Lessons from Ananias and Sapphira – Part 1 (Acts 5:1-11)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of the incident with Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11. This post considers the severe judgment these two receive for what seems like a fairly minor offense. What is the message of this sudden judgment? We will also explore why the punishment was so severe and what God’s purpose was in this judgment.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is one of the most startling events in the New Testament. These two seemingly upstanding disciples join with many others in making a sizeable contribution to the Jerusalem church, laying their large gift at the apostles’ feet. Their contribution, which would seem to be worthy of notice or even commendation, is met instead with a withering rebuke by the apostle Peter and, within a few hours of making their gift to the church, both Ananias and Sapphira have dropped dead and have been buried. And why have they been so severely judged? Because they “lied to the Holy Spirit and kept back some of the price of the land” that they sold (Acts 5:2-3). To many readers, this doubly lethal judgment seems confusing and maybe even unfair since their violation appears to be relatively minor. How do we explain this radical justice?

GOD IS HOLY AND HE WILL JUDGE SIN

Before we dive into this text, we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental ideas. First, God is holy and He decides when He will judge. In this age of grace, even disciples of Jesus can begin to believe that God is obligated to indefinitely delay His judgment, but we will search the Scriptures in vain for any such promise. God remains God and He is free to unleash His judgment when He chooses (Psalm 115:3). Consider Uzzah when he tried to steady the ark and the LORD struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The LORD will be treated as holy and He reminds His people of their call to be holy as well. (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-16.)

THE CHURCH IS HOLY AND MUST PURGE SIN

The New Testament community, the church, is to be holy and, therefore, the foundational church in Jerusalem must establish its complete intolerance of sin. But notice that it is the Lord Himself who purges the evil from the midst of this church. (ASIDE: Later Paul will instruct the church to maintain purity from sin by removing an unrepentant member from their midst in 1 Cor. 5. Thus, one mark of a true New Testament church is that there is no tolerance of known sin. If sin is discovered in the ranks, then it will be exposed and, if there is not repentance, the sinning member must be formally removed.) The Lord Himself takes this action because, in the newly formed Jerusalem church, there was as yet no instruction for how to treat sin in the church and the holiness of the church had not yet been clearly established. Thus, in this instance, God Himself demonstrates the church’s absolute intolerance for sin as He Himself purges the evil from the church.

HOLINESS AS LEGAL AND EXTERNAL VS. HOLINESS AS ESSENTIAL

Of course, even in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to be holy (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2), and that the people were also commanded in the Law to purge the evil from their midst (see Deut. 22:21, 22, 24, to name only a few of the references). But under the old covenant, Israel continued to view holiness as legal and as obtained by external adherence to the Law (for example, see Paul’s words about his own pharisaical attitude in Phil. 3:6, 9).

In the new covenant church, however, holiness is essential. The disciples of Jesus, the people who have believed in Him, are now part of an entirely new covenant community, for whom holiness is no longer merely external and legal, but holiness has now become an essential part of what it means to be a disciple. The New Testament makes this very clear in numerous places, perhaps none more sobering than in Hebrews 12:14, where the writer says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, since the members of the new covenant community are individually holy, it follows that the congregation of holy disciples will have no tolerance for sin.

And so, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, when sin was discovered among the ranks of those who claimed to follow Jesus, God Himself judged that sin swiftly and decisively. Through Peter, God judged sin in the church and so gave the fledgling church and every church of any age, a clear picture of the seriousness of sin in the body. As God tolerates no sin among His people, so the church is to tolerate no unrepentant sin in its professing members. As the LORD commanded His old covenant people to purge the evil from their midst (see Deut. 22:21, 22, 24, etc.), much more the Lord commands His new covenant church to REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES (1 Cor. 5:13, quoted from Deut. 13:5).

DIFFERENCE IN THE MEANS OF REMOVING EVIL

Although church discipline is not addressed at all in this passage, it seems appropriate to make a couple of comments on the subject to remove any remaining confusion about the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira.

There is a significant difference between how the old covenant people of God purged evil from their midst and how the church does this. Under the old covenant, the Law required that, on the evidence of two or three witnesses, this purging of evil was to be conducted by the people stoning the offender to death. As the author of Hebrews writes, under the Law, willful sin brought with it “a terrifying expectation of judgment. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:27-28). So, under the old covenant, the people purged the evil by executing the offender.

The death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 may appear no different than “purging the evil” under the old covenant until we realize that it was God, not the church, who administered this punishment. This means that Acts 5 is not an example of church discipline but is an example of God’s holy judgment. To compare old covenant purging of evil (above) by the people of God with its new covenant version, we need to compare the death by stoning without repentance (Num. 15:32-36; Deut. 22:21, 22, 24) with the administration of church discipline that we find in 1 Cor. 5. This new covenant “purging of evil” has the aim of restoring the offending member to the fellowship and so provides generous time for repentance. If the offender does not repent, he is not executed but is removed from the church. But even if removed from the fellowship, there is still an opportunity for restoration on the condition of genuine repentance.

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS DIVINE

One final comment before we go to a verse-by-verse exegesis of the passage is that Acts 5:1-11 makes plain the deity of the Holy Spirit. This will come out clearly as we go through the text and see that the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity.

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2022                 #591

The whole creation groans and suffers (Romans 8:22)

INTRODUCTION. A post considering the decay and lawlessness of the world and how the disciple of Jesus can ignore the noise of wickedness in the world and instead keep his eyes fixed on his own personal mission and calling.

“The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). This verse shouts to us the reality that, though God created a “very good” world (Genesis 1:31), sin, introduced by the rebellion of Adam in the Garden, has ruined “the whole creation” and that same sin is now bringing about the gradual but inevitable and irresistible disintegration of the created order.

Even the most furious and persistent efforts of man, the most noble and well-intentioned, eventually (or perhaps suddenly) fall victim to the encroaching chaos. It is as if we are desperately building castles in the sand, knowing that soon the tide will bring the waves to wash over our moats and collapse our handiwork. Soon there will be nothing left except a fading elevated hill of sand on the beach.

