rightful authority.  We come into this world as wicked rebels against God. 

S.I.N.  1) Shove Off, God. 2) I’m in Charge. 3) Not You.  God would be just and right to commission his holy angels to gather every individual who has ever lived and cast us into that fiery furnace of verse 50. 

          But God is rich in mercy!  In his kindness and grace, God sent a Redeemer, His Son, who would bear Man’s sin and bear God’s wrath, on behalf of those guilty sinners who would simply believe in Him!

          “God made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).   To make this personal, when that angel comes for me, there’s plenty of “stuff” there to condemn me to a thousand hells for a thousand eternities.  Plenty.  But when that angel takes hold of Grady, that powerful being will see me as it were wrapped in a cloak of the righteousness of Jesus Christ my Lord, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).  All of my sin was imputed to Him, and He bore it on the Cross.  All of his righteousness is imputed back to me. 

          But it’s even better.  This transaction of the righteousness of Christ being credited to the believer is more than some fiction of accounting.  For because of the grace and kindness of God, I’m changed on the inside, and now I want to live a life that pleases God – a righteous life – not so that He will love me and accept me, but because He has loved me and accepted me in Christ. 

          The result is that if that Holy Angel were to peek under the “cloak of Christ’s righteousness,” he would see the fruit of good works that please God and are acceptable to God. 

          People, this is the good news!  That if we confess with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord!”, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, that we will be saved (Romans 10:9).

DAY OF JUDGMENT: ITS MISERIES. (50)  In the parallel parable – Wheat and Tares – the Lord emphasized how glorious salvation will be (43).  In these terrible words, He calls attention to the horrors of hell.  Aren’t you glad that Jesus speaks these words?  He speaks truth in love, so that we will understand the reality and the  urgency of the situation. 

          Someone might say, But this is symbolic or rhetorical language.  I mean, a fiery furnace? Really? Isn’t that the nonsense people believed in the Middle Ages? 

          Look at it this way.  When we read about the “Streets of Gold” and the “Crystal Sea” of heaven, we recognize that the biblical writers are saying, “Heaven is so wonderful, that words fail… heaven is an unimaginably beautiful and wonderful and soul-satisfying place.”

          That being the case, the same principle can be applied to the Lord’s words in verse 50.  A fiery furnace filled with the wailings of those in misery – Use your imagination!  The horrors are beyond comprehension. 

CONCLUSION

          Let’s draw everything together.

          The Last Day will seem to pop up out of nowhere – sudden and unexpected.  That’s in itself is a merciful gift from God.  Give it a second’s thought, and I think you’ll agree with me that if mankind knew precisely what day would be the last day, that the hellishness released on earth leading up to that Day would be intolerable. 

          But for Jesus, He knew when His Judgment Day was coming—on Calvary.   By the time he was 12 years old, he knew he was the Son of God, and certainly by the time he was 30 he was beginning to understand that He would be crucified, bearing the wrath of God and the sins of the world, during Passover of his 34th year.  Friends, that makes his love and sacrifice all the more wonderful and precious to us.  He faced it and walked straight into it. 

          Judgment Day as we will experience it will be an accurate and thorough separation of the wicked from the righteous.  Those who are saved on that day, will be saved because of the righteousness of another – the righteousness of Jesus.  But on the cross – the One truly Righteous Person out of all of history who should have been saved—willingly threw Himself in “the other pile of fish,” so to speak.  

          The One who deserved only the Infinite Glories of Heaven, freely embraced the Infinite Miseries of Hell as he was arrested, beaten, suffered stinging indignities, ridiculed, scourged, pierced, hung, withered, and died. 

          Do you love Him?

          Have you thrown yourself at His mercy, and pleaded that He make his wonderful salvation yours?

          Do you trust Him today? This moment?

