“Who Do You Say I Am?” – a new series at Eastbrook

This coming Sunday at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Who Do You Say I Am?” This continues our journey through the Gospel of Matthew, focusing the expansion of Jesus’ ministry throughout the Galilee region in teaching and activity in Matthew 13-16. The series is an exploration of Jesus’ identity through all this. This is the sixth part of our longer series on Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” and “Stories of the Kingdom: parables of Jesus.”

Join us each weekend of this series in-person or via Eastbrook at Home.

Here are the weekly topics for the series:

September 12 – “Missing Jesus” – Matthew 13:53-58

September 19 – “Mistaken Identity” – Matthew 14:1-12

September 26 – “Feeding 5,000” – Matthew 14:13-21

October 3 – “Walking on Water” – Matthew 14:22-36

[October 10 & 17 – MissionsFest]

October 24 – “Matters of the Heart” – Matthew 15:1-20

October 31 – “Seeing the Other” – Matthew 15:21-28

November 7 – “Feeding 4,000” – Matthew 15:29-39

November 14 – “Mixed-Up Priorities” – Matthew 16:1-12

November 21 – “Who Is Jesus?” – Matthew 16:13-20

What is the Unforgivable Sin?: insights from John Calvin

While studying for my message, “The Messiah and Satan,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook, I spent a good deal of time studying the nature of the unforgivable, or unpardonable, sin. Jesus says the following provocative words:

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

There are a wide variety of opinions on this, but it seems pretty clear that Jesus is not talking about simply grieving the Holy Spirit or resisting the Holy Spirit one time, but the steady rejection of God and His work manifested in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit’s power. I found these words from John Calvin within an extended section on regeneration and repentance with his Institutes of the Christian Religion to be particularly helpful. While not without his faults and blind spots (like all of us), Calvin is an astute commentator on Scripture.

Here, however, let us give the true definition, which, when once it is established by sound evidence, will easily of itself overturn all the others. I say therefore that he sins against the Holy Spirit who, while so constrained by the power of divine truth that he cannot plead ignorance, yet deliberately resists, and that merely for the sake of resisting. For Christ, in explanation of what he had said, immediately adds, ‘Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him,’ (Mt. 12:31). And Matthew uses the term spirit of blasphemy for blasphemy against the Spirit. How can any one insult the Son, without at the same time attacking the Spirit? In this way. Those who in ignorance assail the unknown truth of God, and yet are so disposed that they would be unwilling to extinguish the truth of God when manifested to them, or utter one word against him whom they knew to be the Lord’s Anointed, sin against the Father and the Son. Thus there are many in the present day who have the greatest abhorrence to the doctrine of the Gospel, and yet, if they knew it to be the doctrine of the Gospel, would be prepared to venerate it with their whole heart. But those who are convinced in conscience that what they repudiate and impugn is the word of God, and yet cease not to impugn it, are said to blaspheme against the Spirit, inasmuch as they struggle against the illumination which is the work of the Spirit. Such were some of the Jews, who, when they could not resist the Spirit speaking by Stephen, yet were bent on resisting (Acts 6:10). There can be no doubt that many of them were carried away by zeal for the law; but it appears that there were others who maliciously and impiously raged against God himself, that is, against the doctrine which they knew to be of God. Such, too, were the Pharisees, on whom our Lord denounced woe. To depreciate the power of the Holy Spirit, they defamed him by the name of Beelzebub (Mt. 9:3, 4; 12:24). The spirit of blasphemy, therefore, is, when a man audaciously, and of set purpose, rushes forth to insult his divine name. This Paul intimates when he says, ‘but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief;’ otherwise he had deservedly been held unworthy of the grace of God. If ignorance joined with unbelief made him obtain pardon, it follows, that there is no room for pardon when knowledge is added to unbelief.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 3, Section 22

Knowing Who We Are and Who We’re Not: a lesson from John the Baptist

John the Baptist

One of the most gripping commendations Jesus ever offered was about John the Baptist when He said, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). There was really no one quite like John, and Jesus recognized that.

Of course, the other part of that statement was this: “yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John knew who he was and also knew who he wasn’t, and that shaped the way he lived.

At one point in his ministry, John said to a group of his disciples and gathered onlookers: “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him'” (John 3:28). John knows who he is and knows who he is not.

John the Apostle sets us up for this in the first chapter of his gospel when he says that John the Baptist is not “the Light”:

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (1:6-8)

Later on, when John is questioned by religious leaders, he knows that he is not the Messiah,  Elijah or the long-awaited Prophet:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
He answered, ‘No.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”‘ (John 1:19-21)

John clearly knew who he was and who he was not.

