Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.
It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.
As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?
The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!
The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.
See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.
Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?
The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.
On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)
Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?
I’m sure they meant well, but Jesus has some choice words for His Disciples in today’s Bible reading. Parents bring their children to Jesus and the Disciples try to turn them away. Jesus responds in a way we wouldn’t expect — at least those who see Jesus as only a mild-mannered only-loving Savior.
Mark says that Jesus was indignant, a “strong word of deep emotion”. (Mark 10:14) AT Robertson adds, “Surely it ought to be a joy to parents to bring their children to Jesus, certainly to allow them to come, but to hinder their coming is a crime. There are parents who will have to give answer to God for keeping their children away from Jesus.”
In fact, Jesus said that if someone does not receive the Kingdom of God as a child, they will not enter it. The word Mark uses for child means a child under school-age. There is an innocence in that age group. An innocence that is so trusting, so vulnerable and there’s no pretention.
Children are a big deal to God. In the Bible, children are seen as blessings from God. (Psalm 127:3) The concept of Gentiles as being adopted children of God is central to the Gospel Message. (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5) Yes, as Robertson points out, parents will give an answer to God for keeping their children away from Jesus.
In contrast, in Western Civilization in the Twenty-First Century, children are merely commodities. Look at the way children are abused and trafficked. Look no further than Hollywood’s Michelle Williams. Last week as she clutched her “Best Actress” Golden Globe trophy, she said “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose. To choose when to have my children and with whom. … I know my choices might look different but thank God or whomever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principle that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours.”
Yes, children are a big deal to God. We will give an answer to God for keeping children from coming to Jesus. We will give an answer to God for putting up obstacles in our own lives that would prevent our own children from coming to Him. And we will give an answer to God for the way we have treated children as pawns in our lives.
Everyone who comes into a relationship with Jesus Christ has to do so by laying aside agendas. Laying aside pretentions. Laying aside themselves. Coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ requires that we come on His terms, not ours. (Mark 8:34-36)
Yes, the Gospel Message is about forgiveness. The Gospel Message is about grace. The Gospel Message is about mercy. But forgiveness, grace, and mercy are only available as we come to terms with our guilt as sinners. As sinners, we deserve punishment. We deserve death. We owe a debt we cannot pay. But Jesus has paid a debt He didn’t owe.
Have you laid aside your pretentions? Have you come to God, simply trusting Him at His Word?
 Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.
There seems to be a great concern among some that they have committed the unpardonable sin and are hopelessly doomed to spend eternity in hell for committing one sin. Well thankfully, Jesus addresses the “unpardonable sin” in today’s Bible reading.
As we look at this sin which can never be forgiven, let’s look at what Jesus actually says and let’s look at the immediate context.
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28–29 ESV)
So what is blasphemy?
Blasphemy means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation (occurring in relation to persons as well as to divine beings)—‘to revile, to defame, to blaspheme, reviling” To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to slander Him.
Now, look at the context:
“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:22 ESV)
From the definition and the context, we can conclude that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to see God’s works occurring before one’s eyes and speak against God in such a way to attribute the works of God to the devil himself.
Have you ever committed the unpardonable sin? Have you sinned so greatly that God will never forgive you? Look at what Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” (Mark 3:28 ESV)
Jesus says that God is able to forgive all kinds of sins of all kinds of people. He can and will forgive all of all. Except for one sin: attributing the works of God to the devil. Have you ever done that? Have you ever seen Jesus do the works of God and say, “No, the devil did that!”
It’s important to note something Jesus says in just a few chapters later. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Mark 7:21-22 (ESV)
In other words, our lips give away the inclinations of our hearts. An unbelieving heart will speak of its unbelief. And an unbelieving heart will speak against the works of God in such a way to attribute God’s works to the devil.
So have you committed the unpardonable sin? Are you unforgivable? Are you beyond God’s redemption?
