Called, Loved, Kept

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:1-4 ESV

This very short book bears the name of its author, Jude. In the Greek language in which this letter was originally written, the name is actually, Judas. Over the centuries, most English translations changed to name to Jude in order to eliminate any risk of confusing the author with the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The traditional view on the author’s identity is that he was Judas, the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew introduces us to these two characters. When Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth, His neighbors had remarked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55 ESV).

Judas would have been his Greek name. But in Hebrew, he would have been called Judah, which means “praise.” Jude was a Jewish Christian, but, like his brother James, would have been considered a Hellenized of Greek-speaking Jew from the region of Galilee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his family had a difficult time reconciling His claims to be the Son of God. John records in his gospel account that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). We know that Jude and James both came to faith in Christ at some point because they are listed as being in the crowd that had gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:14 ESV

The author even introduces himself as the brother of James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. These men would have been highly influential in the early days of the spread of Christianity. Their relationship with Jesus would have given them strong credibility among the people. And the greeting of this letter clearly reveals that Jude was writing to “those who are called” – a reference to believers in Jesus Christ. This was a common designation when referring to Christians, in part because of the words of Jesus Himself.

“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me…” – John 6:44 NLT

Jesus clearly taught that salvation was a work of God. Without His direct involvement, no man would come to faith in Christ. Jesus went on to say, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me” (John 6:65 NLT). And Jesus claimed that He came to earth in order to do the will of His Father, and He clearly articulated what that will involved: “…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me” (John 6:37 NLT).

Years later, Jesus prayed in the garden, just hours before His death. And He talked to His heavenly Father about those He had called and given to Jesus to His followers.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.” – John 17:9-10 NLT

The apostle Paul also spoke of this calling by God.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul told the Corinthians believers: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV), and he reminded the believers in Rome that God’s “call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:29 NLT).

But not only were those to whom Jude wrote called by God, they were “beloved” by God. They were literally wrapped in or surrounded by the love of God. And they were preserved in that love by Jesus Christ. Again, back to the garden on the night Jesus was betrayed, He prayed to the Father, “During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost…” (John 17:12 NLT). And Jesus continues to guard and protect His own, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Not a single one whom called has called will ever have to fear the loss of God’s love, because he is kept in that love because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And Paul comforted the believers in Rome with these words:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Now that Jude has established his identity and reminded his audience of who they were in Christ, he lets them know what he desires for them.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. – Jude 1:2 ESV

These three things are non-negotiables for the believer in Christ. We cannot survive, let along thrive, without them. Because of our sin natures, we will continue to wrestle with the desire to disobey God. We will need His mercy all along the way. Our growth in Christlikeness will require His undeserved kindness and good will. We will fail, but His love never will.

And life in this fallen world will leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. We will struggle with a sense of confusion as we attempt to live our lives in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us. But Jude assures his readers that God can and will give them His peace – a miraculous calm in the midst of the storms of life.

And none of us can fully enjoy the Christian life without a growing understanding of just how much God loves us. That increasing awareness of being loved by God will translate into a selfless, sacrificial love for others. We will love because we have been loved. And it seems that Jude’s desire for these three indispensible, God-produced virtues, was based on his knowledge of the particular circumstances his audience  faced.

There was a growing problem taking place within their local congregations and Jude wastes no time in addressing it.

…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:4 NLT

Jude had intended to write a much more comforting and encouraging letter dealing with their common unity in the faith. But he had become aware of a dangerous heresy invading their congregations and he felt compelled to deal with it. In the rest of his letter, Jude will call his fellow believers “to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 1:3 NLT). There was a false teaching being spread within their local faith communities that threatened the very foundation of the gospel message. It was raising questions regarding the grace of God and the manner in which Christians were to live out their faith in everyday life. And, as far as Jude was concerned, it was not to be tolerated.

And Jude isn’t in an accommodating or compromising mood. He isn’t out to have a discussion on the particular views of these people. In fact, he boldly declares that these so-called Christians “have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 NLT). Not exactly politically-correct language. But Jude knew the danger of this kind of teaching. It sounded appealing, but it would have a deadly impact on the gospel message and the spiritual health of the church. So, Jude will level a stinging indictment against its proponents and charge the believers to whom he is writing to stand firm and remove this cancer from their midst.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Two Kinds of Leaven.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. – Matthew 16:5-12 ESV

After His most recent confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus and His disciples had departed and sailed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He physically separated Himself from these men and their constant attempts to test and trap Him.

