Peter’s Famous Answer

To say that Peter’s Pentecost sermon was powerful and impacting would be an understatement. His listeners were so “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37, N.K.J.V.) that he didn’t even have to give an invitation to evoke a response from them. Instead, they voluntarily asked him and the other apostles, “What shall we do?”

The answer Peter gave has been debated for centuries and has become a cornerstone verse for more than one denomination. And what was that answer? It was: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, N.I.V.).

Actually, he didn’t stop there. He also told them, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39, N.I.V.). Furthermore, he warned them with “many other words” and pleaded with them saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40, N.I.V.). But it’s that part about repenting and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins that gets all the attention. Here’s why those words are so debated:

  • In John 3:16, the Bible’s most famous verse, Jesus teaches that salvation (eternal life) comes by way of belief in Him. So why didn’t Peter say, “Believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”?
  • Why did Peter stress the necessity of repentance?
  • Why did Peter stress the necessity of water baptism?
  • Why did Peter say that the water baptism should be done in the name of “Jesus Christ” when Jesus Himself had said that it should be done in the name of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? (Matthew 28:19)

Now, it’s been said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible, and so the correct way to deal with all these questions is to interpret them through the lens of the rest of the Bible. When we do this, we find some real help. So let’s get to it.

First, there are over 100 passages in which the New Testament uses the words “believe,” “believed,” “believing,” or “believers” in regards to salvation. A handful of examples are: John 3:16; Acts 8:37; Acts 13:39; Romans 1:16-17; and Ephesians 1:13. And then there are approximately 80 New Testament passages that use the word “faith” in relation to salvation. Some examples are: Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 10:38; and 1 Peter 1:9. In light of all this, we are left to conclude that the New Testament uses the words “belief” and “faith” interchangeably when the subject is salvation. Four excellent proof texts for this conclusion are: Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16; and 1 John 5:4-5. The upshot is that we shouldn’t trip over the plain teaching of dozens and dozens of verses just so we can make everything about Acts 2:38.

Second, Peter wasn’t the only person who tied repentance in with salvation. Both John the Baptist and Jesus did as well. (For your homework, read passages such as: Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3-5; 16:30; and 17:3-4.) Therefore, it seems that repentance and belief/faith are two sides of the same coin. Let me illustrate. Imagine that Jesus is walking west. Now imagine that a lost sinner is walking east. As Jesus approaches the lost sinner, He says to the sinner, “Follow Me.” Okay, what does the lost sinner have to do to respond to Jesus’ invitation? He has to change his direction. This, you see, is what repentance is. It is a change of direction. This means that if any lost sinner is going to get saved by believing in Jesus, that sinner is automatically going to have to show a degree of repentance (a changing of direction) in order to do that. Jesus and a lost sinner are never going in the same direction.

Third, there are multiple passages that expressly teach that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation. For example, John 4:2 says that Jesus didn’t personally baptize anyone. That’s an odd thing for the Bible to say if baptism is necessary for salvation. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 1:13-16 the apostle Paul admits that he didn’t do much baptizing. He even says in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. Remember that this is the same Paul who also said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 1:18, N.K.J.V.). For that matter, even Peter himself didn’t mention the need for baptism in other teachings he gave on the subject of salvation (Acts 3:12-26; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 1 Peter 1:3-12; and 2:7-10). And then there is the problem that if baptism is necessary for salvation, it means that God’s plan of salvation for the New Testament age is different than His plan for the Old Testament age, an idea the entire 4th chapter of Romans flatly refutes.

Fourth, before we take Peter’s Acts 2:38 answer ultra literally by baptizing specifically in the name of “Jesus Christ,” we’d do well to consult Acts 10:48, where he commands a group of Gentile believers to be baptized in the name of “the Lord” (N.K.J.V., K.J.V.). We also might want to read Acts 19:5, where we’re told that Paul baptized a group of Ephesian believers in the name of the “Lord Jesus.” Do you see what I mean? The New Testament doesn’t provide any consistency in regards to the precise words that should be said during a baptism. This shows us that there are no magic words that have to be spoken verbatim to make a baptism legitimate.

And so all of this circles us back around to the fundamental question: Why did Peter say, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”? Well, that’s a legitimate question, one that has a legitimate answer, an answer that I’ll provide in my next post. So, until then, I’ll ask you one more time to stay tuned….

