Matthew 7:13-23: Two Roads, Two Gates

Read: Matthew 7:13-23

Two roads, two gates – one road is hard and leads to a narrow gate that when opened leads to life. The other road is easy that leads to a wide gate that when opened leads to death. This is the imagery that Jesus gives to describe the path that he is laying out for his followers to follow. Jesus’ path is the hard path that isn’t easy to follow, but to those that do they will have eternal life.

In light of this description of paths and gates, Jesus gives a staunch warning concerning false prophets and false teachers. The Jews in Jesus’ day already understood the consequences of false teachers and prophets. The law had rather harsh consequences for false prophets: death. Any one that made a false prophecy or turned the Israelites to false gods was to be put to death without prejudice (Deuteronomy 13). When Jesus is teaching here, he is warning against such teachers and tells his hearers to test them. By way of analogy he is telling his hearers to look at the fruits in their lives. A tree bears fruit in keeping with its kind and health. For the Christian, there are two kinds of fruit: spiritual progeny and fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). One can tell what a teacher teaches based on the teacher’s students and based on the teacher’s own life. If one, the other, or both are bad, then it is indicative of the nature of the teacher and his teachings. In effect, just because somebody calls Jesus “Lord” and puts on a good show doesn’t mean that he himself is saved or teaching sound doctrine.

James 3 also gives a staunch warning about being eager to teach. In the same vein as Deuteronomy 13, to those who teach there will be a more strict judgment. In the discourse that follows, James talks about a destructive tongue, and such is the tongue of one who teaches false doctrine. It can cause a lot of harm and destruction. For the Christian to know this though it is imperative that he or she also be well grounded in the scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Paul reminds Timothy of the model that Paul had laid out for him and also warns him against imposters and evil doers. The antidote for false teaching was teaching from the Word of God, which is inspired by God for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.

Lord, help me to follow the narrow path found in your Word!

Luke 6:46-49: A Firm Foundation

Read: Luke 6:46-49

Jesus closes the discourse in Luke with another parable, this one describing two builders who build houses. One builds it on a rock and the house stands when the storm comes and the other on sand which collapses when the storm comes. The interpretation of this parable is pretty obvious, and Jesus gives it, saying that the one who listen and does the things that Jesus says will be like the man who builds his house on the rock. The foundation of a house is one of the most critical components of the house because on it rests the entire structure, and when the foundation is weak the house will fall flat. Jesus is saying that his words and instructions are the foundation of ones life, and the rest of one’s life is supported by these teachings.

If Jesus’ teachings are to be the foundation of ones life, then it necessary to first understand the teachings and second aptly apply the teachings of Jesus to ones life. The teachings of Jesus are codified in the pages of scripture, so if one wants to understand what Jesus said one needs to study the word of God. This is why Paul admonishes Timothy to use scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that scripture is “God-breathed” and useful for instruction in the ways of righteousness. Jesus being God, worked through human writers produce the 66 books of the Bible, some of which contains the actual words of Jesus himself. Paul acknowledges the work of the prophets, a reference to the Old Testament and apostles which is a reference to what would become the New Testament, but all of this is built on Jesus who is the “cornerstone” of the building (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The process of studying and applying scripture is called “exegesis”, which is multi-part process. First, one attempts to understand what a text meant in the original context by studying the original language of the text, the literary features of the text, and also the historical and cultural settings of the text. These offer key insights into the next step, which is interpreting the text. Interpretation isn’t so much about finding hidden meanings, rather looking for what the text is trying to communicate in terms of instructions and principles. Lastly, one looks for application of the principles of the text, which is practical application of the text in one’s life and how one obeys the commands of Jesus.

Because the teachings and application of scriptures is is so important requires great care. This is why Peter warned against interpreting scripture in a vacuum (2 Peter 1:19-21). Rather, teachers are to be taught and to also teach what they have learned faithfully (2 Timothy 2:2). Holding fast to sound doctrine and sound teaching will give all who understand the knowledge necessary, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, one can aptly apply the scripture to ones life so that when the storms come one stands firm rather than falling flat.

