Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Parable of the Straying Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14 Teaching Outline)

Most probably refer to this parable as the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” and view it as a parallel text to the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. However, I have preferred to call it the “Parable of the Straying Sheep,” since I do not think it is a parallel text to that found in Luke 15. In fact, it deals with a different issue. The reason for this position will become clear when we examine the meaning of the parable in its context.

Introduction: In the days of Ezekiel, God issued a dire warning to the leaders of Israel, who were supposed to have been faithful shepherds of His people, but who had failed to protect and care for them. He also foretold a day when He Himself would come to seek and save the sheep:
NKJ Ezekiel 34:11-16 For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord GOD. 16 “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.”
Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. He was the promised coming of the LORD to seek and save the sheep, as He made clear to His disciples. For example:
NKJ  John 10:11-16 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
NKJ  John 10:24-28 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life [as the shepherd Jesus seeks and saves the sheep], and they shall never perish [ἀπόλλυμι]; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand [as the Shepherd Jesus keeps the sheep from ever perishing].”
This provides the larger context and proper background for understanding the parable before us this morning. It reminds us that Jesus not only calls His sheep to Himself, but that He also keeps them from perishing. As we will see, this is the very issue taken up by the Parable of the Straying Sheep.

But before we get into the parable itself – having already been informed by the broader context of Scripture – we should also take some time to examine the immediate context of the parable, so let's take a brief look at vss. 1-11:
NKJ  Matthew 18:1-11 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this [i.e. like the disciple who has humbled himself and has thus become as a little child] in My name receives Me. 6 But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me [i.e. the disciple who has become a little child in the faith] to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! 8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones [i.e. the disciple who has become a little child in the faith], for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”
Now, many modern versions either leave out verse 11, relegate it to a footnote, or place it in brackets. The reason for this is that it is not found in this passage in some of the older Greek manuscripts (although it is contained in Luke 19:10), and it appears to some that it doesn't fit the context, since in the following parable Jesus clearly has straying believers in mind rather than those who are lost and in need of salvation. However, as we have already seen, Jesus can refer to Himself as the one who comes to seek and save the lost – in the context of being a shepherd who seeks His sheep – and then refer either to bringing them to eternal life or to keeping them from perishing. Both are aspects of His saving work. It just happens that the focus of this passage is upon the latter – His preserving work.

Anyway, now that we have both the broader and more immediate context in mind, let's turn our attention toward understanding this parable.
NKJ  Matthew 18:12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray [πλανάω], does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying [πλανάω]?
There are three things that need to be highlighted in this verse.

First, the initial question here is intended to get the disciples – and us – to do just what it asks of us, to think. He is calling to us to consider the situation He is about to present and to think about what a shepherd should do in such a situation. Jesus no doubt also wants us to think about what it is that He Himself does in such a situation.

Second, the followup question here – “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” – expects the answer, “Yes, of course he leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go seek the one straying sheep.”

Some think it odd that Jesus would ask such a question and then seriously expect such an answer. Who, they wonder, will look after the ninety-nine sheep left behind? Well, Jesus doesn't concern Himself with this, and He doesn't expect His disciples to be concerned about it either. This is no doubt because what He is describing is a realistic situation, in which it would be expected that more than one shepherd would be looking after one hundred sheep.

At any rate, Jesus doesn't dwell on the ninety-nine and the point of the parable really isn't about them anyway. It is about the fact that the shepherd cares so much about the one straying sheep that he personally goes to find it.

Application: At least one possible application of the parable thus far is readily apparent: God's care for His sheep is expressed in His personal and individual concern for each one of them. Whenever one of his sheep – one of the “little ones” (vs. 6), one of those who has believed in Jesus – goes astray, God is deeply concerned and seeks him out to restore him.

Third, we come to an idea twice repeated in this verse, namely that the one sheep has strayed. The emphasis upon the one sheep, as I have already indicated, reflects such an emphasis in the preceding context. For example:
Verses 5-6: Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Italics mine)
Verse 10: Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.
Thus Jesus has warned those who would cause one of the little ones – i.e. one of those who humble themselves and believe in him – to stumble. But what about when one of His little ones – here represented as one of His sheep – does stumble or stray? Well, then God seeks him out in order to restore him. And He restores him with great joy, as the next verse indicates.
NKJ  Matthew 18:13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep [referring back to the one] than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray [πλανάω].
D.A. Carson is surely correct when he observes that, ”This love for the individual sheep is not at the expense of the entire flock but so that the flock as a whole may not lose a single one of its members” (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 401).

