Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can't Not Speak!

“…For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  (Act 4:20)

I love the story of Acts 4-5, where the apostles faced escalating opposition from the Jews regarding their “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”  Stern questions turned into threats, which led to arrest, which ended in a sound beating.  At the end of it all, the apostles went away, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (5:41). 

In the middle of that progression, just before their arrest, John and Peter were sternly warned to put a proverbial cork in it: “they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:18).  Consider the response of the two apostles: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (4:19-20). 

We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.  We may read this as just another way of saying what they said in 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  In other words, we may understand John and Peter to be saying, “we’d love to stop talking about Jesus, but we’re bound by a command to do otherwise.”  That’s not the sense in either instance, but I would argue that in 4:20, the sense is “we are incapable of not speaking about what we’ve seen and heard.”  I think that’s what it means because that’s the most literal way to translate it.  The New English Translation captures it well: “for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

“Stop speaking about the risen Christ?  That’s impossible.”      

But what would make it impossible?  That’s an important question for those of us who find it quite possible.  It’s an important question for those of us who find it seemingly impossible to do the opposite – open our mouths to share the good news.  How is it that the apostles found it beyond the realm of the possible to keep their mouths closed about the gospel?  

We might distance ourselves from them a bit by saying, “well, they saw Jesus and they heard Jesus.  If I had seen and heard exactly what they did, I might be just like them.”  Certainly, seeing the risen Christ would compel one to speak, but I don’t think that’s it.

And I certainly don’t think it’s the typical modern motive for evangelism – guilt.  Some ministry leaders seek to prod the church into sharing the gospel by heaping guilt on them for being quiet.  But guilt is not nearly as strong a motivator as fear, which is why so many people don’t share their faith.  That is, they don’t feel guilty enough to overcome their fear of evangelism. 

So what is it?  Paul tells us in 2 Cor 5:14: For the love of Christ controls us… 

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2Co 5:14-15).

The love of Christ controls us.  The apostles, the early saints, and most passionate evangelists I know have been/are controlled by the love of Christ in the sense that their hearts have been captured by Christ’s love for them as displayed in the gospel.  They are mesmerized by the deep love of God in Jesus.  They are amazed at the wonder of it.  And here is the key: it creates in their hearts great love for Him.  And love is the great motivation that makes silence impossible. 

This is why Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments,” rather than, “if you feel sufficiently guilty, you’ll keep my commandments.”  Love bursts forth in obedience.  In the case of evangelism, love bursts forth in speaking of this amazing love of Christ that saves sinners.  The love of Christ transforms sinners so that they love Him and others (“we love because He first loved us” 1John 4:19), and they can’t help but talk about it.

As I mentioned our first week in the new sermon series, for some of us our problem is that our love for the Lord has grown cold.  What’s the remedy?  Here’s that great quote from Richard Sibbes I shared with you then:

“As when things are cold we bring them to the fire to heat and melt, so bring we our hearts to the fire of the love of Christ; consider we of our sins against Christ, and of Christ’s love towards us… Think what great love Christ hath showed unto us, and how little we have deserved, and this will make our hearts to melt, and be as pliable as wax before the sun.”

This heart work must become our principle occupation.  It is not a minor, peripheral thing to consider daily, hourly the cross and tomb and their personal ramifications.  It is essential fuel for the fire.  As we continue to gaze at the love of Christ in John 13-17 on Sunday mornings, one of my prayers is that our love for Him will grow with the result that we, like the saints in Acts 4-5, will find it impossible not to speak of so great a salvation. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Why don't we literally wash feet?

This is a typical question that arises when studying our passage from Sunday’s message, John 13:2-17.  After all, Jesus says in v14, “If I then have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  Jesus literally washed the disciples’ feet, so shouldn’t we literally wash one another’s feet as a ritual, similar to our regular observance of the Lord’s Supper?

There are a number of reasons to hold that Jesus intended His disciples to understand this command as a metaphor for broad, selfless service to one another, not confined to the ritual of washing one another’s feet. 

First, washing of one’s feet was a real, cultural need for Jesus and His disciples.  Their feet were truly filthy and needed to be washed.  Had the scene taken place in the 19th century, the command may have been, “shovel one another’s horse stalls,” which would be very much out of place in the 21st century.  I would argue footwashing is equally out of place today.  We don’t wash feet today because we don’t wash feet at all outside of our showers.  It’s not a real need.  The idea is to find what is a real need and meet it.

Second and more importantly, the scope of the Farewell Discourse (John 13-17) indicates that footwashing is a metaphor for loving one another.  In just a few short verses, after Judas is removed from among them, Jesus will return to His teaching and give further instruction regarding what He is calling the disciples to: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  He’s explaining what He means by the metaphor of washing feet.

Third and related, it is generally accepted that Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet was a prefiguring of His humbly laying down His life for the disciples.  In accordance with the new command to love one another, Jesus calls the disciples in John 15:12-13 to the same kind of love: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  It appears that Jesus is adding another layer to their understanding of the new commandment – to love one another as Jesus does is to lay down one’s life for the brothers.  Just as Jesus’ washing of their feet was a metaphor for His greater service on the cross, so also His call to the disciples was a metaphorical call to lay down their lives for one another. 

