Posted in theology

Pharisees are everywhere

By Elizabeth Prata

California Governor Newsom has become known as a governor who instituted some of the the most minute and intrusive COVID rules for his people. Though the survival rate from this flu-like illness for the folks in his jurisdiction is 97-99%, he seems to be taking advantage of the time to extend his power and intrude into the lives of his people to a specific and detailed degree. The people under his care are burdened with yet another new lengthy list of rules in advance of the holiday season that are near-impossible to fulfill. Sound familiar?

Gov Gavin Newsom

When I saw some of the new rules for Californians they reminded me immediately of the Pharisaical rules for the Jewish people in Jesus’ time. The Pharisees had taken the original 10 Commandments and added 613 more rules for Jews to live by. Their entire lives were intertwined with some rule in every area of their lives.

Newsom’s rules for indoor gatherings at the holidays include mandates on what people are to wear, how they are to move or not move their bodies, singing & chanting, wind instruments, the level of physical exertion, who they can congregate with, where, and for how long. When I saw Newsom’s rule that said food gatherings should offer food in single serving containers, it reminded me about the dishes the Jews are to use in Kosher eating for milk and meat. The Pharisees instituted these rules because they thought they were ‘helping’ God help the people maintain purity.

The Pharisees developed a tradition of strict interpretation of the Mosaic law, developing an extensive set of oral extensions of the law designed to maintain religious identity and purity.” Source The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax morality (Matt. 5:20; 15:4, 8; 23:3, 14, 23, 25; John 8:7). On the first notice of them in the New Testament (Matt. 3:7), they are ranked by our Lord with the Sadducees as a “generation of vipers.” They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11, 12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matt. 12:39; 16:1–4). From the very beginning of his ministry the Pharisees showed themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could not bear his doctrines, and they sought by every means to destroy his influence among the people.” Source Easton’s Bible dictionary. (1893).

Newsom has developed these rules, I suppose, because he thinks he is ‘helping’ his people maintain health and safety. It is good to remember that the Pharisees were widely seen as hypocrites. They did not practice what they preached. The rules were mainly for other Jews, not so much for themselves. Hypocrisy is an ugly sin. So is power-grabbing and oppressing the people with burdensome rules.

I decided to look up the 613 Pharisaical rules and compare to Newsom’s Covid rules. Keep in mind these rules were developed specifically in advance of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in a state where the survival rate is 99% and it’s month 7, then 8 & 9 as Turkey Day approaches. Here is the comparison- (some of these rules were for Levites in the Temple).

Ecclesiastes’ refrain is “There is nothing new under the sun.” Unsaved people will always do as their flesh wants. They have no control over managing their evil desires. People in power given unrestricted access to power will tend to run rampant.

Power tends to corrupt,” said Lord Acton, the 19th-century British historian. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His maxim has been vividly illustrated in psychological studies, notably the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which was halted when one group of students arbitrarily assigned to serve as “prison guards” over another group began to abuse their wards“. Source

We are all depraved. That isn’t to say that we are all as bad as we could be. It is possible for people to be philanthropic, helpful, kind, and outwardly moral. But none of it pleases God. And the flip side to outward morality is that it doesn’t hold. Eventually, internal desires of the flesh will rear up. For some, more than others.

God instituted all kings, governors, and leaders. He is sovereign and He has His reasons for allowing a Governor of the most populous state in the US to run roughshod over his people. California’s population represents 12% of the entire United States’ population. The people who dwell there are living in a Corinth, a morally polluted, filthy and evil regime lauding the most perverse acts. Now the intrusion into the lives of Gentiles and Christians is made complete by use of these health rules. Keep in mind these were specifically developed in advance of Christmas, one of our most treasured days for worship and fellowship all year nd one that puts Jesus squarely front and center in the public square.

Please pray for our brethren in California, the governor, and the unsaved there. The unsaved are living in a regime of fear which dominates their life, yet they have no hope of the future. They are staggering under heavy burdens of all kinds. Even the Jews of the Pharisees’ day knew the Messiah would come. Simeon looked forward to Him, Mary knew, Anna had hope despite her meager circumstance as a widow. Unsaved Californians don’t. And…Newsom doesn’t know that Jesus will judge him for his time in office.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12)

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, (Revelation 6:15).