Remember that in verse 14 Jesus goes on to say that the shepherd here represents God the Father. So the point here is that, when God has restored a straying child of his, it brings Him joy.

Application: This is not to say that we should take sin lightly, as though it is just another opportunity to bring joy to God when we repent. Such an attitude is like that of the person who asks, ”Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound”? And the answer is the same one that Paul gives to that question: “No way!” (See Rom. 6:1-2). Such an attitude forgets that our sin grieves God in the first place! This is why Paul admonishes us, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

Yet it is good to remember that our Father rejoices over the straying believer who repents, since this tells us what our attitude should be as well. Even though we may be grieved by the sins of a brother or sister in the Lord, we must not allow such grief to rob us of the joy to be had when he or she repents!
NKJ  Matthew 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones [i.e. the disciple who have become a little child in the faith as in vss. 1-10 above] should perish [ἀπόλλυμι, same word as in John 10:28].
Here Jesus explains His main point. It is not the Father's will that any of His children should perish. This is why He seeks them out when they stray. And this is why Jesus became a man and laid down His life for the sheep, as we saw earlier in John 10. Remember that He said:
NKJ  John 10:27-28 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish [ἀπόλλυμι]; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
We don't save ourselves, and we don't keep ourselves saved either! This is the work of God, who seeks and restores His sheep so as to lose none of them.

D.A. Carson helpfully drives home the gist of this parable, reflecting the way that Jesus again picks up the reference to the “little ones,” about whom He has spoken earlier in verse 10:
Here is another reason not to despise these “little ones”: the shepherd— the Father (v. 14)—is concerned for each sheep in his flock and seeks the one who strays (v. 12). His concern for the one wandering sheep is so great that he rejoices more over its restoration than over the ninety-nine that do not stray (v. 13). With a God like that, how dare anyone cause even one of these sheep to go astray? Jesus drives the lesson home: the heavenly Father is unwilling for any of “these little ones” (see on vv. 3-6) to be lost. If that is his will, it is shocking that anyone else would seek to lead one of “these little ones” astray. This love for the individual sheep is not at the expense of the entire flock but so that the flock as a whole may not lose a single one of its members. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 401)
Or as Klyne Snodgrass puts it:
What is revealed about the character of God is the value he places on even the least deserving and the care he extends to such people. God is not passive, waiting for people to approach him after they get their lives in order. He is the seeking God who takes the initiative to bring people back …. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 109)
This has importance also for what Jesus goes on to say in the following verses about church discipline, because it helps us to understand that the goal of church discipline is loving restoration of the sinning believer. This is one way in which we cooperate with Jesus in His shepherding work to seek and restore the one sheep that strays:
NKJ  Matthew 18:15-20 Moreover if your brother sins against you [singular], go and tell him his fault between you [singular] and him alone. If he hears you [singular], you [singular] have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you [singular] one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you [singular] like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 Assuredly, I say to you [plural], whatever you bind [plural] on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [plural] on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you [plural] that if two of you [plural] agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three [i.e the original person (vs. 15) plus the one or two more that he takes with him (vs. 16)] are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
Jesus – the Good Shepherd – promises to be with us as we seek to help the straying sheep. We have the great privilege of being involved in each others' lives in this role. But this is especially true of the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking, because they would become the leaders/shepherds of the early Church.

But this same task has been passed on to the elders who have taken over the leadership role in the churches, although without the same authority the Apostles possessed. To such elders Paul says, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Peter admonishes elders similarly, when he says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:3-4).

Conclusion: Application: I would like to conclude this teaching with a couple of additional points of application.

