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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
EVALUATING THE WORD OF GOD
THE VERY FIRST WORDS OF JESUS
Not long ago, I decided that I wanted to do a study of the words of Jesus. I began to look for the very first words of Christ and found them in the gospel of Luke. It is interesting that the first three occurrences of Jesus’ recorded words are in the book of Luke. The very first is Luke 2:49.
After celebrating the Passover up in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph were returning home to Nazareth and realized that 12-year old Jesus was not with them. They figured that he probably was walking with some of the other kids in the caravan of travelers so they continued their journey home. But soon they realized he was not with the caravan. They went back to Jerusalem, retraced their steps, and found Him in the temple discussing theology with the teachers of the law. And you know, age 12 is not a bad time to start emphasizing the things of God. In fact, when I thought about that, I realized that I was just barely 13 when I received Christ into my life and so it is a very significant period of time in a kid’s life. His folks are upset and they ask Jesus, “Why have you treated us this way?” His answer probably took them by surprise. Look at verse 49. “How come you were searching for me? Didn’t you know it was important to me to be in my Father’s house?” There is a principle here. For Jesus Christ, to honor God meant to have a priority for honoring and understanding the Word of God.
THE WORDS OF JESUS SECOND TIME
The second time Jesus speaks is in Luke 4:4. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus is being tempted by Satan. Satan’s first challenge was to try and get Jesus to satisfy His hunger by miraculously changing stones into bread. Satan knew that Jesus could do that, and why not show off a little? We do have our pride, don’t we? Satan knew that Jesus could do what he asked, but listen to the words that Christ used to repel the temptation: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Matthew 4:4 adds, “[but] by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Now where are we going to discover the Word of God, which represent the words of God, the mind of God? Right here in the Scriptures. We see the priority of the Word of God to the person of Jesus Christ.
CITING ISAIAH - JESUS' EVALUATION OF SCRIPTURE
When Jesus went to Galilee, people flocked to hear Him, to see Him. But we are not told what He said until He went to Nazareth, his boyhood home. Luke 4:16 tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, which He always did. But on this particular day the Old Testament scroll was handed to Him. Jesus knew God’s Word and He knew what He wanted to say. So He deliberately turned to Isaiah chapter 61 and found the passage He wanted to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. That must have been a powerful moment because people said of Him, “Never has anyone spoken like this man.” And as everyone in the synagogue stared at Jesus, He said this: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “I am the Messiah.”
What is happening here? Not only is Jesus Christ, the living, incarnate, personal Word of God, according to John 1:1-4, declaring His Messiahship but He is also declaring the reliability of the prophetic written word. And if that is the evaluation that Jesus Christ has for the Holy Scriptures, we certainly should honor and respect them as well.
THE PRIORITY OF THE WORD OF GOD
If you are following my emphasis, you begin to realize that one thing stands out in all these verses--the priority of the Word of God. The Word of God is not merely a book, a novel, or history book, although it has a lot of good history in it. In John 1:1 we read: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” Jesus is the living Word of God. He is God’s communication to us with skin, muscle, and bones. He became like us physically. Jesus, the living Word of God, has the highest regard possible for the written Word of God. Interestingly, the Living Word, Jesus Christ, witnesses to the written Word. Both of them are witnessing to each other. The written Word is witnessing to the living Word and the living Word is witnessing to the written Word.
Since humankind is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (as our guide for life), it behooves us to never take God’s written Word lightly. I want you to notice three things. First, it is God’s expectation that mankind will live by the Word of God. Why? Because life itself is in the Word. God made us and He knows what we need to function best. Ephesians 2:1 says, “You were dead in trespasses and sin, but now He has made you alive.” Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end, it leads to death.” We are not just talking about human mortality, we are talking about a life that attempts to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment without God and His guidance (the written Word of God). In Matthew 16:26 Jesus says, “What profit is gained by any man should he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
MORE THAN A SENSE OF FULFILLMENT
Secon, real quality of life means more than a sense of fulfillment. Pleasure and comfort are not the end of everything we do, although modern society thinks that they are. Character, wisdom, enlightenment, understanding, you name it. Purpose, discernment, abundant life, fulfillment, these all come to us out of the Word of God. If we build great empires without God they will ultimately mean nothing when those same empires are destroyed to make way for other empires, or when God judges all things in light of His holy justice.
Early in the disciples’ earthly walk with Jesus there came a time when some people began to wonder and doubt the things that Jesus was saying. Jesus asked Peter, “What do you think and are you going to leave me also?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Years later that same Peter penned some words for us just before he was martyred. 2 Peter chapter 1:3-4: “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in the divine nature.” And in verses 5-7 he admonishes us to make every effort to add to our saving faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We can participate with Christ. We are not alone. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. It may not seem like it at times but if we do and become what the written and living Word tell us to do and become we will become more like Jesus, and less like the world of men and women opposed to Him.