What a day that will be for him, if he remains unrepentant. Meanwhile, we are not surprised that a population is staggering under man-made rules that intrude into their lives to the Nth degree. There is nothing new under the sun. But one does hope and pray that the Son appears soon, to part the darkness and shine the rays of purity and justice upon a dishonorable regime.

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Billy Graham Rule: a short, touching follow up by Jared C. Wilson

Yesterday I’d published a piece on the criticism of Vice-President Mike Pence and his statement that he does not eat alone or spend time alone with women other than his wife. Pence’s commitment stems from what’s known as the ‘Billy Graham Rule.’ Early in his career Graham had set out 4 rules by which he and his team would follow.

-Don’t be alone with women
-Don’t criticize the local church
-Be scrupulous with reporting Crusade attendance
-Be transparent with Crusade finances

In my piece yesterday, I’d looked at the issue of one’s motivation for instituting personal rules for behavior. If your motivation is to serve and honor God, personal rules can be an enhancement to one’s sanctification, although caution is needed so one’s rules don’t become a substitute for scripture, nor a hard-and-fast blind tradition. If your motivation for instituting personal rules is external-only and to win man’s approval and applause, and to avoid man’s criticism, then no rule is going to aid your sanctification, ever.

Today’s follow-up piece has one point. Man will always criticize you, especially if you’re a pastor. The flesh in man, sanctified or unsanctified, always finds a negative in which to fill in a gap. Even if you institute ‘Billy Graham Rules’ like Graham did, where he chose even to avoid eating with his adult daughter because of how people might perceive it if they didn’t know she was his daughter, man will still find something with which to criticize you. That’s what the part below clearly shows us.

So, are strict rules worth it especially they cause you to violate other scriptures in the process? No. And if you somehow miraculously achieve being well-spoken of by many, it may be a woe to you! (Luke 6:26). Though we do care about appearances because we do care about holiness, we also know that there will always be someone on the fringes watching and accuse you, (me) either to our faces or behind our backs.

Finally, Jesus behaved perfectly and followed ALL the rules, and He was killed. We can never escape criticism, if that is your reason for instituting personal rules for behavior.

If we are SO concerned with appearances that we alter our behavior to the degree that the rules we institute to guide us overtake our genial and joyful nature in Jesus and trust in Him as our ultimate Advocate, then we have become a Pharisee.

The best thing to do with respect to personal holiness is to follow the Bible’s prescriptive commands. Follow the spirit of the descriptive gray areas. Be scrupulous and transparent in behavior. If you follow the center line of Jesus’ path you will be well-served, because Jesus is your Advocate.

The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And each is tested by the praise accorded him. (Proverbs 27:21)

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains the Proverbs verse:

Praise tests character. A man to his praise—according to his praise, as he bears it. Thus vain men seek it, weak men are inflated by it, wise men disregard it, &c.

With those thoughts in mind, here is Pastor Wilson’s recounting of his experience with the Pharisaical accusers. The sentences are in short bursts because this was a Twitter blast. In my opinion, the recounting of that experience is a good illustration of Matthew 23:23-24, where people were so concerned with appearances they forgot love, mercy, and kindness.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I [Jared C. Wilson] was once accused of eating a meal with a woman for lustful reasons, even though it was in plain view of our church in fellowship hall.

She was a lady from our town, an unbeliever, and dressed immodestly. I entered the hall late after most everyone was seated at tables.

She was at a table all by herself. Numerous church folks, women included, filed past her to sit at other tables. The image stunned me.

I stood there for a second & watched this lady sitting all alone, ignored and unmet. And my heart was broken for her. I sat down w her.

I was not attracted to her at all. She was dressed immodestly but she wasn’t, to my taste, attractive. (Not sure why I share that.)

I heard her story. Drug addict. Single mom. In and out of hospital for constant surgeries after a car accident.

I listened mostly. Invited her to come to church service. (This was a community fellowship-type thing.) But I mostly listened.