Posted in Bible Study, Salvation, Forgiveness, The Holy Spirit, Faith, Belief, Baptism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The First Sermon of the Church Age

The “church age” began in grand style. The day was the Jewish feast day known as Pentecost (Acts 2:1), and approximately 120 of Christ’s followers were gathered together in a room in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1). They had been waiting a week for the resurrected, glorified, now ascended Jesus to fulfill His promise to baptize them with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:5). This baptizing would amount to God the Holy Spirit coming to dwell inside each of them (John 14:17; Romans 8:9), and the Spirit’s indwelling would endue each believer with power for evangelism (Acts 1:8). Then it happened.

Suddenly, without warning, the room in which all those believers were sitting was filled with a noise that sounded like a violent wind blowing (Acts 2:2). And then, just as inexplicably, divided flames of fire shaped in the form of human tongues appeared out of nowhere and one tongue came to rest upon each believer (Acts 2:3). At that point each believer was filled with God the Holy Spirit and strange sounds began to pour out of their mouths (Acts 2:4).

The sounds were the sounds of foreign languages those believers had never learned, and it didn’t take long for all that commotion and noise to create quite a stir. Evidently, at some point, the believers left their room and made their way into the streets of Jerusalem, still speaking those unlearned languages as they went. Jerusalem at that time was filled with people, many of them foreign Jews who had traveled to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:5).

To the amazement of those foreign Jews, they heard those Galilean Jews speaking their various languages (Acts 2:6-8). The Bible even makes a point of listing all the different languages those Spirit-indwelt believers were speaking (Acts 2:9-11). They were the languages of the visiting Jews from: Parthia, Mede, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, and Arabia.

The scoffers who didn’t understand that actual languages were coming from those believers mocked them and accused them of being drunk on new wine (Acts 2:13). But the foreign Jews who were understanding exactly what those believers were saying knew better. They said, “We hear these people speaking in our own languages the wonderful works of God. What does this mean?” (Acts 2:11-12)

What it meant was that a new era had just been birthed. A promised age, the church age, had begun. What was needed now was a powerful sermon. After all, what’s church without a sermon? (Spoken like a preacher, right?) And who will be the man to preach the church age’s opening sermon? It will be Peter, of course. We wouldn’t expect anything less. After all, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut before the Holy Spirit came to dwell inside him!

Peter launched into an impromptu sermon right there in the streets of Jerusalem (Acts 2:14). He explained that he and all those other believers weren’t drunk (Acts 2:15). No, in actuality what those people in Jerusalem were witnessing was the beginning of the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy from the book of Joel (Acts 2:16). The prophecy concerned the “last days,” a time period that began when Jesus first walked this earth (Hebrews 1:1-2; James 5:1-3) and will end when He returns to walk it again at the close of the seven-year tribulation period this world is scheduled to undergo (Acts 2:17-21). According to Joel’s prophecy, one of the trademark characteristics of the “last days” would be God pouring out His Holy Spirit in a way that would cause believers to supernaturally prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams (Acts 2:17-18), and the engine that would supply all the power for that would be the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Following that introductory explanation of what those people of Jerusalem were witnessing, Peter then segued into the second section of his sermon, which was all about Jesus:

  • Jesus’ miracles had proven that He truly had been sent by God (Acts 2:22).
  • Jesus had been crucified by the hands of man, but His death had been in accord with the foreknowledge and purpose of God (Acts 2:23).
  • God had resurrected Him, and that resurrection had fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy, this one from David’s Psalm 16 (Acts 2:24-31).
  • Following His resurrection, Jesus had ascended to take His exalted place at the right hand of God (Acts 2:32-33).
  • Jesus’ exaltation was even more fulfillment of the prophecies of David, specifically the prophecies found in Psalm 68:18 (Acts 2:34) and Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:35).
  • Once He was at the right hand of God, Jesus had poured out the Holy Spirit upon His followers and in so doing kept the promise He had made to them (Acts 2:33).
  • In the wake of all these events, all of Israel could know for a certainty that God had made the Jesus the Jews had crucified Lord and Christ (Messiah).

Okay, now the ball was firmly in the court of those Jews who had heard Peter’s sermon. How would they respond to what they had just witnessed and Peter’s explanation of it? Well, that will be the subject of my next post. So until then, stay tuned…..