THE WORD OF GOD IS THE PATHWAY TO LIFE
Third, the pathway for life is the Word of God. Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path.” John 8:12: “I am the light of the World.” Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but he will have the light of life.” There is direction for life in these words. I want to go back and take a look at that statement Jesus made in Luke 4:18. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach the good news.”
Just what is the good news? In the original language the word for good news is “euangelion.” Can you say it three times fast? What other word does it sound like? Euangelion, euangelion, euangelion, evangelical. Right! Evangelical. In Romans chapter 1:16, that word appears and it says, “I am not ashamed of the “euangelion” (the good news) of Christ.” We translate it “the gospel.” And it appears one hundred times in the New Testament. We do get the word “evangelical” from euangelion. An evangelical is one who tells the good news. So, if you claim that word in your belief system, it carries an obligation.
WHAT IS THE MESSAGE?
What is the gospel message? Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 where the apostle Paul gives us an explanation of the gospel. “Brothers and sisters, I declare unto you the gospel (the “euangelion”) which I gospeled to you.” It sounds awkward but the same basic word is used in both cases.
Verse three starts Paul’s explanation of the gospel. He gives three things to remember. 1) Christ died for our sin according to the Scripture. 2) Christ was buried. 3) Christ rose again according to the Scriptures. Death, burial, and resurrection are the core of the gospel message, the core of Christianity.
Paul wrote 13 books of the Bible. He wrote them to explain doctrine, to address problems, to deal with social issues, and to admonish proper Christian behavior and attitudes. And each of these letters contain the same basic concepts of what the Christian faith is all about. Very simple. Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s intended glory.” But “God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us (verse 25). ” First Corinthians 2: “I proclaim to you the testimony about God for I resolve to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Second Corinthians 5: “God made Jesus Christ who did no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we could become God’s righteousness.” Ephesians 1:7: “In Christ we have redemption through the blood of Christ and forgiveness in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
SIMPLICITY OF THE GOSPEL
I am astounded and marvel at the simplicity of the gospel. It is so simple, yet so profound. “Once you were alien to God, enemies, but now God has received you (Colossians 1).” Think of it. God has received us because of what Christ did at Calvary. We were strangers to God. We were enemies. But now, Jesus says, “You are my friends.” We were earthbound like a caterpillar, but now we are heaven bound following Christ. When does this start? Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The old is passed and the new is come. We may not be all God wants us to be now, but we have entered a newness that will culminate in our becoming like Christ someday, “for we shall see Him as He is.” Since we are risen with Christ, we must seek, or set our hearts on, those things that have eternal value—the kingdom of heaven and its King, Jesus Christ. Remember! The final judge of everything is God and only what He deems worthy will be counted as valuable. The voters could elect you to a Hall of Fame of sport or music or dance or p>whatever, but unless God finds value in it, it will mean nothing in the end!
If you serve the world of men, your service will mean nothing when that same world is destroyed. When the world goes up in flames so will all your honors and recognition. Look to the eternal judge and find your importance and significance in Him and His plans. And if you do you will be among those who praise God in heaven. “After this, I heard the sound of a vast crowd in heaven shouting, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation is from our God. Glory and power belong to him alone. His judgments are just and true. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the murder of his servants (Revelation 19:1-2).’” And if you do not you will among those who curse Him in your sin. Chose life now while you still have the chance to choose!
LET US ACQUIRE A SENSE OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GOD
I want every child of God to know, to get a sense, of your significance to God. He loves you and has a purpose for your life. We have been purposely planted in this time and space, in the year 2004, in the time that is labeled by most philosophers and people as the post-Christian era. In other words, Christianity is done. Jesus has had it. I do not think we are here by accident. I think we have something to do.
What is the main purpose that you find in most people’s lives today? Listen to Francis Schaeffer, one of the greatest Christian philosophers of our time, talking about our society and its values. He said,
As the more Christian-oriented value system has weakened,” in others words, Christian influence has been losing out in recent years, “the majority of people have adopted two impoverished values. Number one, personal peace. Number two, affluence. Personal peace is just to be left alone. To live our lives with minimal possibilities of being disturbed. And affluence is a life of ever-increasing prosperity, made up of things, more things, and better things, a success that is judged by one’s level of material abundance.