Lord, your word is a firm foundation. Help me build my life on it!

Luke 6:12-16: A Prayer that Changed The World

Read: Luke 6:12-16

After telling about “work” on the Sabbath, Luke segues away from teachings on the authority of Jesus to a focus on the ministry of Jesus as he lived with and taught the apostles. Luke starts this section by noting that Jesus went away to pray. This is the second of six mentions in the book of Luke where Jesus does this (Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12, Luke 9:18, Luke 9:28, Luke 11:1, Luke 22:41-46).

What Jesus prayed for during this time is unknown because the Bible does not say, but he was probably praying about the decisions he would have to make concerning who he would select to be the 12 apostles out of his disciples. Jesus had already called out many of them to be his disciples (Luke 5:1-11, Luke 5:27). The apostles, however, would lead the church in the charge to make disciples of all nations, so this was no small decision (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). Evidently this was weighing on his mind because he went to the place and that he prayed all night.

The office of Apostle (literally “sent one”) in the New Testament is associated with those who had been with Jesus, and they carried the authority in the early church. They were the ones who were responsible for the ministries of prayer, teaching, and evangelism (Acts 2, Acts 6:4). Implicitly, they also were responsible for the creation of the the New Testament. One of the criterion for selection of New Testament scripture was that the book have apostolic origin. In the case of the gospels, Matthew and John were both written by apostles along with James, Peter’s Letters, John’s Letters, and Paul’s Letters. The remainder was written by close associates of the apostles such as Luke who wrote Acts and the gospel of Luke.

The decision Jesus made that night in prayer impacted the world. Jesus’ decision produced the New Testament and started the ministry of evangelism to the world. There are no new Apostles in the modern church, however the are little “a” apostles, also known as missionaries. The authority of modern missionaries and every Christian draws on the authority given to the early Apostles in the church to canonize the teachings of Jesus, which is the Bible. When facing a decisions of any size, Christians ought to face it with prayer and with the The Bible as one’s guide. This means pouring over the Word and imploring God with prayer so that decisions will be crystal clear and in accordance with God’s will, because even seemingly small decisions can have a huge impact!

Lord, help me to approach every decision with prayer and your Word!

Luke 1:5-38: “May It Be”

Read: Luke 1:5-38

Gabriel was a messenger from God and describes himself as one who “stands in the presence of God”. To even be in the presence of God would be something of note, but to stand in God’s presence indicates that Gabriel was an angel of great importance. He was previously sent in Daniel to explain to Daniel the significance of the rams and goats and give the 70-week predictions (Daniel 8, 9).  He was dispatched to deliver the news concerning two great men: John the Baptist and Jesus. John would prepare the way as a prophet for Jesus, the Lord.

The angel Gabriel appeared to two different people – Mary and Zacharias. Luke notes that Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth, was barren and could not have children. Nevertheless, Zacharias continued to pray for a son and God answered this prayer. Elizabeth conceived and had John. Although Zacharias and Elizabeth were both described as blameless and God-fearing, Zacharias when he has the vision asks for a sign, because he didn’t believe Gabriel’s message. Because of this, Zacharias became mute. On the other hand though, when Mary was told that she would become pregnant with Jesus, she asked how, but didn’t ask for a sign from God on the matter. Rather, she believed it and said let it be so.

Jews during Jesus’ day were always looking for signs and wonders as proof. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees when they asked for a sign and said that the only sign he would give them would be the “Sign of Jonah”, which is a rather cryptic response. He was referring to himself in that Jesus was calling them to repent and predicting his death and resurrection  as Jonah was in the fish for 3 days, Jesus was in the ground for 3 days (Matthew 12:38-41, Matthew 16:1-4, Luke 11:29-32). Jesus was the sign, and after Jesus ascended he gave the Holy Spirit to open the minds of Christians to the things of God so that they can know the truth (1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 2).

