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Acts 21, The Will of God, and a Literary Example

May 2, 2022 Leave a comment

I haven’t posted here at this blog lately, because instead I’ve been writing articles around a different theme, at a new blog site.  For those who are interested, visit my posts at https://ourblessedhope.wordpress.com.  Our Blessed Hope:  Thoughts on Imaginative Christian Writing (particularly J.R.R. Tolkien so far).

The following is a sample article — also at this link.

A recent Sunday sermon was on Acts 21, and in this incident, especially verses 11-14, I was reminded of a similar illustration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers  — and Faramir’s last words with Frodo.

These verses in Acts 21 tell of when the prophet Agabus visits and makes a “bad news” prophecy, that trouble awaits the apostle Paul in Jerusalem:   the Jews of Jerusalem would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles.  The people, on hearing this, plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  But Paul insists on going to Jerusalem, proclaiming his willingness to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem, and then the people accept this, saying “The Lord’s will be done.”

As harsh as Paul’s experience ended up being, Tolkien’s picture of a similar type of thing appears to be of even worse circumstances —  with great details to engage the reader and to strongly identify with the characters.   This illustration in turn can give us a greater appreciation of the actual trials experienced by the apostle Paul.

In the Middle-Earth event, the place is that of known danger, of some great, ancient evil — Cirith Ungol.  Frodo at first does not know its name, and can only describe the general direction and path of this entrance into Mordor that Gollum has described.  Faramir plays a role similar to Agabus and the people who heard Agabus’ prophecy:  first, in the prophecy of extreme danger, and then — like the people who heard Agabus — strongly advising Frodo not to go there.  Yet, like the apostle Paul – and in a way that both Jesus and Paul in Christ’s steps showed us — Frodo keeps to the will of God (as pictured in the Council of Elrond, and the great task that he must accomplish).  After giving the warnings to Frodo, and seeing Frodo’s determined choice and willingness to his work, Faramir — like the people who accompanied the apostle Paul, in similar effect did the same:  Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”

It is this feature in Frodo’s character, as well as later events that happen to him, that is in mind when Frodo is commonly referred to as the representation of the Priestly Office of Christ — along with Gandalf the Prophet and Aragorn the King, for the types of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King in Tolkien’s epic work.  A few excerpts for consideration, from the scene in The Two Towers:

‘Frodo, I think you do very unwisely in this,’ said Faramir. ‘I do not think you should go with this creature. It is wicked.’

‘You would not ask me to break faith with him?’ ‘No,’ said Faramir. ‘But my heart would. For it seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself, especially if one sees a friend bound unwitting to his own harm. But no – if he will go with you, you must now endure him. But I do not think you are holden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he has told you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol!’ … …. Of them we know only old report and the rumour of bygone days. But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent.’

Then a further plea:

It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes. Do not go that way!’

Frodo’s response:  ‘But where else will you direct me?’ said Frodo. ‘You cannot yourself, you say, guide me to the mountains, nor over them. But over the mountains I am bound, by solemn undertaking to the Council, to find a way or perish in the seeking. And if I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men?  … ‘Then what would you have me do?’

Faramir: ‘I know not. Only I would not have you go to death or to torment. And I do not think that Mithrandir [another name for Gandalf] would have chosen this way.’

‘Yet since he is gone, I must take such paths as I can find. And there is no time for long searching,’ said Frodo.

‘It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand,’ said Faramir. ‘But at the least, remember my warning: beware of this guide, Sméagol. He has done murder before now. I read it in him.’

Faramir’s final words on this subject:

He sighed. ‘Well, so we meet and part, Frodo son of Drogo. You have no need of soft words: I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun. But you shall go now with my blessing upon you, and upon all your people. … If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then [Faramir’s questions about Gollum, and how Gollum had been involved with possessing the great ring of power]. Until that time, or some other time beyond the vision of the Seeing-stones of Númenor, farewell!’

An important element in both the Bible story in Acts 21, and the similar type of event in Lord of the Rings, is that the main character, the protagonist, is heading into great danger.  For Paul it certainly meant bonds, being whipped and physically abused, and (for all he knew) death.  For Frodo it meant likely death, and indeed we see in the later events, that Frodo (again similar to Gandalf and Aragorn) did experience a type of death  that is like to the real sufferings of Paul as well as Christ.