Science knows this irresistible journey to disorder as entropy and has captured the essence of the Fall in the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “As one goes forward in time, the net entropy (degree of disorder) of any closed system will always increase.” What this means is that “everything put together sooner or later falls apart” (Paul Simon). According to the laws of our physical universe (which is a “closed system”), everything is moving inevitably toward disorder.

The Word of God, the source of all truth, uses other words to communicate this same idea. “The wages of sin is death.” “The whole creation groans and suffers.” “The day you (sin) eat of it, you shall surely die.” “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men.” “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this, the judgment.” The message is clear: When Adam sinned, the whole creation began an irreversible and irresistible descent into chaos and destruction. Not only that, but as man’s sin steadily increases in the world, and increases at an increasing rate, the extent (breadth) and the magnitude (depth) of the ruin will likewise increase. In short, sin is like a fast spreading cancer or like a voracious nest of termites eating away at the creation, and the damage is accelerating. But we know that this corruption and disintegration cannot go on forever. Instead, this increasing sin and evil and disorder will finally result in full destruction and collapse. History is linear, and the creation is hurtling toward a cataclysmic conclusion. Soon, as sin increases, Jesus Christ will return and claim His bride the church, and will judge the earth, and then the end will come.

But the question that I must answer is, “In light of this ever-increasing sin and evil and chaos in the world, what am I, as a disciple of Jesus, to do on a daily basis?” In other words, as the world becomes increasingly dark and as the corruption and wickedness in the world become ever more obvious and repugnant and threatening, how does the Bible call me to live? For it is certainly true that the disciple of Jesus experiences the corruption of this world along with everyone else. In Romans, Paul says, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of the body” (8:23). And so, we groan as we experience the sadness of a world determined to rebel against the Lord.

But while we groan as a natural consequence of our sadness and sense of loss associated with sin, as disciples of Jesus we must not dwell there. In fact, our groaning because of the ambient sin in the world must become for us mere background noise, a part of the context of life in a fallen world, like the temperature outside or the phase of the moon. The degree of sin and the wickedness of the sin committed will grow steadily worse, but that must not distract us from our purpose and our mission. “Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13), but we must continue to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and persevere in the mission that He has given us, both as His body the church and as individual disciples “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

A SUGGESTED STRATEGY

So, as I observe the world unraveling and the wickedness and evil growing deeper and wider, the best strategy for me personally is to ignore the details of our demise and to pay little attention even to the broader collapse and, instead, to focus my attention on my purpose and focus on the tasks and the works that the Lord has given me to do (Eph. 2:10). To accomplish this, my mind strives to find answers to “missional questions.” What does it mean for me to be Jesus’ witness (Acts 1:8) on a daily basis? How can I love my wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25)? How can I be a better sower of the gospel (Matt. 13:2-8)? How do I put to death immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Col. 3:5)? How can I repent of my anger and replace it with peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23)? What is my “great work” (Neh. 6:3) and how can I pour my energies into that? What does it mean to “make the most of the time” (Ephesians 5:16)? How can I be a better ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) and a better fisher of men (Matt. 4:19)? There are so many ways that I can grow as a disciple of Jesus and be more useful to the Kingdom that I find there is no time to keep tabs on our rapidly decaying world.

Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). In other words, don’t waste a lot of time worrying about the wicked (Psalm 37:1-2; Psalm 73). The world is certainly going to continue to plunge into chaos and disorder and lawlessness. The Bible has declared this as truth. So accept this truth and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

SDG                 rmb                 8/15/2022                   #558

Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is a collection of thoughts on the absolute nature of being righteous and being unrighteous, and of the absolute nature of righteousness and unrighteousness. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees. This is the second post in this series.

A USEFUL ANALOGY: PHYSICALLY ALIVE OR DEAD

In my previous post about the righteous and about righteousness (#533, May 20, 2022), we have been talking about the fact that, in the Bible, when used to describe a person’s standing before God, “righteous” is an absolute term, having no degrees or relative achievement. It is a state of being in which you either are or you aren’t. A good analogy to “righteous or unrighteous” is “alive or dead.” In the spiritual realm, a person is either righteous or unrighteous, and in the physical realm, a person is either alive or dead. As there are no degrees of physically dead, so there are no degrees of spiritually unrighteous. As you cannot be “mostly dead” (with apologies to Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”), so you cannot be “mostly unrighteous.” Just as a person is either physically alive or physically dead, so every person is either spiritually righteous or spiritually unrighteous.

MOVEMENT FROM ONE ABSOLUTE STATE TO ANOTHER

But this analogy is also helpful in describing the movement over time from one absolute state to another. For in each pair of absolute conditions in this analogy, there can be movement from one state to another, the movement, if it occurs, is always in the same direction, and the destination state, once reached, becomes the permanent state. Let me explain what I mean.

THE PHYSICAL PAIR

We will begin by considering the pair, physically alive and physically dead. It is plain that physically alive is the beginning state. When a person is physically alive, that person is completely alive, but at some point in time, the person stops being physically alive and immediately becomes physically dead. At the person’s death they completely change states and move from 100% physically alive to 100% physically dead. Once the person has changed states and has reached the “destination state,” “dead” becomes the person’s permanent state. That is, the person will not move from physically dead to physically alive.

REVIEW. I have gone through this process slowly and deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible (and in this case, it is inevitable) to change states and to move from alive to dead,
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, a movement from alive to dead, and
  • the destination state of “dead” becomes the permanent state for that person. From that point on, the person is always physically dead.