God is still communicating with people today through his word, which is “God breathed” (3 Timothy 3:16-17). Asking for additional revelation as Zacharias did doesn’t seem too harmful, but the evidence was standing right before his eyes (as if the presence of an angel wasn’t enough!) Rather than ask for a sign one should ask for wisdom and understanding as Mary did. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the minds of Christians can be illuminated to understand the truths in the scriptures, and respond to the commands of Christ as Mary did, saying “may it be”. It is okay to question God when one doesn’t understand, nevertheless asking for more proof that what is given shouldn’t be necessary, because enough proof already exists.

Lord, when you speak, help me say, “may it be”.

Hebrews 4:12-17: The Throne of Grace

Read: Hebrews 4:12-17

Coming on the heels of the author of Hebrews encouraging his readers to enter rest rather than disobey, Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the word of the Lord is powerful: it judges even the thoughts and intentions of man. This verse is often used as a proof-text for underscoring the inerrancy of Scripture, and rightfully so. Scripture leaves nothing uncovered, and each person must “give an account” in light of the Scriptures. Paul gives a similar thought concerning the nature of scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where he says that scripture is good for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. For these reasons, one is wise to pay attention to what it says.

Because the word of God does expose sin, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to “hold fast” to their confession. The confession of Christians is relying on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice that he made on the behalf of all men. Jesus is also the high priest of the Christian faith, who was without sin, yet was tempted. He can sympathize with our weakness. At the same time he can enter into the throne room of God without spot or blemish. It is through Jesus that those who believe have access the throne room too. In short, the Word of God shows all they are sinners and they need grace, but Jesus who sits on the “throne of grace” intercedes on the behalf of Christians so they receive mercy.

As one studies the word of God, he or she should become very aware of the weaknesses in his or her life. In light of these weaknesses, Christians should plea the mercy of Jesus who is the high priest that can sympathize with weakness. God promises to forgive sin (1 John 1:9) and Christians should make an effort to leave sin behind and pursue righteousness. With the help of the Spirit of God, one can grow and be helped by God in weaknesses (2 Corinthians 2:19).

Lord, use your word to show me I desperately need mercy!

Joshua 16: Could Of, Should Of

Read: Joshua 16

Joshua 16 is a certainly a short text, covering the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants. Verse 10 makes a particular note about this inheritance: they did not oust the people of Gezer, rather they made them vassals to themselves such that the people of Gezer paid tribute Israel.  Verse 10 looks like Joshua 15:63 in some respect because it mentions a people living among Israel although Israel was supposed to drive them out. Joshua 15:63 however notes they “could not” drive out the Jebusites. Joshua 16:10 says that Israel “did not” drive out the people of Gezer. Some commentators have suggested that these should be treated the same, but this is problematic because Isreal was powerful enough to subjugate Gezer. It stands to reason that if Israel could subjugate Gezer, they could have also ousted Gezer as well.

Numbers 33:55 is pretty clear about the implications about what would happen if Israel did not drive out the inhabitants of Canaan. They would be a “prick in the eye” and “thorn in the side” and would also “vex” the land. Joshua gives warning against this in his parting word (Joshua 23:12-13). The very existence of Canaanites among the Israelites would be troublesome, a temptation leading them away from God to following other false gods, and sure enough, this happened (Judges 2:3).

The presence of temptation to turn away in the midst of believers does not always seem harmful, but like. Jesus taught about having sin around in one’s life. He says get rid of that which causes one to stumble (Matthew 18:8-9). James describes the nature of sin when one is tempted: temptation leads to sin, and sin brings forth death. That which Christians do have control over, they should remove. But Christians don’t have control over everything. For this reason one has to also be firmly rooted in what helps guide one away from sin: the word of God (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:105, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). By taking reproof from the word of God one can combat the temptations that come one’s way!

Lord, help rid myself of temptations that I can remove, and combat the ones that I cannot.

