Who Is Jesus, Session 8: The God Claim, Part 2

Notes from May 18 Who Is Jesus Bible Study.

6019_trueu_jesus_lgHere are the notes from this week’s session of Focus on the Family’s Who Is Jesus Bible study. To read the notes for previous sessions, click on the links below:

 

 

Who Is Jesus S8.7.PNG

In the last session, we began to look at seven key pieces of evidence that Jesus claimed to be God. To recap:

Who Is Jesus S8.2

So, let’s look at the next three:

5. Jesus claimed a divine relationship with the Father.

  • Matthew 10:32: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
  • Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
  • John 6:40: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,and I will raise them up at the last day.”
  • John 8:16: “But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.”

6. Jesus Manifested God’s Divine Attributes

  • Omniscience (John 18:4): He knew all that was going to happen to Him
  • Eternally Existent (John 8:58): Before Abraham was, I am.”
  • Omnipotence (Matthew 8:23-27): “…Even the wind and waves obey Him!”
  • Omnipresence (Matthew 18:20)
  • Immutability (Hebrews 13:8)
  • Worshiped by men (Mt. 14:31-33) and angels (Hebrews 1:6)
  • Prayed to (Acts 7:59)
  • Forgave Sins (Mark 2:7,10)
  • Called the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:17)
  • Creator (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17)
  • Savior (Romans 10:9)
  • God (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8)

7. Jesus claimed divine titles.

  • When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he said, “I am the voice of one crying, “In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” He was referencing Isaiah 40:3; which contains both the names “The Lord” ( YHWH, the unspeakable name of God), and “God” (Elohim)
  • When the woman at the well said to Jesus, “I know the Messiah is coming,” Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:26)
  • When Peter called Him “The Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16); Jesus didn’t correct him. He affirmed the response.
  • Jesus prayer in John 17:1-3 is perhaps the most powerful statement Jesus made about Himself:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Jesus gives Himself the title of Messiah.

Some Problem Passages…

  1. Why did Jesus Himself warn the disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah (Matthew 16:20; 17:9)?
    • Notice that the rest of 17:9 says, “Until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
    • After the resurrection, Jesus tells His disciples to tell everybody! (Mt. 28:18-19)
    • In other words, Jesus wasn’t trying to deny the truth, but to reveal the truth at the right time.
  2. When Caiphas asked Jesus, if He was the Messiah, all Jesus said was “You have said so” (Mt. 26:63). Isn’t that a little weak?
    • We hear that in English and think He is saying something like “Those are your words, not mine.” But in Greek, the meaning is more along the lines of “From your own mouth you have testified to the truth.”
    • Note that in the parallel account in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ response is, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds in heaven” (Mark 14:62). This was enough for Caiphas to charge Him with blasphemy.
  3. Jesus called Himself “Son of Man” more often than “Son of God.” Which was He?  
    •  Some skeptics would challenge the God Claim by pointing out that “Son of Man” was used throughout the Old Testament to refer to human beings:
    • Who Is Jesus S8.4
    • However, in the Gospels, Son of God and Son of Man are used interchangeably. As you can see in Luke 22:67-70, the Sanhedrin did not make a distinction between Jesus’ phrase “The Son of Man” and their phrase, “Son of God.”

      This doesn’t mean the New Testament contradicts or is inconsistent with the Old Testament. Daniel, writing hundreds of years before Jesus, establishes the link between “Son of Man” and the Messiah:

      13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

      Greg Koukl notes that this phrase meant something very significant in ancient Israel. When Jesus used the phrase, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, because “You, a mere man, are making yourself out to be God.”

      Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” more than any other title. But you can’t use this to argue that Jesus didn’t claim to be God. Look at how Jesus used that title:

      Who Is Jesus S8.5

       

  4. “Son of God” doesn’t necessarily set Jesus apart. Aren’t we all “children of God?”
    • Jesus is not using these terms the way we would talk about human beings as “children of God.” Jesus said this to Nicodemus in John 3:16-18:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

In other words, He is the unique, and and only begotten Son of God!

My Favorite Title For Jesus: “I AM”

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:56-59)

They weren’t stoning Him for bad grammar!