First, given that the elders have a special responsibility to help seek and restore straying sheep, what should your attitude toward them be? Shouldn't it be a positive, encouraging, supportive, helpful, and submissive attitude? As the author of Hebrews admonishes us:
NKJ  Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you [i.e. the elders, for no others could be in mind here], and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Second, to the degree that we all have a responsibility to help a straying brother or sister, we must not see our role as taking the place of the elders, or as opposed to that of the elders, but as being in cooperation with them. I do not think that Jesus here intends that any brother or sister usurp the role of those He has set over the churches. But I do think we all do have the responsibility He charges us with in these verses. This means that we must all seek the maturity that makes us capable of fulfilling this role. As Paul admonished the Galatian believers:
NKJ  Galatians 6:1-2 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
In the context of Galatians, the spiritual person is the one who has learned to be led by the Spirit rather than the flesh. It is thus the believer who has attained some degree of maturity. We must all seek such maturity, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of that brother or sister for whom Christ died, who may be straying in some way and who may need the help that we can offer. In this way we may all have the privilege of serving the Great Shepherd in His ministry of preserving His sheep.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Free "Reformed Baptist Library"

Stuart Brogden has made freely available a fairly extensive library of works pertinent to Reformed Baptists. He describes his website as the "Home of the Semper Reformanda Baptist Library, a free tool intended to encourage and equip my fellow Baptists to stand firm and dig into our rich history and theology, while never growing weary of reforming to the Word of God." 

It looks to be a valuable and regularly updated resource. Check it out, and let us know what you think.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Testimonial About 'The Fatal Flaw'

The following testimonial was sent to our own Jeff Johnson regarding his excellent book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism, which I have previously recommended here:
I came to reformed theology in 2010 by increments and like most, with much wrestling. Primarily my struggles concerned soteriology and what is commonly called the "The 5 points of Calvinism." I had not given much thought to the sacraments. I first attended a paedo-baptist church in Los Angeles and during this time I had my first child with my wife. However, at this church there was never any pressure of baptizing my child. Going forward to 2013, I moved to Sacramento, CA and began attending a Presbyterian church affiliated with CREC. At this church I began to experience pressure to baptize my now three children. Upon hearing some extremely convincing arguments for paedo-batpism, I was still reluctant because certain assumptions were not biblical to me. For example, the leadership at the church believes God has promised salvation to the children of Christian parents, which is similar to the teachings of Rich Lusk.
Even though these assumptions bothered me, it still seemed as though the history of the church and the Scriptures spoke more clearly with approval concerning the baptism of children. I received literature from the church leadership and after reading the material (a book named The Covenant Baptism of Infants by Jim West) I was almost completely convinced that I should be baptizing my children based upon my faith just as Abraham's seed was circumcised based upon his (you would later shatter that thinking in chapters 15-16!). I was also convinced that "the promise is to you and your children and all who are afar off" meant that my children should be baptized. However, my conscience kept telling me that I should move slow and seek a baptist perspective on the issue before making hasty decisions on such important issues. That lead to a search of a book by a baptist who addresses the issue of baptism through the covenants. In my eyes, the argument for this issue lay within a proper understanding of the covenants and not solely within the "dry" or "wet" verses in Scripture.
I had been listening to Voddie Baucham since 2010 and I knew he was a Baptist so I decided to see what he had to say about the issue. Even though I didn't find a sermon or book from him concerning this issue, I did find out from the GFB church calendar that the men at Grace Family Baptist were meeting and discussing a book called "The Fatal Flaw ...". I performed a Google search about the book and read a brief introductory summary about it and I knew this was the book I had been searching for.
About halfway through the book I was convinced that my new leanings were wrong. After chapters 8 & 9, the Scriptures spoke clearly and I knew that baptizing my children would be a mistake. Your book also helped me to understand the error of Federal Vision. The church we attend has strong Federal Vision leanings. For me, Federal Vision is hard to pin down at times but your book made it clear what the basic errors of their theology were. You addressed this well on pages 112-119.
You nailed it well when you wrote "What makes a person a real Jew and among the the true people of God is not physical birth, the principle of federal headship, being a part of the physical nation of Israel, or being under the Mosaic Covenant but grace and grace alone (pg.80)." This was so impacting for me because our Pastor has bluntly told me that he assumes his children are regenerate until otherwise proven because they are born into a Christian family and these words from your book made it more evident that such thinking is wrong. What also sealed the deal for me was the fact that the Mosaic covenant is not a covenant of grace. Also, covenantal faithfulness is a covenant of works and not one of grace in its truest sense. A person does not have dual citizenship, a person is either under the law or under grace. The Scripture speaks loudly that all men are born under the law and sin. To assume that one is naturally born under grace and not sin became absurd the more I read and meditated on it.
Finally in chapters 15-16, you laid out a perfect explanation of why we should not view infant circumcision and baptism the same as paedo-baptists often times do. I thought the two were identical but as you stated on page 188, "Abraham's circumcision has more in common with believers baptism than with infant circumcision".
The book, in my opinion can eloquently be summed up the following: "Therefore, it is not by the blood of Abraham but the blood of Christ that new covenant participants enter into a relationship with God (pg 201)". There are many other points you made that I could recall but I wanted to at least provide you with a few examples on how your book prevented me from baptizing my children AND helped me avoid Federal Vision thinking. Your writing is clear, easy to follow, and full of verifiable footnotes which hold the integrity of your research should it ever be in doubt.
Thank you for your years of labor Pastor Johnson. I would recommend this book to anyone (paedo or credo baptist) that seeks to understand baptism from an intelligently spoken and carefully articulated credo-baptist covenantal approach. I absolutely love the fact that there is a contemporary published work demonstrating covenantal theology from a Baptist perspective. Thanks to you and the men who have assisted you with this work.
Well that was long but I hope you can glean something from this long email as a testimonial.
May His grace continue to abound in you
~David Brinkley
After Jeff shared this email with me, I couldn't resist posting it here. I can certainly identify with David's theological journey, and I have also learned much from Jeff's book. If you have appreciated the book as well, perhaps you would like to share your own testimonial here in the comments.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Good Deal on "From Heaven He Came and Sought Her"

