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Faithful Obedience, Not Miracles

“When Herod beheld Jesus, he was very pleased for he had wanted, for a long time, to see him because he had heard about him and he hoped that he might do some sign for him. So, he questioned him with many words, but he would not answer him.”

(Luke 23:8-9)

 

We all want a magic show, don’t we. We want the skies to part and God’s blessed voice to pronounce to us what by faith we ought to embrace. We want rumbles of thunder to accompany our preaching and miracles abounding to attest to our ministry. I had a friend who once told me, “It would be easier for me to believe that God is real if he would just come down from heaven and show me.” The sad thing is that God has done just that and it did not change the unbelief of wicked men. God spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and people wrote it off. Jesus worked numerous miracles during his ministry and people were attracted to the performance. Everyone wanted to see the spectacle…even the jaded Herod…but unbelief is unbelief no matter how many miracles are worked in one’s presence. Judas witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles firsthand, yet still sold his master into the hands of the wicked.

Miracles do not generate faith. Faith is generated by the Holy Spirit as he gives new life to our sin-dead souls. Miracles are meant to confirm faith — to attest to the truth of who Jesus really is — not to set up a circus act. Thus Jesus did no miracles when he was in the midst of his unbelieving home-town and he will do no miracles here in the presence of Herod. Such is the judgment of God — the wicked left in their rejection and wickedness, the blind remaining so.

Pastors and churches, too, often fall into this trap in a different way. They call a new pastor and expect that in a year or so all of the problems of the church will be resolved, it will be growing and thriving, and they will be enjoying the good fruit that is characteristic of a long and enduring ministry. But that is the point, to see the fruit of a long and enduring ministry, the congregation must learn the patience to allow their pastor, barring any major sin, to have a long and enduring ministry while also submitting to his teaching and leadership. The miraculous is not the mark of the true church; faithful obedience to God’s word is.

Nose-Rings and Bracelets

“And it came to pass as the camels completed drinking, the man took an nose-ring of gold, its weight being half-a-shekel, and two bracelets for her hands, their weight being ten gold shekels, and he said, ‘Whose daughter are you, please tell me. Also, in your father’s house is there a place for us to lodge?’”

(Genesis 24:22-23)

 

Having had his request of God confirmed, now Eliezer begins to follow through on his mission. He must confirm that this girl is genuinely from Abraham’s relatives and then he must begin negotiating the marriage price, something similar to a dowry. Essentially Eliezer must demonstrate to her father that Isaac will be able to provide a comfortable life for Rebekah. This begins with some gold trinkets as an initial indication of his wealth.

Some translations render the first item of jewelry simply as a “ring.” Hebrew is vague as to identifying pieces of jewelry and relies largely on context to communicate what kind of ring this is — or more accurately, on what part of the body this ring is to be worn. Scholars seem to be inclined to believe that culturally, this ring would have been worn in the nose (oh my, nope, nose rings are not a new fad, but at one point in time were very much in style!). Anyway, wherever this ring was to be worn — the ear, the nose, the finger… — a gift of a ring weighing about a quarter of an ounce was offered. The second gift was that of bracelets. Again, some render this as “armbands,” but the text states that the jewelry was for her hands, implying they be worn closer to the wrists. The weight of ten shekels (just over 4 ounces) is likely a combined weight of the two bracelets together. Still, this is a good deal of wealth, especially to be handed to a girl that he has just met.

Not only does he set forth to confirm her lineage, but in confidence that this is the woman to which God has led him, he begins making plans to lodge with her family. True, if she is the wrong girl, he would be staying in the wrong house. Yet in faith Eliezer moves forward with his plan. God’s design begins to unfold in this adventure that Eliezer has been on — notice too that he uses the plural (us) when he asks about lodging, reminding us again that he has an entourage with him (protection is essential) and that this group of people is also witnessing the unfolding of God’s plan.

