Tag Archive: disciples


Some Thoughts on the Divine Origin of the Church

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs– we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The context of this passage is well known. Jesus has been crucified and He has appeared to His disciples following His resurrection from the dead. In the first chapter of this book, He explains to His disciples that they were going to become witnesses for Him beginning in Jerusalem, but eventually encompassing the whole world. When we look at the Gospels, we see that the same disciples were often confused about the things Jesus taught them and the things Jesus predicted. But at one point, Jesus promised a Helper who would come after Him to equip these disciples to carry out the commission given to them by the Savior.

The arrival of that Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, is recorded in the verses I just read. This happened on the day of Pentecost. This holy day occurred 50 days after Passover. Rabbinic scholars teach that Moses brought the law of God down from Mount Sinai 50 days after the observance of Passover. This particular day; therefore, came to have great significance for the Jews.

During the time of Christ, the Jews were somewhat scattered throughout the region. At this celebration, Jews would travel to Jerusalem from various locations throughout the empire. That is why so many areas were represented when this event took place (cf. vv. 9-11). The Spirit that comes on this day is the Spirit of Christ. He comes to prepare the disciples to take a new law to the world—the law of Christ or the law of liberty, as James calls it in his epistle. The law of God was given to make us aware of our sin and need for redemption. On this occasion, the One who kept the law of God perfectly for us so that we might be redeemed dispatches His Spirit to apply the victory He attained.

After this, the book of Acts records the phenomenal growth of the early Church. The disciples who were confused and timid become men of superior understanding and boldness. On this day, the transformation of the world began. And it is still going on in our day as the people of Christ speak, teach, and preach about Him throughout the world. The few thousand who were converted within days of this event have become millions upon millions over the centuries. This is the context for this passage of Scripture.

The disciples were gathered in an upper room that was used as living quarters. Based on the previous chapter, we know that they were devoting themselves to prayer and were probably discussing recent events. While contemplating their circumstances, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing when, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (v. 2) In addition, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” (v. 3) This event had significance, not just for this particular day, but for the rest of their lives. And this event had significance, not just for the city of Jerusalem, but for the entire world. On this day, the subjection of the world to the King of Kings begins. Everything that grew out of this event, which includes the establishment and global progress of the Church of Christ, bears the mark of the supernatural. The Church is not a creation of man, it is a creation of God. The destiny of the Church is not in the hands of man, but in the hands of God.

What does all of this imply for the ministry of local congregations? I would mention first the matter of our mission. The mission of the Church is the conversion of sinners. The mission of the Church is the conversion of nations of sinners through the teaching and preaching of the words of Christ. In a local ministry, we must understand that our mission is to preach and apply the gospel. Only the gospel can bring about the salvation of a lost soul; therefore, the gospel must be the primary concern of the local church because we exist to save lost souls. Contemporary churches are often extremely confused when it comes to articulating their mission. As result, many churches have tried to become all things to all people, with the result that their primary mission, as assigned by the Savior, suffers from neglect.

In addition to bearing on the relationship between the local church and the surrounding community, the supernatural origin of the Church also relates to the nature of our worship. If the Church is of the divine origin, then it must reflect that truth in everything it does. And one of the most significant tasks in which the local church engages is the worship of God. The local church is obligated to make sure that the way in which God is approached on the Lord’s Day is acceptable to Him. It is God’s character that we need to consider when we decide what we are going to include or exclude from our service of worship.

Once again, we must admit that contemporary local churches are often severely misguided in this important area. It is common today for churches to structure themselves in order to attract visitors. This is exactly the wrong perspective. As a divine institution, the local church must reflect its divine origin. The Church is, once again, the creation of God through the Holy Spirit. This truth was made unmistakably clear on the day of Pentecost.

In our worship, it should be evident that we are offering our praise and our service to God, which in turn means that we are to worship Him according to what He has revealed to us. The worship of the local church is not the place for innovation, it is the place for tradition, tradition stretching all the way back to the giving of the Scriptures where we find what God says is appropriate. When it comes to worship, a disregard for tradition amounts to disobedience if that disregard causes us to introduce unbiblical elements into our worship. When I speak of disobedience to tradition, I am not referring to the tradition of man, but to the tradition of doctrine given to us by God. The Bible tells us what God accepts when it comes to His worship. That is our tradition.