The above video describes From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Here is a description of the book from the Westminster Bookstore website, where it is currently available at a significant discount (45% off):
Includes contributions from Michael A. G. Haykin, Paul Helm, Lee Gatiss, Carl R. Trueman, Paul R. Williamson, J. Alec Motyer, Thomas R. Schreiner, Donald Macleod, Robert Letham, Stephen J. Wellum, Henri A. G. Blocher, Sinclair B. Ferguson, John Piper, and more.
There is a palpable sense of confusion—and sometimes even embarrassment—with regard to so-called limited atonement today, pointing to the need for thoughtful engagement with this controversial doctrine.
Incorporating contributions from a host of respected theologians, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her stands as the first comprehensive resource on definite atonement as it examines the issue from historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.
Offering scholarly insights for those seeking a thorough and well-researched discussion, this book will encourage charitable conversations as it winsomely defends this foundational tenet of Reformed theology
This promises to be an important contribution to the long history of the study of the doctrine of the atonement. I am anxious to read it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Strange Fire Debate - Michael Brown Versus Phil Johnson

This is a very interesting, candid discussion/debate between Phil Johnson and Michael Brown concerning the claims made especially by John MacArthur at the Strange Fire Conference. When Phil gets the chance, he does a good job of challenging Michael.

Although I have myself criticized John (here) for painting with too broad a brush in his own criticisms of open-but-cautious men in Reformed circles, in the main I agree with the warnings being issued against the Charismatic Movement.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Parable of the Householder (Matthew 13:51-52 Teaching Outline)

Note: Not everyone sees this as a parable, but I think it bares enough similarity to other parables in Matthew 13 to be considered a parable as well. Only this time the parable does not refer specifically to what the Kingdom of Heaven itself is like. Rather it refers to what scribes in the Kingdom of Heaven are like.

Introduction: One of the more sobering passages of Scripture for those who take part in the teaching ministry of the Church is found in James 3:1: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”

Of course, given that James speaks of relatively few people as among those who should be teachers, he most likely has in mind the particular role of the elders, whose special task it is to fill the teaching office in the churches. But I am sure he would agree with the Apostle Paul as well, when he taught the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16).