THE SPIRITUAL PAIR

Having examined this movement in the absolute pair of physically alive and physically dead, we will now do a similar examination in the absolute pair of spiritually righteous and spiritually unrighteous. As we have already seen from the plain teaching of the Bible, being spiritually unrighteous is every person’s beginning state (Romans 3:10-18, 23). When a person is spiritually unrighteous, that person is completely unrighteous, and there is no righteousness in him. But because of the gospel, because God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that those who are unrighteous can believe on Jesus for salvation, it is possible for the person by faith to move from the state of absolutely unrighteous to the state of absolutely righteous. The gospel also teaches that once you have moved from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, “righteous” has become your eternal state. This is because when you place your faith in Jesus, God declares you, the unrighteous, to be righteous in His sight, and God’s declaration of your righteousness is an eternal declaration. The one whom God has declared to be spiritually righteous can never be spiritually unrighteous again.

REVIEW. Once again, I have gone through this process very deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible, through the gospel of Christ, to change states and to move from unrighteous to righteous
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, and
  • the destination state of “righteous” becomes the eternal state for that person. From that point on, the person is eternally declared righteous.

As we have considered this movement between absolute states, hopefully it has become clear why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for condemned sinners. Through the gospel, the one who is fully spiritually unrighteous in God’s sight and condemned by their sin is not hopelessly doomed to hell, although that is what they deserve. All other means of rescue fail utterly, but for the one who will repent of their sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, their faith is credited to them as righteousness. By trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares that person as being righteous, and righteous they remain eternally.

SDG rmb 5/22/2022 #534

1 Peter 2:9 (Part 1) – The believer’s new identity

INTRODUCTION. The first letter of Peter provides a sound foundation for the newly converted disciple of Jesus Christ to begin their journey with their Savior, and the heart of their conversion is captured powerfully in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Here Peter declares the disciple’s new identity, their new purpose, and their new people. This post is about the disciple’s new identity.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Our study text above begins by Peter telling us about our new identity, and the apostle gives us four characteristics that are now true of us that were not true of us before. But the presence of a new identity requires the existence of an old identity. And this is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that “the old man” can and must die and “the new man” must rise to take his place. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to convert a human soul, to “rescue us from the domain of darkness and transfer us into the kingdom of Christ” (Col. 1:13). Only by bowing the knee to Jesus and trusting Him alone for my salvation can I receive my new identity.

But before we explore the four characteristics of our new identity in Christ, we need to look at the old identity we had without Christ.

THE OLD IDENTITY OF “SINNER”

Formerly, unrepentant sin was the dominant and defining characteristic of our life. It may seem strange for me to say that, because, for the sinner, sin is just not that big a deal, and for someone to say that “sin is the defining characteristic of your life” seems like hyperbole. But keep in mind that we are now seeing the issue of our sin from God’s point of view. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin defines a person’s life. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin results in condemnation and judgment. So, sin is big deal to God. Having unrepentant, unforgiven sin gives us the identity of “sinner.”

So, formerly, with our old identity as “sinner,” our sin established a separation between us and God, the Holy One (Isaiah 59:2). On our part, we sinned with delight and we sinned without remorse (Romans 1:28-32; 6:20-21; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Peter 4:3; etc.). We sinned without regard to consequences and without regard to “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against our ungodliness and our unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Regardless of the degree of our sin, whether small or great, we were defiant rebels who willfully remained ignorant of our sin. We were happily oblivious to the fact that we were “storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).

Then came the day when those who were happy in their sin heard the gospel. An ambassador for Christ proclaimed to them that God is holy and that they were sinners and that God’s wrath abided on them (John 3:36) because of their sin. But Christ, the Son of God, had exchanged heaven’s glory for the agony of the cross so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life (John 3:16). They had believed that message and embraced that Christ and had passed from death to life (John 5:24).

THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST IS “SINNER” NO LONGER

Recall that, before we had repented and trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we had our old identity of “sinner.” But now in Christ, believers are sinners no longer. This is the amazing reality of our new life in Christ. While it is true that we continue to sin, we are no longer “sinners.” Even though we will not be free from all sin until we die, when we finally shed the flesh that indwells this mortal body, our old identity as “sinner” is no more. God now relates to us as saints who are wrapped in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Our sins, which were as scarlet and which were on proud display for all to see, have been made whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18).

The Bible does not refer to believers as sinners because heaven no longer sees our sins. All our sins – past, present, and future – have been nailed to Christ’s cross (Col. 2:14) and are, therefore, no longer a barrier between the believer and the living God. All the believer’s sins, whether flagrant or mild, whether intentional or unintentional, whether acknowledged or unknown, are as far from the believer as east is from west (Psalm 103:12). Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the Lord has cast all my sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), yes, He has cast all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Those whom the Lord has declared as righteous can no longer be “sinners.”

NEW IDENTITY

So, if we are no longer sinners and our old identity has been buried with Christ, who are we now? Who have we become? That will be the subject of the next post on 1 Peter 2:9 as we look at the four characteristics of the disciples of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 4/27/2022                   #522

Psalm 116:4 – I called upon the name of the LORD (Part 4)

INTRODUCTION. My fourth and final post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see previous Post #518, 4/19/2022)

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the fourth verse. .

116:4 CALL UPON THE LORD – “SAVE MY LIFE!”

When we had last seen the psalmist at the end of Psalm 116:3, he was in a desperate place. Having been convicted of his sin and having realized the wrath of God that was directed upon him because of his transgressions, the writer felt the awful weight of condemnation. His sin must be punished and so, he appeared doomed. Who but himself could pay the penalty?

THEN . . . MERCY!

“Then . . .” (116:4) It is such a simple word, but in the right context, it can have life-changing significance. “Then . . .”

Then I thought to myself that the Holy One of Israel may also be merciful to me, the sinner (Luke 18:13). Then I dared to think that perhaps ‘the Lord GOD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ (Ezekiel 33:11). Then I imagined that it could be that ‘while I was still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6). In the depths of my sin, I had looked within, but there was no salvation in me. I had looked to the Law to see if I could obtain forgiveness there, but the Law could only condemn and show me my sin. The Law’s sacrifices could not remove my sin. ‘Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?’ (Micah 6:7). Ah, but then I turned to the LORD for His mercy. ‘I confessed my transgressions to the LORD, and You forgave the guilt of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5). Could it be that simple? Could it be that ‘If I confessed my sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)? Then I remembered that ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13). And so, what would be the only reasonable thing to do?”

