It’s Ok Not to be Ok [Luke 9:27-56]

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It seems, to me at least, that in so many evangelical churches, positive mental attitude has replaced biblical faith, so much so that many new or biblically illiterate Christians have total misconceptions as to the Christian life, mistaking triumphalism for faith and arrogance for assurance.  This is dangerous, for a Christianity built on such a foundation is often feeble, unrealistic and brings nothing but condemnation.  What is probably worst of all, it neglects the fact that Jesus wrestled with the will of God in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:36-45], Paul struggled with indwelling sin [Romans 7:14-25], Peter was publicly rebuked because of his religious/racial prejudice [Galatians 2:11-15] and John, on two separate occasions, tried to worship an angel [Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9].

My point is not to commend these things, for in fact, the opposite is true.  It is to highlight these things so that the Christian might not be surprised at the constant battle within his/her own life, a battle that has been permitted by Christ to humble us [2 Corinthians 12:7-10] and cause us to rely upon Him and on one another.  Nowhere can this be more consistently demonstrated than in this particular passage.

Here we see the inattentiveness of the disciples who are sleeping on the mountain of transfiguration [Luke 9:32], saying stupid things [Luke 9:33], unable to cast out a demon because of their lack of faith and prayer [Matthew 17:19-21, Mark 9:28-29, Luke 9:41][1] who refuse to ask Jesus when they clearly did not understand His teaching [Luke 9:44-45] and then argue over who going to replace Him when He died [Luke 9:46-48], something that also happens at the last supper Luke 22:22-24],  not to mention the prejudice they show [Luke 9:49-50, 9:52-54].  My point is that even our so-called heroes in the faith were not perfect men and therefore we should not be surprised when these imperfections rear their ugly heads in us or in other people.  They can and will be overcome.  However, for this to become a reality, our faith must be based on Christ and His work and not on a positive impression of ourselves.

 

APPLICATION: This week I want to encourage you to accept who you are, failings and all, and understand the fact that this was exactly the reason why God chose you [1 Timothy 1:15-16].  Secondly, I want you to begin taking your faith and placing it on Him and upon His finished work and not upon yourselves.  To understand this is to understand the grace of the Gospel, which is that He has chosen you, He will preserve you and He will sanctify you [Ephesians 1:4-5, 1:13b-14].  All you must do, by His grace, is believe it and allow it to be manifest in the way you think and live.

“When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”[2]


[1] Whilst “fasting” is a type of prayer and is added in some translations to Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:39 it is not included within our best manuscripts of the New Testament and therefore should not be considered part of the original text.  This is often picked up within the footnotes.

[2] “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Bancroft

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Faith Alone [Luke 7:1-35]

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Throughout the history of the Christian Church, many have struggled to understand the concept of salvation by faith alone.  One author writing of the ascetics of the fourth century records:  “To suffer the discomfort of filth, stench, worms and maggots was considered to be spiritually beneficial and a sign of victory over the body.”  He then goes on to cite an example of this, “Macarius the Younger (he writes) sat naked in a swamp for six months until mosquito bites made him look like a victim of leprosy.”[1]  The punishing of oneself be it through rigorous asceticism, condemnatory thoughts or a legalistic piety does not draw us towards God but drags us away from God and invokes His displeasure [Isaiah 64:6].  No! Man is made right by faith alone [Galatians 3:1-9] and therefore holiness comes not from grudging servitude but self-giving gratitude that is brought about by spiritual transformation [2 Peter 1:3-4].  Luke here, in chapter 7, gives us three examples of faith.

 

1. The Soldier with Great Faith [v1-10]

The first of these is a centurion who sends a delegation of Jewish elders to Jesus to ask if he would come and heal his servant who is “sick and ready to die.”  Jesus marvels at this man, not because his life makes evident the effectual nature of his faith – though it does, but because this man places great faith in the power of Jesus’ word to heal.  In fact, Jesus says of him, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

 APPLICATION: So the question we are left with is how did this man attain such great faith?  Well, although faith is a gift that has been given to us [Romans 12:3], it is activated and grows through the word of God [Romans 10:17].  This centurion is almost definitely a God-fearer and therefore sat under the preaching of the word and allowed his hearing to be supplemented by doing, hence his exemplary lifestyle [James 1:22].  Therefore, I would like to challenge you this week, to not only increase the amount of time you spend studying the Scriptures and sitting under the preaching of the word but to draw from them practical applications for your life.  Some may find it helpful to mark their bibles or record these application points in a notebook or journal.