So, there is a special teaching office in the Church that is to be held by relatively few of us, but there is also a sense in which we should all be teaching one another. And this leads me to the topic of this morning's text, in which Jesus refers to the teaching role that His disciples will have. Although this role will be filled in a special way by the disciples who became the Apostles of the early church, there is a sense in which it may apply to all of us as well. In this passage we will see that Jesus proposes 1) a question about the disciples' understanding of the Kingdom, and 2) a parable about the disciples role in the Kingdom.

I. A Question About the Disciples' Understanding of the Kingdom

We find the question in verse 51:
NKJ Matthew 13:51 Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”
In order to properly grasp what is being said here, let's consider first the question Jesus asks and then the answer the disciples give.

First, when Jesus asks the disciples “Have you understood all these things?” He appears to have in mind especially all the things He has been teaching about the mysteries of the kingdom, that is, all the things that are contained in the parables He has been teaching. For example, after Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower we read:
NKJ Matthew 13:10-12 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
NKJ Matthew 13:16-17 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Jesus then went on to explain the Parable of the Sower and to teach a number of other parables as well. Jesus explained some of these parables so as to make the teaching clear to the disciples, while other parables were more simple for them to understand.

Second, the disciples simply answer, “Yes, Lord,” indicating that they have understood the things Jesus has been saying. And Jesus assumes that they have done so as well – at least to some extent – as His following statements indicate.

This doesn't mean, however, that they understood fully everything He has been teaching, nor that Jesus thinks that they have. As D.A. Carson observes in his commentary on this passage:
This is the only place in this chapter where the disciples themselves are explicitly said to understand, and they say it by themselves. It is as wrong to say that Matthew has portrayed them as understanding everything as it is to say that they understood nothing. The truth lies between the extremes. The disciples certainly understood more than the crowds; on the other hand, they are shortly to be rebuked for their dullness (15:16). Like another positive response in this Gospel (see on 20:22-23), this one cannot be simply dismissed as presumptuous enthusiasm (as if they think they know everything when in fact they know nothing) nor taken at face value (as if their understanding were in fact mature). (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 331)
This assessment is undoubtedly accurate. The fact is that the disciples were still growing in their understanding of the things that Jesus had been teaching, so that they could truly say that they understood, even if not yet completely. In fact, Jesus' earlier words have assumed that they were growing in their understanding and would continue to do so. Remember what He said in verse 12, that “whoever has, to him more will be given.” Clearly He views the disciples as among those who already have a certain level of spiritual insight and understanding and htus gives them more.

The ESV Study Bible is correct when it says of this verse that, “True disciples grow in understanding through Jesus' teaching (cf. 28:20)” (BibleWorks). It is this assumption that underlies Jesus' teaching in the following verse, where we find …

II. A Parable About the Disciples' Role in the Kingdom

Look with me at verse 52:
NKJ Matthew 13:52 Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed [μαθητεύω, mathēteúō] concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
There are at least three things we should pay special attention to in Jesus' statements here.

First, when Jesus refers to every “scribe,” He uses the Greek word grammateús, which is often translated scribe – as here in the NKJV – and which often refers to those who were regarded as expert interpreters and teachers of the Old Testament law and Jewish doctrine. So, Jesus  is saying here that, just as the Jewish people had their scribes, even so the Kingdom of Heaven will have its scribes. The disciples to whom He was speaking would fill this role in a special way in the early Church. As a matter of fact, Jesus later prophesied about them using the same term:
NKJ  Matthew 23:34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes [γραμματεύς, grammateús]: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city ….
But one cannot become a scribe of Jesus unless he is first a disciple, which is the next point we need to consider.

Second, when Jesus refers to every scribe “instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven,” He is indicating that those who teach must first have been taught. In fact, to be precise, He is indicating that those who are going to disciple others must first have been disciples themselves, for the Greek verb translated instructed here in the NKJV is actually mathēteúō, which may be translated be a disciple or become a disciple. The related noun – mathētḗs – is regularly used to refer to Jesus' followers and is commonly translated with the English word disciple.

