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Exegesis

The Hebrew Tittle

Take a look at the two Hebrew letters on the left. If I had not highlighted the difference, do you think you would have caught it? It’s small. Almost unnoticeable. But that tiny difference between these two letters can make a big difference! The letter on the left is R and the letter on the right is D. That one tiny stroke makes a different letter. Similarly, one tiny stroke makes the difference in the English letters E and F. And dealing with those tiny strokes in Hebrew is why I began to wear glasses!

Jesus gives us a word picture in today’s Bible reading. He says that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Luke 16:17 (KJV)

We rarely use the word tittle anymore. Modern translations use “stroke of a letter” instead of tittle. The difference between the Hebrew B and D and the difference between the English E and F is called a tittle.

Jesus says that it’s more likely for heaven and earth to fall apart than for God’s Word to be corrupted. “Ah”, the skeptic would say, “but there are differences in the Bible’s manuscripts!” The skeptic is correct. As we compare manuscripts and scrolls of the Bible, yes, there are some small differences. There may even be some tittles added or missing when you look closely. But, I would add that those small differences are virtually insignificant.

Thanks to the abundance of manuscripts, scholars can go back and recreate the original texts with a very high degree of certainty. When they compare the manuscripts against each other, they can easily determine slips of the pen that a scribe made. Those uncrossed t’s, undotted i’s, as well as the extra or missing tittles are easily recognized. And you know what? In “all of these mistakes”, not a single Bible doctrine is affected by the mistake.

You may have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In November 1946, a young shepherd was throwing rocks into caves in the area of Qumran, Jordan and heard pottery break. He went inside the cave and found several pottery jars with scrolls rolled up inside. Over the next few years, more scrolls were discovered. As scholars studied the scrolls, they found some of them to be Old Testament Scriptures and were almost 1000 years older than the oldest scrolls known to exist. When they compared the Dead Sea Scrolls to the oldest scrolls they had, scholars discovered the differences to be minuscule.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated God’s sovereign hand in preserving His Word over the centuries.

Application

God’s Word can be trusted, in part, because God has preserved His Word for His people. Given that God cares so much to preserve His Word for His people, I can’t state too strongly the importance of studying His preserved Word. God’s people have literally bled and died trying to get God’s Word into your hands.

If God can preserve tittles over thousands of years, don’t you think that He can handle the smallest details of your life? Spend a few minutes today thanking God for caring about the little things. And thank Him for the little ways He cares for you.

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Holy Spirit

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)

Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”

Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:

speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)

Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.

In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.

But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.

Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.

So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)

Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.

Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.

So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.

Application

Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?

How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?

How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?

Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.

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In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 17, we come across a passage that is easy to misunderstand. Admittedly, I only came to see a nuance of this about a week or so ago. I was in our Adult Bible Study class at church and a friend brought out this issue of the “faith like a mustard seed”. (Matthew 17:20 ) He pointed out that the verse doesn’t refer to faith the size of a mustard seed. The verse refers to faith like a mustard seed.

Seriously? Am I really straining at the meaning of one little word? Actually, yes! Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate that I said that I came to see a nuance of this recently. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it until recently. That’s one of the things about God’s Word that’s so interesting. I have no idea how many times I have read this passage, yet a brief comment in a Sunday School class revealed a new facet of faith that I had never seen before.

Words have meaning. But words only have meaning in relationship with other words. That’s why it can be dangerous to do “word study” Bible studies. A word in one language may be translated into ten different words in another language. It’s probably an urban legend, but I have heard that Inuit (aka “Eskimos”) have sixteen different words for “snow”. Assuming that’s true, it’s quite understandable; their knowledge of snow and their need to communicate about snow is much deeper than a simple “cold, white, powdery stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in winter”. The same can be true when translating words from the Biblical languages to English. And that’s why it is very helpful to use a couple of different modern Bible translations. It’s not just words, but how they’re used together that brings out meaning.

So what’s the difference between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and “faith like a mustard seed”? Your Bible may use either of these translations.

A mustard seed is small. It’s a little smaller than a sesame seed on your hamburger bun, but it’s larger than the poppy seed on your bagel. That tiny mustard seed — the smallest of the seeds known to First Century Palestine — grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to nest in it. (Mark 4:31-32) So, inside that small seed is a large bush. Inside an acorn is a strong towering oak.

When Jesus mentions mustard seed faith, he isn’t talking about the initial size of the seed, but rather the potential that’s in the seed. But unless that seed is buried and allowed to grow, it will never be more than a small seed. But once it’s planted, it can grow into full maturity. (John 12:24)

Perhaps the disciples weren’t exercising their faith when they were unsuccessful in trying to deliver the demonized seizure-ridden young man. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have faith, but they had small faith, (Matthew 17:20a) and it sounds like maybe they weren’t exercising and growing it.