  • John 10:30: I and the Father are One. Not the same person, but the same nature. The same essence.
  • John 18:4-6: When Jesus asked the Roman soldiers, “Whom do you seek,” and they responded “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus didn’t say, “That’s Me.” He said, “I am.” 

These Are Claims… Where’s the Proof?

  1. The proof of miracles: “That you may know the son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–He said to the paralytic–“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (See Mark 2:5-12)
    • See also what Jesus said about doing the works of the Father in John 10:24-26; John 10:37-38.
  2. The Proof of Witnesses (Dt. 19:15) In John 5:31, Jesus said that “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” So he proceeds to list all the witnesses that testify to His claims. And He doesn’t stop with three!
    1. John the Baptist (John 5:33)
    2. The works of Jesus (John 5:36)
    3. God the Father (John 5:37)
    4. Moses (John 5:46)
    5. All Scripture (John 5:39)
    6. The Holy Spirit (John 15:26)
    7. His followers (John 15:27)
  3. The Resurrection (The Greatest Proof) 

Who Is Jesus S8.6


Answers to “Quote/Unquote” section on page 74 of the Study Guide:

  1. He spoke as if God were not only His Father, but… as if He had this relationship with God that was intimate.
  2. He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega.
  3. Jesus calls Himself Son of God. That’s no big deal; we’re all children of God, correct? No.
  4. “Son of Man” became equated to Messiah and Son of God.
  5. Jesus was not saying “I and the Father are the same person.” He is saying, “I and the Father are the same thing. We’re one in essence.”
  6. They picked up stones to stone Him not because He got His grammar wrong.
  7. He says, “I am,” and all the soldiers can do is fall to the ground.
  8. You and I are called to be witnesses to who Jesus is, and the final proof is the greatest proof, and that’s the Resurrection.

Next week: Is Jesus Really the Only Way? 

Who Is Jesus? Session 7: The God Claim (Part 1)

Here are the notes for Session 7 of Focus on the Family’s Who Is Jesus? study.

Who Is Jesus S7.1

Q1: If Jesus is God, then everything begins to make sense.

Q2: If Jesus is really God, then the consequences are huge.

Who Is Jesus S7.2

Who Is Jesus S7.3

Twenty years later, when you ask someone on the street “Who is David Koresh?” most people didn’t know. Yet, 2,000 years later, billions of people not only know His name, they still believe His claims. Why?

 

Arguments Against the Divinity of Jesus

  • The disciples were mistaken
  • The disciples were delusional
  • The disciples were selfish. They wanted to build a divine Jesus to give their movement more power
  • “Jesus was an unfortunate guy who got caught up in things way over his head.”
  • “He was a religious leader who got too involved in politics, and that always ends badly.”
  • “He was a prophet, and would probably roll over in his grave at all this ‘Jesus is God’ talk.”

Did Jesus actually claim to be God? Seven key pieces of evidence

Q3: He acted as if He could actually forgive the sins of people (Luke 7:44-49)

  1. He led a sinless life (John 8:46;  1 Peter 2:22; 1 Peter 1:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb 4:15;

Q4: “I can’t think of another human being whose reputation was actually enhanced the closer you peered into their life.” –Lee Strobel

Q5: Jesus accepted the worship of men (Matt. 14:33; Mt. 28:9). Others in the Bible flatly refused to be worshiped: The angel in Rev. 19:10; Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:26)

Who Is Jesus S7.4.PNG

Q6: If He was either delusional, or a deceiver, or even a nice deceiver, you couldn’t call Him a good teacher.

Q7:  Jesus spoke with divine authority (Mt. 7:28-29; Mt. 28:19; John 5:39-40)

Who Is Jesus S7.5.PNG

Q8: Jesus is either Almighty God or He is arrogant beyond belief.

Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would he nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that. you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Next Week: The God Claim, Part 2

Romans 6 Recap

Last night, we discussed Session 9 of Tommy Nelson’s Romans: The Letter that Changed the World, which covers Romans 6:1-12.

When we talked about Romans 5, we all agreed that we can’t lose our salvation. We have eternal security, according to Romans 5:1-5 and John 10:28-29. But last night, we began with two key questions:

  1. What theological problems does the fact that we cannot lose our salvation cause?
  2. Does this truth scare the church?