This is why the NASB translates this phrase “every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven.” I think Jesus is referring in this passage specifically to those who have been discipled by Himself. In the context He is referring to those who have come to understand and live according to the mysteries of the Kingdom and thus have become capable of teaching others also. Having been disciples, they are able to disciple others as well. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus later commands them to do:
NKJ  Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples [μαθητεύω, mathēteúō] of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching [διδάσκω] them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
This has immediate application to the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking, but it also applies to all of those who follow in their footsteps. They are scribes of the Kingdom in special sense, but there is a sense in which we are all called to be scribes in the Kingdom of Heaven as well.

This leads to the next thing we should notice, which is contained in the parable itself.

Third, when Jesus says that a scribe of the Kingdom of Heaven “is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old,” He must have in mind his teaching role in the kingdom since – as we have seen – this is the function of a scribe.

So, when Jesus says that their teaching will involve things new and old, He appears to have in mind both those things that had been previously revealed –  i.e. in the Old Testament – and those things which were being newly revealed – i.e. in His teaching ministry and in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in His ministry, including what would become the New Testament.

Again, the ESV Study Bible is correct when it asserts, “They are like the man who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old, in that they understand both the 'new' revelation from Jesus and how it fulfills the 'old' promises in the OT” (BibleWorks).

Conclusion: I will conclude, then, with the same idea with which I began this message. There are those relative few called to the teaching office in the Church, but there is also a sense in which we are all called to a teaching role.

As we have seen, the early disciples of Jesus were called to a special teaching and discipling role, but that doesn't mean that we don't all have a teaching and discipling function to fill in the Church in some sense. After all, we have all been given the Great Commission.

We must all therefore carry on their work in whatever place God has given us in the Kingdom. And we must all be like that householder who brings out of His treasure things both new and old. Those of us who have a special teaching function – such as the elders – must, as Paul modeled for us, teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). But all of us must have a commitment to be Kingdom scribes, who seek to understand and communicate His word to others. And this must come from our hearts. Again, as D.A. Carson put it in his commentary ion this passage:
The thēsauros (“storeroom” [treasure]) so regularly stands for a man’s “heart,” its wealth and cherished values (see above; esp. on 12:35), that we must understand the discipled scribe to be bringing things out of his heart – out of his understanding, personality, and very being. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 332)
The Kingdom of Heaven must have captured our own hearts before we can share it with others as we ought. Has the Kingdom of Heaven – or rather, the King of Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ – so captured our hearts that we are able to share from the heart with others? For only then are we capable of truly being His disciples and scribes of the Kingdom.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Highlights of Biblical Archaeology in 2013

For our readers who are into Biblical archaeology, here are a couple of articles you might enjoy.

Second, the Bible Archaeology website has an article entitled 2013 Roundup of Significant New Discoveries. This article is especially interesting.

Note: The picture on the left is of a fragment of a sphinx excavated at Hazor in 2012. It provides further evidence of the accuracy of the Bible's description of that city as of major importance during the time of Joshua.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Download the ESV For Free This Month

As it says on the download page:
"The ESV Hear the Word Audio Bible MP3 format comes as 8 zip download files, containing a folder for each book of the Bible and 1 MP3 file for each chapter. The M4B format comes as 8 zip download files, containing 1 M4B file for each book (bookmarked & navigable by chapter)."
For those who don't know what an M4B file is, it is an audio file that may be played on iTunes. I think Windows Media Player might also play this kind of file. For more information see here
Here is the link for the download page.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: In a sermon on this passage, John MacArthur gives the following sober reminder:
Our Lord spoke very much and very often about hell. He said many things about the abode of the damned, the wicked, the Christ rejecters. But of all of the startling, terrifying things that Jesus ever said, perhaps the most startling was when He said to the Jewish leaders - How can ye escape the damnation of hell? In Matthew 23:33. How can ye escape the damnation of hell?
It seems strange to us to hear words like that coming from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ. For we don't associate the Lord Jesus Christ with hell, as often as we ought. He said more about hell than he did about love. He said more about hell than all the other biblical preachers combined. And if we are to model our preaching after His, then hell is a major theme for us.
The other night I heard a teen age punk rocker being interviewed. And the reporter said to her - What are you looking forward to? What is in the future for punk rock? She said - Death. I'm looking forward to death. He said - Why? She said - I want to go to hell. Because hell will be fun. I hope I go to hell, I want to die so I can get to hell and have fun.
What deception. Hell is not fun. One writer said, “There is no way to describe hell, nothing on earth can compare with it. No living person has any real idea of it. No madman in wildest flights of insanity ever beheld its horror. No man in delirium ever pictured a place so utterly terrible as this. No nightmare racing across a fevered mind ever produced a terror to match the mildest hell. No murder scene with splashed blood and oozing wound ever suggested a revoltion that could touch the borderlands of hell. Let the most gifted writer exhaust his skill in describing this roaring cavern of unending flame and he would not even brush in fancy the nearest edge of hell,” end quote. (The Furnace of Fire)
I think that MacArthur is right in seeing the primary emphasis of this parable as being on the coming final judgment of the wicked in hell. This will become clear as we look first at Jesus' expression of the parable of the dragnet and then at His explanation of the parable.