Posted in Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Death, Christ's Miracles, Christ's Resurrection, Christ's Return, Church, Evangelism, Prophecy, The Holy Spirit, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beginning of the Church Age

What we call the “church age” began on the Jewish feast day known as Pentecost that is described in Acts chapter 2. It was on that day that God the Holy Spirit began indwelling Christ’s followers. Jesus had said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18), and what happened on that day of Pentecost was the official beginning of that work.

This new ministry of the Holy Spirit fulfilled four promises that Jesus had made:

  • On the last night of His earthly life, He had told His chosen 12 apostles concerning the Holy Spirit, “…for He dwells with (emphasis mine) you and will be in (emphasis mine) you” (John 14:17, N.K.J.V.).
  • Later in that same teaching session, He had told them, “…if I do not go away, the Helper (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7, N.K.J.V.).
  • After His resurrection and in the last seconds prior to His ascension back to heaven, He had stood on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem and commanded a group of approximately 120 of His followers to stay in Jerusalem and wait because, “…you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5, N.K.J.V.).
  • Seconds later as part of those same departing words, He had told that group, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8, N.K.J.V.).

And so there that group of approximately 120 were, staying in Jerusalem, waiting for God the Holy Spirit to “come upon them,” “baptize” them, and grant them “power” even though they didn’t have a clue what all that might look like or feel like. All they knew was that Jesus had promised that it would happen. That was good enough for them.

How long did they wait? To answer that, let’s do a little math. First, we know that Jesus observed the Passover meal with His chosen 12 apostles on the night before He was crucified (Matthew 26:17-30). Second, we know that He made various post-resurrection appearances in His glorified body in the forty days immediately following His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Third, we know that the day of Pentecost (also known as the feast of Weeks) occurred exactly fifty days after the day of Passover (Leviticus 23:15-22). Putting all this together, and adding in the fact that Jesus was dead for three days before resurrecting, that group of approximately 120 waited approximately one week (seven days) before Christ’s promise was fulfilled. That number of days also fits with Christ’s promise that those believers would be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from the day of His ascension (Acts 1:5).

As for what lesson we can learn from the beginning of the church age, the obvious one centers around the necessity of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian (the believer in Jesus). Putting it simply, if you haven’t been baptized with the Holy Spirit in this church age, the Holy Spirit does not dwell inside you. This means two things. First, you are not an authentic Christian (Romans 8:9). I don’t care how long you’ve had your name on a church roll, how much Bible you know, or how much morality you showcase in life. Second, you have no real power when it comes to living for Jesus and serving Him. You’re like a car with nothing under the hood.

God the Holy Spirit coming to dwell inside the believer is the “born again” experience of which Jesus spoke (John 3:3). And unlike those believers who first experienced it on that day of Pentecost, no one who places saving belief in Jesus today has to wait for it. Now the new believer is baptized with the Holy Spirit the moment that God rates the person’s belief as real and saving. That’s why the apostle Paul could confidently write, “…Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9 N.K.J.V.). It’s also why He could rightly describe the indwelling Holy Spirit as being the believer’s inner guarantee of a heavenly inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30).

Therefore, in light of all this, I guess the only thing left to ask is, “Does God the Holy Spirit dwell inside you?” Rest assured that if you have placed legitimate saving belief in Jesus Christ, He does. But rest just as assured that if you haven’t placed legitimate saving belief in Jesus Christ, He doesn’t. The difference really isn’t hard to understand.

You see, there are various religions that teach that adherence to their rules can in some way make you either God yourself or very close to Him. Christianity, however, is the only one that teaches that God Himself — in the person of God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity — will come to you and literally take up residence inside your earthly body. That’s a whole different ballgame, and it’s one in which Jesus wants you to participate.

Posted in Belief, Church, God's Work, Salvation, The Holy Spirit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Lou Gehrig Can Teach Us About God’s Will

…Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You. (Psalm 143:8, N.K.J.V.)

Lou Gehrig was one of the most iconic players in the history of baseball. He played for the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939, when the disease that now bears his name finally forced him to retire. Nicknamed “The Iron Horse” because he played in 2,130 consecutive games, Gehrig’s hall-of-fame career is the stuff of legends. As evidence of this, his Yankee uniform #4 was the first number to ever be retired by a baseball team.

One story from Gehrig’s career places him at bat, with the Yankees trailing by one run. A runner is on first base and another on second, which means that Gehrig has a chance to either tie or win the game. But with the count full at three balls and two strikes, the pitcher winds up and throws a perfect strike right past Gehrig,

Gehrig just stands there, never moving his bat as the umpire yells, “Strike three!” Then the embarrassed slugger heads toward the dugout. Before he leaves the batter’s box, though, Gehrig turns and says something to the umpire. This sends the sportswriters sitting next to the field into a frenzy. Never before have they seen Gehrig argue with an umpire.