Application

In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter how much or how little faith you have. What matters is what you’re doing with your faith. Are you letting it grow? Are you feeding it with God’s Word? Are you exercising it?

Believer, you are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Let Him empower you to strengthen your faith

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Five loaves and Two fish
Source: LumoProject

Today’s Bible reading includes the story of Jesus’ feeding over five thousand people with only two fish and five loaves of bread. Matthew 14:13-21) Mark and Luke also include the story in their Gospel.

It’s sad that people can read this story and dismiss it as a fairytale, something that never happened, something that could never have happened. They dismiss the story because it includes a miracle, and their theology doesn’t have room for a supernatural element. All of us are theologians. All of us. The question is how good and faithful to the Text are we going to be? I honestly think that to dismiss miraculous stories takes more “faith” than believing the story as presented.

So, I just take the story as it’s given: Jesus takes a couple of fish and some bread and feeds five thousand men, their wives, and children. And the disciples collect twelve baskets full of leftovers.

It’s been a long day. The disciples are tired and hungry. They probably just want a little peace and quiet. So they ask Jesus to send the crowds away so they can have some “down-time” together — and perhaps silently gloat that they’re special because they don’t have to leave and go home.

Jesus tells them to have the crowds sit down. He takes a small contribution, blesses it and feeds a multitude. But I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t just feed the people a little bit. He doesn’t add to their own sack lunches. He feeds them and they collect twelve baskets of leftovers. Note that the leftovers are from the original contribution. There is nothing in the story that indicates that anyone adds to the two fish and five loaves of bread. None of the Gospel writers tells us how big the baskets were. But it’s clear that they had more left over than what they started with!

Yes, over five thousand men (plus women and kids) ate. They even had leftovers. But note that they were satisfied. (Matthew 14:20)

Application

Each of us comes to Jesus with a hunger that only He can satisfy. Let me restate that.

Each of us comes to Jesus with a need. We may think we need any number of things from him. But our biggest need is a hunger for Him. And only He can satisfy that hunger. And He does it so well, if we will only ask.

CS Lewis said that our problem isn’t that we seek to fulfill our desires; our problem is that we are far too easily satisfied!

Are you satisfied with Jesus?

Again, I’d like to challenge you to embrace Christian Hedonism!

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Today’s Bible reading includes a passage that many people have heard about. It strikes fear in the hearts of many. And yet, there’s no need for anxiety over the issues of “The Unpardonable Sin“.

Let’s look at what Jesus actually says about it.

Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come. Matthew 12:31–32 (CSB)

defining sin

So, Jesus says that speaking against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Let’s look at the context of these two verses.

Leading up to this point in the chapter, Jesus has just dealt with the Pharisees on the issue of healing on the Sabbath. He points out that there is more going on than just having a special day and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus frequently points out that the Pharisees miss the forest for the trees. They emphasize the Law, and yet miss the reason God gave that part of the Law in the first place. In the case of the Sabbath, God gave the Sabbath to recognize that we are created in God’s image. God rested after creating the universe in six days — not because He was tired, but as an example — so we should also rest from our work and regularly take some time to pause to remember God’s presence and work in our lives.

When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, simply by telling the man to stretch out his hand, the religious leaders claim that Jesus is doing His miracles by the power of satan himself. Jesus points out that satan could not drive out himself. (Matthew 12:26) However, the fact that Jesus is exorcizing demons by the Spirit of God demonstrates that He has initiated the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 12:28)

After talking about the unforgivable sin, Jesus says that trees are known by their fruit. Matthew 12:34 records Jesus’ next words which are the key to understanding the question at hand.

Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Matthew 12:34 (CSB)

Application

The Pharisees are watching Jesus perform miracles right before their eyes. They say that He’s doing it by the power of satan. He says that speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable and He concludes by saying that your heart will be revealed by what you say.

In other words, this unforgivable sin, this “blasphemy of the Spirit” is watching God’s miracles happen right before your eyes and yet insist it’s the work of the devil. The person who would make such a blasphemous claim is speaking from a depraved heart.

On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter announced that the people were watching Joel 2 being fulfilled right before their eyes. Part of the initiation of the New Covenant was that God’s Spirit would be poured out on ordinary people, not just ordained people. (Joel 2:28–29) And the Holy Spirit would live in God’s people, not just on God’s people.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26–27 (CSB)

The new, soft heart is able to see the works of God for what they are. And with a new, soft heart comes the ability — and the desire — to attribute the works of God to God, not satan.

Lost people with lost hearts behave like lost people. Speaking against the Holy Spirit is the fruit of a lost heart, a heart that does not recognize God or His works. If you are a believer, you haven’t done anything that you can’t be forgiven of. In fact, your sin has already been forgiven.

That’s good news!
That’s the Gospel!

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