To call upon the LORD!

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

THE CRY OF INITIAL FAITH

When I had no reason to receive mercy and deliverance, when I had lost all hope, then I called upon the name of the LORD. Out of the depths I have cried to the LORD (Psalm 130:1). I cried aloud with my voice to the LORD (Psalm 142:1). “In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6). In an outburst of initial faith and with a cry to the One whom I cannot see but whom I suddenly trust and believe for my salvation, “Then I called upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:4). Hopelessness is vanquished by faith, and I am compelled to call upon the name of the LORD.

And what do I cry out to Him? “O LORD, I beseech you, save my life!” Lord, rescue me from sin and death and bring me into Your kingdom! Save my life from death and Sheol!

By faith, Bartimaeus asked Jesus for the impossible, to receive his sight (Mark 10:51). By faith, the leper asked Jesus to make him clean (Matthew 8:2). By faith, Jairus begged Jesus to save his daughter from death (Mark 5:23). And Jesus responded to their faith and granted their requests.

In the same way, the sinner comes to Jesus in repentance and faith, requesting the impossible: “Save my life!” And Jesus assures us that “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). And we know from the rest of this psalm that the Lord is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death. – Psalm 116: 7-8

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY OF PSALM 116:1-4

In this brief study of Psalm 116:1-4 we have seen there are sound reasons to pray to the Lord. To those who know Him, the Lord has inclined His ear to hear their calls for help. And to those who do not know Him, the Lord has promised to hear them when they beseech Him in faith and ask Him to save their life.

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2022                   #519

Psalm 116:3 – Rescue from death and Sheol (Part 3)

INTRODUCTION. My third post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see Post #517, 4/15/2022)

The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow. – Psalm 116:3

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the third verse. .

116:3 CONFRONTED WITH DEATH AND SHEOL

The psalmist now speaks of the consequences of years, maybe decades of godless living.

THE CORDS OF DEATH

“The cords of death encompassed me.” These cords have not come upon the writer for no reason. Rather, the accumulated sins that were once so delightful and offered their wicked pleasures for my enjoyment have borne their bitter fruit of hopelessness and despair. Having walked in the path of anger, greed, hatred, selfishness, lust, strife, lying, deceit, and pride, I have reaped the fruit of fear, loneliness, and emptiness. Now suddenly death appears on the horizon as a dreaded specter, threatening a just recompense for my myriad transgressions. Like a stick floating irresistibly toward the brink of the towering waterfall up ahead, I float toward  my own death unable to slow the progress and unable to change the outcome. The icy fingers of the cords of death are tightening around my soul and in a panic, I search for an escape from this pit. “The cords of death encompassed me.”

THE TERRORS OF SHEOL

With the cords of death inevitably come the terrors of Sheol. Instinctively I know that physical death is not the end of my existence and that my sins must be punished, for the Lord will not allow His righteous Law to be trampled with impunity. I know “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4), and that verse has a very personal sound to it. “The terrors of Sheol came upon me.” As my death steadily approaches day by day, the terrors of Sheol grow more acute. The Lord has prepared a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) and I realize with horror that my sins have purchased that place for me. And so, “the terrors of Sheol came upon me.” But regretting my sins now does no good. The crimes against the Holy One of Israel have been committed and they cannot be undone. Blood is on my hands and guilt is on my soul. The terrors of Sheol await and how can there be any escape for me? God is just, and how can He acquit the guilty and still remain just?

And what must be the inevitable result? “I found distress and sorrow.” The cords of death grip my throat and the terrors of Sheol threaten my eternal soul, thus distress and sorrow ensue. There is vast misery and horror as I see that I must reap the harvest of the sin that I have sown. “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). Who can deliver me from my deserved condemnation? I look within me and know that this sinner cannot save himself. I look around me and know that all others are in the same boat with me and cannot save themselves and certainly cannot save me. And so, I am hopeless and my doom is sealed, for where else can I look? I am condemned before a holy God, and His justice demands punishment for sin. And is there any answer to God’s justice?

THE PERIL OF EVERY SINNER WITHOUT CHRIST

This is the situation and the peril of every person who remains outside of Christ. For every soul who does not worship Jesus, there will be eternal “distress and sorrow,” unending misery and ruin. God’s justice must be satisfied, and every sin must receive a full recompense. God is infinitely holy and, in His universe, all sin must be punished. If God were only a God of justice, every child of Adam would have no hope. And as we finish examining Psalm 116:3, we are in a hopeless situation. We have “found distress and sorrow.”

IS DISTRESS AND SORROW THE FINAL ANSWER?

But the good news is that God the Judge is also the God of mercy. The good news is that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). The good news is that “God is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). The good news is that God is perfectly just and the Justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). The good news is that God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). And the psalmist who wrote Psalm 116 had experienced this God of mercy.

The next post from Psalm 116:1-4 will tell of how the unrighteous can receive mercy from the Lord.

SDG                 rmb                 4/19/2022                   #518

These must not even be named among you (Ephesians 5:1-6)

INTRODUCTION. An exegesis and exhortation from Ephesians 5:1-6. This post will be the second in a series of articles designed to give the disciple of Jesus biblical tactics and strategies to fight the sin of sexual immorality in its various manifestations. (See also Post #513 from 4/5/2022 and Post #511 from 4/1/2022.)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. – Ephesians 5:1-6

These are all part of the worthy walk from Ephesians 4:1: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” In Ephesians 5, the apostle continues his exhortations by instructing us about the more fleshly sins. But he begins by reminding us of our family heritage.