 

 

         




September 4, 2017, 8:53 AM

PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM part 6

Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price

Matthew 13:44-46

Rev. Grady Davidson 090317

         

INTRODUCTION  Picture, if you will, a scene in heaven, around 6000 years ago as we measure time.  As you peer into heaven, you realize that something has happened, something that has caused a hush and stillness to fall over the usual scene of music and singing and the praises of the holy angels.  As you look around the heavenly court, the seraphim and cherubim quietly fold their wings, and lower their gaze.  Heaven’s holy citizens stop what they’re doing, and a new emotion washes over them, an emotion they’ve never known before: sadness.  As they gaze down from heaven upon the beautiful paradise of earth, they witness the figures of Man and Woman, created in God’s image, expelled from that Paradise where they had once walked and talked with God in the cool of the day--expelled into a harsh world apart from God, a world already erupting with thorns and disease and hunger and thirst and bloodshed. Indeed, one of their own, a mighty cherub, armed with a flaming sword now guards the gate to Paradise lest the Man and Woman attempt to return. 

 As the Man and Woman leave the Garden of Paradise on Earth, imagine a heavy silence across the crystal sea in Heaven, a silence which is broken by a sound which the holy angels have never heard before. It’s a sound coming from the One on Heaven’s Throne.  What is the sound? It’s a wail of grief! It’s a deafening roar of anguish!  For God the Father has lost something. He’s lost his most precious possession.  He’s lost his kids. 

TRANSITION  I think that most among us today were here at LVPC when I preached the first parable in this chapter – The Sower, Seed and Soils.  I’m not going to go over that one again in any detail, except to say that with the Parable of the Sower there is a “typical” understanding that is very good and has been blessed by the Holy Spirit immensely in our lives; and yet that typical understanding – in my estimation—actually falls short of the main point the Lord Jesus was making.  I’m convinced that’s true with regard to the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price as well. 

THE TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION.  You’ve probably heard these 2 parables taught and preached something like this:  The hidden treasure found in the field, and likewise the flawless pearl, represent salvation or Jesus Himself; the man digging in the field, and likewise the gem merchant represent sinners who find Jesus.  And though it costs the sinner everything he has, he counts it all as rubbish (Paul’s words) compared with the joy of gaining Jesus.  Jesus is the Greatest Treasure. Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price.  Seen this way, the preacher might comment that some people seem to stumble upon Jesus and salvation by accident; others find the truth through a diligent search.  Seen in this way, these 2 parables would seem to have an evangelistic emphasis.  Sinner, though it seems to cost you everything, you must have Jesus!  No doubt, the Holy Spirit has used these parables in this way to lead perhaps millions to salvation.  We honor that. 

But, I’m the one preaching this text, and I have several significant objections that approach.  It boils down to 4 main issues.  I’m going to mention 3 of them, and come back to the fourth (the pearl) in a minute.

A) That approach comes very close to saying that we purchase salvation.  Salvation is 100% by grace. It is a free gift!  We’re going to see on Wednesday nights what an elegant mind the Lord Jesus had.  He was so intentional with his words, that I don’t think he would give these parables as a story about salvation, which is by grace.

B) Scene Setting.  Jesus spoke the first 4 parables in this chapter to the crowds on the shores of Lake Galilee; but in verse 36 Jesus and the disciples left the crowds for a time and came into the privacy of the house (Peter’s?).  If this were an evangelistic parable – if it were a “come and follow me” parable—I think He would have proclaimed this one to the thousands, and not just to the 12.

C) Exegesis – study of the text.  We always interpret scripture in the light of scripture, and we always interpret more difficult passages in the light of clearer passages.  These 7 parables fit together. They are not 7 individual stories that have randomly collected.  Having said that, there are 2 elements of the Parable of the Hidden Treasure that we’ve already encountered, and that Jesus has already authoritatively interpreted. 

          The field, which represents the world (v 38).  The man who goes out into the field – from the Sower and the Wheat and Tares – is the Son of Man (37)!  Let that image sink in for a moment.  

          I submit to you that these parables aren’t about how a lost sinner finds Jesus.  They are about how Jesus finds lost sinners![1] These parables echo the words of Christ, when he described himself in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” These parables aren’t so much about “us.” They’re about Jesus, the Son of God, who comes into this world looking for His Father’s lost treasure; Jesus who does give up everything to purchase the Treasure He has found. 

LOOK AT THE ELEMENTS OF THESE TWO PARABLES TOGETHER.