Having arrived on the other side of the lake, the disciples evidently expressed their hunger and the fact that they only had one loaf of bread among them (Mark 8:14). In their haste to get away from the religious leaders, they had forgotten to bring the necessary supplies for their journey.

And Jesus, realizing what the disciples were thinking, decided to use this moment as an opportunity to teach them. But it quickly became clear that He and His followers were on two different wavelengths. He was speaking in spiritual terms, while they were stuck on a physical plane, thinking about their lack of food.

He told them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” His use of leaven as a metaphorical device was not uncommon or unique. It was often used to refer to something that starts out small and insignificant, but that grows in size and influence. Earlier, Jesus had used leaven to refer to the kingdom of heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” – Matthew 13:33 ESV

The apostle Paul would use leaven to refer to the false teaching of those who demanded circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump. – Galatians 5:9 ESV

Jesus was simply trying to expose the dangerous nature of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their outward display of pietistic religious observance was masking a deadly tendency to teach falsehood. In fact, Jesus had accused them of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9 ESV). So, Jesus wanted His disciples to see through the mask of respectability worn by these so-called religious leaders, and recognize them for what they were: Hypocrites.

But the disciples, driven by their hunger, misunderstood Jesus’ words. Their minds were stuck on food and so they began to argue among themselves about their predicament. They were most likely pointing fingers and casting blame, debating over who had dropped the ball and forgotten to bring enough bread for their journey. But this little discussion revealed yet another problem and Jesus exposed it, saying, “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up? ” (Matthew 16:8-10 NLT).

Their lack of bread was not the issue. But even if it was, couldn’t they remember what Jesus had done before? Yes, they had one loaf of bread between them, but Jesus had more than proven that He could transform the insignificant into the all-sufficient. He could fully satisfy the needs of the many with what appeared to be inadequate resources. In the hands of Jesus, the few loaves and fishes had become like leaven or yeast, mysteriously increasing in number until all were satisfied.

The disciples had no reason to worry about food. But they still lacked faith. Even after all that Jesus had done, they were still having a difficult time believing in who He was and what He had come to do. They lived in the moment, driven by their physical needs and temporal circumstances. These man had seen Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, feed the multitudes, and walk on water. But at that moment, all they could see was one loaf of bread and what was going to prove to be a less-than-satisfying supper.

When Jesus asked them, “Do you not yet perceive?,” He was questioning their lack of understanding. They weren’t thinking clearly. They had failed to put two and two together. Their reasoning was totally temporal in nature. And their obsession over and concern for bread was keeping them from hearing what Jesus was trying to say. They had obviously forgotten the words Jesus had spoken in His sermon on the mount and the portion of His model prayer that covered the need for daily sustenance.

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 ESV

He had gone on to say, “O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:30-33 ESV).

The disciples were anxious. They were worried. But about the wrong things. Jesus had proven He could take care of their physical needs. He had assured them that their heavenly Father was fully aware of what they required to exist and fully capable of providing all they needed. But their focus was to be on eternal matters: The kingdom of God and His righteousness. Which brings us back to the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were obsessed with man’s righteousness. And rather than seeking the kingdom of God, they were busy building their own little fiefdoms and kingdoms, where they ruled and reigned. These men were obsessed with what they ate, drank and wore. And Jesus had some harsh words to say about them.

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. – Mark 12:38-39 NLT

“When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

These men were obsessed with the outward, how they looked and how they were perceived. They worked hard to display their righteous deeds for all to see so they could  receive the praise of men. But God looks at the heart. He sees the inner motivation that determines the outer demonstration of our faith. The only faith the Pharisees and Sadducees had was in themselves. They had no need for a Savior because they truly believed they could save themselves. And Jesus wanted the disciples to know that kind of teaching was like a cancer, that had spread and infected the people of Israel, to the point that they could not recognize their own Messiah when He showed up in their midst.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Brag. Just Fact.