The supernatural origin of the Church has implications for our mission and our organization, specifically our worship. I would add one more observation. This one concerns our expectation as local congregations. Based on what we know about the origin of the Church and the equipping of the Church by the Holy Spirit, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the gospel in this world?

Let us acknowledge that the conflict between darkness and light has been decided. It was decided when Jesus rose from the dead, which is why the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupied such a prominent place in the preaching of the early Church. Since Peter stood before the people gathered in Jerusalem and preached, Christ has been applying His victory through the Church to the world. And we should expect that process to continue. The divine origin of the Church guarantees that history must unfold as an amazing application of the atonement.

We live in a dark day when it comes to the expectation of contemporary churches. The optimism that should accompany those who believe the gospel has been all but extinguished by the so-called “end times” eschatology. But understand that this is not the view that characterized the Church of Christ in the past; nor will it be the view that characterizes the Church in the future. But thanks be to God that eventually the Church will escape the clutches of this view that robs Christ of His glory and the Church of Her vision.

 

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The Promise of the Helper

(John 16:5-16)

 John 16:5 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. 16 A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”

 This instruction was given at a particularly significant point in Christ’s ministry. Just before He was betrayed by Judas into the hands of the Romans, Jesus spoke to His disciples regarding what they could expect as they continued to serve Him once He returned to His Father in heaven. These words of Jesus appear in that particular context—that of preparing the disciples for the challenges ahead. These verses contain three primary points, all of which have to do with the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

First, in verses 5 through 7, Jesus speaks of the connection between His ministry and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Savior teaches that the ministry of the Holy Spirit cannot commence until He has concluded His mission on earth and returned to heaven. Specifically, Jesus says that He must return “to Him who sent Me.” This is, of course, a reference to God the Father. (v. 5)

In a few short hours, Jesus will have been betrayed, arrested, interrogated, abused, and nailed to the cross. There will be no grand transformation of the landscape, no coronation of a new King, and no vanquishing of the oppressors. The battle that Jesus waged was one of a spiritual nature. What He was about to do would be the most wonderful and meaningful act ever witnessed in human history.

Far from being a sad defeat, Jesus teaches that His departure will be of great advantage to these men. The Savior adds: “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (v. 7) Provision has been made for the ongoing edification and guidance of the disciples once Jesus has left the earth. Appropriately, therefore, He describes the Spirit as the “Helper.”

The Greek word, which is translated “Helper,” is parakletos. This term refers to one who serves as a comforter or an advocate. It was used to identify someone who might be called to one’s side in a time of great need. The word was also used to designate one who pleads the cause of another before a judge. Although Jesus will continue and give a more detailed explanation of the Helper’s role, the definition of parakletos already tells us much about the Spirit’s involvement with the disciples of Christ after Jesus returned to heaven.

Jesus is facing an unbearable experience, yet here He is ministering to His disciples so that they will be encouraged and hopeful as the events of the night began to unfold. He will be leaving this world, but He will not be leaving the disciples on their own. They will not be abandoned or left to fend for themselves. God the Spirit is coming to their assistance.

Following His ascension, the record of Scripture will focus on the arrival of the Helper. The book of Acts opens with the dramatic portrayal of the Spirit’s arrival and subsequent equipping of these same disciples for the work of the gospel. Jesus knows what has been ordained and He is giving the disciples a glimpse of what God has prepared for them. They soon will understand that the cross was necessary and that the death of Jesus had set in motion a plan by which all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

At this moment, these men could do little more than try to process what was happening and Jesus, of course, understood that this was the case. He does not chastise them, nor does Jesus demonstrate any frustration with the disciples. As I indicated, they could not see beyond that night and their fear temporarily robbed them of the ability to exercise discernment. That will come in time and the primary element that will allow the disciples to understand more clearly the plan of redemption is the Helper, the Holy Spirit who is being promised to them.

Eventually, the disciples will have no fear and no doubt about their calling. The transition that will occur in the thinking and conduct of these men will be undeniable testimony to the presence of the Helper and the transforming power of God. Instead of hiding themselves for fear of persecution, these disciples will soon stand in the streets of the same city where their Master has given His life so that sinners may be saved. When that time comes, the disciples will be wise, bold, and confident. And there will be no stopping the movement that is about to commence.

As already pointed out, Jesus establishes a connection here between His ministry and that of the Helper. One does not replace the other, but the ministry of the Helper will be a continuation of the ministry of our Savior. He will send the Spirit who will take what Jesus accomplished on the cross and apply it to the world, beginning with these few disciples.