Yet, when Agabus gave that prophecy to Paul, nothing in the prophecy itself indicated to the recipient (Paul) that he should thus change his course and direction, and avoid the place that would provide such a negative experience.  A common life saying I’ve heard from a local acquaintance goes something like, “if I knew the place where I would die, I would avoid that place like the plague.”  Such is our natural reaction, to avoid pain and suffering.  But the call of God on the life of a Christian, as shown in the 1st century experience of the apostle Paul, and shown for us in the best of tales and epic sagas, takes precedence.  As Elisabeth Elliot observed (see previous post), the great heroes went on their adventures, facing great difficulties, because of the promise of great reward.  Paul the apostle certainly had this heart, knowing the love of God which constrains us, with a willingness to suffer, since (Romans 8:18) our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the future glory.  Frodo, too, realized the importance of carrying out his mission — to destroy the evil works of Sauron the Dark Lord, to bring peace and safety and happy lives to the people of Middle Earth, to free them from their fears and the threats and bondage of Sauron.

The 8th Commandment, Property, and the Early Church

June 3, 2016 1 comment

In Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, the section on the 8th commandment looks at the overall issue, the precept behind the wording “do not steal,” of ownership and property.  A study of this topic in both the Old and New Testaments affirms God’s purpose that people own individual property.  The fact that we are commanded to not steal, means that some items must belong to another person and that those items do not belong to you.

As pointed out in this lesson, Genesis 1:26 gives the dominion mandate to the human race

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Implied in this command is the reality that this could not be done by Adam alone:  Adam is a finite individual with limited resources.  Genesis 2 follows up with the specific situation for Adam: he as an individual, along with Eve, would have responsibility for one specific location, the garden – a particular location.  He was made the proprietor of a particular piece of land with defined boundaries.  The overall mandate of Genesis 1 could only be fulfilled through the mechanism of property ownership, of giving particular pieces of land to specific individuals.

Then, with the only country that truly could be called “God’s Country” – the Old Testament nation of Israel – we again see God’s concern and interest in individual property.  Leviticus 25 in particular tells us that the land belongs to God (“the land is mine,” verse 23) – and God’s ownership of the land was the basis on which the Israelites would own the land, and very specific laws were setup concerning the buying and selling of their property, within the context of the year of Jubilee.  The people of Israel were to live as the people of God, living out the commands, the moral precepts, of God.  Their living out these commands required that they have dominion over something, in order to use it for God and to bring glory to God.  As also brought out in scripture, the Israelites had to be free men – freeholders; they were not to be slaves, as slaves cannot fulfill this purpose of possessing something in order to use it for God.

To own something is not to grasp at something.  There is no practicality, and no virtue, in giving away all right and title to what is ours.  This brings the study to the issue of what was going on in the early church in Acts – a case which some have cited to claim support for communism and communal living.  After all, so the claim goes, the text says that the believers “had all things in common.”

But a close look at the texts – Acts 2:44, then Acts 4:32-33, and the first part of Acts 5 – clears away two common errors:  1) an assumption that the Acts texts are providing a legal definition of property, and 2) the idea that this situation was normative.  The first idea – a legal definition of property – ignores the use of language.  For instance, when someone visits us in our home, and we say “my house is your house” or “make yourself at home,” such expressions do not mean that we are relinquishing ownership – but rather a show of hospitality.  Peter’s words to Ananias in Acts 5 make it clear that Ananias’ sin was of lying, and not anything pertaining to the property itself.  The land, while unsold, belonged to Ananias, to do with as he pleased – it was his own, at his disposal; and when Ananias sold it, he then owned some money, which also was at his own disposal.  Thus, scripture itself proves that the early church was not a commune and was not some type of cult in which everyone gave up ownership to the “common pool.”

The early church in Acts was also a unique and unusual situation – and an opportunity for those who were wealthy to be generous and give of what they owned in order to help others.  At this point the church consisted of Jewish converts: people who had been part of the Jewish system and belonged to synagogues, yet now experienced persecution– which included excommunication from Judaism and possibly having their means of livelihood taken from them.  Thus the need to care for many poor people, including many only recently impoverished.  The situation opened a ministry need, which Barnabas (in Acts 4) and likely others as well, stepped into with their generosity.