I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-28 ESV

Paul is about to do something that everything in his being wants to resist. He is about to boast. And he feels like a fool for doing so. But he feels compelled to do so in order to wake up the Corinthians and to get them to see the stupidity of their logic. Paul’s adversaries are constantly boasting of their own reputations and qualifications. They have set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul. So, against his better judgment, Paul decides to play their game of one-upmanship. He begs the Corinthians to “accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:16 ESV). And he sarcastically explains that, “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18 ESV). He accuses the Corinthians of being “so wise”, and yet allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, easily impressed, and humiliated, like being slapped in the face in public. 

And since they seem to be attracted by the boasting of his adversaries, Paul decides to play their game, all the while admitting, “I am speaking as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). Paul is much more comfortable and at home with his weaknesses. He sees them as assets, not liabilities. In the very next chapter, Paul will write, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But at this point in the letter, he is attempting to show the Corinthians the foolishness of their obsession with qualifications and outward appearances. So he gives them a rather exhaustive outline of his credentials, matching his critics line by line. These “false apostles” bragged of being pure-blooded, Aramaic, speaking Hebrews. Well, so was Paul. They boasted of being Israelites, part of the chosen people of God. So was Paul. They claimed they could trace their roots all the way back to Abraham. So could Paul. And they had presented themselves as servants of Christ. But Paul flatly asserts that he is a better one, and then goes on to explain why – all the while admitting that his words sounded like those of someone who has lost his mind.

Paul says, “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gives specific details regarding his claims, explaining that he has been lashed, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, faced threats from rivers, robbers, the Jews, and even the Gentiles. He has been in danger in cities, the wilderness, at sea, and now, from these false “brothers”. He knows what it feels like to work hard, experience sleepless nights, go without food and water, nearly freeze to death, and face the daily pressure that came with being responsible for all the churches he had helped to start. And all of this was due to his commitment to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered because he was faithful to his commission, given to him directly by Jesus. If the Corinthians were looking for someone who had the proper qualifications for being an apostle, they need look no further than Paul. He had the scars to prove it. His resume, while not pretty, was a powerful statement of his calling and commitment. When many other men would have given up and walked away, Paul had continued to stay the course, fight the good fight, and run the race – all the way to the end.

While Paul hates the fact that he is having to boast, he is doing so for a good reason. He wants the Corinthians to wake up and smell the coffee. In their “wisdom” they were bearing with fools. They were listening to these false apostles and giving their words credence, all based on nothing more than their self-proclaimed qualifications. These men had no track record of service to the Lord. They had played no part in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians and, if anything, were actually undermining all the work that Paul had poured into them. They were preaching a different gospel, another Jesus and  offering a different Spirit than the one the Corinthians had received at salvation. This was dangerous stuff. Paul knew that their work among the Corinthians would be deadly, if not stopped in its tracks. So he resorted to boasting. He lowered himself to their level, only in order to expose them for what they really were: charlatans and liars. Paul cared for the Corinthians. He was willing to die for them, in necessary. He would gladly take a bullet, or a stone, for them. And he was not above being seen as a fool if it helped them see the folly of their ways.

 

Staying Power.

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. – 1 John 2:24 NLT

There are always going to be reasons for believers to lose hope and doubt their faith. The enemy is real, his attacks are relentless and the pressure to doubt God is ever-present. John knew that those to whom he wrote were faced with all kinds of questions regarding their beliefs. They were having the very foundation of their faith shaken by those who claimed to be their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their fellowship had been rocked by the recent departure of a group who no longer believed what they believed. They had a different view about Jesus. At first glance, their perspective probably hadn’t sounded all that different, but over time it became clear that they were espousing a radically different doctrine regarding the identity and role of Jesus. Evidently, they had come to believe that Jesus was nothing more than a man. He was not the Son of God. He was not God in human flesh. In other words, they were rejecting the very idea of the incarnation. And it seems clear from John’s letter, that they were even doubting their need for a Savior, because they were denying their own sinfulness. John called this “the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3 ESV). Their views regarding Jesus were more than just opinions, they were heresy, dangerous and destructive teachings that undermined the very foundation of the faith and denied the Word of God. John called them what they were: liars. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” (1 John 2:22 ESV). To deny that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the world, was to deny that He was God. It was to disagree with what God said about Jesus and what Jesus claimed about Himself. It was to reject the teaching of the apostles, like John, who had been eye-witnesses of not only His earthly ministry, but His death and resurrection.