Almost immediately after, 2 ladies approached me, smirking, cracking jokes about pastor sitting with woman w “boobs hanging out”

I said, “If either one of you, or anybody else, had deemed her worthy of your time, I might not have needed to.”

I also told them I didn’t appreciate the accusations, which could do great harm to the reputations of me, my family, and the church.

One of them apologized. The other kind of snooted & walked away.

In that instance, at least, I was willing as a pastor to have my reputation “tarnished” for doing what I think Jesus would have done.

Not sure if that relates to the “Billy Graham rule,” which I mostly hold to personally out of respect for my wife. But, The End.

Jared C. Wilson is‏ Director of Content Strategy, @MBTS. Managing Editor, of For the Church, Gospel-centered resources from Midwestern Seminary, Director, Liberty Baptist Church Pastoral Training Center, @jaredcwilson.

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Mike Pence, the “Billy Graham Rule” and Pharisees

Of late the secular world has mocked a Christian. It’s not news.

Except that the Christian they mocked was the Vice President of the United States, which tends to be news. Further, the mocking ensued because Pence had said he chooses to honor his wife by not spending time alone with women, including eating in restaurants alone with them.

Gasp. Yawn.

This week Vice President Mike Pence was called everything from crazy to bizarre to employing ‘benevolent sexism’ to being a misogynist. In one of the more tame news articles about the issue was the UK Guardian. I chose The Guardian over CNN, NPR, Time Magazine etc. specifically because the media outlet is not American and hopefully they would have some objectivity. Author of the article, Jessica Valenti, opened it this way:

this week a Washington Post article about Karen Pence revealed that the vice-president will not eat a meal with a woman other than his wife. Those on the right are commending Pence’s marital devotion and moral fortitude, claiming that such a rule is a smart defense against sexual temptation.

One conservative blogger questioned where there was ever a good reason for a married person to eat out alone with a member of the opposite sex; the former CEO of the blog RedState chimed in to answer: “Planning your spouse’s surprise party or funeral and that is it.”

penceLeft, VP Pence with wife Karen at Pre-Inaugural dance. Source

So far, so good. Valenti ended her article this way:

 

 

 

Pence is a misogynist. We know it from his voting record, we know it from the things that he’s said about women’s rights and now we know it because of his odd personal rule not to dine with women alone. But let’s not let one man’s sexism distract us from his whole party’s sexist agenda.

OK, so maybe the objective perspective I was hoping for isn’t there after all. But are we surprised? No.

Alternately, The Baptist Press wrote:

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin responded that he has made the same commitment to his wife Charlotte … Akin, author of two books about marriage based on the Bible’s Song of Solomon, told Baptist Press, “The day I married Charlotte I made the same pledge to her that Mike Pence has made to his wife. I have never broken it. I promised her I would never be alone with any woman other than she. I did not make this promise because I am afraid of women or think they are of lesser value and worth than men. I made it because I know the sinfulness of my own heart.

“The Bible teaches us that King David was a man after God’s own heart,” Akin said in written comments. “But because he was at the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong person, he lied, committed adultery and murdered. I doubt I love God more than David. If something like that could happen to him, then it could happen to me. My goal is to go to my grave being faithful to Charlotte. I really don’t care what the world thinks when it comes to this issue.”

Akin’s explanation goes to the heart of Godly conduct. There is a difference between loving God and wanting to honor Him through our behavior, and men who want to appear sincere because they seek man’sglory and applause.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Rev. Billy Graham became the
‘primary engine of America’s Cold War religious revival.’ Source
Courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association BY TIM FUNK

Mike Pence’s vow comes from what’s colloquially called “The Billy Graham Rule.”

In 1948 when the famed traveling evangelist was starting what became his itinerant global program, Graham realized that certain problems had consistently plagued previous traveling preachers. At that time, Graham was also grievously affected after reading the 1927 book by Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry.

Gantry is an incendiary indictment upon huckster preachers. Author Lewis exposed the fictional character’s hypocritical mindset from the inside of the huckster’s conscience and showed the true evil of religious charlatanism. The book infuriated America. Here is Wikipedia with a synopsis of the book’s reception:

The result is a novel that satirically represents the religious activity of America in evangelistic circles and the attitudes of the 1920s toward it. On publication in 1927, Elmer Gantry created a public furor. The book was banned in Boston and other cities and denounced from pulpits across the United States.