Second, in verses 8 through 13, the Savior explains in greater detail what the Spirit will do once He arrives. As these verses indicate, the Holy Spirit will be active in revealing the righteousness and judgment of God. He will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (v. 8) All of this has to do with the revelation of God’s will in light of the sinfulness of mankind.

The Spirit will establish a definitive distinction between the lawlessness of the human race and the holiness of God. He will enable men to discern between good and evil, and between rebellion and living according to the will of God. That which the Spirit will reveal will be man’s true spiritual condition and what man faces as a result of his transgressions.

In particular, Jesus indicates that the Spirit will be responsible for revealing the truth about the Savior. He will disclose that those who do not believe in Christ are committing sin. (v. 9) Opinions about Jesus will matter. Rejection of the gospel will matter because Jesus is not just another man or teacher, but is God in the flesh. To refuse to believe in Him, therefore, is an offense to God.

Moreover, the Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, Jesus adds, “because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” (v. 10) Although this saying is a bit puzzling, I think it has to do with the vindication of Christ. He declared Himself to be the Son of God when He walked among men. But He was accused of blasphemy for such statements and eventually put to death.

As the Spirit works in the hearts of sinners, the true nature of Christ and His mission will be made known to them and the proclamations of Christ will be verified. Scripture does, in fact, teach that God’s acceptance of the atonement provided by His Son was vindication of His claims. Jesus said that He had come to give His life a ransom for many and that He was here to do the will of God. Upon the completion of His mission, Jesus was received back into heaven amid much glory, which spoke of the Father’s approval.

Paul, for example, wrote that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:20, 21) In another place, the writer of Hebrews says: “When [Christ] had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . .” (Heb. 1:3) Again, the honor that Jesus received when He returned to heaven verified that He was who He claimed to be and did accomplish what He was sent to accomplish.

The ministry of the Helper will also involve revelation of God’s judgment against the ruler of this world. (v. 11) Through the followers of Christ, the Spirit will make known the defeat of Satan and the termination of his sway over fallen man. Through the preaching of the Church, the Holy Spirit will proclaim to the world that the devil has been subdued, just as God promised at the beginning of human history.

At this point, Jesus indicates that His instruction of the disciples is coming to an end, but the Spirit will continue educating the disciples once the Savior has completed His mission. (v. 12) The day will come when these men are ready to receive and act upon what remains to be revealed to them. It will be the Helper’s responsibility to provide that guidance and complete the equipping of the disciples for their labors for Christ’s kingdom. (v. 13)

Note in particular what Jesus says about the Spirit’s work in the second half of v. 13: “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” This statement reinforces the notion that the Helper will be sent by Christ to serve the Savior’s interest. He will not come in order to reveal knowledge about Himself and thus bring glory to Himself. On the contrary, just as Jesus came to do the will of His Father, so the Holy Spirit will come to apply to sinners what Christ accomplished so that they might be saved.

Third, in verses 14 through 16, Jesus describes the manner in which the Spirit will relate to the Savior. This passage has already indicated that the Spirit will come as One sent from Christ to continue the work of the Savior. And in that capacity, the Spirit will serve the cause of Christ by applying the atonement to the fallen world. Now, in the last three verses of this passage, Jesus gives more specifics concerning how the Helper will relate to Christ.

The first thing that Jesus says is “He will glorify Me.” (v. 14) This statement alone clearly defines the role of the Spirit in relation to Christ. The Spirit will not come in order to draw attention to Himself. The Spirit will come in order to point sinners to Christ in whom they will find eternal life.

This is where we run into some controversy concerning how the Church has incorporated the doctrine of the Holy Spirit into our belief system. It seems perfectly clear that the Spirit should not be expected to promote Himself, yet this is precisely the point on which some ministries are based. They emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit to the point where His role as a servant of Christ is obscured. The result in many cases is that the Holy Spirit becomes the focus of ministry. This is clearly contrary to what Jesus teaches in this passage.

There are several negative consequences to be faced when a church or some other organization builds its ministry around the Holy Spirit rather than around or upon Christ. For example, those who count on such an organization for their spiritual instruction are going to be out of balance, so to speak. Christ and Christ alone is to be the foundation and focal point for Christian ministry. But an undue emphasis upon the Holy Spirit naturally eliminates that possibility. This kind of  faulty instruction can easily warp a person’s theological understanding.