Chantry also observes another aspect I had not considered, that perhaps is true; the early church had received the prophecy, the words from Jesus, that Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed at some point in the relatively near future.  Thus, the people who sold land had knowledge that the place would be destroyed, and that now was a good time to sell their property while it was still worth something.  Certainly if the land they sold was in or around Jerusalem, this well may have been the case.  Study through commentaries and historical research would better answer this question, of whether the people in Jerusalem were actually selling land that existed in that area or if they were engaging in sales of property that existed outside of that area.

Even aside from the question of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem, though, this lesson is a good study on the biblical issue of individual ownership and support for this point throughout the Bible: from earliest creation for all mankind, in Israel’s own government and civil laws, and the same teaching for us in the New Testament era.

The Holy Spirit, The Incarnation And Pentecost

July 24, 2015 2 comments

The 1689 Exposition Series has several lessons regarding the Christological view of what happened at Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Some of this material, regarding the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament age as compared to now, was also addressed and in more depth, in David Murray’s blog post series (reference this previous blog post):  the quantitative difference, that the indwelling Holy Spirit in OT saints was like a water-dropper as compared to a pressure washer.

From this 1689 series lesson, another interesting difference between the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT versus now:  The Holy Spirit came in an Official, Formal sense at Pentecost; Christ also made His official/formal entrance at His incarnation.  Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, always existed and was active and present in the Old Testament (before His formal entrance at the incarnation).  Christ even appeared, in the many theophanies/Christophanies of the “Angel of the Lord,” in visible form many times to the Old Testament saints — such as to the patriarchs, Moses, and later Joshua, as well as later appearances (such as to Samson’s parents in Judges 13).  1 Corinthians 10:4-5 further tells us that Christ was the Rock that followed the people of Israel in the wilderness.

In like manner, we can know that the Holy Spirit existed before Pentecost (no error of Sabellianism, a type of modalism), was active and present in that age, and indwelled believers.  What came at Pentecost, that had not occurred before, included the greater quantity (a great outpouring, seen in the later massive number of believers saved in the book of Acts, as compared to the relative trickle of believers before that time) as well as this formal, official entrance — an entrance that occurred in connection with the other historical events of that time.  Following after Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, came what Christ had promised would come, what He told the disciples to wait for (Acts 1:4-5).

 

 

 

The Gift of (Supernatural) Healing Along With Medical Help (Acts 28)

November 27, 2013 4 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of Paul” series, an interesting observation regarding the events on Malta in Acts 28:

Verses 8 and 9 describe two sets of healing.  In the first case, Paul laid his hands on Publius’ father and healed him – an apostolic sign, miraculous healing.  The next sentence describes how “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.”  Dr. Johnson here notes that the Greek words used for healing differ: the first word simply means “to heal” with no particular connotations, thus something supernatural.  But the word in verse 9 is different: therapeuo, from which comes our English words therapy and therapeutic:  healing through the use of medicine.  We also consider who was there:  Paul the apostle, and also Luke the physician.

As S. Lewis Johnson notes, we cannot be absolutely certain, but this text gives at least a “strong possibility” of an instance where the “gift of healing” was used alongside ordinary means of medical help.  Even during the apostolic age, and with the apostle Paul present (though later in his ministry), God still used the natural means of healing as He continues to use the ordinary means of accomplishing His purposes.

There are people who have, unfortunately, thought that the Scriptures taught that they must depend only on supernatural means for healing.  But there seems to be evidence here, not only that the apostles did perform supernatural acts of healing, but that it was perfectly harmonious for medical attention to be given, when available, and when it might be useful.  In fact Paul wrote to Timothy, you know, and said, “Take a little wine for your often infirmity’s sake.”

When Was the Apostle Paul Converted? (The Three Components of Faith)

November 22, 2013 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s series through the life of the apostle Paul, comes the question “when was Paul converted? On the Damascus Road, or in Damascus?”

Faith includes three components:  knowledge, assent to that knowledge, and personal trust.  Notitia asensus, fiducia are the three latin terms used by theologians to describe this.