Curiosity quickly gets the better of one of the writers, so he yells out, “Hey, ump, tell us what Lou said to you.” The umpire looks at Gehrig and says, “Lou, tell these men what you just said to me.” To that Gehrig smiles somewhat ashamedly and says, “I just said, ‘I’d give ten dollars to have that one back.'”

This world is filled with people who’d give much more than ten dollars to have a decision back. Many a man or woman thinks, “Oh, to be back in time, standing at that same crossroad again!” But we can’t go back, can we? Life gives us just one chance to get it right, and if we make a bad decision, we have to live with the unpleasant harvest. This is why it is so important that we tap into the mind of God when making decisions. The Bible tells us that His way is perfect (Psalm 18:30), His work is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4), and His will is perfect (Romans 12:2).

So, are you facing a big decision right now? If you are, have you taken the matter to God in prayer and asked Him to show you His will? “Not really,” you say? Then it’s high time you did. And even if you have, then it would still be a good idea for you to ask Him again and make double sure that you heard His answer correctly. What you don’t want to do is ignore God and His will altogether and consequently one day have to say what Lou Gehrig once had to say: “I’d give ten dollars to have that one back.”

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A Lesson Samuel Didn’t Learn

Of all of Israel’s great spiritual leaders, none rises any higher than Samuel. He was a prophet. He was a priest. He was the last of Israel’s Judges, the series of men who led the nation before its time of kings. He personally anointed the first two of those kings — Saul and David. Two books from the Old Testament bear his name (even though they were originally one book). But was Samuel perfect? Nope. In particular, there was one lesson that he failed to learn even though God enrolled him in the perfect class to learn it.

Samuel began his life as one of the Bible’s classic examples of God opening a barren wife’s womb and allowing her husband to father a child through her. The wife’s name was Hannah. The husband’s name was Elkanah. The promise Hannah made to God was that if He would open her womb and give her a child, that child would be dedicated to the Lord his entire life (1 Samuel 1:8-11). She made that promise while praying at Israel’s Tabernacle, the holy structure where the Ark of the Covenant was kept (1 Samuel 1:7). At that time, the Tabernacle was located in Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:9). The Tabernacle was where Israel’s priests served and offered up Israel’s sacrifices to God.

Once Elkanah’s family returned home from Shiloh, it wasn’t too long before Hannah became pregnant with Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20). She kept him until he was weaned (typically a two-to-three year period), and then she and Elkanah took him to the Tabernacle and formally gave him to the priests there to be raised by them (1 Samuel 1:21-28; 2:1-11). Hannah and Elkanah would only visit him at the Tabernacle each year when they brought the sacrifices that were commanded by the law of Moses (1 Samuel 2:18-21).

Israel’s High Priest during those days was Eli. Eli, however, was very old (1 Samuel 2:22), and so he delegated the primary responsibilities of the priesthood to his two sons: Hophni and Phinehas. And why was that a problem? It was a problem because Hophni and Phinehas weren’t even saved believers (1 Samuel 2:12)! This explains why they made a mockery of the holy priesthood by offering up sacrifices in ways that violated the law of Moses but benefited themselves (1 Samuel 1:13-16; Leviticus 7:28-34; Deuteronomy 18:3). The manner in which they performed Israel’s sacrifices was so repugnant to God that He actually abhorred the sacrifices (1 Samuel 2:17).

Furthermore, Hophni and Phinehas were womanizers who had sexual relations with the women who served as menial helpers to the priests at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:22; Exodus 38:8). Such shockingly scandalous behavior was even more than their look-the-other-way father could ignore, and so when he heard the report he made an attempt to rebuke them (1 Samuel 2:22-25). But, as could have been predicted, they ignored old Eli and continued on with their sinful ways.

