Assured Salvation

Our Gospel reading this week comes from John 5 – 6:21. In this article I would like to focus on the words of Jesus that address a struggle many people seem to face: “Can I really know that I am saved?”

John’s Gospel shows more than any other gospel writer that true believers in submission to Jesus are saved now. It’s not something we have to wring our hands over, and worry that if we’re “good enough” God might save us. That type of teaching borders on heresy because Scripture is full of clear statements concerning this (Rom. 8:1, Col. 3:3, 1 John 5:13, etc.) But here, John includes language by Jesus himself that contradicts this misguided teaching.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

What’s important about 5:24, as well as several other texts in John, is that we do not have to wait until judgement day to know how we stand with the Lord. You can know in the present that you are saved! Notice how Jesus uses present tense language in describing this: “..has eternal life…”, not will have…HAS!

Far too many live in doubt of their salvation instead of living confidently and victoriously in the present time. Some believe we can never know about our salvation until the final judgement. But think about that belief for a moment. Can you know that you are lost? If so, why can’t you know you are saved? How can you know one and not know the other?

In one of his letters, John puts it this way:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

Is that clear? “…you may know that you have eternal life.” Not “you will know someday.” You may know now! John is very clear on this. The use of present tense in 1 John, as well as John 5:24 clearly shows that salvation in Christ can be known and experienced now, not just in the future. Does that mean that there’s nothing left to experience in the future? Absolutely not. Salvation is experienced both now, and in the future. The fullness of our salvation will only be experienced at the return of Jesus, but rest assured that you can know that you are saved, and that knowledge and freedom should affect how you live now!

Saved people don’t sit and worry about their salvation. Instead, they tell others about their salvation, what Christ has done in their life, how it has freed them from evil, and how others can experience the same blessing in Christ. Perhaps this is why we struggle so much with evangelism…we’re not sure anyone else wants what we have because we’re not sure we have it ourselves! To use the metaphor from recent sermons, if you’ve been through the water then you’re God’s child. Start living like it!

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

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Be Like This Crook. Well, Sort of…

This week’s reading comes from Luke 15-16. This article will focus on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. In the first fifteen verses of Luke 16 we read about a very backwards and messed up situation.

First, a manager has been embezzling, or at the very least wasting the resources he has been entrusted to manage. His master wants him to give a report of his accounts after he fires him. (16:2)  Knowing he has lost his job, the manager wants to gain favor with people who owe his master money in hopes that he will find a job with them when the dust settles. (16:4) The manager decides to greatly reduce the debt (most likely rent for producing crops on the master’s land) that is owed. In doing this he has gained favor with potential employers, but also reduced his masters income! (16:5-7).

Now after hearing that passage one would assume to hear the master berate the manager and cast him out of the kingdom. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the master commends the manager! (16:8)

Now surely Jesus would tell us that as followers of him we should never act this way. But he doesn’t! Instead he wants his followers to take on at least one characteristic of this crooked manager. In total, Jesus gives us at least four lessons from this passage.

First, we are reminded to be shrewd. Just as the manager saw an opportunity and took it, we as followers of Christ should also take advantage of opportunities we have. (16:8) We often pay more attention to things that don’t matter than we do sharing the Gospel. I like how William Barclay summarized this: “If only people would give as much attention to the things which concern their souls as they do to the things which concern their business, they would be much better human beings. Over and over again people will expend twenty times the amount of time and money and effort on pleasure, on hobbies, gardening or sport as they do on their church. Our Christianity will begin to be real and effective only when we spend as much time and effort on it as we do on our worldly activities.” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke)

Second, we are taught that we should not hoard wealth, but use it to bless others. (16:9) Helping others, or blessing their lives will bless our friendships and store up eternal rewards.