Elmer Gantry had a profound effect not just on America, but on the young up and coming traveling evangelist Billy Graham, who urgently and vocally stated he wanted to avoid any perception of similarity to the scurrilous Gantry.

Adding insult to injury, Graham was particularly stung after seeing an Atlanta Journal Constitution photographic array that juxtaposes one photo of a smiling, hearty, waving Graham with another photo of men carrying away two huge bags of money after the Crusade’s love offering in that city. Graham wrote,

The day after the closing meeting on December 10 [1950], the Atlanta Constitution, accompanying its wrap-up story of the Crusade, printed two pictures side by side. In the first, I was grinning broadly and waving good-bye as I stepped into a car for my departure to South Carolina. In the next, two Crusade ushers, with a uniformed police sergeant between them, could barely wrap their arms around four bulging money sacks. “GRAHAM ‘LOVE OFFERING’ COLLECTED AT FINAL SERVICE,” read the caption. I was horrified by the implication. Was I an Elmer Gantry who had successfully fleeced another flock? Many might just decide I was.

Graham wanted at all costs to avoid that perception. Graham’s main concern, as he wrote in his autobiography and stated in interviews and press conferences, was public perception. Obedience to Biblical precepts were not mentioned nearly so often and never as the main reason Graham instituted his Rules, one of which involved the ‘never alone with women’ vow. There are actually 4 “rules” the then-group created for themselves as a boundary of their personal conduct while away from home. One was the aforementioned “never eat alone/be alone with a woman”. Also, never to inflate attendance numbers and always report honestly. Third, be scrupulous and transparent in finances. Last, they would avoid criticism of local churches.

According to Graham’s autobiography Just As I Am,the magazine Christianity Today has a short recounting of how this ‘rule’ began:

“Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character Elmer Gantry had given traveling evangelists a bad name. To our sorrow, we knew that some evangelists were not much better than Lewis’s scornful caricature. One afternoon during the Modesto meetings, I called the team together to discuss the problem. Then I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered. When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and we soon made a series of resolutions that would guide us in our future work.”

I make the point that it is good that men (and women) want to conform to God’s standards of behavior with respect to personal piety. It’s good. However where the sticky wicket comes in is the motivation for doing so. Is the person doing it to please God, or men? (Galatians 1:10).

Graham says of the issue, “There is always the chance of misunderstanding. I remember walking down the street in New York with my beautiful blond daughter, Bunny. I was holding her hand. I heard somebody behind us say, ‘There goes Billy Graham with one of those blond girls.'”

Graham and his associates also charted a careful, if rather unusual strategy to ensure the evangelist would not be tainted by the suspicion of sexual impropriety. From that point on, Graham would not to travel, meet, or dine alone with any woman other than his wife Ruth — even his very own daughters when they came of age.

~Source, Billy Graham, Elmer Gantry, and the Performance of a New American Revivalism, a dissertation by Kurt A. Edwards

The favorable side of adopting “rules” are that they can be a personal stamp on biblical precepts, applied to life. Following rules is to be done unto the glory of God to the praise of God. Personal piety is an act of worship, it’s not an external performance. The danger with man-made “rules” are more numerous. You have the danger of hypocritical piety. You have the danger of elevating your rule over the Bible. You have the danger of the rule becoming codified into tradition. You have rather than upholding God’s precepts, disobedience of them. In Graham’s case, if Mr Edwards’ quote is correct, Graham chose to sacrifice his relationship with his adult daughters so as to avoid perceptions of impropriety and man’s disapproval.

The Bible says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” And in Colossians 3:1 we read, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

Early Graham Crusade poster

Here at Ligonier, Jerry Bridges discusses:

The most proximate cause of the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus, however, lay in His ignoring of their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that they had devised for interpreting the law of God. Not only did they devise these hundreds of man-made rules, but they had also elevated them to the level of Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13).