The 2nd century church father Tertullian said,

Just as our Lord was crucified between two thieves, so this great doctrine of justification is continually crucified between two heresies.

The first heresy is legalism. We’ll talk about that in a minute. The second is liberalism, or, to use the five-dollar theological term Nelson uses, antinomianism.

51s30wtxs4l-_sx351_bo1204203200_In his book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, J.D. Greaar recounts the conversation he had with a young man he tried to witness to on the basketball court. The young man stopped him, and told him that he used to be a “super Christian”– going to youth camp, doing the True Love Waits thing, even leading other people to Jesus. But when he discovered sex, he decided he no longer wanted God telling him what to do:

So I decided to put God on hold for a while, and after a while just quit believing in Him altogether. I’m a happy atheist now.” He then added: “But here’s what’s awesome: the church I grew up in was Southern Baptist, and they taught eternal security—that means ‘once saved, always saved.’ . . .That means that my salvation at age thirteen still holds, even if I don’t believe in God anymore now. ‘Once saved, always saved,’ right? That means that even if you’re right, and God exists and Jesus is the only way, I’m safe! So either way, works out great for me. . . . If I’m right, then I haven’t wasted my life curbing my lifestyle because of a fairy tale. OK, it’s your shot.”

How would you respond to this young man? The Bible says you will know whether someone is saved by their fruit, right? But clearly this kid bore fruit in his earlier life. So now that he claims to be “a happy atheist,” is he still secure in his salvation? Can he fall back on his “get out of hell free” card and live how we wants the rest of his life?

Paul’s answer, in verse 2, is another of his famous me genoito  statements, which has been translated as everything from “May it never be” to “perish the thought,” to “hell, no.” “How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?”

If we are dead to sin, it cheapens grace to still chase after it, and it is a denial of who we are in Christ. Martyn Lloyd Jones compared it to the salves following the Civil War who, though they were legally released from slavery, they still quaked with fear whenever they saw their old master again, petrified that they would be sold into bondage again. Or the scene in the Shawshank Redemption, where Brooks, the released convict, can’t cope with how big the world has gotten on the outside. He longs for the comfort and familiarity of his prison bars. Eventually, he takes his life.

When we have died to sin, we are truly free. Before our conversion, we are not free to not sin. It cheapens grace to think that our freedom in Christ means we are now free to sin. What it really means is that we are now free to not sin.

Tim Keller details what Paul doesn’t mean by “We died to sin” in verse 2. It doesn’t mean…5117z9zxxul-_sx312_bo1204203200_

  1. That we no longer want to sin (duh). If this were true, there would be no need for verses 12-14.
  2. That we no longer ought to sin. Paul doesn’t say, “We ought to die,” but “we died.”
  3. That we are slowly moving away from sin. Again, we aren’t dying a slow death. The aorist tense of the verb refers to a single, past, once-and-done action.
  4. That at the moment of our baptism, we renounced sin. According to verses 3-5, our death to sin is not the result of something we have done, but something that is done to us.
  5. That we aren’t guilty of sin. Keller acknowledges that while this is true, it isn’t what Paul means here. He is trying to teach about why we seek to live without sin. “Simply restating the truth that we are pardoned in Christ is not the answer” (Keller, pp. 138-139).

We still struggle with sin, and we will until the day we die. This is part of our sanctification process. When Paul says, in verse 12, “Do not let sin rule over your mortal bodies,” he challenges us to continue to fight sin the way we would fight a guerrilla army, who keeps on waging a battle even after it knows the war is lost.

How do we do that? Tommy Nelson talked about several “nifty tricks” (his phrase) that people throughout history have used to aid in the sanctification process:

Asceticism (more sacrifice ): Through rigorous self-denial one can conquer the desires of the flesh

Mechanics (more ritual): Through habits of holiness and spiritual discipline one can master one’s fleshly desires

Scholasticism (more study): Through focused Bible study and Scripture memorization, I can hide God’s Word in my heart that I might now sin against God (Psalm 119:11).