To this, some may object that though it was a metaphor, Jesus literally washed their feet.  So shouldn’t we literally wash each other’s feet, simply understanding it as a metaphor for broader service?  In answer to this I would add a fourth reason why it is unlikely Jesus intended this to be a normal ritual or ordinance of the church:

There is no biblical or early church historical evidence that the church washed one another’s feet as regular ritual on par with the Lord’s Supper.  Consider the difference between the call to wash feet and the call to observe Communion. The Lord’s Supper is depicted in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), in which the Lord gave to the disciples and they ate and drank right there and then.  We would expect that if washing feet was to be a ritual similar to Communion, the disciples would have been expected to wash one another’s feet that night immediately after Jesus commanded them.  However, that did not happen.  (If one were to say, “they didn’t need to wash each other’s feet – their feet were already clean,” it would support the first argument above!)  Further, the only mention of footwashing in the rest of the NT is in 1 Tim 5:10, where it is not indicated to be an ordinance of the church, but an example of humble service by a widow.  All of this makes footwashing as a ritual highly unlikely, compared to the universally accepted ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are repeatedly attested in the NT and early church history.

So, is there anything wrong with literally washing feet?  Certainly not.  I’ve participated in footwashing services and found it to be very meaningful.  It can be a way to express to one another our intent to serve each other with our lives.  But it simply should not be understood to be a mandated, ongoing ritual for the church.  Rather, we should understand the Lord’s command to be a call to adopt His heart and His love for one another, laying down our lives in broad, humble service. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Questions About the New Sermon Series

It was a blessing to open the Word to the book of John with you on Sunday.  I heard from many of you that the series is coming at just the right time.  May the Lord use John 13-17 to stoke the fire of our hearts to love Christ more and more.

As I mentioned then, I’d like to answer a few questions that the new series may have raised.  It is unusual for us to study a chunk of a book rather than the whole thing.  There are twenty-one chapters in John.  We’re studying five.  So, some obvious questions:

Why aren’t we doing the whole book?  There are couple of reasons.  First, I desire to keep a broad representation of the counsel of God in front of you.  One way to do that is to cycle through different parts of the Bible on Sunday mornings.  It’s possible no one has noticed this, but there has been a pattern to the books I’ve preached in the last almost ten years – Ephesians, Joshua/Judges, Matthew, Philippians, Exodus…  We’ve gone so slowly that the pattern may not be obvious, yet.  NT Epistle, OT Book, Gospel, NT Epistle, OT Book, Gospel, NT Epistle…  I’m not married to that pattern, but I like it.  (As I mentioned Sunday, I was leaning toward James or Galatians until about a month ago, so the pattern isn’t set in stone.)  So a Gospel was next in line, but having just spent almost six years in Matthew, I wasn’t ready to launch into another multiple year series just yet.  So, doing a smaller section allows us to spend time in a Gospel without being there for several years. 

Second, these particular chapters have been on my heart and I felt led by the Lord to put them in front of you now.  The numerous testimonies I heard on Sunday (“this is so timely”; “I need this so much”) would seem to confirm this is the right time for this particular part of John.

Are we in danger of taking things out of context?  If you’re thinking this, good.  Context is essential.  We should always have it at the front of our minds.  It is my responsibility, no matter what text we study, to keep the context in mind and present it to you.  You’re right to be concerned about this.  I’ll just ask you to trust me to handle the text carefully, while you commit to being good Bereans, checking for yourself to “see if these things are so” (Acts 17:10-11).  While we are not walking slowly through the whole book together right now, I have studied the whole thing and am comfortable saying I know this Gospel well.  We’ll be using all of John to help us understand this section.

Will we ever study the whole book of John together?  I certainly hope so.  Lord willing, it will be years down the road, but I fully intend to study the whole thing with you at some point.  My bucket list doesn’t have things on it like “skydiving” or “bullriding.”  It’s got “preach Romans, Hebrews, and all of John.”  All in the Lord’s time.

May the Lord bless our study of His word and help us to live in light of it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Impassioned Prayer

It often happens that points made in the sermon on Sunday morning coincide with points made in Sunday School in the next hour without any coordination between the preacher and the teacher.  Pastor Rick and I have marveled at this for years.  The Holy Spirit frequently weaves together influences to push us in a particular direction to accomplish the Father’s purpose in us.  Many times in my life I’ve heard a particular truth from one source only to hear the same thing the next day from a different source and then from a friend and then from another source, etc.  I know that others of you have experienced this kind of thing because so many of you have told me.

The same phenomenon is happening once again at Providence.  Earlier this summer as I began to consider and pray about what to teach on Wednesday nights in the Fall, I became burdened that we needed to focus on prayer.  Not just talking about it, but doing it together on Wednesday nights.  (This Spring and Summer have been for me the most vibrant season of prayer I have ever known.  And I received more specific answers to prayer in that short period of time than ever before.) 

Then when Pastor Rick came back from the FBI Academy in June, he told me he was working on choosing a book for the Home Fellowship Groups for the Fall and was looking exclusively at books about…prayer.   Again, no coordination other than the Holy Spirit working in both of our hearts.

So I wonder where the Holy Spirit might be leading us?  Perhaps it is to become a people passionate about prayer! 

I trust that this will be timely news to a good number of us.  Who among us has not struggled in this area of life?  Some of us – maybe most of us – are struggling right now.  If we’re being honest, some of us might admit to being in a season of complete prayerlessness.  But it may be that the Lord is graciously working to free us from that difficulty through the HFG study and our new Wednesday night service in order to turn a weakness into a Spirit-empowered strength. 

PBF has a reputation as a Bible-focused church.  Being students of the Word, we should have no problem answering this question: what happens when God’s people pray?  For His kingdom to come?  For each other to grow in godliness?  For the lost to be saved?

What might happen if our Bible-focused church gave itself to impassioned prayer?  Wouldn’t you love to find out?

Each week, we’re going to take a very brief look at the Scriptures and talk about prayer.  Initially, we’ll be looking at the typical difficulties we have getting into prayer and the best ways to overcome those difficulties.  Then we’re going to pray.  I’ll give you more details this Wednesday night, Sept 13 at 6:30 at the church.  Please make every effort to come!