5:1-2. Paul has told us in the doctrinal section of the epistle that we have an adoption as sons (1:5) and therefore we have an inheritance (1:11, 18) from the Father. Since that is true, then we will live lives that demonstrate our adoption and that testify to our being heirs.

Children naturally imitate their parents. God has wired us that way. Children are constantly observing all the parent’s behaviors and mannerisms to try to imitate everything the parent does. One clear example is that a son will observe how his father walks and he will imitate that walk. (See John 5:19.) One of the clearest indicators of sonship is that he walks like his father.

Likewise, the beloved children of God strive to imitate God. And the glorious, good news is that we now have been adopted by a perfect heavenly Father whom we long to imitate. So, if we are, indeed, children of God, we will imitate God in all our behavior and will thus give evidence of our family ties (1 Peter 1:15). We will walk in love, like our Father.

APPLICATION: Therefore, consider these things the next time you are tempted to engage in some kind of sexual sin. “I am a beloved child of God. I long to be an imitator of God by walking in love. Therefore, all my behavior, in public and in private, will glorify my older brother, Jesus, and will bring glory to God.” In the power of that truth and resolve, then vigorously reject the temptation.

MOTIVATION: 5:1-2. Since we have been adopted as sons of the living God, the Holy One of Israel, let us live holy lives at all times, in our minds and with our hands.

5:3. (This verse is a pure command.) These are the sins that should not even be named among believers. What Paul is saying is that these sinful behaviors are doubly dangerous. First, they defile the professing disciple, and second, they defame the name of Jesus. Continuing in this sin causes believers to begin to question the truth of your testimony. “Does a true believer continue in these sins that are not even to be mentioned?” And continuing in these sins causes unbelievers to mock and ridicule the name of Christ. Unbelievers know that believers claim that Jesus is holy and that He came to set His people free from sin yet here we have a professing believer who continues in overt, “unmentionable” sin. This causes the mockers to say, “Does Jesus really set you free from sin, or is this just another religion?” In 2 Samuel 12:14, Nathan rebukes King David, saying, “By this deed you have given occasion for the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.” In Romans 2:24, Paul declares, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Both of these verses are declaring how the sin of the believer calls into question the power and the holiness of our glorious gospel.

Immorality. This “immorality” is specifically sexual immorality. Also mentioned is all (any) impurity or greed. These behaviors should never be mentioned among us or ever be said about us. The worthy walk (4:1) and the life of the heir (the one with the inheritance) exclude these things. Those who display these sins bring scrutiny on their inheritance. (Refer back to Ephesians 1:11, 18 which talk about our inheritance in Christ as part of what God has given us because of our election.) If you evidence these sins that are not even to be mentioned, you may be testifying that you are NOT an heir and you do not have an inheritance.

It is possible to think you are an heir, but to be wrong. You think you are an heir of God with an inheritance, but your behaviors and your sins betray you. Hebrews 12:16f gives us a drastic warning about Esau who despised his birthright and lost his blessing through his carelessness. So we must not throw away our inheritance through our sins.

5:4. (This verse is a pure command.) These seemingly “lesser sins” are forbidden because may simply be clues that point to uglier sins hidden in the dark or just beneath the surface. The person who “walks” in this way is at least immature and unsanctified and is at worst unsaved. The worthy walk is waging war against all of these sins, not just the “biggies.” Sanctification must ruthlessly attack all filthiness and get rid of it. Purge it out. Put it to death. There is no such thing as a “lesser sin,” because every sin sent Christ to the cross. But we also need to remember that any sin is food to feed the flesh and to strengthen the flesh and empower its lusts. Therefore we must put all sin to death. We need to starve it, choke it, smother it, or buffet it. Our approach must be a zero tolerance policy – no sin, no matter how “small,” is acceptable for the disciple of Jesus. As we have seen before in another lesson in this series, these sins “wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

APPLICATION. Be alert for and wage war against all sin, no matter how seemingly harmless. It is the little foxes that ruin the vineyards (Song of songs 2:15).

5:5. “This you know with certainty that no one who displays these behaviors has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” That sounds pretty strong! You may say, “Paul seems to be trying to frighten me.” Yes, exactly. That is exactly what Paul is doing! The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul would rather frighten you into casting all your sins far away from you than leave you falsely confident that because you are a professing Christian you can sin with impunity.

We need to think about this verse for a second. For Paul is writing to Ephesian believers and warning them that we know with certainty there are some people who do not have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. But we also know that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14) and are secure in their salvation (1 John 5:11-13). In America we have been taught so much about the security of the believer that even apostolic warnings tend to be discounted and explained away. But like the author’s warnings in the epistle of “Hebrews,” Paul is issuing a stern warning to those who display ungodly behavior and saying, “Your immorality and impurity may indicate that you do not have salvation.” The principle is that BEHAVIOR TRUMPS PROFESSION. This should serve as a red alert for all professing Christians who are “struggling” with these types of fleshly sins, particularly sexual sins. Behavior trumps profession. The fruit reveals the root. “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So, if there is a disconnect between your profession and your behavior, then what the behavior reveals represents the truth. Your immoral behavior can disqualify your testimony.

And so, if others see you as an immoral or impure person, or covetous man, you have your warning and you know you are in danger. Be frightened, and immediately and radically change your behavior, or you may be lost.

APPLICATION. Make sure that your behavior and the thoughts in your head are consistent with the testimony you profess. Be open to be alarmed.

5:6. One of the consequences of the fall is that there are deceivers in the world who delight in destroying your soul. Some people will tell you lies and deceive you for no other reason than to bring about your ruin. Yes, Satan relishes your spiritual demise, but he is not the only one. There are people you encounter in books and on TV, and people who stand behind pulpits or parade up and down on platforms who are just as pleased as Satan when their deceptive words bring about your shipwreck. They are drinking the drug of power over others, and your ruin is their reward.