Paul’s conversion can be considered as similar to the question of when other biblical people were saved:  was Abraham saved when he was called out to follow the Lord to another land, or was he saved later, when the Lord took him out and showed him the stars – that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”

The chances are the salvation of Abraham and the salvation of Paul has some similarity, and also possibly are similar to our own experience.  That is sometimes salvation takes place outwardly in stages, in the sense that the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit leads us on to a climatic relationship at which salvation occurs.  It’s not easy to answer this question.

As to Paul’s specific conversion experience:

I am inclined to think that when the apostle was on the Damascus Road that a certain significant transformation took place in him.  He came to understand there that Jesus of Nazareth was a heavenly being, who could speak to him still as a divine being; and he (Paul) called Him Lord; and no doubt that produced this tremendous revolution within Paul’s thinking, and he had to go back over all that he had been taught from the beginning, and all the things that he had wrongly understood, and now try to put them all together.  Later on he spent some time in Arabia, and possibly that was further straightening out of the vast knowledge that he had of Jewish and Rabbinic things and squaring them with his Christian experience.

Within the three aspects of saving faith, the following is possible concerning Paul’s conversion:

1)      Knowledge – acquired on the Damascus Road, that Jesus is the Lord.

2)      As he later arrived in Damascus and at the house on Straight Street: further assent to the knowledge he had.

3)      Finally, when Ananias speaks to him and explains to him that he too has been the object of the sovereign working of God bringing him to Paul, and that he was the Lord’s messenger to tell Paul certain things about him, and his ministry:  it all came together at this point, and Paul came to personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ – though he had been the object of efficacious grace, which had brought him to this point.

The Priests that Became Obedient to the Faith (S. Lewis Johnson Speculation)

November 1, 2013 2 comments

My recent Bible genre reading has included several references to lepers and leprosy.  In one day’s reading: the ten lepers healed in Luke 17:11-19, Leviticus 14 (the cleansing for the leper); and the four lepers (who were not healed) in Samaria in 2 Kings 7.  This reminds me of a little-noticed statement (also in my recent readings) in Acts 6:7, “and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”  In the context (Acts 6), the apostles have performed many great miracles of healing, as recorded for instance in Acts 5:12-16 : Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. … And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

S. Lewis Johnson engaged in a little speculation concerning this point: what was it about the priests, that they became obedient to the faith?  Here we consider the significance of the great miracles that took place in Jesus’ gospel ministry and then continued (“what Jesus began to do and teach”) through the apostles’ ministry in the book of Acts.  Dr. Johnson’s observation here:

How is it, do you think, that the priests are especially singled out for faith?  In the Old Testament, in the Levitical prescriptions, two chapters are devoted to the way in which Israel should take care of the lepers.  Now remember, when the preaching of the gospel is to take place, Isaiah said, lepers are going to be healed.  And then, our Lord Jesus, when He comes on the scene, lepers are healed by Him.  It was a Messianic sign; that is, that He was the Messiah.  He was fulfilling what Isaiah set out in the Old Testament.

Now, it was said in the Old Testament that a certain prescribed ritual was to take place, when a leper was cleansed.  He was to bring a certain kind of offering; I cannot go into detail.  The only thing unusual about it, if you want to look at it in chapter 14 of the Book of Leviticus, it had to do with two birds.  He had to bring this prescribed ritual and there was a prescribed ritual for which the priest was to go; and then, the priest was to pronounce the individual clean who had been cleansed of leprosy.   [Now, remember: For fifteen hundred years before the time of our Lord, no leper, so far as the record is concerned, had been healed in Israel.  Naaman had been healed, but he was a Syrian.  Miriam, back in the earliest days, had leprosy.  No other person had been healed.]  Now, here, the apostles come on the scene, our Lord comes on the scene, and the lepers are being healed.  And so, what do they do?  Well, they go to the priests and they say, ‘We’ve been healed.  Isn’t there something in the Law about a ceremony we are to carry out?’   And the priests say, ‘the professors in our theological seminary didn’t tell us anything about that.’  They didn’t know what to do.  So, they had to do what a young preacher has to do when somebody comes and says, ‘Will you marry us next Wednesday?’  And he’s never married anybody before.  He rushes off and asks an older preacher, ‘What in the world shall I do?  What kind of ceremony can I give?’  And he is feverishly preparing for his marriage ceremony, which he’s never carried out.