I. The Expression of the Parable
Jesus' communication of the parable is found in verses 47-48:
NKJ  Matthew 13:47-48 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet [σαγήνη] that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, 48 which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.
There are a couple of things we need to know about the background for this parable. 

First, the “dragnet” refers to a type of net commonly used for fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Klyne Snodgrass describes this kind of net in his treatment of the parable:
Such a net could be quite long with cork floats along the top and lead weights along the bottom. It could be stretched between two boats or laid out from one and then pulled to shore by ropes. Everything in its path would be caught as it was pulled in. (Stories With Intent: A comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 486)
Jesus no doubt used this as a metaphor for the judgment (as we shall see later) because it captured the idea of gathering every kind of fish – which He will go on to describe as both good and bad kinds – and also because it would have been recognizable by the disciples as a metaphor for judgment. The metaphor of a net was used in several familiar judgment passages in the Old Testament:
NKJ  Ezekiel 32:1-3 And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him: 'You are like a young lion among the nations, and you are like a monster in the seas, bursting forth in your rivers, troubling the waters with your feet, and fouling their rivers. 3 Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will therefore spread My net over you with a company of many people, and they will draw you up in My net.”'”
NKJ  Habakkuk 1:14-17 Why do You make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them? 15 They take up all of them with a hook, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet; because by them their share is sumptuous and their food plentiful. 17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and continue to slay nations without pity?
So, not only would a dragnet itself have been a familiar thing to His disciples, but its use as a metaphor for judgment would have been familiar as well.Although the idea of a net being used to teach the gathering of people for judgment may seem odd to us, it would not have seemed so to the Jews in the first century who were knowledgeable of the Old Testament teaching about judgment.

Second, the statement that “they gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away” assumes the background of the Old Testament law. Klyne Snodgrass is again helpful when he observes:
There are as many as twenty four species of fish in the sea of Galilee. While any fisherman would sort his catch to exclude inedible fish or undesirable creatures, Jewish law necessitated sorting, for it allowed only fish with scales and fins to be eaten. The “bad” (sapra) fish would be fish without scales or fins – “unclean” for Jews, not fish that had become spoiled. (Stories With Intent: A comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 486)
The specific restrictions can be found, for example, in Deuteronomy:
NKJ  Deuteronomy 14:9-10 These you may eat of all that are in the waters: you may eat all that have fins and scales. 10 And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.
Thus, it is against the background of clean and unclean fish that this parable must be understood, and this background makes it easy to understand why this metaphor becomes useful for describing the ultimate judgment of men, as Jesus goes on to explain.

II. The Explanation of the Parable
Jesus' explanation of the parable is found in verses 49-50:
NKJ  Matthew 13:49-50 So it will be at the end of the age [συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος]. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just [δίκαιος, righteous], 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
This parable immediately calls to mind Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares earlier in verses 37-43, so lets go back and read that explanation, noting the similarities. In the process, we will also see significant differences, which will help us see the focus of this parable a little better:
NKJ  Matthew 13:37-43 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age [συντέλεια αἰῶνός], and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Notice a couple key differences between this earlier parable and the parable under consideration today. For example:
1) Whereas the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares focuses upon the intervening time between Jesus' inauguration of the kingdom and the end of the age, during which both He and the devil are at work in the world, leading up to a final judgment, the focus of the Parable of the Dragnet is on the future judgment itself.
2) Whereas the Parable of the Wheat and the tares includes the destruction of the wicked, but lays stress in the end upon the way in which “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” thus emphasizing the promise of a glorious future for believers, the Parable of the Dragnet places the emphasis upon the destruction of the wicked.
So, the primary focus of this parable is the future and final judgment of the wicked.