So, Paul vigorously warns about these deceivers. “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (5:6). The deceiver will tell you smooth things, that your sin is not really sin and that a token response is true repentance. They will say, “God loves you, so how can He be angry with you?” or “God does not expect perfection, just your best effort.” The deceiver will teach you things that sound good, but that do not appear anywhere in God’s word. “Let no one deceive you!” It is one thing to have received no warning and then to be deceived by a crafty charlatan, but it is another to receive apostolic warning about those who would deceive you and then still be deceived. Do not be a fool! Do not be deceived!

These deceivers will try to convince you that there is no consequence to your secret sins of lust, but the word of God tells the truth. “On account of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.”

APPLICATION 1. Listen carefully to faithful, trusted teachers and preachers of the Word, and find a church where you trust the pastor’s teaching. Be discerning when listening to those who have not already proven themselves trustworthy. Reject wholesale those who deceive you and tell you lies to control you.

APPLICATION 2. Do not listen to anyone who tries to convince you that your fleshly lusts are not sin and that they are not deadly dangerous. That person is a deceiver and seeks your spiritual ruin.

SDG                 rmb                 4/10/2022                   #515

Abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11)

INTRODUCTION. This post will be the first in a series of articles designed to give the disciple of Jesus biblical tactics and strategies to fight the sin of sexual immorality in its various manifestations.

THE PASSAGE: 1 PETER 2:11

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. – 1 Peter 2:11 (NASB)

QUICK BACKGROUND ON 1 PETER

The original readers of Peter’s letter were scattered believers from the northern part of modern day Turkey. They were formerly involved in worship of false gods (1:18) and had indulged in lusts (1:14) and “abominable idolatries” (4:3). But they had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and had been “born again to a living hope” (1:3), and now they were receiving instruction from the apostle Peter about what it means to be “a holy nation” (2:9) of obedient disciples.

Therefore, Peter speaks very frankly and directly to his readers. There is nothing ambiguous about the apostle’s message nor is there any room for confusion. These believers desire to know and deserve to know what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus, and Peter’s clear instruction does not disappoint.

ONE CLEAR COMMAND WITH FOUR MOTIVATIONS

A careful reading of 1 Peter 2:11 reveals that the apostle gives one command supported by four motivations or reasons for obeying the command.

The command: Abstain from fleshly lusts.

The motivations to obey:

  • You are “beloved”
  • The word of God “urges” you to abstain
  • You are now “aliens and strangers” (“sojourners and exiles” ESV) in this sinful world, and are no longer slaves to your former passions
  • These lusts and passions “wage war against the soul”

THE CLEAR COMMAND – ABSTAIN FROM FLESHLY LUSTS! This is the point of the verse and comes as a command. Peter tells us TO ABSTAIN. In other words, “Do not start doing this! If you are doing this, stop it right NOW! Discontinue this activity. Avoid this. Prevent this. Shun this. Reject this. Detest this. Don’t even think about it!” Peter intends a vigorous action that is taken to avoid serious danger.

To his original readers, the apostle uses the verb “abstain” because their activity prior to conversion was probably “indulge.” These believers were formerly Gentiles and thus lived without the restraint that the Mosaic Law and the Jewish moral culture provided. “Fleshly lusts” were a normal part of their former life (see 1 Peter 1:14; 4:3), and they had developed these filthy immoral habits from years of practice.

But now they are no longer to behave “like unreasoning animals” (2 Peter 2:12). Now they are commanded to abstain from fleshly lusts. The old sinful habits are to be immediately abrogated and new, Spirit-controlled behavior is to replace it. Obedience is not to be a gradual weaning off of sin but is to be an immediate, complete cessation. Any engagement in fleshly lusts represents disobedience. We are commanded to abstain.

If all Peter did was issue this command, we would still have no excuse for any further disobedience, but our God is gracious and gives us four motivations for obeying the command.

BELOVED. The first motivation for obedience is the fact that we are BELOVED. Peter has just talked about our being “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (2:9). At one time, we “were not a people, but now we are the people of God” (2:10). But now, in this verse, he calls us “beloved.” Of course, the question is, “Beloved by whom?” We are now loved by someone, but who is that someone? The startling reality is that we who love the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:8) are beloved by God the Father. We are the beloved children of the Lord of the universe, the glorious Creator God. We have been adopted as His own and are eternally joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15-17, 23). And since we are BELOVED by God, we are obligated to behave as His holy children, obey His commands, and abstain from fleshly lusts.

URGED BY THE WORD OF GOD. The second motivation is that the word of God URGES us to abstain from fleshly lusts. We know that the Bible is God-breathed, and that it is profitable for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Thus, when the Scripture urges us to do anything, it is as if God Himself is urging that same thing. The Bible is the word of God and carries all the authority of the actual voice of God. When Scripture tells us to abstain, God is telling us to abstain. Since the word of God URGES us to abstain, we are compelled to abstain from fleshly lusts.

ALIENS AND STRANGERS. The third motivation comes from the fact that we are not who we used to be. Before we were enslaved to various lusts and pleasures. Before we were slaves of sin, we were obedient to the flesh, and we were comfortable with the desires of the flesh. We were “darkened in our understanding and had given ourselves over to sensuality for the practice of every king of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:18-19). As a result, we were completely comfortable with the world and the things of the world.

But now we have changed worlds. We have been rescued from the domain of darkness. We have died to sin. Now we hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are part of a holy nation and, as such, we strive to be holy in all our behavior. We long to be holy, as our God is holy. Since our citizenship is in heaven, we have become aliens and strangers to the lusts of this world. Since we are, in truth, aliens in this world, then we are to behave as aliens to this corrupt and lustful culture. We have become aliens and strangers in God’s sight through faith in Jesus Christ, so we are motivated to live as aliens and strangers before men. Therefore, we will abstain from fleshly lusts.