So these priests — and in the course of these people who are streaming to the priests — they discover this in the Old Testament.  They discover also that the Messiah was said to be one who would heal leprosy.  And, during the course of these lepers coming to the priests, many of those priests are brought to the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  They recognize that this is really the Messianic ministry, and so ‘a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.’

The Apostle Paul: The Silent Years

October 18, 2013 2 comments

I’m now going through one of S. Lewis Johnson’s topical series on the Life of Paul, a sort of “biography” approach in chronological sequence through Paul’s life.  The “silent years,” in between Paul’s conversion and Acts 11:25-26 (when “Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch”) are also considered, especially in this message.  We don’t know the exact sequence of events, but from Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:17-21, at some point Paul left Damascus (Acts 9) and went to Arabia , then back to Damascus.  Then, after a brief time in Jerusalem to visit Peter (and he also met the Lord’s brother James), he “went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”

But what did Paul do during those years, a period of perhaps 7 or 8 years? It’s possible that he spent the time in some solitude, to learn from the Lord.  Some have also suggested that he was useful in some evangelistic ministry.  Perhaps it was a public reason, because of Paul’s divisive character, that he was well known and his life in danger from the Jews in Jerusalem.  Dr. Johnson suggests all of these factors  may have been involved, observing:

Those silent years were years of preparation of our Lord on the human side for the ministry that he was to perform.  So Paul’s seven or eight years or more, how long they were we’re not absolutely certain, but they were a good many years, may have had some connection with the discipline of God, that the Lord wanted to put him, who is to be the great apostle of the Gentiles through.

That does not mean, of course, that he was not useful at all, but it was a necessary thing for him even through he was useful.  There is some reason to believe that when he was in Tarsus he did carry on some ministry.

Perhaps also, there is a more public reason why the apostle spent six or eight years away from the land.  After all Paul was too divisive a character.  He was the one who had advanced in Judaism beyond his contemporaries.  He was the great defender of Judaism against the newly rising Christian cult.  And so, for this one upon whom they depended on for the defeat of Christianity to turn to Christianity, that would provoke them much more than some disinterested third party, or some third party in whom they were not interested, turning to Christianity.  So it may have been that he was thought too divisive.  His life was in danger wherever he went in the land.  They sought to kill him in Jerusalem.  They sought to kill him in Damascus.  And therefore, it may have been that he was sent back to Tarsus for a period of time in order to allow that situation to die down a bit.

The New Testament gives us a few hints that Paul also did some evangelistic work while he was in Tarsus and Cilicia, though it is not recorded in the book of Acts.

1)       Acts 15:23 and Acts 15:41 – After the Jerusalem council, they wrote a letter to send out to all of the churches.  The letter was addressed to the brethren “who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.”  Now, notice that, Syria and Cilicia, now Tarsus was in Cilicia.  So evidently there were brethren there.  Now, we will assume that perhaps the apostle is responsible for the brethren being there in Tarsus.  Then in verse 41, after Paul’s break with Barnabas and choosing to go out with Silas, we are told that “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”  These churches were already there, in that very region where Paul had spent several years.

 So there were churches in Syria and there were church in Cilicia.  So we can just imagine that the apostle, even though he was confined to Tarsus, was not inactive.  He was busy in that particular area preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and assisting in the formation of churches.  And that’s part of the silent period of the apostle’s life.  It would be very interesting to hear exactly what had transpired with the apostle during those years.  I presume that when we get to heaven, this is one of the things that we shall hear about.  We will be brought up-to-date concerning the activities of the saints not recorded in the word of God, and not found also in the histories that have been written of the Christian church since that time.

2)    2 Corinthians 11:22-33 – In this well-known passage Paul describes his sufferings to the Corinthians, in the process of defending his ministry to them. Here he tells of experiences not recorded in the book of Acts, and we can note that “the apostle evidently had a lot of experiences that caused him to be beaten”: the five times that he received the 40 stripes less 1 from the Jews, and three times beaten with rods.  Three times that he was shipwrecked, but the book of Acts only tells us of one such time.