Experientialism (more emotions): Through emotionally uplifting experiences such as worship services and retreats I can keep my heart turned toward God and away from the flesh.

Legalism (more rules): Through strict obedience to the law I can conquer sin.

The trick is to keep these in perspective. Tommy is right to call them “nifty tricks.” All of these can help in our struggle against sin. But we commit the other heresy Tertullian talked about when we add any of these to the gospel.

Next week: Session 10: We Must Obey (Romans 6:13-23)

Job: Some Nerve!

Who did Job think he was, telling God he would “cling to his righteousness and never let it go”?

 

Image

One of the most rewarding parts of my work week happens on Monday nights from 8:30-10:00, when a group of men gather together for a deep dive into the book of Romans. Some of us are trying to memorize the entire book. Others are memorizing the two or three verses that go along with each session. But all of us are benefiting from the intense, focused study on the book that launched the Reformation and is the foundation for arguably the most well-known gospel presentation, the Romans Road.

The dominant theme of the first three chapters of Romans is that none of us are righteous. Not one of us–no, not one–can stand before God with any shred of righteousness that comes from ourselves.

Which makes the book of Job such an enigma. You know the story. God and the devil make a wager over the life of Job. God gives Satan permission to mess with Job, taking away everything from Job except his life. Job’s friends come to console him, and wind up arguing with him for about 25 chapters. Basically, they all tell him that he is being punished because of some unconfessed sin. But Job’s not buying it. Which leads us to Job 27:3-6:

3 as long as my breath is still in me and the breath from God remains in my nostrils, 4 my lips will not speak unjustly, and my tongue will not utter deceit. 5 I will never affirm that you are right. I will maintain my integrity until I die. 6 I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live! [Job 27:3-6 HCSB]

Does anyone else look at this and think that Job sounds really full of himself? Humility is a Christian virtue. All of us have to admit we are sinners before we can trust Christ for our salvation, right?

So where does Job get off saying things like, “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it?” Is this arrogance? Does it fly in the face of Paul’s teaching that “there is none righteous, no, not one?” (Romans 3:10) I don’t think so.

Job’s confidence is not in himself, but in the trustworthiness of God. Job believed in a God whose will and ways could be known. Other gods from other religions were fickle and capricious. You never knew what you might have done to displease the god of the rain when there was drought, so you danced and sacrificed and cut yourself until the blood flowed in an effort to get his attention (remember the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18?) A king wouldn’t know how to gain the favor of the gods so his army would prevail in battle, so he might sacrifice one of his own sons to Molech by throwing him in the flames (Jeremiah 32:35). Or think about the Greek gods we studied in high school. Mortals were constantly subject to the whims and jealousies of the gods. When Zeus and Hades were angry at each other, humans paid the price.

But Yahweh is different. He can be known. He has given us His laws and decrees. We know what pleases Him and what doesn’t. And this is the confidence Job was clinging to. No matter how many times his so-called friends argued, “well, you must have done something wrong to be suffering in this way,” Job stubbornly and steadfastly held on to the idea that he knew what it took to walk with God, and that he had done it. When Job says things like “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live,” he was not expressing confidence in his own goodness, but in God’s justice.

I am so thankful that our God is predictable. He is not capricious, punishing humans on a whim or a lark (I admit, some would argue that’s the whole storyline of Job. I encourage you to watch this excellent animated walk-through of the book of Job from the fine folks at the Bible Project, and then let’s talk.). Don’t get me wrong. There is still none righteous. But Job teaches me that we can trust in God’s unchanging character. In every situation. In every place. For all time. Praise Him!

Who Is Jesus? Session 6: The Resurrection

Who is Jesus S6.1
These are notes from this week’s “Who Is Jesus?” class. The curriculum is from Focus on the Family’s TrueU apologetics material.

Answers from the Listening Guide (p. 56)

  1. Jesus really died, but it was the twin of Jesus that was appearing to people.
  2. Hallucinations are usually a very individual kind of thing.
  3. Somewhere between the time He was put in the tomb and Sunday morning, Jesus revived.
  4. There is no inconsistency in the story of the burial of Jesus.
  5. Over time, a legend begins to be formed about Jesus, and it just gets embellished, year after year.
  6. I think one of the greatest bits of evidence for the resurrection is the changed lives of His disciples.
  7. A legend requires at least two full generations before it can begin to be formed.
  8. If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, then the gospel is useless.
  9. How many people will die for a lie when they know its a lie?