          Treasure and Pearl (Gk: maragaretes).  What is God’s lost treasure in the field of the world?  What is it that Jesus gave up everything to purchase?  God’s lost treasure… is his people! His image-bearing children, whom He created for joyful communion, and were lost to Him because of sin.  Do you remember in Psalm 8, how David relished this mystery that God loves the human race so much?  With wonder and amazement: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”  Who are we, God, that you would call us your “treasure”?

          Likewise, Moses to God’s people in Deuteronomy 7:6, “You will be his treasured possession” (essentially, “jewelry box”).

          Likewise Titus 2:14, “His very own!”

          Likewise in Ephesians chapter 1, the Apostle Paul outlines a 5-point prayer that he says he prays constantly for the church.[2]  One of the 5 points in that prayer for the church is that the Ephesians will know “the riches of his (Christ’s) glorious inheritance in the saints.”  “Church, I’m praying for you, you’ve got to get your mind around how much Jesus loves his people… how valuable the people of God are to Jesus.” 

          The pearl.[3]  Of all the precious gems which Jesus could have worked into the parable, he chose a pearl—and by the way, there are numerous precious gems mentioned by name in the Bible.  If you give it a second’s thought, it will occur to you that there’s something special about a pearl that makes it entirely different from a ruby or sapphire or diamond – it’s grown from a living organism!  A grain of sand gets under the oyster’s skin and hurts it – and in response, the oyster layers the grain of sand with nacre (mother of pearl), and grows something precious and beautiful.  The pearl is the response of the one injured to the injury that occurred.  God’s response to our sin is the gift of his righteousness, in which he forms us into the image of Christ. 

          The Cost.  (44) “Sold all he had.”  (46) “Sold everything he had.” Though you give away all you have, and write a check, you cannot purchase Jesus. You cannot put a price tag on the free gift of salvation.  But that is true with regard to us, because it was NOT true with regard to Christ!  Christ DID give up all the riches of heaven that were rightfully His; He truly shed his life’s blood in a transaction to purchase back lost sinners. 

          Philippians 2:6-7, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…”

          2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

          Revelation 5:9, “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

          If we can take “the cost” a step further, notice a distinction. In the Hidden Treasure, He purchases the whole field (the world).  There is a sense in which Jesus died for the whole world (1 John 2:2).  However, in the Pearl of Great Price, He’s in pursuit of that one precious gem.  It’s wonderful that Christ died for the whole world; but it’s also true and life-giving to be able to say, “Christ died for me.”

          The Lost Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price – They represent God’s children lost in this fallen world.

          The Man digging and the Pearl Merchant – Represent Christ who came in search of that which was lost, and who purchased men, women, girls and boys for God with his own blood. 

Jesus tells us one more thing here – that He’s so glad He did it!  (44) “In his joy, went and sold…” These words surely describe the joy of Christ: “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

          Christian, hear it: It was with joy and for joy that Christ gave up heaven, came to earth, sought you out, and poured out his life’s blood so that He could have YOU. 

          The traditional approach and interpretation of these parables glorifies salvation.  It points out how precious and valuable salvation is.  That’s a good thing. We have several hymns in our hymnal that glorify salvation itself – “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul,” etc.

          The approach I’ve shared with you – I believe – is truer to the text, and it does something better than glorifying salvation.  It glorifies Christ.  It exalts Christ.  It keeps him at the center of the gospel story, where he belongs. It compels us to sing an even deeper and richer and more soul-satisfying hymn: “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

CONCLUSION Jesus spoke the parables to reveal and to conceal the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven (vv 11-17).  So what is the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus spoke, in the privacy of Peter’s house to the twelve?  What was it he was sharing with them, that he didn’t speak to the crowds by the Lake? 

          He was revealing the Kingdom of Heaven from God’s point of view!  The Kingdom that Christ inaugurated on earth was that important to God!  Because God had lost that which was most precious to Him – His image-bearing people – and Jesus came and searched and found and gave his everything to buy them back.  Amen.

 

         

 

 

 

[1] I am much indebted to Charles Price for this approach.  Price, Charles W. “Chapter 21, Kingdom Parables -- the Good News.” Matthew: the King in His Kingdom, Christian Focus, 2012, pp. 209–213.