So John gives his struggling flock two ways for staying strong in the face of unrelenting attacks on their faith. The first was that they must remain faithful to what they had been taught. They must consider the source. John wrote, “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father” (1 John 2:24 NLT). The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father.” Where did that original message come from? The apostles. They had been the messengers sent by Jesus to spread the good news regarding the gift of eternal life made possible by His death on the cross. They had brought the message of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God that Jesus’ death and resurrection had made possible. And their message hinged on the reality of Jesus being the sinless Son of God. He was NOT just a man who lived a good life and died a martyr’s death. He was God’s own Son, and He had taken on human flesh, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, as a payment to satisfy the just penalty required by a righteous and holy God. That is what the apostles had been taught. That is what they had shared. That is what the recipients of John’s letter had originally believed, and it had radically changed their lives. So John was encouraging them to remain faithful to what they had heard. There would be plenty of other opinions about God. There would be other views regarding Jesus and the way of salvation. But Jesus had said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He had boldly claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ESV). And John, who had personally seen Jesus in His post-crucifixion, resurrected state, had written, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).

But there was one more thing John told his readers to remember. “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you” (1 John 2:27 NLT). They had experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised. When they had believed what the apostles had taught, it had been confirmed by the filling of the Spirit. John reminded them that because the Spirit of God lived or remained within them, they could know that what they had been taught by the apostles had been true. They didn’t need any “new” teaching. “…so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT). This did not mean that they were omniscient or all-knowing. It simply meant that they already knew the truth regarding Jesus and His claim to be the Son of God. The very presence of the Holy Spirit within them was the proof. Just like those to whom John was writing, we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We have the testimony of the apostles and the presence of the Spirit. We know the truth. We know Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life. He is who He who claimed to be. The Word of God declares it. The apostles gave their lives to defend it. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God makes it impossible to deny it.

The Incarnation.

It has been interesting to see some of the responses to my recent posts concerning the book of First John. Much of what John was dealing with in his letter head to do with heresies entering the early Church. As Christianity spread, so did the variety and numbers of different interpretations of the gospel. The book of First John is a pastoral letter addressed to believers and designed to both warn and encourage them. His intention was to provide them with assurance concerning their beliefs in Christ. Throughout the letter John used the phrase, “by this we know.” He wanted them to know, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But He was much more than just a human savior, an earthly deliverer who would provide them with victory over their earthly enemies. He came to be their Savior from sin and their means for enjoying a right relationship with God. For generations, the Jews had believed that the Mosaic Law was the key to achieving a right relationship with God. Human effort had been the accepted means by which men could find favor with God. The sacrificial system, given by God, was used by men to have their sins cleansed and forgiven. The very fact that the sacrificial system existed was proof that men were incapable of keeping God’s commands. Paul writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21 ESV). The law revealed man’s sin, but could do nothing to remove it. The law simply exposed man’s inability to meet God’s holy standards. Which is why God provided a Savior.

But it is at that point that so many continue to stumble today. I have received comments from some who refuse to accept the deity of Christ. They argue that Jesus was nothing more than a man, created by God. This is not a new view. John battled the same errant belief in his day. One of the comments I received stated, “‘And the Word was made flesh’ talks about the Word or the Speaking which became a reality, namely a man of flesh and blood, who after his resurrection proved to his disciples that he was not a Spirit (though God is Spirit) and told them so.” It is subtle, but what he is saying is that Jesus was nothing more than a man into whom the Word or Spirit of God entered. He was flesh and blood. But the disturbing point about this teaching is that it rejects the deity of Christ. For John, the deity of Christ was a non-negotiable ingredient to the gospel. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was not speaking of some disembodied Spirit or force, but of Jesus Christ Himself. He was from the beginning. He was the eternal life. As John states in his gospel, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3 ESV).

There are those today who still reject the deity of Christ. They refuse to accept Him as God. This was the same problem Jesus ran into during His earthly ministry. On one occasion, as Jesus was walking through the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews demand to know if He is the Messiah. Jesus makes a simple, but direct comment: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And the immediate response of the Jews was to pick up stones and kill Him. Why? They provided the answer. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV). The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God. He was not just claiming to be a man who had the Spirit of God within Him. He and God the Father were one. It is Jesus’ deity, miraculously blended with His humanity, that made Him a fitting sacrifice for the sins of man. To believe anything else is to believe another gospel. If we believe that we can simply emulate the life of Christ and share in the divine Spirit as He did, we miss the point of His life, death, and resurrection. The belief that God became flesh is essential to the gospel. Yet, as in John’s day, there are those who refuse to accept it.  Again, one of the recent comments I received put it this way: “Having come down in the form of a god, does not mean Jesus came down as the God of gods.” In other words, Jesus was NOT God, but a little god. And according to this teaching, we can become a little god by following His example. But this is NOT the gospel. And the apostle Paul had strong words for those who would attempt to explain away the true essence of the gospel message. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).