2 Timothy 4:1-5: “Fulfill Your Ministry”

Read: 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Paul’s charge to Timothy is basically three words: “Preach the Word”. This charge comes on the heels of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to stay firmly planted in the scriptures and a description of the source and uses of scripture. Paul gives his charge to Timothy in the “presence” of God and Jesus and who will judge the living and dead. The strong command to preach is qualified with several commands:

  • Be ready in season and out of season. For the one preaching the word, game day is every day. One cannot be lax one day and on the next.
  • Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction. This comes on the heels of Paul telling Timothy about the uses of scripture which are the aforementioned things (2 Timothy 3:14-16). Scripture is useful for training in righteousness.
  • Be sober in all things. Paul is telling Timothy to not let anything cloud his mind.
  • Endure hardship. This is a guaranteed thing for those who wish to live lives of godliness (2 Timothy 3:12).
  • Do the work of an evangelist. An evangelist is one who declares good news, and in New Testament terms, it is one who shares the good news about Jesus. Paul is charging Timothy to do this sort of work.
  • Fulfill his ministry. This is a command in the most general sense, just in case Paul left something out. Paul is telling Timothy to thoroughly accomplish all that he has been instructed to do.

Paul says that there will come a time when people will not endure sound doctrine, surrounding themselves with teachers who tell them what they want to hear. They will turn from truth and believe “myths”. The New Testament describes such things as cleverly devised tales (2 Peter 1:16) and fables (1 Timothy 4:7). These things stand in stark contrast to the words of truth from the scripture that Paul is telling Timothy to proclaim and the testimony of eyewitnesses that have been handed to Timothy and the many others concerning Jesus from the apostles.

This charge to Timothy is a popular passage for ordination services in many churches. The charge is very relevant to those who are starting out in the gospel ministry as it outlines what a pastor is supposed to do concerning his ministry. But the application of this text is not limited to just pastors – all Christians should be ready to do what these very things themselves. Most certainly, Christians today are living in a time when people not want to hear sound doctrine, but rather hear what they want to hear. This requires that Christians know sound doctrine and know how to correct and rebuke those who do not endure sound doctrine with patience and love. This way, one can fulfill one’s own ministry as Paul wanted Timothy to do.

Lord, help me to fulfill my ministry!

2 Timothy 3:10-16: “Equipped for Every Good Work”

Read: 2 Timothy 3:10-16

After a strong warning of the sort of people to avoid, Paul shows Timothy the sort of person he should follow – none other than Paul himself. Paul was up in years by the this time, and had endured many hardships for the sake of the gospel. He endured persecution at Antioch, Lystra, and Iconium (Acts 13, 14). Nevertheless, Paul affirms that in all these places the Lord delivered him from the Persecution. Paul had gone to these places to spread the gospel and start churches, by he was met with fierce opposition. This basic pattern followed him pretty much everywhere he went, so much so that Paul makes a general statement concerning persecution: that those want to live lives of godliness in Jesus will endure persecution. And Paul is thinking that even the bad ones that he had finished describing will go from bad to worse. For Timothy, the worst was yet to come, even in the thick of things as they were for him in Ephesus.

Paul then encourages Timothy basically to stick to his guns. He says that Timothy had been taught the scripture sense his infancy which makes one “wise for salvation” in Jesus Christ. Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father (Acts 16:1). Not much is known concerning Timothy’s father, but in any case, the faith that he had been given came from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). The scriptures for them were what the Old Testament is in the Christian Bible, and this is what Timothy had been taught before he ever met Paul. These scriptures were what made one wise for Salvation in Jesus Christ, as the Old Testament spoke about Jesus (Luke 24:27). Paul then affirms the totality of scripture is “God-breathed”. The Greek word “θεοπνευστος” is as combination of the word for God and word for breath, and Paul uses this to describe the nature of scripture. In the manner in which breath comes from a person, so the scriptures come from God. For this reason, scripture is useful for a number of things: teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. Paul says that this is so the “man of God is equipped for every good work”. The good works stand in stark contrast to the evil that Paul had described earlier in the chapter (2 Timothy 3:1-9) and the importance of doing the word is reiterated by James 1:23. A person who merely studies the scripture and does not apply it to his or her life and live accordingly to it is like a person who looks in the mirror then forgets what he looks like.