Arguments Against the Resurrection

The Twin Theory: Jesus really died, but His twin was the one who people were seeing.

  • Wouldn’t His own mother have been able to tell the two apart?
  • Did the twin have the same scars the crucified Jesus would have had? (See John 20:27)

The Hallucination Theory: Instead of seeing the real Jesus, people hallucinated Him.

  • On at least two occasions, people did not recognize Jesus when He appeared to them (see Luke 24:14 and John 20:14)
  • According to Paul, Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6). Hallucinations are not group events.

The Wrong Tomb Theory: Everyone who claimed to have gone to the empty tomb went to the wrong one.

  • If it was the wrong tomb, that means there would have been a right tomb somewhere. Surely someone would have produced the body in order to discredit the story of the resurrection.

The Swoon Theory: Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. He swooned on the cross, then was revived in the cool of the tomb.

  • The Romans performed hundreds, if not thousands of crucifixions every year. If the soldiers said Jesus was dead (John 19:33), we can trust them.
  • How could Jesus, after being tortured, crucified, speared, and buried with 75 pounds of spices, unwrap himself, move a stone out of the way, and overcome a squad of Roman soldiers?

The Inconsistency Argument: Details from the four gospel accounts don’t match up. And because of these inconsistencies, we can disregard the entire story.

  • There are no issues with the record regarding the death or burial.
  • No issues with the record regarding the empty tomb.
  • No issues with the record regarding the post-death appearances
  • The alleged issues focus only on the details surrounding the women and the angels.

The Disciples Stole the Body: In Matthew 27:62, the chief priests go to Pilate and say,

“Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive He said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come, steal Him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.”

So Pilate orders the soldiers to make the tomb “as secure as they know how” (vv. 65-66). After the resurrection, Matthew 28:12-15 reads:

12 After the priests[a] had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears,[b] we will deal with[c] him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.

So here are the questions:

  • How can you trust what someone claims happens in his sleep?
  • The penalty for a soldier falling asleep on guard duty was death.
  • Could a group of fisherman overcome soldiers guarding the tomb?
  • Would they have broken Jewish sabbath laws to commit this crime?
  • Would they have taken the time to unwrap the grave clothes and leave them behind?
  • Would they have willingly gone to their death for something they knew was a lie?

The Myth Theory: Over time, a legend began to be formed about Jesus, and it just gets embellished, year after year. 1 cor. 15:3-8 says: “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,[a]
He also appeared to me.

Paul is relating a creed that had been established within months of Jesus’ death.  If it truly takes two full generation for a legend to be established, Paul’s statement, “Most of these are still living” refutes this.

The Meaning of the Resurrection:

If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:12-19)

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.[d] 15 In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.18 Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

  • The gospel is useless.
  • Christian faith is worthless.
  • The apostles lied.
  • Christians are unforgiven.
  • Those who died are lost.
  • Christians are to be pitied more than all men.
  • Preaching in the faith of death is absurd.
  • We should abandon our faith in God.

The Power of Death has been Broken! (Gen. 3:15)

The resurrection of Jesus confirmed:

  • the reality of His identity
  • the work of Christ in paying for our sins.
  • The resurrection of the dead, which is our hope.

A Blind Man Was Begging

blind-man

Yesterday at First Baptist Prattville, our pastor, Travis Coleman, preached about “What spiritual sight will do for you.” Although his text was Matthew’s version of the story (Matthew 20:29-34), I’m a little partial to Luke’s version (Luke 18:35-42). Here’s what struck me about the passage:

35 As He [Jesus] drew near Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. [Luke 18:35 HCSB]

 

Admit there’s a problem.

Even before Jesus showed up, this guy knew how to beg. Maybe that was all he knew. What a difference there is between “a blind man was begging” and, say, “a rich man was driving.” Or, “a smart man was teaching.” “A blind man was begging” tells me that he knew what his problem was, and he knew to ask for help. Often, I miss one or both of these things. I’m not willing to admit there’s a problem. And when others see I’m struggling, I will tend to blow them off and say, “No… I’m good.”