‘A night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.’  There’s no need to read the whole list.  You can see the apostle had many Christian experiences that are not recorded in the Book of Acts nor found in his epistles.  So he must have had a rather rich experience over that period of time in Tarsus.

 

 

Priscilla: Women Teaching Outside the Church — S. Lewis Johnson Observations

February 20, 2013 5 comments

Sharing some great observations from S. Lewis Johnson, concerning a topic relevant today: the role of women in instructing others, including men, outside of the church.  Since our modern-day world includes many opportunities not only for face-to-face but also “virtual” online conversations (in online groups, blog comments, facebook posts, etc.), this issue still comes up from time to time.

So for future reference, here are S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning Priscilla’s role in Acts.

First, a character description from SLJ’s Acts series:

Most Bible students, however, believe that Priscilla is mentioned more frequently before Aquila, because of the fact that she evidently was a very well instructed woman in the doctrines of the word of God.  And, later on, in this very chapter, we shall see some evidence of it.

Concerning Priscilla’s role in teaching:

And so we read, “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”  Now, the woman did part of that exposition, too.  And incidentally if you will look at this in the Greek text, my Authorized Version here has the order Aquila and Priscilla, but the Greek text at this point in verse 26 reads that Priscilla and Aquila took him to themselves and taught him the way of the Lord more accurately.  So the implication from that, it’s only an implication, is that she took the lead.  And I’m willing to agree that when they got in the house she did more of the talking than Aquila [Laughter].  I will not debate that at all.  So I am willing to believe that she probably did take the lead.  And part of the effectiveness of this man Apollos was because Priscilla, who was instructed in the word of God, taught him more perfectly the things of the Lord.  The apostle says nothing about that in 1 Timothy chapter 2.  He talks about teaching in the church.  So ladies, the field is open outside the church.  Go ahead and pick on some of these fellows that don’t understand the doctrines of the sovereignty of God like they ought to, and instruct them in the great doctrines of the faith.  Do it, I need your help.  So do it.

S. Lewis Johnson Teachings

March 31, 2010 1 comment

Here is a brief excerpt from the first message in S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of David” series, an 8-part series he taught in the late 1970s.  He did this series at the same time as the Genesis series, which he makes reference to.  He had recently preached through the section on Esau and Jacob, as here he likens Saul to Esau, the more likeable guy that we could relate to  — in contrast to Jacob and David.  Johnson also makes reference to the Dallas Cowboys’ Roger Staubach.

It’s possible that a man like Abraham excelled David in faith because when we think of Abraham we think of the great exemplar of faith.  He was the great man of faith, and he is the one who is used as the illustration of faith in the New Testament.  Probably Elijah excelled him in forcefulness because Elijah was the prophet of fire, and no doubt some could make a good case for Moses excelling him in communion with the Lord.  But when you look at David as a versatile man, it’s probably doubtful that any of these men excelled David in versatility for he was a man who had numerous talents and gifts given him by God.  He was a man of faith.  He was a forceful man.  He was a warrior.  He also was a man who spent a great deal of time in fellowship and communion with the Lord.  And so he’s a well rounded man of God.

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Acts series, Acts 21, on the matter of Paul’s attitude towards the Mosaic law:

To put it in the words of one of the finest New Testament commentators, “A truly emancipated spirit, such as Paul’s is not in bondage to its own emancipation.”  We are free to put ourselves under law, for a particular reason, Paul says.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not free.  We are free.  We are free to be under the law.  We are free from the law, or we are free for the exercise of the law upon occasion.

But, now, when it comes to the gospel that’s a different matter.  If, for example, our action of being under law compromises the principle of grace, then the apostle will not submit to a legal requirement.  And the finest illustration of this is the passage in Galatians chapter 2, and Titus’ circumcision.  Timothy is desired to be circumcised, in order that they might have ministry and freedom of it.  But in Titus’ case, where the issue was circumcision as a means of salvation, listen to what Paul says about that.

Galatians 2, verse 1, “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.  And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them, which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.  But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:  And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.”