Third, we must must have integrity. We must be honest at all times, even in the little things. Trustworthiness and integrity not only affect our earthly dealings, but can harm or enhance our witness for Christ. If we are dishonest, who will ever trust what we say about Jesus? (16:11)

And finally, we cannot serve two masters. Focusing on earthly wealth will lead us down the same path as the manger; we will wind up serving our own appetite and fail to serve the master who truly provides. (16:13)

As you go through the rest of your week ask yourself the following question:

Is what I’m doing right now honoring God and building his Kingdom, or am I serving myself and building my kingdom?  

Knowing the difference helps us see our lives as God does. (16:15)

Jesus and his Countercultural Truth

The reading for this week is Luke 11:37 through the end of chapter 12. In this passage we have Jesus issuing a warning to not be afraid and to follow him at all costs, to trust God and not worry, to be ready for his return, a realization that following Jesus will strain some relationships, and how to make right choices. In this article I want to focus on the warnings Jesus gives to the Pharisees and experts in the law in Luke 11:37-54.

Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner, something that would have been considered an honor for this man to host such a famous teacher as Jesus. But because Jesus didn’t follow the cultural norm of ceremonial washing before the meal, the Pharisees were shocked. Jesus used this as a jumping off point for addressing  some other cultural practices that went against his teaching.

I would encourage you before you finish this article to stop now and read this passage in Luke in its entirety and underline or highlight the reasons behind the “woe”, the correction Jesus suggests, and the consequences of their sinful actions as told by Jesus. It’s interesting to see the issues at play here. I now want to look at a few of these and comment.

The first correction Jesus brings to the Pharisees is to be generous to the poor (v. 41). It’s very clear what Jesus is calling his followers to do, yet for some reason many struggle to be generous toward those who struggle financially. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for compromise here. They also didn’t pursue justice or a love of God, but rather focused on the external actions (v. 42).

The Pharisees were also prideful, wanting the best seats and greetings (praises) from others (v. 43). It’s clear that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t seek things things, but rather pursue humility. Jesus indicates their actions, policies, and beliefs make unsuspecting people unclean just like unmarked graves (vs. 44). Pharisees held rules and regulations that went far beyond what the Torah required. A person who simply followed the Scriptures to the best of their ability would likely be guilty of the Pharisees’ rules. It seems the Torah experts were also loading down believers with these rules without providing any guidance (v. 46).

From history we know that in 1st century Jerusalem many monuments and tombs honoring long deceased prophets were being constructed at a rapid pace. It seems they were trying to profit off of this endeavor, or at least receive honor for doing this. In doing so, Jesus indicates they are as guilty as those who killed the prophets because they approve of these actions (v. 48) Jesus further indicates that the generation he was speaking to would be held responsible for the deaths of all the prophets , likely because they were about to put Jesus to death, the Messiah that all other prophets pointed toward (v.50-51).

The one that haunts me most is verse 52. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” – Luke 11:52

Have we ever been guilty of “hindering those who were entering” into the knowledge of God? I pray we never burden those seeking God with endless rules and regulations that Jesus never called us to. That’s exactly what the Pharisees and experts in the law had done. Jesus clearly condemned such actions, as should we. May we never ignore Scripture for it is the true and living Word of God. But we should never make it difficult for those who are turning to God by burdening them with things that Scripture doesn’t teach (Acts 15:10,19). 

Moses, Mary, & Martha

The reading this week takes us from Luke 10-11:36 In this reading we’ll see Jesus send out 72 disciples to prepare the way for his ministry, teaching on the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, the Lord’s Prayer, and a rejection of Jesus’ power and authority by some of his followers. I want to focus on the 72, and Mary and Martha since recent teachings at East Side have focused on these other areas.

Most Christians are familiar with the 12 tribes of Israel, and can readily see a connection between them and Jesus’ 12 closest disciples (often called “the twelve”). Most have no idea where the 72 comes in, but it is tucked away in the often ignored pages of your Old Testament. Numbers 11:24-26 share with us a story of Moses gathering 70 elders from the tribes of Israel together, and God took some of the Spirit’s power that rested upon Moses and extended it to the elders. You may be thinking, “Yeah, but that’s 70. Not 72.” The text tells us that there were two who didn’t join the other 70 (named Eldad and Medad), but God’s Spirit came to rest on them anyway and they also prophesied along with the others, bringing our total to 72.

When Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples (keep in mind these are 72 besides the 12 according to 10:1, and may have been males and females [see 8:1-3]), this is a clear sign that Jesus has supplanted Moses as spiritual leader of Israel. What God did for Moses has also been done for Jesus, but to a more powerful extent. As the Hebrew writer would tell us: Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. – Hebrews 3:3

Later, Jesus and his disciples are invited into the home of Martha and her sister Mary. Martha provided great hospitality by making preparations for Jesus and his disciples, but Mary took the position of a disciple by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. In the first century Jewish culture women could hear the Torah taught in synagogue, but females were not taught by rabbis. It was expected for women to fulfill their domestic responsibilities, just as Martha was doing. Martha, who understood this cultural practice well, tries to get Jesus to side with her, but Jesus wasn’t concerned with cultural norms. Let’s look at their conversation:

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – 10:40-42

Jesus praised Mary for sitting at his feet, something their culture would never do! But we misapply Jesus’ comments by suggesting that Martha’s work wasn’t important, and further misapply when we suggest we should elevate learning about Jesus to the exclusion of working for him. Jesus teaches nothing of the sort. Jesus doesn’t discount Martha’s work, but does indicate that only one of these actions is eternal (will not be taken away.) Doing the work of Martha is important, yes, but what we learn at the feet of Jesus keeps us focused on the who, and the why of what we do. We absolutely should be like Martha, busy with the work of the kingdom. But let us never forget to be like Mary, or else we won’t focus on who we are working for.

Ministries and good works will come and go, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever. – Matt

Jesus is Lord!

This week’s reading comes from Luke 6 – 7:30. A good portion of chapter 6 is Luke’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Since we discussed that in our study of Matthew, I’m going to focus on three other passages within our reading.

The fourth commandment called for a day of Sabbath rest. The command indicates that just as God created the world in 6 days and rested (literally stopped the creation work he had been doing) on the 7th day. While Israel was in the wilderness gathering manna, they were to gather for 6 days (collecting an extra day’s worth for the 7th) because on the 7th there would be none. Israel still looked for manna on the 7th day. I believe God did this because he wanted his people to rest, and to trust in God for provision. We often work so hard that we only trust in ourselves. If God was not faithful the people would have starved, but God is faithful and can be trusted. The command simply indicates it is a day of rest and no work should be done. The Israelites then created rules defining what work was.

Jesus (who had the authority of God to rightly interpret and apply the commands) and his disciples pick some heads of grain and ate them. This was against the rules. Jesus also heals a man with a lame right hand. Since the man’s life was not in danger this healing act again broke the rules. It seems that the Pharisees here had almost idolized the Sabbath because even doing good was considered wrong by them! Jesus gives an example of David who ate the Bread of Presence in the tabernacle and violated the law, but he did so not out of impure motives, but out of doing good for himself and his men (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Jesus said this concerning the healing: “I ask you which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Lk. 6:9) Jesus indicates that he is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Lk. 6:5) and that doing good did not violate the Sabbath. Jesus had authority to overrule their beliefs about the Sabbath.

Jesus then chooses 12 apostles from among his many disciples. I want to look at two names (Lk. 6:15): Matthew (a tax collector for the Roman government) and Simon who was called the Zealot (who was a sworn enemy of anything related to the Roman government.) In any other context, Simon would have considered it his God-given duty to kill Matthew because of his association with Rome. Truly following Jesus should remove all barriers between us and other believers. Jesus is Lord even over our relationships.

The last we’ll look at is the faith of the Roman centurion. This man was a Gentile who was very kind to the Jewish people. It seems the Jews actually liked the centurion which is highly unusual (Lk. 7:4-5). The centurion had such faith in Jesus that he indicates (through messengers) that he believed Jesus could heal his servant from wherever he was; there was no need for Jesus to come physically to the servant. Luke tells us: “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’”  This is one of only two times in Scripture that indicate Jesus was amazed and it was because of the centurion’s belief in the healing power of Jesus.