For Christians, scriptures consist of the 27 books if the New Testament and the 39 books of the Old Testament. This is called the “canon” which means “measure”. What was included in the Bible as scripture was not something that was decided by an ad hoc council as many skeptics like to suggest. Exactly why the books of the New Testament were chosen is unknown, but there was surprising agreement among the early Christians what books were to be included when the New Testament was decided. Some scholars have proposed 4 criterion and on these criterion the council established the New Testament:

  • Apostolic Origin – that is the material was associated with one of the original apostles associated with Jesus.
  • Universal Acceptance – that is the book in question was widely accepted by a broad spectrum of early churches rather than a few.
  • Liturgical Use – the book was useful for worship and all matters, as Paul suggests, for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
  • Consistent Message – the theology communicated in a book is consistent with other books.

For Christians today, there is also the question of closure to the Bible: is it complete? Any new material under the aforementioned criterion would not have Apostolic Origin if all the apostles have died. For this reason, it is reasonable to think that the New Testament was completed before the passing of the apostle. Any other “new inspiration” then is not possible.

The scriptures through the ages have proved themselves to stand up to scrutiny and have proven themselves to be effective standards by which to live by. Christians can therefore apply what Paul said concerning the scriptures of his day, the Old Testament, to the Christian New Testament and use it for training in righteousness. But Christians should also be about the work of applying scripture to one’s life all the time every day. This way one will not be like the one, as James describes, who forgets what he or she looks like after looking in the mirror. The study and application of scripture is how one avoids sin and lives according to the teachings of Jesus, “equipped for every good work”. Inevitably, the ones who live according to the scriptures will come under fire. Following the commands and using scripture to rebuke and reprove some will make them lash out because the scriptures speak truth into the lives of many. Paul’s pattern of persecution should be expected, so when it does come, one should not be surprised. In all things though, Christians know that there reward is great in heaven with God because of persecution!

Lord, equip me by your word so I can be ready to do good work!

2 Timothy: “Preach the Word”

Read: 2 Timothy 4:1-4

2 Timothy was written by Paul, and perhaps the last letter that Paul ever wrote before he was executed in Rome. Paul seems to be under great distress while he is in prison abandoned by all save a few people. But in spite of this, Paul encourages Timothy to be faithful under pressure and hardship.

Timothy at the time was pastoring the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a large metropolis boasting 300,000 – 400,000 people during the First Century. It was the largest city in Asian region in the Roman Empire which occupies modern day Turkey. The city had a temple to Artemis and an open air theater that would seat some 25,000 spectators. The city already had a Jewish synagogue there. Paul preached at this synagogue in Acts 18 where he proved from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ to the Jews. Paul on another journey through Ephesus came into the city. God was performing miracles through Paul and people were coming Paul for healing because of this. The Ephesians saw Paul as a threat and caused a riot against him, dragging him into the amphitheater. The Ephesians were fiercely loyal to the Greek goddess Artemis and had a cult devoted to her. People would make pilgrimages to the city to worship her there. The craftsman profited from this religious worship. Paul spent a substantial amount of time in Ephesus. He started the church there, spending 2 or 3 years getting the work started. After this time, he entrusted the church to elders that he loved dearly. They came to see him as he was passing by on a journey to Jerusalem. Many feared that Paul would not return if he went to Jerusalem. He charges them to be on guard for their flock (Acts 20:28). Even in spite of opposition, by the end of the Second Century, Christianity had supplanted the worship of Artemis in Ephesus.

The fierce opposition to the Christian movement in Ephesus is displayed in book of Acts. It is apparent that the opposition did not stop because Paul makes similar charges to Timothy while he is pastoring the church at Ephesus. Timothy was one of Paul’s most loyal followers. Timothy is first mentioned in Acts when Paul is making his way back through Asia and visits Lystra (Acts 16:1).  Acts says that Timothy was a disciple, a believer, and the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek father. Timothy had been raised up by Paul to become a leader among the churches in the Greek-speaking world. Timothy was Paul’s emissary to the church at Corinth to help straighten out the messes there (1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 16:10), to the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:19), and the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4).