[2] SHARP: Spiritual illumination; Hope; Authority of Christ; Riches of Christ’s inheritance in the saints; Power of Christ’s resurrection. See https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PttcaTEJD7aGBrfk3V6yd6lJPdz0ee9AvctfU-GkXo4/edit?usp=sharing

[3] The peculiar symbol of the pearl is the 4th reason I argue for this interpretation. 




August 28, 2017, 8:19 AM

PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM part 5

Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-33

Rev. Grady Davidson 082717

         

INTRODUCTION One of my favorite verses of scripture from the OT is Habakkuk 2:14, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”  Picture that. The same way that the oceans are full of water, the earth filled with the knowledge of the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The name of Jesus honored as King of Kings and Lord of Lords from Montreal to Mozambique; from Siberia to Sri Lanka to San Diego; from London to Liberia to Laos.  Across the expanse of the earth, Jesus known and loved and worshiped and served.  Isn’t that exciting to think about? Because where Jesus is known, sin’s penalty is forgiven and sin’s power is broken.  Sin loses its grip on people.  Satan loses his power over the institutions and cities and nations of the world.  The Fruit of the Spirit grows in abundance.  There’s blessing for everyone.  When we find things in the Prophets like Habakkuk 2:14 and Psalm 72:8, I certainly don’t think it means that every single individual will be saved. It’s not a promise of a coming age of universal salvation.  But the Scriptures fairly drip with the honey of hope that Christ’s reign – the Kingdom of Heaven – will keep growing and growing until we can truly say that the gospel has been preached to all the nations – the people groups of the world. 

How is that supposed to happen?

That’s what Jesus is talking about in these first four parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. 

Two weeks ago – Parable of the Leaven in the Dough, which describes the intensive power and progress of the Kingdom.

TRANSITION Today –Parable of the Mustard Seed, which describes the extensive power and progress of the Kingdom.  If I could illustrate the parables with a parable, the Kingdom is like the oak at the top of Miss Halie’s driveway across the street.  Over the last 50 years, the tree has grown extensively, and limbed out to great lengths and has become the defining feature of the yard.  That’s the extensive power and progress of the Kingdom; the parable of the mustard seed. 

But the oak has also grown under the earth, pushing out an elaborate root system, silently breaking up the concrete driveway, exerting incredible but silent strength and power.  That corresponds to the parable of the Yeast and Dough – the intensive power and progress of the Kingdom. 

Explore the two points of the mustard and the yeast with me a bit more. 

When the slave trade ended—peacefully --in Britain in 1807, largely under the evangelical leadership of William Wilberforce, that’s the yeast in the dough. That’s the kingdom’s intensive power.

When the EPC formed a Presbytery of 6 churches in Kazakhstan (a few years ago), that’s the Kingdom’s extensive power.  That’s the mustard seed.

Dream with me. Looking ahead, the time will come when abortion on demand will collapse and end in this country. I fully expect my grandchildren to look on the abortion trade with the same horror that our generation looks back upon the institution of slavery.  That will be the intensive power of the Kingdom.  I also fully expect my great-grandchildren (if not my grandchildren) to be able to travel as tourists to Saudi Arabia and to the PPC and Malaysia, and freely worship in Christian churches in these lands. That will be the Kingdom’s extensive power at work. 

BODY OF MESSAGE – the PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED AND THE KINGDOM’S EXTENSIVE POWER.

I. THE KINGDOM’S APPARENT INSIGNIFICANCE (13:31).  The farmer takes this tiny grain in his calloused hands.  The seed is so small, that he must be careful, lest he lose it.  Maybe he’s carried it out to the field at the edge of his garden plot in his leather change purse.  He digs a hole several inches deep.  He takes that little mustard seed, and sets it carefully in the middle of the hole. He re-fills the hole with loose dirt and compost.  And walks away. 

          The Lord is giving us a picture of the inauguration of his Kingdom.  It certainly didn’t seem like much at the time, in Galilee around AD 30.  A carpenter from Nazareth.  Some unschooled fishermen.  A few women.  They had no money. They had no army. They had no pull with the government.  A sorry lot, overall, by the world’s standards.