38 So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Then those in front told him to keep quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Luke 18:38-39 HCSB]

Be Persistent.

The blind man was persistent. When told to quit, he shouted more. What keeps me from being so persistent? Pride? Fear of being embarrassed? Or worse, fear of being ignored? Am I afraid others are too busy to help? Is that my biggest fear when asking God for help?

40 Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him. When he drew near, He asked him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord,” he said, “I want to see!” [Luke 18:40-41 HCSB]

Be Specific.

Finally, the guy was specific. His petition wasn’t some vague request that God would bless him. It was, “Lord, I want to see!” Am I specific in what I ask of God? Do I hold back from telling Him exactly what I need so that if I don’t get it, I’ve given God a loophole? I’m afraid that characterizes a lot of my prayer. And maybe vague requests yield vague results.

So, some takeaways for today. What can I learn from this blind man begging?

  1. Know what’s wrong with you.
  2. Humble yourself to ask for help.
  3. Don’t stop asking for help.
  4. Be specific about the kind of help you need.

Spiritual Maturity: A Tale of Two Vertebrates

fishsalamander
Left- The African Annual Fish. Right-Olm Salamander

This post originally appeared September, 2016 at biblestudiesforlife.com.

Recently, I was leading a large group of adults in a study of 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul bemoans the lack of spiritual maturity in the church. So I asked the group three questions:

  1. What are the marks of spiritual maturity?
  2. How long does it take?
  3. Do you consider yourself spiritually mature?

I wrote their responses in one column on a whiteboard. The answers to the first question were along the lines of developing the Fruit of the Spirit, developing hunger for God’s word, practicing spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study and so forth. When I asked about how long it takes, responses were all variations on the theme of “Well, it’s an ongoing process.” Similarly, very few adults were willing to say, “Yes, I am spiritually mature.”

It was a very humble group.

Then I changed the question. I said, “So, what if instead of a group of Christians, we were a group of biologists, trying to decide when an animal was biologically mature? What would be on the list?”

This time, the list was pretty short:

  1. No longer depends on mother’s milk
  2. Capable of reproducing

Which has got me thinking: are we overthinking spiritual maturity? Granted, everything on the list we compiled are good things. But are they the main things?

  • Are believers in your small group studying God’s Word for themselves, or are they wholly dependent on a teacher breaking it down for them?
  • Are they reproducing?

If so, they are mature. If not, they aren’t.

Could it really be that simple? I know no one wants to put themselves out on a limb and say, “Yes, I’m mature.” As one precious senior adult in our group put it, “Well, even the Apostle Paul said he had not already obtained the goal or was already perfect (see Philippians 3:12-14), so how could I say I’m spiritually mature?”

I appreciate the heart behind that statement. At the same time, it would be easy to allow false modesty to keep us from fulfilling the reasonable expectations of spiritual adulthood (maybe the conversation would change if we put it in those terms—not “Are you spiritually mature?” but “Are you a spiritual adult?”

Let me give you two examples from the animal kingdom. When I Googled the phrase “fastest animal to maturity,” I learned about the African Annual Fish. These little guys spend their entire lives in a rain puddle left behind after the rainy season in East Africa. They hatch from eggs that have been dormant in the mud since last season. Within seventeen days, they are capable of laying and fertilizing eggs of their own. And when the puddle dries up, they are gone.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Olm salamander, which is found in the secure, isolated caves of Eastern Europe. They can live for as long as 100 years, but don’t begin reproducing until around 16 years of age.

The lesson? When time is short, we get busy. When we feel like we have all the time in the world, we take our time.

The problem in the church is that we would like our churches to be more like caves—secure, protected, cool, comfortable, and separated from the rest of the world. However, the Bible describes the world and our place in it much more like a rain puddle. Consider these verses:

  • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15)
  • “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Col. 4:5)
  • “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12)
  • “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:13)

I wonder if it’s time for us to own up to the responsibilities that come with being grown-ups? The writer of Hebrews seemed to think so:

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature —for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Keep that in mind as you prepare to lead this week!