May we all place Jesus as Lord over our beliefs, over our relationships, and may we truly trust in His healing power in our lives. – Matt

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Hope

Genesis 1:1–2 (NIV): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Isn’t that powerful? That’s the way the Bible begins. But that story isn’t over. Do you see those words “formless” and “empty?” They can also be translated as “chaos” and “desolation” respectively.

“Now the earth was chaos and desolation, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Sounds more like our world today, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: God’s Spirit is still hovering over the waters. God is still active and alive. His Spirit is not dead, or hiding in witness protection somewhere. It’s here with us to this day (John 14:6). And because of this we can have hope. Honestly, He’s our only hope.

This is what we will be talking about at East Side starting this week and going throughout the summer months. I hope you will join us in person, or online through podcasts or live stream as we rediscover the God who is with us and in his believers to help us navigate the chaos and desolation of this world.

Blessings! – Matt

Jesus is Enough

This week we take a look at three events from our weekly reading: Matthew chapters 14-16.

In Matthew 15:1-20 we see the Pharisees criticize the disciples for not washing their hands before they eat. Now I know your momma taught you to always do this, but there is a cultural connotation here. The Pharisees had developed a tradition of washing their hands in large jars before eating. This ceremony included saying prayers as the water ran off of each forearm. This tradition was found nowhere in the Scriptures, and there was nothing wrong with the tradition itself.

The problem here is the Pharisees were holding up a tradition as a measure of righteousness for everyone. They would monitor the hand washing stations and require everyone to follow their tradition or else face steep religious consequences. Jesus points out that they often ignored the Scriptures in favor of their own traditions and concludes by quoting Isaiah:

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” – Mt. 15:8-9.

There’s nothing wrong with traditions…just don’t treat them like the Word of God, or hold them as a measure of one’s righteousness. And certainly don’t keep them if they keep people from God.

Matthew records two events of Jesus feeding large crowds in 14:13-21 & 15:29-39. It’s important to keep in mind that these were two separate events, and the location as well as the outcomes of the miracle tell an important truth about Jesus and his mission. We’ll start with the feeding of the 5000.

If you follow the geographic indicators in Matthew, as well as the parallel stories in Mark 6 and Luke 9, we know that this feeding took place in what the Jewish people referred to as the “Land of the 12,” meaning they were faithful Jewish people like the original twelve tribes. When Jesus feeds the multitude he does it through the miracle of multiplication, taking whatever the people had, multiplying it, and using it to minister to the many. In this case, Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish, and feeds 5000 men (not including the women and children he fed!) Now the miracle is amazing, but the message behind the miracle is really what’s at play here.

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” – Mt. 14:20.

Numbers in Scripture are always significant, and often have imagery attached to them. As mentioned before, the number 12 represented the nation of Israel. Through the 12 basketfuls of leftovers Jesus is indicating that he and his teaching is more than enough for the Jews.

Chapter 15 records the feeding of the 4000. This event happens in the “Land of the 7” (see Deut. 7:1). This was a heavily Gentile area that the Pharisees and Sadducees taught the Jews to avoid altogether. A similar multiplication miracle takes place and 7 basketfuls are leftover. Jesus and his teachings are for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Again, even though God had been telling his people the he loves the Gentiles too for centuries (just look at Jonah), this would have been a shock for many of Jesus’ Jewish followers. The Pharisees and Sadducees had promoted such a racism against the Gentiles that Jesus has to go a step further in his explanation in chapter 16.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. – Mt. 16:5-12

Here’s a moral from these stories: Traditions have a tendency to divide if we let them. Even though God had told Israel for years that his ultimate goal was to save Jew and Gentile alike, the traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees was to have nothing to do with Gentiles. Traditions also got in the way of them seeing Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus makes it clear that he and he alone is sufficient for all. Traditions are fine and can be very good and useful as long as they don’t divide the body of believers, and don’t keep others from seeing Jesus. Let’s be sure we’re pursuing Jesus and not human tradition.