 

2. The Widow with No Faith [v11-17]

Having said this, there will be times and situations like loss, illness or loved ones not yet saved, in which we feel that we have, or they do not have any faith at all.  What are we to do in these situations?  Providentially Luke provides us with the answer in our second character.  She is a widow whose “only son” has just died.  Devastated by the loss of her son and almost definitely facing a life of destitution (he would have been her only means of support) she does not go to Jesus, for why would she?  Her son is dead and up unto this point there is no evidence that Jesus is able to do anything about death.  Therefore, Jesus comes to her.

APPLICATION: While Jesus delights in our faith, He is not bound by our faith.  This means that in situations of no faith we can cry out that He might have pity and act in our lives and/or the lives of our loved ones.  Whilst it does not mean that He is inevitably going to save, heal and deliver every time for that would be akin to superstition or witchcraft (using prayer like some kind of incantation), it does mean that He can and He does and therefore we should beseech Him with all our hearts.[2] 

 

3. The Prophet with Wavering Faith [v18-35]

The final example that is given to us is John the Baptist.  He was the descendant of a godly family [Luke 1:5-7], had a miraculous birth [Luke 1:13], was a relative of Jesus [Luke 1:36], had predicted the coming of the Messiah [Luke 3:4-6] but was now languishing in prison and wavering in his faith.  You see, John thought that God’s judgment would come at the first coming [Luke 3:7-9] not his second and this confused him.  John therefore sends a delegation of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was “the Coming One.”  Jesus goes on to tell them what He has done and what He is doing.

 APPLICATION: Due to the fact that many Christians hide their doubts and fears they live unproductive lives, backslide or even get caught up in cult or occult activities.  Like John (and Jesus), we must take our fears directly to God [Luke 22:39-44].  This might mean studying from the word of God, praying to God or taking counsel from mature and godly persons amongst the people of God.  Secondly, if our faith is to stand firm, we must remember all the things that God has done and all the things that He is doing, for sometimes our wavering comes from a spiritual amnesia.  If this persists, please feel free to contact me and/or take consolation in the fact that my inquisitive soul has questioned and doubted probably all of the major doctrines over the years.  Nonetheless, by the grace of God, I stand rock solid today in a firm belief in the Scripture and all the doctrines that are contained within.  It is my prayer that you might too.

 

Conclusion – A Prayer for Faith

‘Dear God, please forgive my doubting and wayward heart and enable me to stand firm.  Awake in me a passion to hear, believe and do your word.  Not because of any goodness in me, my LORD, but purely by your grace.  In your name I pray.’ Amen.

 

Sermon Jam from Geoff Thomas on “Dead Faith.”


[1] Encyclopaedia of 15,000 illustrations” by Paul Lee Tan p.114

[2]Paul’s not healed from “the thorn in the flesh” [2 Cor 12:7-10]. Timothy is encouraged to “drink wine for his stomach’s sake” because he is not healed [1 Tim 5:23].  Trophimus is left at Miletum because he was sick and Paul couldn’t heal him [2 Tim 4:20].  Epaphroditus was sent back to Phillipi by Paul “for indeed he was sick nigh unto death” [Phil 2:27]

Have we Neglected an Important Aspect of our Protestant Heritage?

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechisms through out Christian history have been regarded as an important part of the discipleship of both children and adults. Have we as ‘Evangelicals’ neglected this to the demise of discipleship. Do we even have a an understanding of what discipleship is? It’s interesting to think that the children of a couple hundred years ago were more theologically literate than most of us ‘evangelicals’ today. I’m not claiming that theological literacy is discipleship, however if we long to know and love God then surely learning about His character our responsibility to honour and worship Him is a useful tool in ones spiritual formation.

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

I guess as good ‘Evangelicals’ many of us were taught bible verses as children. Indeed this also is an important practice that perhaps today has been sidelined.  I remember many many verses that I was taught around the breakfast table, with my dad banging on the table to keep a rhythm to make it easier for us to learn.  I guess at the time I wasn’t the most thankful for him doing this… However now I am incredibly grateful that I am able to recall various verses that i learned all those years ago, particularly helpful in pastoral ministry.

Maybe its about time that we begin to start memorising scripture again. Perhaps we should be thinking about catechising each other…

The good news is that Tim Keller and the guys at the Gospel Coalition have developed a fantastic catechism for both children and adults. Its called the‘New City Catechism’ There is an iPad app, and the material can be used online (sadly no Android app yet) or downloaded as a pdf.

The New City Catechism is based on the Geneva, Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms and consists of 52 questions, one for each week of the year. The catechisms of the reformations times were much larger but the New City Catechism has been developed especially for the busy family today. For each question there is a prayer, a exposition of the Q and A and a short video reflection.

So have we neglected an important aspect of our Protestant heritage?