Are Billy Graham’s four “rules” God-honoring, or Pharisaical? Again, it depends on the reason for creating the rules and it depends a few other things, too. Here, Cameron Buettel’s recent series at John MacArthur’s site helps. He wrote that there were several biblical earmarks of these corrupt [Pharisaical] characters. One of them is:

If You Supplement Scripture with Man-Made Rules, You Might Be a Pharisee

The Pharisees were far more fixated with enforcing their own pharisaical legal code than they were with administering God’s law. They did this by adding mountains of unbiblical fine print to biblical commands as well as inventing their own doctrines apart from Scripture:

Cameron wrote in another part to the Legalism series,

Thankfully, we don’t have to live under the oppressive minutia of pharisaical rules. Nonetheless, many Christians do live their lives in bondage to a similar strain of legalism—one where their Christian identity is largely defined by man-made rules.

That was certainly the case in my earliest experiences as a new Christian. The church I attended had roots in the holiness movement, and the pastor was certainly old school. He believed that salvation was solely by God’s grace, but maintaining that salvation was another story altogether.

My early Christian education primarily revolved around what not to do. Drinking, gambling, dancing, and close proximity to the opposite sex were all strictly taboo. Maintaining that code of conduct made me a member in good standing at my local congregation. Admittedly, I believe following those rules spared me from a lot of personal grief as a young man. But trying to live out those prohibitions was detrimental to my theology—I developed an inverted view of sanctification, believing that good works were the requirement rather than the natural fruit of spiritual regeneration. Source

Establishing our own rules bounding our personal godly conduct can be good. However, they can easily morph into external appearances for man’s approval. As I read numerous and voluminous primary and secondary sources in Graham’s case, Graham had primarily instituted the rules known as the Modesto Manifesto due to his intent to avoid public perception as an Elmer Gantry huckster-type character. And that’s not a good enough reason. (Matthew 23:5).

If one plans to institute rules for one’s life along biblical lines, I believe President Akin’s intent proves the more eternal one. It is an intent grounded in the question, ‘Do I love God more than I love the applause and regard of men?’ It is, ‘Am I being faithful to His precepts and carrying them out in life, to His glory?’ Only the individual man or woman knows their most secret temptations, and appeals to the Spirit might have resulted in their decision to establish personal rules. Others deal with temptations a different way. Ultimately, don’t let the rules become all.

As Buettel stated, we need to be wary of  ‘adding mountains of unbiblical fine print to biblical commands as well as inventing our own doctrines apart from Scripture’ in order to pursue holiness. Though personal rules might help. It’s the Holy Spirit who conforms us to Jesus, through our resistance to temptation and mortification f sin, not how well we appear to others.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

What’s in your pocket? Lists? Or nails?

We are sinners. The Syro-Phoenician woman knew that. (Mark 7:26). The Tax Collector in the temple knew that. (Luke 18:13). Mary knew that. (Luke 1:46). We know we are sinners.

No one believes in Jesus Christ the savior unless they see a need in Him. Martyn Lloyd Jones, sermon Isaiah 1:10, Repentance and Salvation.

Before we are saved, we are blind to our sin. After the Lord graciously gives us the ability to see ourselves as we are, the scales having fallen off our eyes so to speak, (Acts 9:17-18), we repent of our sins. But that does not mean we stop sinning. We have the Power to resist sin thanks to the Holy Spirit in us, but we still sin. (Matthew 16:24). We will continue to sin until we are glorified.

Legalists like the Pharisees to whom Jesus contrasted the Tax Collector, believed they would attain heaven by their good works. This belief is not expired. People believe it to this day. If you watch street pastors Ray Comfort or Todd Friel, when they ask people on the street if they expect to get to heaven and how, the people always respond that they are a good person doing good things so surely they will go to heaven.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Are you so foolish? (Galatians 2:15-16)

After we are saved, however, we still have a tendency to give in to our to our sinful nature. We can easily start to believe satan’s propaganda that we earn God’s regard by doing good things, that we maintain our salvation by doing good works. Or we start to make lists of the things we must do to preserve our good name before the Lord. Paul addressed this in Galatians 3:3, asking rhetorically,

Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

John MacArthur said of the verse,

The notion that sinful, weak human nature could improve on the saving work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous.