Not only that, John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he, John, was not Jesus:

  • John was not the light, but, as we read in John 1:9 – “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” – Jesus is the light
  • John was not the privileged son, but, as we read in John 1:14, “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” – Jesus is the One and Only Son.
  • John was not the Messiah, but more than once he exclaimed to his followers when Jesus passed by, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29)

John knew that he was not the awaited one, but that Jesus was the one the world was waiting for.

So, when John the Baptist’s followers come to him feeling out of sorts because Jesus’ ministry is increasing, John is not really bothered. In fact, he knows this is the way things are supposed to be. He knows that all of what he is doing is really about Jesus.

John the Baptist is a powerful example for all of us who follow Jesus. He reminds us that not any one of us is the Messiah, and we should live accordingly. I am not the Messiah. You are not the Messiah. We cannot solve everyone’s problems, be everywhere at once, or be the one to save the world. That was Jesus’ job. Believing this and live out of this belief  is a significant part of our discipleship.

We are not here to replace Jesus, but to display Jesus in our life on earth. The difference seems slight, but it is gargantuan in practice. In our lives we are not trying to be the Messiah, we are trying to direct people to the Messiah.

John the Baptist knew who he was and who he was not, and it set him free to minister as God would have him regardless of the outcome.

Jesus Pursues Sick People

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)

I am glad that Jesus pursues sick people. In Luke 5, Jesus reaches out to a man with leprosy, a paralyzed man, a social outcast who collects taxes for Rome, and even calls some people peripheral to society to be His closest followers. Jesus does not always look for the respectable people. No, what He most often does is to search after those who know they need help. He heals them (the leper), He forgives them (the paralyzed man), He spends time with them (the tax collector), and He commissions them for His purposes (the disciples).

I am glad that Jesus pursues sick people. Although I was familiar with Christianity from my upbringing, I did not really know Christ until my later years of high school. When Jesus truly took hold of my life I was deeply sick. He sought after me and confronted me with His truth. I didn’t know how sick I was until then. It became so obvious that I needed help. When I responded to Him, Jesus saturated me with His grace and filled me with hope. He began to heal my life and transform me. Then He invited me to serve Him and brought purpose and direction to my life. I am sure that you have a story of your own about when and how Jesus pursued you.

But here are some pertinent questions for those of us who follow Jesus today: are we still glad Jesus pursues sick people? Do we let Him seek after the sick and needy through us? Do we let Him take us to risky or uncomfortable places so He can place His hands on the lives of others who need healing and life?

If He has pursued us and reached us, may He also pursue others and reach them through us.

The Nobody Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth and Messianic Expectations

“and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)

When Herod the Great died there was great confusion about what should happen because he had drafted several wills, many of which were in conflict with one another. It was not until the conflicted family members appeared in Rome that Caesar divided Herod the Great’s rule amongst three of his children.

Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace the Samaritan, who received the largest portion and highest title within the realm of Judea. Archelaus ruled as ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea (biblical Edom). His two brothers, Antipas and Philip were given less desirable portions of the territory and lower titles as tetrarchs. After roughly nine years, in response to Jewish unrest under Archelaus’ cruelty and also as a means of bringing the province of Judea directly under Roman rule, Archelaus was deposed by Roman Emperor Augustus.

Joseph and Mary avoid Archelaus by heading far north into the area known as the Galilee to a town called Nazareth. The region of Galilee was governed by Archelaus’ brother, Herod Antipas, who also controlled the Transjordan territory of Perea. Antipas, or Antipater, is the Herod we hear about later in the gospels, who arrests John the Baptist and later has John executed at the request of his wife, Herodias.

Nazareth was a small town of only about 500 people during Jesus’ day. Its obscurity only increased as Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris, another city only four miles away, as the capital of Galilee. Its growth in size and Gentile influence made it a very different place than little, old Nazareth.

Matthew tells us all of this to explain how it could be that the Messiah of the Jewish people could arise from Galilee of all places. Matthew mentions that this serves to fulfill “what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” This obscure statement is not clearly pulled from any one Scripture, but is most likely a combination of two different portions of Scripture.

The first of those is from the prophet Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

The Hebrew word for ‘branch’ here is nēser. Quite probably, Matthew is referencing this Messianic branch that would spring up from the stump of Jesse, something echoed in other portions of Isaiah, such as 4:2-3.

The second of the Scriptures woven in here is likely Judges 16:17, where Samson speaks of his dedication unto the Lord at birth:

“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb.” (Judges 16:17)

Thus, in a bit of wordplay, Matthew brings together imagery of the Nazirite dedicated to the Lord with the Branch springing up from Jesse’s stump, and connects that with the geographical location of Nazareth. All of this serves to basically say, “This Jesus is dedicated to the Lord but it shouldn’t surprise you that He came from nowhere-Nazareth to bring salvation…God is doing a new thing in bringing life where it seems as if no life could ever be. And it will exceed your wildest imaginations.”

Jesus is a refugee Messiah who springs from nowhere to bring salvation, blessing, and deliverance.