WAGE WAR AGAINST THE SOUL. The fourth motivation contained in this verse is the warning that, when I allow fleshly lusts into my life, they wage war against my soul. In a war, the enemy must be killed or it will kill you. In the war against lust and fleshly desires, you must always be alert to keep the enemy outside the gate. Once admitted inside, fleshly lusts will seek to destroy your soul. How? A little lust will attack your taste for holiness. Lust will dull your sensitivity to subtle sins. Lust inside the gate will convince you that sin is not really sin. Once lust enters the gate, it will attack your self-discipline and your self-control so that you do not buffet your body. Fleshly lusts wage war against the soul and stop you from mortifying the flesh. In short, fleshly lusts will destroy your holy behavior. How do we keep fleshly lusts on the outside? We abstain from fleshly lusts.

FROM COMMAND TO BATTLE PLAN

We have heard Peter’s command to us and seen how we are motivated to take action but the question is, “Will we take action?” The disciple who desires to be obedient will act on the commands of Scripture and devise a battle plan to vanquish their sin.

Let me speak to men and be clear. If you are looking at pornography, or if you spend time thinking about women from your past or women in your present (obviously other than your wife), or if your eyes linger on other women as pieces of “eye candy,” or if you feel both slightly excited and a little guilty about your interactions with women, then you are already in a dangerous battle that can result in the damaging of your soul and the shipwreck of your life. Peter is talking to you, and you need to abstain from all these forms of fleshly lusts. What action will you take to make sure that you “abstain from fleshly lusts”?

Here are some suggestions that have been helpful to me.

  • Be very sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s warnings. The Spirit will make you aware of the sins of lust. Decide that you will listen to all those promptings from the Spirit and then resolve to take action EACH TIME you receive a warning.
  • When tempted, refuse the temptation and do something else instead. Turn off your phone. Imagine Jesus is watching you (because He is). Recite Psalm 119:9-11 or Colossians 3:5-8. Picture the devil watching you and laughing at you as you fail to be pure again. If you have children, imagine confessing your sin to your son, who has you as his role model, or imagine confessing your sin to your daughter, who wants to marry a man like you. In short, whatever it takes, TAKE ACTION!
  • Decide beforehand what you will do when tempted to avoid sin and then do what you decided immediately upon temptation and every time you are tempted.
  • Saturate your mind with the Word of God so that the sewer of your lustful thoughts is washed clean and you have a pure stream of thoughts. “Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean” (Psalm 51:7).
  • Develop a daily discipline of repenting of your sins of fleshly lusts. By “repenting” I mean telling the Lord you hate these sins and you acknowledge them as wickedness. Declare your desire to be holy
  • Ask one Christian brother to pray with you and for you, that you would be obedient to the commands of Scripture and not give the devil the victory. Let him ask you direct questions and rebuke you when you fail to obey.

Hopefully something give here will be helpful. Brothers, we are in a battle that is not about you but is about the glory of the Lord Jesus. He claims to save people from sin, so that longer we fail to be holy, the more ammunition there is for questioning our Savior’s power. Jesus saves us from sin. Therefore, we need to ABSTAIN FROM FLESHLY LUSTS.

SDG                 rmb                 4/5/2022                     #513

Baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8)

INTRODUCTION. A study of the fascinating character of Simon the magician from Acts 8:9-24. Simon is a false convert who “believes” and is baptized during the ministry of Philip in Samaria but is later revealed to be still in his sins. What can we learn from him and his false profession that will help us in our own ministry?

In this study in Acts 8:5-24, we read about the fruitful ministry in Samaria of Philip the evangelist as men and women hear Philip’s gospel message, believe the message, and are baptized, a pattern that is typical of the apostolic ministry of the book of Acts. We also meet Simon the magician, who is anything but typical. Simon clams to believe and, as a result, is baptized, but his claim of believing is proven false by his actions and his words.

The key verses are Acts 8:18-19:

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

What we see here is that our magical friend had a very distorted view of the Holy Spirit and of the gospel of salvation. In fact, I suggest that Simon the magician is seeing this entire gospel event through a dark, occult lens. Remember, Simon is a magician, a wizard who was called “the Great Power of God” for astonishing the people of Samaria with his magic arts. But when Philip comes into Samaria performing signs and great miracles (8:13; see also 8:6-7), Simon is forgotten, and his fame and income vanish. The Samaritans “believe Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) and, when they believe the gospel, they forsake all their interest in the magic arts and thus give evidence of their true conversion.

By contrast, Simon claims to believe and yet he continues to pursue his magic arts. This is a first hint that his professed belief is suspect. Despite “believing” and falsely being baptized it seems Simon is still a magician. As a magician, Simon does not see Philip as an evangelist who is preaching the gospel of salvation, but he is a powerful fellow magician who can do amazing magic arts through the name of this Jesus Christ. And so Simon “continued on with Philip” (2:13) not so that he could hear more about Jesus, but so that he might learn how Philip was performing all these signs and miracles. Simon wanted to learn Philip’s magic, no to know Philip’s Christ.

In the same way Simon does not see Peter as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ but as another powerful spiritist who is able to bestow occult powers on people simply by laying his hands on them. Not believing that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, but is instead some spiritual force, Simon appeals to Peter as his fellow magician and offers him money so that he too may bestow this “Holy Spirit” on others by laying hands on them.

Taking a closer look at 8:18-19, we see Simon’s errors.

  • Simon believed that the Holy Spirit was bestowed mechanically when anyone with power laid hands on anyone else. But the Holy Spirit is the gift of God that is given to the believer when they place their faith in the Lord Jesus. Thus, it is bestowed spiritually as a result of faith.
  • The magician thought that he could buy the Holy Spirit with money. It is typical of unbelievers to believe that money can buy anything, but the Holy Spirit is God and cannot be purchased at any price.
  • Simon assumed that he could buy the Holy Spirit and then dispense it to whoever would pay him money to get it. (“So that everyone (or anyone) on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”) He treated the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, as a commodity that could be sold.