We should always remember that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved, not by works. After salvation, the good works that we do are an inevitable result of our gratitude for this great gift, and it is the proof of the existence of the new creature. But our works do not save us and they do not add to the preservation of our salvation. Martin Luther said,

We all carry about in our pockets His very nails.

Erik Raymond at The Gospel Coalition succinctly said,

Legalists keep lists in their pockets, while Christians keep nails.

What’s in your pocket today? Lists? Or nails?

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Relying on tradition and incomplete knowledge can be devastating

Tradition is the enemy of truth.

People hear things over and over and eventually take them as truth. Instead of searching them out diligently, they accept sayings as Biblical truth. They begin to think they are in the Bible or that God said it. Case in point, the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is not in the Bible. Nor is “the Sinner’s Prayer”. Nor is salvation by “Accepting the Lord.” These are the traditions we grew up with in the American millennium era.

Traditions are nothing new. In the Bible days, the Pharisees had many traditions also. For example, tithing cumin and mint was not a biblical law. (Matthew 23:23). Walking no more than 2000 cubits on the Shabbat had not originated in the Law. They were traditions. The latter arouse from a twisting of Joshua 3:4.

Here is where tradition begats laziness and self-satisfaction.

They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (John 7:52).

This was the Pharisees’ contemptuous retort to Nicodemus’ attempt to defend Jesus on one point. Their rage and self-satisfaction and scorn was so towering that they forgot that Micah and Jonah and Elisha did come from Galilee, (Micah 1:1, Joshua 19:13, 1 Kings 17:1) and perhaps also Nahum and Hosea had come from Galilee. Rage blinds, as it did to the Pharisees here and on multiple other occasions. Their rage against Jesus blinded them so thoroughly, their self-righteous power-hungry minds were so set against a backwater like Galilee, the Pharisees forgot that prophets do, indeed, come out of Galilee.

Another devastating behavior stemming from tradition that blinds us to the truth is the failure to search the scriptures but instead to think you already know. Behind this wall lies truth. However, the Pharisees had built a wall against it, brick by brick. Each brick was a tradition that eventually blocked their own access to truth.

EPrata photo

In John 7:42 we read their assertion,

Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

They were correct, but incompletely so. Yes, the scriptures say that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2). Yes, the Pharisees correctly knew Jesus lived in Galilee, the town of Nazareth. But if they had bothered to search their facts even momentarily, they would have discovered that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. The Romans conducted a census, if you remember, and the census records were available. Romans kept good records. They could have checked the Temple records, Joseph and Mary did all that was required by Law, and they both came from the lineage of David. (Luke 2:22). Or, they could have simply asked Joseph, Mary, or Jesus where He had been born. But they thought they knew, without searching for the facts. This is willful ignorance.

Do you ever settle in the pew and look at the bulletin and see that the sermon is going to be on a passage you’re extremely familiar with? Does your heart sink, your mind saying, “Aw, man, I already know this one”? I dare to suggest, that is Pharisee talk. The scriptures speak every time they are delved into. It is our job to search them out, even if we think we already know. It isn’t that the scriptures aren’t fresh, it’s that our eyes get dull.

It’s a truism that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, meaning that a small amount of knowledge can delude people into thinking that they are more expert in their field than they actually are. The Pharisees’ knowledge was prodigious, but it was head knowledge without love, and combined with tradition, pride, and self-righteousness, they failed at the critical moment to recognize the Messiah they had been waiting for. (2 Timothy 3:7).

Let’s be careful not to assume the facts, but search them out. Let’s be diligent to investigate. Nicodemus did. Annas didn’t. Let’s not rest on tradition, assuming it’s Biblical. Cleanliness isn’t next to Godliness, holiness is. Search the scriptures diligently with fresh, open eyes. Pray to the Spirit to illuminate them to you. It’s harder to do the longer you’re a Christian to keep fresh eyes on the Bible, but the Spirit is always fresh and will open your mind to the truths in every case. Peter said that Jesus had the words of eternal life. Eternal words never get stale.