How does this work its way out in every day life? What is the popular idea today? Tolerance. Correct! You have heard the clichés. “Don’t rock any boats.” “To each his own.” “Live and let live.” “If two people consent, it’s ok, and after all, there’s no such thing as absolutes or eternal moral values anymore.” I remember in “Fiddle on the Roof” when Tedya is talking about the new young man Perchek that came to the town of Anatevka and the Renchek said to him, “There’s a great big world out there that can’t be ignored.” And Tedva said, “You’re right.” One of the local adults responded, “Who cares? Let those people take care of themselves. They don’t matter to us at all.” And Tedva follows, “You’re right.” To which another local observes, “Tedva, they can’t both be right.” And Tedva concludes, “You also are absolutely right.”
CONFLICT OF CONCEPTS
This is the philosophy of many today. Two ideas or concepts in direct opposition to one another are treated as equally true. If you think like this, what difference does anything make? And it seems that even many Christians only get upset when some power threatens their own peace or affluence. Schaeffer continues, “And if mankind is only what modern people say it is,” listen to this question, “Why does man’s biological continuation have any value at all?” Good question, Why does man’s biological continuation matter if this world is all there is, if there is no God, no eternal life, no right and no wrong?
The results of this kind of thinking are increased violence, the cheapness of life, and a survival-of-the-most-powerful mentality. Might makes right. And if I have more than you, I must be more valuable and better than you. Schaeffer concluded that ultimately we have two alternatives. “We stand between two alternatives. Imposed world order, or, affirming, once more, the foundation which gave us freedom in the first place.” Schaeffer identifies that foundation as the written Word of God, especially the Ten Commandments, and the living Word, Jesus Christ. These two sources were significant roots to Western civilization. To the many freedoms we enjoy today. But as always happens the carnal heart of man turns the legitimate freedoms we enjoy, freedom of religion, freedom of education, freedom of property ownership to name a few, into license to satisfy every evil desire of his heart. What God meant as a good the sinful heart has turned to evil.
SPEAKING UP FOR CHRISTIAN VALUES
Is the church going to be undaunted and brave enough to speak up for Christian values. Time is running out. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” And Jesus answered him, “I am the truth.” God’s truth provides certain things. It provides salvation. It provides moral teaching. It teaches values. And it gives us direction. People are and behave according to the way they think. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The way we as a country think today determines the culture of tomorrow. When Jesus Christ comes into our lives, He changes things and if we are truly risen with Him, alive in Him, He wants to change specific things. He wants to change the way we think, the way we live, the way we talk, and the way we treat others.
Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life, highlights how we can please God. First, we are to love God supremely. That is the first and greatest command. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” Then, he says, trust God completely. Like Abraham did when he took off from Ur. He did not know where he was going, but he trusted God. Third, obey God wholeheartedly. I think of Noah who followed the direction of God in every detail for 120 years. Building a gigantic boat in the middle of nowhere, far from any water source. And lastly, he adds, praise and thank God continually.
NEEDED - RIGHT ATTITUDES
Those are all good suggestions or commands. But commands can be observed with the wrong attitude. What should be the heartbeat of the Christian? Not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake or commands to show off how spiritual we are. “I have more memory verses than you.” “I have a bigger church (or study group) than you.” What should be our attitude, our passion, our spirit, our personality? What am I really made of? What is my bottom line? And what kind of feeling do people get or sense about me when I am trying to relate to them?
Jesus wants us to live responsively. What I mean by this is best defined by Paul in Romans chapter 8:14: “Those who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God.” In other words, how I respond to the Holy Spirit’s direction or leading reveals my true nature. Now, let us look at that for a moment. I can guarantee you that everyone of us, if you have any relationship with God at all, have had spiritual promptings from time to time. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. So, what is the application? First, if you have an inner urge to do or say something, to talk to that person, to notice their pain or sorrow, look at their countenance, is there stress there, do they need help, follow it. I am not saying to follow every desire of your heart. Some of those desires are wrong or evil. But if that urge or desire corresponds with God’s Word and can be judged righteous and good then follow it.
I remember Bob calling me one time and saying, “Al, I want you to perform a funeral service for a friend of mine, Sue, her husband died.” The story behind Bob’s relationship with this family is interesting. A while back, Bob was doing some busy work for Christ, delivering something or whatever it was. He was in a hurry, rushing around. He never stops, anyway. He was rushing around doing something for God and suddenly gets this phone call from Sue saying, “Would you come and talk to my husband. He says he wants to find out how to become a child of God.” What should Bob do? Well, he has all this work to do. He has to deliver stuff. Got to go there. You know, on a schedule. No, he drops everything. He went to her husband and led him to the Lord. A wonderful event! This is what I call divine interruptions.
This is when we are listening to the Spirit of God prompting something in our spiritual heart and directs us to say, go, do, whatever. I have had similar experiences myself. I know other people have told me the same thing. Responsively, allowing the Holy Spirit to do the directing that needs to be done. But always examining ourselves to see if what we are about to do or say is in agreement with God and His ways. We cannot be overly trusting of our heart. How often have you heard someone say that God led him or her to do something that was obviously wrong or hurtful to someone. They have assigned a personal impulse they had to God. We must be careful, but we must also be willing to go, say, or do what God directs.