Day 64 – Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:14-26

Deeper Truths.

Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:14-26

“You have eyes – can’t you see? You have ears – can’t you hear?” – Mark 8:18 NLT

The disciple were just ordinary men. Most of them were uneducated, even by the standards of their day. And each of them had willingly left behind whatever career they had chosen for themselves, in order to follow Jesus and learn from Him. It was a common practice for young men to follow a rabbi and become His disciples. But the disciples probably had no idea just what they were getting themselves into when they took up after Jesus. This was going to be one wild ride. Jesus was not like any other rabbi or teacher. He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. He had unprecedented power and unparalleled teachings. Learning from Jesus was like drinking from a fire hose. There was more truth than they could handle. Everything He said and did caused them to have to rethink everything they thought they knew about God, religion, life, ministry, the Messiah, and His coming Kingdom.

But what I love about them is their ordinariness. These guys were just like me. They didn’t always come across as the brightest bulbs in the box. They could be stubborn, insensitive, uncaring, prideful, argumentative, overly competitive, and at times, just plain stupid. But then, so can I. Their hearts were in the right place, but they were having to deal with a lot of issues that sometimes blinded them to the truth of what Jesus was trying to teach them. They were just men, and they tended to get stuck on an earthly level, obsessing about things that didn’t really matter. Today’s passages share just such an occasion. They have crossed back over the lake, and when they arrive on the other side, Jesus makes a comment regarding the Pharisees, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6 NLT). Now the disciples were already a little put out, because they realized that they didn’t bring any bread with them. And what makes this particularly funny is that they had had seven baskets full of bread left over from when Jesus fed the 4,000. They just forgot to bring any of it with them. So, the disciples get into a heated argument over the fact that nobody had brought any bread. They somehow think that Jesus is talking about bread, and so they start passing blame and pointing fingers. Jesus stops them right in their tracks. “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up? Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread?” (Matthew 16:7-11 NLT). Ouch! That had to have hurt. But Jesus is trying to get them to understand something far more important and life threatening than a lack of bread. It is as if He is saying, “I can get you plenty of bread when you need it. That’s not a problem.” But the greatest threat to their lives was false teaching. The kind of false teaching that the Pharisees and Sadducees were spreading among the people under the guise of truth. Like yeast, this teaching was working its way through the nation of Israel, contaminating the minds of the people against Jesus and His teaching. Ultimately, they would turn the people against the disciples as well.

Their obsession with temporal, physical things was preventing them from understanding the more significant issues that threatened the cause of Christ. They were majoring on the minors. Jesus could provide them with plenty of bread. He had already shown His ability to do that. But He was much more concerned that they understood why He was so strongly opposed to the religious leadership of the day. They needed to see the danger of following their ways and listening to their teaching. Because they were wrong. Regardless of how spiritual and righteous they may appear, they were prideful, arrogant men who were teaching a different kingdom and rejecting the very Son of God. Better to go hungry than feed on the false food these men offered up on a daily basis.

Jesus wanted the disciples to listen and learn. He wanted them to see the world around them with new eyes. The message He would leave them to take to the world would be opposed by these same religious leaders. They would face ongoing resistance from the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus wanted them to understand just how dangerous these men were. They were not allies. They were not on the same team. Their message stood in direct opposition to that of Jesus. And they would continue to be a stumbling block for many when it came to the Good News of Jesus Christ. And that piece of information was far more important than who forgot to bring the bread.

Father, it is so easy to focus on the wrong thing in this life. We can easily take our eyes off the task at hand and obsess about things that have no eternal significance. Help us stay focused. Help us to see what is really important to You and Your Son. Because we are so effected by the physical, we can easily get distracted by physical things like food, clothes, money, shelter, etc. But there are far more dangerous and subtle threats to our lives and to Your Kingdom. Open our eyes so we can see what You see. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org