Acts 3, The Prophets, and the Church Age

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post I considered dispensationalism and ecclesiology, noting that the descriptions of the future kingdom, in the OT prophecies, do not agree with the assessment of the New Testament church age as described by the apostles.

Now that I’ve been following the (modified) Horner Bible reading plan for a year, I can definitely see a benefit:  really becoming familiar with what God’s word actually says.  After all, one year of this reading plan results in the following:  almost three readings through the Prophets, six readings through the New Testament Epistles, and over seven readings through the book of Acts.  From the Prophets I now notice several major themes, including the pattern of Israel’s apostasy, followed by God’s judgement, and then the wonderful hope of future restoration of Israel: into a right relationship with God, and the associated blessings of that — dwelling in the land in peace, safety and abundance.

In my current reading through Acts, Peter’s message in Acts 3 especially sticks out.  Notice verse 21 especially:

(Jesus) whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  (ESV)

My last post mentioned the overall differences between the Old Testament prophecies and the present church age.  This passage in Acts 3 is far more direct and to the point.  Jesus must remain in heaven (referring to this age) “until the time” (future) “for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Now, what did the prophets speak about, and what is meant by the restoration (the “restoring”)?  Acts 1:6-7, just two chapters earlier, answers the second part of this question.  After 40 days spent with Jesus post-resurrection, the apostles asked Him, “are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  As has often been pointed out, if the amillennialists are right and this age is the kingdom, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to correct their understanding.  Instead, He simply told them that it was not for them to know “the times or dates” of when it would come.  Acts 3:21 clearly refers to the same thing, a future restoration that will come after the present time (while Jesus remains in heaven) — in other words, at our Lord’s Second Coming.

Back to the first question:  what did the prophets speak about?  Again, multiple readings through that section of the Bible (Isaiah through Malachi) show the very oft-repeated theme of apostasy-judgment-future restoration and blessing, and all of these relate to national Israel, with language concerning “the house of Judah and the house of Israel.”  The theme is so prevalent throughout these books, that it boggles my mind that anyone could conceive of the idea that the first two parts — apostasy and judgment — involve Israel, but the third part — future restoration and blessing — is something completely disjointed from the previous two and said to apply to the Church instead.  A strong, solid knowledge of the Old Testament prophets, and the book of Acts (plus the many descriptions of the current Church age as a good contrast) makes the truth plain.

Biblical ignorance — and sinful Gentile pride, the very thing the apostle Paul warned against in Romans 11– is behind that which now boggles my mind.  Such ignorance and pride itself are an indication of the underlying problems with the Church age, as yet more proof that the Church age is NOT the kingdom of God, is NOT the fulfillment of all that the prophets spoke of long ago.

In years past when my own Bible study was more lacking (casual reading through the Bible once a year, and listening only to what was taught at my own church), I likewise did not think about these issues so much — and at a superficial glance, it does sound good when a pastor skims over a few verses out of Isaiah or Jeremiah and says “this is talking about our age now.”  We know the great things that Christ did for us in His atoning work on the cross, and eternal life in heaven, and so, naturally, it sounds great to hear that the Church is the wonderful outworking of God’s plan.  We’re all Christians, and the gospel is going out victoriously into this age and changing lives, and so it seems natural that God is doing all this for us Gentiles in the Church Age.

With such general ideas, I once supposed that previous generations of the Church age were much better than now:  that people were really more godly, moral and church-going back in the middle 20th century, or the early 20th century, or other times before that, such as on the 19th century frontier, Victorian England, colonial America, etc.  Perhaps other times were more outwardly civilized, with the restraints of law and societal pressure, but the more I learn and read of history the more it truly agrees with what the Bible says about this current Church Age.  I have read many sermons from C.H. Spurgeon, delivered in the 1850s (150+ years ago), that one would surely think were talking about the early 21st century.  Then as now, most people did not really read their Bibles, did not take the time and effort and were more interested in magazines and popular literature.  Then as now, people were lazy with excuses regarding church attendance and with really living a good Christian life.  Then as now, only a few Christians spoke out against and contended against the constant barrage of errors and evils coming against the church.  Then it was Spurgeon; now it is leaders such as John MacArthur, and others at various points throughout church history.