In his tenure at Ephesus, Timothy received two letters from Paul. The second one, as mentioned, was probably the last letter Paul wrote. Paul is encouraging Timothy to remain strong in the faith in spite of the opposition that he was facing. Paul makes an appeal for Timothy to remain true to the doctrine that he received from Paul and also to the scriptures that Timothy himself likely learned as he grew up with his Jewish mother and grandmother. Undoubtedly, the attacks against Timothy and the church itself were mounting from the outside by the worshipers of Artemis and Jews, and also from the inside from people that wanted to be Christian but not abandon their old ways either. The charge to Timothy at the end of the book serves as a sober reminder to all Christians to take charge of the things they know and be faithful to the truth, even under intense pressure from the outside. For more information about the book of Second Timothy, check out introduction to the book at bible.org.

Lord, help me to remain faithful to the truth!

John 21:24-25: Scratching the Surface

Read: John 21:24-25

The purpose of John writing his gospel is found in John 20:29-30 where John states that he wrote the gospel so that its reader might believe in the name of Jesus. Here, in the last two verses John makes two final remarks concerning the veracity of the testimony that he had just written down. First, John says that the disciples testified and wrote these things, and that “we” know that his testimony is true. This seems to be a peculiar statement in some ways in that a John is self-validating. In other words, he’s saying that his statement is true because he said so. But rather than this, John is probably appealing to what others have said concerning Jesus as a witness of Jesus. When John says that they know his testimony to be true, he’s saying if you don’t believe him, just ask others. Second, John says that there were numerous other things that Jesus did that are not recorded. He supposes that there are not enough books in the world to contain all that Jesus did. John in a way then is only a highlights reel of what Jesus did. He’s just scratching the surface, as there are details that are not recorded concerning Jesus life. His hope is that what he has shown is sufficient to convince his readers to believe.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus have all passed away, but they did not leave their spiritual progeny empty handed concerning the works of Jesus. A few of them recorded what they saw themselves (as in parts of Matthew and John), and others reported it so that those collating these source could record it as in other parts of Matthew and the books of Mark and Luke. But the gospels are not the only records. In the Bible, there are the four gospels, Acts, and numerous letters by Paul, John, James, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews that all testify to Jesus and what he did. Outside the Bible are historians that account for Jesus as well. The biblical and extrabiblical accounts are corroborated with political history, social history and archaeology among other sources.

Skeptics today like to illustrate two problems they see with the Bible: the reliability of the documents that exist concerning the Bible and the historical accuracy. The Old Testament as delivered to the world today came by way of the work of the Masoretes. They meticulously copied the texts with a great deal of accuracy and attention to detail. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and compared to the Masoretic texts, the Dead Sea scrolls vindicated the reputation of the Masoretes reputation as the scrolls were almost exactly the same as the much later Hebrew texts available before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament is a different story in that there are over 5000 documents that make up the body of available texts, making it the most well preserved ancient document known to exist. From these available texts, scholars have been able to produce what they believe to be an accurate representation of the original manuscripts through careful study of the texts. The historical reliability of both Old Testament and the New Testament are vindicated in a number of ways. First, the writers themselves do not seem to be reporting what they witnessed about Jesus as something that was fictional, rather they believed what they were reporting was true. They paid attention to details concerning people, places, and events such that the events of Jesus’ unfolded in the context of real history. Second, and in part of the attention to details, the history of the Bible is corroborated by archaeology. And third, as mentioned, the extrabiblical evidence, and social history, and political history vindicate this as well.

The witness of John is a part of the whole of the testimony concerning Jesus. At the end of the book, John wants to make known the way of salvation and way to abundant life that can only be found in Jesus. Christians today have this testimony in hand and can use to understand the way of salvation and also give it to others to use so they too can have eternal life that is only found in Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world, the way, the truth, and the life, the good shepherd, the bread of life, the source of living water, the lamb of God, the savior of the world, and ultimately God himself! Believe in Jesus and be saved!

Lord, your truth is revealed! Help all to know it and believe!

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