How often it is that we get bogged down in worry when it comes to making decisions in life. The best philosophy is a different one than is typically taught in schools or in self-help seminars. The best philosophy is the Biblical model of taking God at his word that he will lead us. That means, when God opens doors, we should step through those doors for he will make a straight road for us to follow. But it also means that until God is ready to open doors, we should stay put with a clear focus on what God has designed for us where we are and in what we happen to be doing at the time. Our tendency, when doors are closed, is to try and beat them open with our fists or knock them in like the police do when raiding a building. Also, our tendency, when doors are opened wide, is to drag our feet, wondering whether this is really God’s design for us. When we live according to our human tendencies, the paths are rocky and crooked at best. How sad it is that we so often choose the latter rather than the former. Eliezer has chosen to trust and follow in faith recognizing that it is God’s hand that has opened the door and thus he will faithfully go through. May we all commit to doing the same.

The Letter or the Intent of the Law (Luke 16:12)

“And if in what belongs to another, you have not been faithful, who will give you something of your own?”

(Luke 16:12)

 

As we have been discussing, the Pharisees, for all of their zeal toward protecting the letter of the law, had missed the point of why the law was given and what the law meant.  They, in fact, had added series upon series of lists and rules to the law with the intention of aiding their understanding of how to obey the law, but that had rapidly degenerated into a legalistic set of rules that was an unwieldy burden for most men and women. 

With that in mind, we must not miss the parallel that Jesus is making between the things of this world and the things that belong to the next.  This steward is called a steward of unrighteousness, using the language of unrighteousness almost metaphorically to refer to the wealth of this world.  Yet, parables also contain a deeper meaning as they apply to the kingdom of God.  Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees, ones who were entrusted not only to steward the word of God, but also the righteousness of God, as they were one of God’s representatives to the people.  Not only did they fail to demonstrate God’s righteousness, keeping it honored amongst the people, they were often guilty of defaming God’s righteous name because of their hypocrisy.  Thus, Jesus writes, if you are not faithful with keeping that which belongs to another, how can you expect anyone to give you anything of your own.  Or, more specifically, if you have proven yourself unfaithful in protecting and stewarding the righteousness of God, how is it that you expect God to impute righteousness to you?

This language of imputed righteousness is essential in our understanding of Christ’s redemptive work.  Men and women before God’s throne are judged on the basis of righteous actions; hence, we all deserve utter damnation.  Yet, Jesus, having lived a perfect and sinless life and having borne the guilt of our sin upon the cross, imputes his righteousness to his people.  This does not mean that we inherently become righteous and it does not mean that Jesus’ righteousness mixes with our righteousness, kind of blending it into something that might be acceptable to God.  No!  God cannot accept sin in his presence and even the most righteous amongst us has all of his righteous actions tainted by sin and sin’s motives.  Both the Apostle Paul and the prophet Isaiah described their own righteousness in the most lowly and despicable ways (Isaiah 64:6, Philippians 3:8).  No, it is imputed to us, credited to our account.  When we stand in judgment, we stand not clothed in our own rags plus the garment of Christ, but we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ as if a clean, white robe were placed over our filthy and wretched selves.

Now, please understand, this imputed righteousness is not something that you earned by your actions in any way.  It is not a reward that is given to you as a result of your faithful honoring of God’s name, His Word, or His righteousness.  In fact, you cannot even begin to honor God’s name, Word, or righteousness until you have been born again by the blood of Jesus Christ and have Christ’s righteousness imputed to you—your new clothing will shape the way you live and behave.  But let us talk honestly with each other.  Though we have received this gift, all too often we who have been re-clothed in Christ live as if we were only wearing our own filthy rags.  All too often, we take the gift of grace all too casually and live like the pagans do.  Beloved, let us turn away from the temptations of our own pride and treasure the unsurpassed gift of Christ, living like Christ’s sacrifice has made a difference to us in this world as well as the next—living in such a way that others see the change that Christ has wrought within us and come to see what Christ might do in their life.

All to Jesus, I surrender,

All to Him, I freely give.

I will ever love and trust him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all.

All to Jesus, I surrender, I surrender all.

-Judson Van de Venter