Posted in Uncategorized

Sermon nugget: Seed of the Serpent

My pastor preaches/teaches like a mini-Spurgeon every week. I leave church with much to ponder and my notebook filled with insights from his teaching. The Spirit enriches these through my own thoughts extended from further investigation. This essay is one of them. From now on I’ll call these essays sermon nuggets, because I can’t take credit totally for the insight here, it was catalyzed by my pastor, enriched by the Spirit, and emerged through further study on my own. In effect, it is a praise to how the Spirit fills us with insights, teaching, and wisdom. You hear the Word, study the word, think about the Word in your heart, and somehow it all fits in like puzzle pieces, piece by piece enlarging the scene until one glorious day, when the trumpet sounds, the picture will come clear.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Excerpts from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (pp. 13–14) tells us–

1. The serpent is here laid under the curse of God: Thou art cursed above all cattle. Even the creeping things, when God made them, were blessed of him (ch. 1:22), but sin turned the blessing into a curse. The serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field (v. 1), and here, cursed above every beast of the field.

But man is victorious over the serpent, and bruises his head, that is, gives him a mortal wound, aiming to destroy the whole generation of vipers. It is the effect of this curse upon the serpent that, though that creature is subtle and very dangerous, yet it prevails not (as it would if God gave it commission) to the destruction of mankind. This sentence pronounced upon the serpent is much fortified by that promise of God to his people,

    Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder (Ps. 91:13), and that of Christ to his disciples,
They shall take up serpents (Mk. 16:18), witness Paul, who was unhurt by the viper that fastened upon his hand.

A perpetual quarrel is here commenced between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil among men; war is proclaimed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That war in heaven between Michael and the dragon began now, Rev. 12:7. It is the fruit of this enmity, that there is a continual conflict between grace and corruption in the hearts of God’s people. Satan, by their corruptions, assaults them, buffets them, sifts them, and seeks to devour them; they, by the exercise of their graces, resist him, wrestle with him, quench his fiery darts, force him to flee from them.
Heaven and hell can never be reconciled, nor light and darkness; no more can Satan and a sanctified soul, for these are contrary the one to the other.

That there is likewise a continual struggle between the wicked and the godly in this world. Those that love God account those their enemies that hate him, Ps. 139:21, 22. And all the rage and malice of persecutors against the people of God are the fruit of this enmity, which will continue while there is a godly man on this side heaven, and a wicked man on this side hell. Marvel not therefore if the world hate you, 1 Jn. 3:13.

With that in mind, you remember that John the Baptist and Jesus both called the Pharisees serpents, broods of vipers.

John the Baptist: He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7)

Jesus: You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34).

Jesus: You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?(Matthew 23:33).

By using this language, John and Jesus were telling us that the Pharisees belonged to the line of the serpent, they were seeds of the serpent. This is confirmed when Jesus said,

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).

In verse 38 Jesus specifically denied that the Pharisees were Abraham’s children (children of promised ‘seed’ or offspring) and in verse 44 He says they were of the seed of the devil (children of curse, the devils ‘seed’ or ‘offspring’).

Let’s finish on an encouraging note. Matthew Henry says-

His victory over Satan thereby. Satan had now trampled upon the woman, and insulted over her; but the seed of the woman should be raised up in the fulness of time to avenge her quarrel, and to trample upon him, to spoil him, to lead him captive, and to triumph over him, Col. 2:15. He shall bruise his head, that is, he shall destroy all his politics and all his powers, and give a total overthrow to his kingdom and interest. Christ baffled Satan’s temptations, rescued souls out of his hands, cast him out of the bodies of people, dispossessed the strong man armed, and divided his spoil: by his death, he gave a fatal and incurable blow to the devil’s kingdom, a wound to the head of this beast, that can never be healed. As his gospel gets ground, Satan falls (Lu. 10:18) and is bound, Rev. 20:2. By his grace, he treads Satan under his people’s feet (Rom. 16:20) and will shortly cast him into the lake of fire, Rev. 20:10. And the devil’s perpetual overthrow will be the complete and everlasting joy and glory of the chosen remnant.

What a day that will be!