These were the thoughts of Simon the pretender. He pretended to be a genuine believer, but, as Peter pointed out, he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). Simon the magician is thus guilty of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24-32), for he views the divine Spirit as a demonic force to be dispensed to anyone willing to pay money. Simon treats the Holy Spirit of the living God as an occult spirit, a commodity sold by the magician as part of his dark trade.

Finally, Simon betrays his unregenerate state by refusing to obey the instructions of the Apostle Peter. In Acts 8:22, Peter commands Simon to repent of his wickedness and to pray to the Lord for forgiveness (both “repent” and “pray” are in the imperative in the Greek), but Simon ignores the call to repent and tells Peter to pray, instead (8:24). Simon is either unwilling or unable to pray, and so he asks Peter to pray for him. But a man must repent for himself, and a man must ask for forgiveness himself. No one can repent for someone else, and no one can ask the Lord for forgiveness for someone else. Simon hears the gospel but does not believe. Simon is commanded to repent but ignores the command. He is commanded to beg the Lord for forgiveness, but he refuses to act. Thus, in the end Simon perishes.

SDG                 rmb                 3/9/2022                     #501

Cut down the fig tree! (Luke 13:6-9) – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is the second part of a study from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This post will take the form of a sermon, calling the sinner to repentance before it is too late. The context for this parable is the subject of saving repentance. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:1-5 stresses the critical importance of repentance, and the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 stresses the urgency of repentance.

In the previous post #485 on January 17, 2022, we had looked at the “big picture” interpretation of the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. We saw that the parable could be understood as a picture of national Israel and their long-term rebellion against God culminating in the rejection of their promised Messiah, Jesus. God finally decides to “Cut it down,” which He does in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

THE MEANING FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SINNER

But there is another way to understand this parable that applies to every unbeliever who hears the gospel. For just as Israel continued in their rebellion against God and their rejection of the Messiah until God’s patience finally ran out, so the individual sinner can continue in their own personal rejection of Jesus the Messiah until the Lord closes the door to repentance and salvation. In other words, in this parable, instead of the fig tree representing the nation of Israel, the fig tree represents the individual who continues to reject Jesus as Lord of his life. In this case, God would figuratively come to the individual looking for the fruit of repentance and faith. After all, this person has heard the gospel many times, so by now there should have been a response to Jesus. But, in fact, there has been no response at all to the gospel call. Instead, the person has continued in their sin and has rejected and despised Jesus. Thus, God the vineyard owner decides to cut the fig tree down, by ending the person’s life. But in this hypothetical conversation, the vineyard-keeper, Jesus, intercedes and asks for a little more time. But if there is still no response to the gospel, then the fig tree will be cut down.

The chilling reality for every unbeliever is that only the Lord knows when your life will be over or when you will have rejected Jesus for the last time, and you will be “cut down.”

We know that there are many people in this world who never hear about Jesus. They never hear the gospel message of Jesus’ sinless life, of His atoning death, or of His glorious resurrection. They never hear a herald calling them to faith in Christ and calling them to repentance from sin. They never hear of Christ and so they perish (Romans 2:12) and are forever condemned.

But we also know that there are many who do hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but who never respond in faith. Perhaps they are always learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7), but the gospel message is useless to them. They hear the glorious, good news, but they go away unchanged. In the New Testament, Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), but he never believed his message. The philosophers in Athens (Acts 17) heard Paul tell of the resurrection of Jesus, but they scoffed and did not believe. In Corinth (Acts 18:6) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9), the people rejected Paul and his gospel and did not believe. Felix (Acts 24:26) talked often with the apostle Paul, but he never believed. Agrippa and Festus heard Paul proclaim the gospel (Acts 26), but they never believed in Jesus. In each of these cases, there came a last time to hear the gospel. The gospel was proclaimed, Jesus was exalted, and the people were urged to repent and believe, but they refused, and so there came a time when the Lord said, “Cut it down!”

What I am saying is that you must respond now to the gospel call, for you do not know when God will decide that you have heard your last salvation message and it is time for you to be “cut down.” In Luke 13:1-5, the Lord Jesus speaks about the necessity of repentance for salvation, and then He follows that teaching with a parable about the urgency of repentance. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2), and you do not know if there will ever be another such day.

EXHORTATION TO THE UNBELIEVER

It is urgent that you repent and believe now, so I offer you these words of exhortation.

O, unbeliever! O, you who refuse to confess Jesus as Lord! You who continue to live as if your life will go on forever and who despise God’s gracious gift of His crucified Son! You do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?” You do not know when the Lord will finally harden your heart so that you cannot respond to the call to repent and come to Christ. The gospel declares your moral ruin, that you have sinned against the living God. You have violated God’s holy laws and you have rejected the offering of His Son, and you are condemned and stand under God’s terrifying judgment.

But now consider this parable that we have read. As long as you still draw breath there is time to repent. O, today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart, for you do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does he still use up the ground?”

Today, right now if you hear God’s voice, believe in the Lord Jesus. Today you must respond to Christ. Know that your response to Christ is never neutral. You either embrace Christ as Lord or you rebel against Him and reject Him and despise His salvation. You are either for Him or against Him, and there is no middle ground (Matthew 12:30).

“Maybe tomorrow I will come to Christ.” But tomorrow never comes! Today is the day of salvation. If you do not come now, you have rejected Christ.

“The next time I hear the gospel, then I will respond.” That would be a foolish response, for there will never be a time like now. Now the Lord is delaying the axe and is offering Christ. If you wait till next time, you have rejected Christ.

Know that to reject Christ is to continue in your rebellion. Know that today, if you do not worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then God sees you as a rebel and as an enemy. And, dear friend, you must understand that if you die as a rebel, you will be a rebel against God forever. For all of eternity, God’s holy wrath will be poured out on you.

But today you can pass from death to life! If you will bow the knee to Jesus, you will be adopted as a child of God. If you confess Jesus as Lord today, right now, you will never hear the Lord say about you, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?”

SDG                 rmb                 1/18/2022                   #486