Finally there came a time when the young Samuel was ready to fulfill his destiny as being God’s true man there at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:26). What followed was a sequence of events:

  • First, God sent a “man of God,” who curiously goes unnamed in the storyline, to speak a word of prophetic rebuke to Eli telling him that God was going to take the priesthood from Eli, raise up a new High Priest, and kill Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 2:27-36).
  • Second, God audibly spoke to Samuel during a nightly encounter that served as not only Samuel’s actual salvation experience (1 Samuel 3:7) but also his official call into the ministry (1 Samuel 3:1-21).
  • Third, God allowed the Philistines to win a decisive battle over Israel, a battle during which the Philistines killed 30,000 of Israel’s soldiers, as well as Hophni and Phinehas, and captured the Ark of the Covenant as a trophy of war (1 Samuel 4:1-11).
  • Fourth, when the 98-year-old Eli heard the news about the death of his two sons and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, he fell off his seat backward and died instantly from a broken neck (1 Samuel 4:18).

Okay, now let’s fast forward to a time when Samuel himself has grown old. Even though he has never served as Israel’s High Priest, he has been the nation’s recognized spiritual leader for decades. No one is as respected in the land as he is. And yet there is a problem.

In addition to his spiritual leadership, the elderly Samuel is also still Israel’s Judge in the practical matters that arise between people in daily affairs. This role requires him to annually leave his home in Ramah and travel a designated circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging cases and settling disputes at each site (1 Samuel 7:15-17). But Samuel is too old now to be doing all that, and so he installs his two sons, Joel and Abijah, as Judges to help him with the job (1 Samuel 8:1-2). Herein lies the problem. Joel and Abijah, you see, are wicked men who seek dishonest gain, take bribes, pervert justice, and do not walk in Samuel’s ways (1 Samuel 8:3).

How bad is the situation? It’s bad enough that the elders of Israel gather themselves together, make the trip to visit Samuel at his home in Ramah, and tell him that they will not accept Joel and Abijah as Judges. As the elders see it, it’s time for Israel to have its first king, a ruler who will act as Judge over the people (1 Samuel 8:1-5).

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of Israel’s era of Judges and the beginning of its era of kings. And what was the root cause of that history-shaking transition? It was the fact that Samuel hadn’t learned from the parenting mistakes that he’d watched Eli make so many years earlier. Just as Eli had proven himself incapable of raising sons who were worthy to succeed him in his role, Samuel had proven himself just as incapable. How sad!

The takeaway from all this for us isn’t hard to discern. We mustn’t let ourselves make the same mistakes we’ve watched previous generations make. We can’t walk those same roads. We can’t fulfill that famous saying that tells us, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Even if we make mistakes in raising the next generation — and we will make some mistakes — those mistakes should at least be new ones, not the same ones we watched the generation that came before us make. To repeat those mistakes is, in all seriousness, inexcusable. And that, unfortunately, is a lesson that Samuel didn’t learn.

Posted in Children, Family, Fatherhood, God's Work, Husbands, Leadership, Marriage, Ministry, Motherhood, Parenting, Sin, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Persistently Praying for Someone Else

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. (Luke 11:9-10, N.L.T.)

An old saying in preaching circles says, “A text taken out of context is a pretext.” The saying simply means that the writers of the Bible didn’t jot down random thoughts in random order. To the contrary, each one organized the content of his book in a systematic, intentional way. In most cases, the order stems from the chronology of the events recorded in the book. In some cases, however, the order is topical rather than chronological.

I was recently reminded of the importance of a text’s context as I read an entry from the daily devotion book I’m working through this year. In regards to our text passage, the author of the devotion book brought something to my attention. He pointed out that Luke placed that great promise from Jesus right on the heels of Christ’s story about a man who knocks on the door of his friend’s home at midnight and asks for three loaves of bread. The knocker needs the three loaves because another friend of his, one who is in the midst of a journey, has showed up very unexpectedly and very hungry at the knocker’s home.

Jesus says, “Even though friendship alone won’t compel the friend who receives the late-night request to get out of bed and give the bread, he’ll do it to end the knocker’s persistent midnight knocking.” Following this illustration, Christ’s next words in Luke’s gospel are, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.” It isn’t hard to see that Luke wants the illustration and the promise to walk hand in hand. The illustration segues directly into the promise.

You say, “Okay, Russell, I understand that, but what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that the context for the promise is actually one of intercessory prayer. You see, the knocker in the illustration is interceding (making request) for his traveling friend. It’s the traveler, not the knocker, who needs the bread. As for the guy who is asleep in bed, he’s merely the person through whom the knocker gets the traveler’s need met.

Now, to be fair, this same promise about asking, seeking, and knocking is also given in Matthew 7:7-8, and in that passage the context has nothing to do with intercessory prayer. So it’s not right to say that Jesus intended the promise to be used exclusively for intercessory prayer. It is interesting, however, that He made it very clear that the promise can be claimed in this way. (For the record, I’m in the camp of the commentators who believe that Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9-10 are the record of two separate quotes from Jesus, albeit the same promise, told in two different places at two different times.)