In Luke chapter 7, Jesus was invited to spend some time with the self-righteous Pharisees in the home of Simon. A prostitute came in. She stood weeping behind Jesus. Her tears fell on His feet and she washed His feet with her hair. Simon accused Jesus of not being a prophet because if He were, He would know what kind of a woman she was. And according to their tradition, a righteous person should not go close to her, let alone allow her to touch him. Jesus challenged Simon by asking him, “Simon, do you see this woman?” What did Simon see? Simon saw judgment. Simon saw dirt. Simon saw ugliness. Simon saw sin. Simon saw punishment. And you know, he felt so much better about himself because he was ‘better’ than her. But Jesus saw her penitence, her sorrow, her hope, her potential, that she was a needy and repentant person. And Jesus Christ offered her forgiveness and new life. We do not hear too much more about Simon, but the story of this young lady has been told for centuries. Are you sensitive and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in your daily relationships with people? I believe that a tender heart is more macho than any athlete’s super act in the game of sports.
Luke 19, verses 1-8 tell us about a little giant named Zacchaeus. He was a shrewd little guy. He was wealthy and a self-admitted cheater, until he met Jesus. He repented of his wrong ways and was so dramatically changed that he paid back everybody he had cheated four dollars for every one he had taken from them and then he gave away half of what he had to the poor. Jesus said of Zacchaeus, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham.” Man looks on the outward appearance. God looks on the heart.
A bunch of heavy hitters were putting their offering in the box and Jesus was standing there observing them and said: “Look at this widow. She came along with two little coins and dropped them in and she has given more than all those other guys who dropped money out of their abundance.” It is not how much you give but with what heart attitude you have when you give!
Jesus never told His disciples that they had to go to seminary in order to have an impact for Him and His kingdom. But He did say they needed to look beyond their occupation and themselves to reach men and women for Jesus Christ. “You are my witnesses,” He said. In Luke 19:46, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out the hucksters and the money-changers. They were desecrating the house of prayer and he called them thieves. Almost every day we meet people in shops, malls, or school or wherever, using foul language and telling stories that are abominable. Using the name of Christ as a curse word and then they saying, “Pardon my French,” as if it was not that serious. I think that it is appropriate to tell them how offensive it is to dishonor Jesus Christ. When the occasion presents itself we should be bold enough to find God’s way within a situation.
LIVE CONSISTENTLY AND COURTEOUSLY
It has been said that the greatest handicap the church of Jesus Christ has in fulfilling its mission is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians who are rude, crude, impatient, and self-centered. Paul says in Ephesians 5:21, that out of respect for Jesus Christ we are to be courteously reverent to one another. I find it hard to understand how two Christians can treat each other the way they do, whether it is a business matter, between friends, in churches, marriage, whatever.
People often will be nicer to a beggar or store clerk than they are to their spouse. I came across beatitudes for the home the other day. Let me share three of them with you. “Blessed are the husband and wife who are as courteous to one another as they are to their friends.” “Blessed are the husband and wife who love their mates more than any other person in the world and fulfill their marriage vows of fidelity and helpfulness.” And lastly, “Blessed are the husband and wife who never shout at one another, who make their home a place of encouragement, where never is heard a discouraging word.” If Christians cannot examine themselves correctly when it comes to their bad behaviors, what chance do they have of distinguishing God’s voice from their own in their daily lives?!
The great hope of Christians is that Jesus Christ is coming back to be reunited with His spiritual family and to rule with righteousness and justice. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him like he is (1 John 3:2).” In the next verse, I John 3:3, John adds, “And everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as Christ is pure.”
It is my prayer today that not only will each of us have a greater appreciation for the written Word of God, but for the living Word of God most of all. For without the living Word, Jesus Christ, the written Word loses its significance. Christianity is not just a system of commands and social admonitions. But those commands and social admonitions take on significance when first we claim Christ to be our Savior and Lord and thereafter seek to become like Him. The commands and social admonitions are supposed to make us more like Jesus Christ. They are not designed to gain favor with God or somehow perfect us as we seek merit with God.
And finally, I pray that anyone who does not yet know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord that they would be made new creatures in Christ, fit to one day stand before God and sing that song we read about in Revelation 19:1-2: “Hallelujah! Salvation is from our God. Glory and power belong to him alone. His judgments are just and true. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the murder of his servants.” When you are born anew spiritually, you are part of the family of God and you become a new creation in Christ. And God enables you to be what He wants you to be for the rest of your days.
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