In fact, the people with the education and the money and the army and the influence in government, were bitterly opposed to this little group who followed the Nazarene Jesus.  If you were to get a glimpse of the entire world in AD 30, and ask, “Where is the Kingdom of God happening?”, you would see just a tiny little dot on the map.  There, on the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, follow it over and find that little freshwater lake called Galilee, and a handful of villages where the Name of Jesus was known.  A couple of hundred followers of Jesus at the very most.  What could they possibly do?

The Kingdom of Heaven and its citizens always look laughably frail and weak and insignificant, in the eyes of the world.  How did Paul describe the first Christians in Corinth? (1:26-28) Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

          A couple of dozen people in Lookout Valley.  Many of them retired, and even if they’re not retired, they’re probably just plain tired.  Many on a fixed income.  Bills to pay.  Doctor’s appointments to keep. Who do they think they are? What do they think they can do?  Church, this is the Lord’s way by design: The Kingdom’s apparent insignificance.

II.  THE KINGDOM’S SURPRISING AND EXTENSIVE PROGRESS.  (32a, “Though… a tree…”) Notice the point of contrast. The smallest of seeds, grows into the largest of garden plants.  Many of the Bible commentators are quick to point out that the mustard scrub, which grows to 10 or 12 feet, is hardly a tree.  For goodness’ sakes, let Jesus make his point.  In comparison with all the other vegetables and herbs in that little first century garden, the mustard was a tree!  That tiny little seed, held carefully between the farmer’s thumb and index finger, contained power to grow into something amazing! 

          Jesus and his band of followers did not look like much, especially compared to the Mighty Roman empire, and yet see the progress the Kingdom has made—and especially in the last century. 

          Like a seed planted in the ground in April, struggling to break open and push out its first tiny leaves in the cold damp earth of spring, so the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated began slowly.  It took 1900 years for practicing Christians to grow from 0% to 2.5% of the world population.  Then it took only another 70 years to grow from 2.5% to 5% (in 1970).  Then it took only another 40 years to grow from 5% to 12% by 2010.  Just in Miss Halie’s lifetime, practicing Christians (who hold to and practice historic, Orthodox Christianity), have grown from 2.5% to 12% of the world’s population.  The growth curve is beginning to go exponentially![i]  These are fascinating and exciting times to belong to Jesus Christ and to be partnering with our global workers in EPC World Outreach. 

III.  THE KINGDOM’S IMPACT ON THE NATIONS (32b, “So that… branches.”) This is one of the most beautiful and under-appreciated of the teachings of Christ.  He’s “echoing” several OT references, Ezekiel 17:22-23 especially.  The Ezekiel passage gives a picture of the Age of the Messiah, when the Gentile nations would take refuge in the Messiah and enjoy the blessings of the Covenant.  Jesus takes this theme and adds it into his parable. The birds (the nations) will find rest and shelter in Jesus. 

          That tiny seed sown in Galilee has become a tree that provides rest and shelter to people everywhere. And yet the work is not finished.  We must continue sending missionaries, aggressively planting churches, and making disciples among the 88% of the world that doesn’t follow Christ.  The tree will continue growing until the gospel has been preached to all nations (24:14), and then the end will come. 

CONCLUSION I want to show you one more thing. This is the third parable in the chapter.  The first (sower), second (wheat and weeds), and third all have an element in common – each is about planting seeds.  The image shifts around a bit, but thematically, they tie together. 

          John’s gospel contains no parables—not a single one—which at first seems surprising considering that the other evangelists declare that Jesus never taught anything without using a parable.  And yet when we look more closely, we see that John has a way of taking the parables and working them into the drama of Jesus’ life.

          John 12:23-24 – review.

          Isn’t verse 24 what Jesus is talking about in the parables of the Sower, and Wheat and Weeds and the Mustard seed?  God is The Sower, and The Seed that God sowed in the ground by death and burial, was His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Himself was The Seed planted in a borrowed tomb. From His resurrection, there are many seeds (us!) whom the Father is planting in the field which is His world. 

          Jesus gave His life, so that Kingdom life could be birthed in you!  And through you, that Kingdom life could be birthed in others!  (Conclude with Invitation.)

 

 

 


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