The fact that you are concerned enough to ask the question speaks of a heart inclined to believe. An unbelieving heart wouldn’t even care if it had done something so heinous that it couldn’t be forgiven.
So take heart! If you’re concerned that you can’t be forgiven for something, that’s the work of God in your heart to redeem you, not to reject you!
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996: 433. Print.
In today’s Bible reading, John records the fall of Babylon the Great. I won’t go into the theories of what Babylon the Great is. But I will point out the command from God for His people: Come out and don’t participate in the sin of the world. (Revelation 18:4-5) While the rest of the world grieves the fall of Babylon, God’s people are to expose Babylon’s sins. (Revelation 18:6)
The world will never accept Believers who take their stand for righteousness. Regardless of what we may say or do, the world will never respect or tolerate those who are serious about their faith. Oh, they may accept, highlight, and celebrate it when a Believer rejects the faith. But unless that happens, the world knows it and the Christian faith are at odds.
Why would a Believer want the endorsement and recognition of the world? Why would a Believer want to “be cool” and try to be accepted? Tolerance will only be afforded to those who capitulate and endorse sin. Look at Paul’s chronicling of the progression of sin in Romans 1. First, sin is tolerated. Next, sin is accepted. Finally, sin is endorsed and celebrated. That is the natural progression of sin. It will always go that way… unless God performs a miracle and rescue a believer from the clutches of sin.
I have said on many occasions, lost people will act like lost people and we shouldn’t be surprised when they do. Only when God intervenes do sinners repent and turn to Jesus. As I stated in Saturday’s devotional, our natural way is to choose anything other than God. Reformer John Calvin rightly pointed out that our heart is an idol factory. We will always choose something, anything over God … unless God does a work in us.
Has God done a miracle in your life? Have you turned your idol-making heart over to Him for Him to do a supernatural work? Self-justification and self-righteousness won’t work. Moralism (working hard to do the good and avoid the bad) won’t work. Only a miraculous work of God which results in your repenting and turning to Jesus, trusting His payment for your sin-debt will work.
If you haven’t turned to Him, don’t delay! Turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. Ask Him to do a miraculous work in you to make you more like Him from the inside-out.
If you have turned to Jesus, spend a few minutes today thanking Him for all that He has done (which is everything!) to make you right with His (and your) perfect, holy Father.
Things continue escalating in today’s Bible reading. Seven angels pour out seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.
First Bowl: Painful Sores
Second Bowl: The sea turned to blood and all sea life died
Third Bowl: Rivers and springs became blood
Fourth Bowl: People are scorched by the sun. They blaspheme the One who has power over the plagues. They do not repent.
Fifth Bowl: The Beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness. The people are in intense pain and blaspheme God and do not repent.
Sixth Bowl: The Euphrates River dries up, paving the way for the eastern kings to march to Armageddon.
Seventh Bowl: The greatest earthquake ever occurs. God pours out His wrath on Babylon the Great. One hundred pound hailstones fall and people blaspheme.
Once again, we see people refuse to repent of their sin when they’re face-to-face with God’s wrath. They don’t cry out for mercy. Instead, they blaspheme. They curse God.
We’ve seen this before. God brings hardships in order to call people to repent. And yet they don’t. Their hearts have grown so hard, they don’t see a need to ask for God’s help. Instead, they call down curses on God, the only One Who can stop or give any relief from the plagues.
So what does this say about God? It says that God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. And God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious humanity. God is patient. But a Day is coming when He will no longer hold back His wrath. He will pour out His wrath and punish sin. He will punish those who pursue their sin. And that Day will be the worst day ever.
Are you ready for that Day? If you repent of your sin, God will credit the righteousness of Jesus to your account and His wrath will be satisfied in the punishment Jesus bore on a cross almost two thousand years ago.
You can face God’s wrath on your own. Or you can have Jesus to deal with God’s wrath for you. Turn to Jesus and repent of your sin today!