The upshot of all this is that if you’ve been praying that God will meet the need of a certain individual, don’t stop praying. Don’t stop asking for that request. Don’t stop seeking that answer. Don’t stop knocking on God’s door. After all, He’s the friend of yours who has the bread, and He’s the one who will at some point honor your persistence by granting your request.

Posted in God's Timing, God's Provision, Intercessory Prayer, Prayer, Prayer Requests | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Trouble With Power

Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” (Matthew 26:3-4, N.K.J.V.)

Evil can be shameless. Can you imagine the Jewish religious elite sitting around in the palace of the high priest, engaged in open conversation about killing a man? What would have caused them to do such a thing? One thing: power (or more precisely, their loss of it.)

Those chief priests, scribes, and elders saw Jesus for exactly what He was, the greatest threat they had ever known to the status quo in Israel. And make no mistake, that status quo was to their overall liking because it allowed them to play the role of big shots. They had the stroke. They had the influence. They were in control of the Jewish way of life. People showed them reverence. People looked to them for answers. Sure, the Romans held sway over the entire land, but those pagans were content to let Israel’s religious elite manage the commoners.

Some of the nastiest people you will ever meet are those who are feeling threatened by a potential loss of power. I’ve met them in school systems. I’ve met them in coaches meetings. I’ve met them in churches.

Such people don’t like change. They are loathe to admit mistakes. They are usually bullyish and vindictive. They talk a lot about the past and want the future to be nothing more than a grander continuation of it. When threatened, they lash out. And if they see someone as a big enough threat to their control, they’ll play as dirty as dirty gets.

Of course, it’s rare to find a person who will come right out and admit, “I love running things; I want to be in control of the whole show.” No, that’s a little too braggadocious. Instead, little megalomaniacs like to say things such as:

  • “I see myself as a servant of those under me.”
  • “The only reason I make all the decisions is because no one else will.”
  • “I’d like to step down, but nobody else can do what I do.”

These statements sound so humble, don’t they? But all they really do is brush a thin veneer of false humility over the top of a beam of ego. Power is like a drug in that it is addictive. Once it has you hooked, the idea of losing it sends you out of your mind. You’ll do anything to stay in charge. You’ll stop at nothing to keep your seat at the head of the table. You’ll sacrifice any values you ever thought you held. That old saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” really does ring true.

This brings us back to those Jewish religious leaders. Not only was Jesus not impressed by them, He dared call them sinners who needed to repent. The nerve of that fanatic! Such a man could start a new movement. (The fact was, He already had.) Such a man didn’t seek anybody’s permission to do what He did. (He just went ahead and did it.) Such a man was uncontrollable. (He couldn’t be bought off by position or money.) Such a man had to be stopped. (And if that meant killing Him, so be it.)

Clear thinking was required, though. After all, it was the feast season of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The streets of Jerusalem would be jammed pack with Jews from up and down the land, and a large percentage of those Jews considered Jesus to be nothing less than the Messiah.

If Jesus was to be killed, the situation had to be handled delicately. Those religious leaders didn’t want a riot on their hands. By the way, that’s another thing about ego manics drunk on power: they understand that it’s always best to keep the sheep tranquil. Tranquil sheep don’t question their rulers. Tranquil sheep don’t storm the gates and demand change. Tranquil sheep go along to get along. A tranquil sheep never altered the status quo.

Now, just to be clear, let me say that the world does need leaders. The Bible, for example, features scores of characters who were great leaders. But the key to godly leadership is that the leader himself must be fully submitted to Jesus. Really, such leaders don’t even make their own decisions. What they do is allow Jesus to channel His decisions through them. That, needless to say, is a whole other way of operating.

Unfortunately, this style of leadership is all but extinct in our governmental offices, businesses, courts, schools, churches, and homes today. To the contrary, the prevailing attitude of the era can be summed up in the question: “Why should we come together in a palace and have a time of confession, repentance, and seeking God’s will when we can come together in that same palace and seek the demise of those who are causing us problems?” You see, the world still has its chief priests, scribes, and elders. If you are looking for them, just look anywhere where someone has the power and control over a situation. There you’ll find them, and the chances are high that they’ll even be in the process of plotting someone’s demise.

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