Now, having considered the differences between this parable and the earlier one, let's get back to the similarities. There are four concepts or events that Jesus repeats in this parable, and this means that He wants to place particular emphasis upon them. So let's consider them one at a time:

First, there is the reference to the end of the age [συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος]. As we saw before, in our examination of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, this is a reference to the time of Christ's future return. It is important to remember that Jesus basically breaks down redemptive history from His time into two ages, which He refers to as this age and the age to come, and He sees the age to come as that in which we will experience the fullness of eternal life. For example:
NKJ  Matthew 12:32 “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
NKJ  Mark 10:29-30 “So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time-- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions-- and in the age to come, eternal life.'”
It was this same eternal life that Jesus spoke of earlier in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, when he referred to the time that the “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (vs. 43), which He said would be at the end of “this age” (vs. 40). At any rate, that Jesus has the final judgment in mind will become even more evident when we think about the other things He stresses here.

Second, there is the separation of the wicked from the just by the angels. This must refer to the final judgment, not only since Jesus says it will happen at the end of the age, but also because He has previously described the angels' job of separating as involving the gathering out of His kingdom “all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness” (vs. 41).

Also, when Jesus later teaches about His future coming, He again describes this judgment in terms of finality:
He will come with His angels and gather the nations: NKJ Matthew 25:31-32 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.”
To the righteous He will say: NKJ  Matthew 25:34b “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ….”
To the wicked he will say: NKJ  Matthew 25:41b “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels ….”
And He finishes the teaching by saying: NKJ  Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Here Jesus describes the fate of the wicked as being thrown into “everlasting fire prepared for the devils and his angels,” which He goes on to describe as “everlasting punishment.” This takes us to the next point stressed by Jesus in the Parable of the Dragnet.

Third, there is the casting of the wicked into the furnace of fire. As we have seen, this language is used by Jesus to refer to the final judgment. It refers, then, ultimately to hell. This place is later called “the lake of fire” in the book of revelation:
NKJ  Revelation 19:19-20 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse [Jesus at His return] and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.
After revealing an intervening millennial reign of Christ: NKJ  Revelation 20:10-15 “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. [This describes the everlasting punishment Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25] 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Now, some Evangelical commentators and theologians see the language of fire as symbolic of the most terrible pain that one can imagine, but I see no reason not to accept this as a literal reference to fire, especially since there are clear instances in Scripture of fire being used by God to judge men. Examples of this would include God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-19:29, especially 19:24) and His judgment on Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Fourth, there is the reference to wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is a way of describing both mental and emotional anguish (wailing or weeping) and intense physical pain (gnashing of teeth). Thus it is a way of summarizing all the pain one can imagine.

In his commentary on Matthew, John Gill discusses the menaing of this phrase and, I think, captures the sense of it pretty well:
[On Matt. 8:12 he says these are] phrases expressive of the miserable state and condition of persons out of the kingdom of heaven; who are weeping for what they have lost, and gnashing their teeth with the pain of what they endure.
[On Matthew 13:42 again he says these are terms] declaring the remorse of conscience, the tortures of mind, the sense of inexpressible pain, and punishment, the wicked shall feel; also their furious rage and black despair ….  (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
Conclusion: The conclusion to this message, and its obvious application, is to see this parable for what it is, a clear warning about the certainty, finality, and horror of the coming judgment of God. It is no joking matter, and, however unpopular we may find the subject or how uncomfortable it may be for us to think about it, Jesus demands that we do so! After all, the eternal destiny of each one of us is on the line!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books by Al Mohler

In Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books Dr. Mohler offers six suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects.
2. Work through major sections of Scripture.
3. Read all the titles written by some authors.
4. Get some big sets and read them through.
5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books.
6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours.

I recommend checking out his blog post for his further elaborations on these suggestions.