Another regrettable consequence is that an unbiblical preoccupation with the work of the Spirit can easily lead to conflict with other bodies in which the work of the Spirit and the work of Christ are kept in proper balance with one another. This is what we have witnessed in the evangelical Church in the past century. Churches and even denominations have been torn apart because one group insisted that the Holy Spirit must be predominant in that organization’s confrontation with the world, while the other group insisted that such an approach is not supported by Scripture.

To be clear, let me say that I am not implying that churches should rarely mention the Holy Spirit. I am saying that the person work of the Holy Spirit should be kept in proper balance with other major doctrines. We should be careful to follow the pattern of Scripture itself when it comes to how we incorporate the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, both as congregations and as individuals.

The role of the Holy Spirit as a servant to Christ is further emphasized when Jesus adds: “for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has our Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (vv. 14, 15) As I said previously, this sounds much like the manner in which Jesus described His relationship to His Father who sent Him into the world. The Savior understood that He had been sent to do the will of the Father. And so the Holy Spirit will be sent to do the will of Christ by teaching us all that our Savior desires us to understand.

Jesus closes this section with a word of encouragement to His disciples. Soon, as He has been telling them, they will no longer see Him. But that is not the end of the Savior. After the passage of time, He adds, “you will see Me.” (v. 16) Christ is referring to the post-resurrection encounters that these disciples will have with their Savior before He ascends to heaven.

It is worth noting that Jesus made provision for the spiritual welfare of His redeemed so that they would not be without reliable spiritual guidance once He returned to heaven. This unique ministry of the Spirit will continue until He has fully and perfectly applied the atonement attained by our Savior.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

(Matt. 10:29-31)

Last week, I wrote about the difficulties that we face in life. Using a statement from the book of James, I talked about the benefits of the trials God appoints for us. The Bible provides a perspective on our trials that helps us understand why God allows them and what is accomplished through them. That devotional went out on Friday morning. On Saturday evening, my son and I were involved in a serious car accident. We were struck from behind while stopped in an intersection waiting to make a left-hand turn. The impact left me groggy for a few seconds, but one of the first thoughts that came to mind as my head began to clear were those words to which I referred last week: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

The verses above from Matthew 10 were spoken by Jesus as He encouraged His disciples with the assurance that God was constantly and comprehensively watching over them. No matter what they faced, no matter what threats were made, no matter what they might need, God was fully knowledgeable. To emphasize the significance of this truth, Jesus declared that God is aware of the fate of every sparrow that falls to the ground. By implication, therefore, God will certainly show even greater concern for the creatures made in His own image. That is, in essence, what the Savior said after mentioning the birds: “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

Obviously, this passage teaches that God is always aware of us and, of course, there is a wonderful measure of comfort and encouragement to be taken from that fact. But I want to stress something in addition, which is the love of God. This aspect comes out clearly in Christ’s expressions. As He spoke to the disciples, Jesus referred to God as “your Father.” This designation reminds us of the familiar relationship we enjoy with God. By grace, we are His sons and daughters; we have been adopted into His redeemed family. (cf. Gal. 4:4-7)

Consider again what the Savior says. Our Father’s love for us is comprehensive, particular, and ultimate. God is all-seeing and all-knowing, which means He is cognizant of everything at every moment. But the Lord’s point goes beyond a simple consequence of God’s nature. As noted, He draws attention to the relationship we have with God, that of child to Father. From experience, we know this is one of the most personal and essential relationships that exist in this life. God not only controls what we experience, but He also cares about what we encounter. This assures us that whatever He allows or appoints for us is grounded in His love and, therefore, must be for our good.

A number of questions occurred to me as I stood beside our vehicle last Saturday evening waiting for the police to arrive. Did the other driver, who was at fault, have insurance? If so, would his insurance company be cooperative and truly helpful? Will our car be fixable or is it totaled? What kind of medical consequences were we facing? As important as these questions were, the knowledge of God’s Fatherly love as the foundation for our trials dominated my thinking and it was, without question, the one element that gave encouragement during a stressful and upsetting episode. In love, our Father was with us and was looking upon us as His treasured sons.

Every believer may rest in and count on God’s love as our heavenly Father throughout life and in every circumstance. This is the one truth that will sustain us during the most painful and demanding trials we endure. We are never without the loving embrace of our Father in heaven. We will never be cast out of His household. Fear may be overcome and worry may be subdued because our Father in heaven loves us—forever.

John 13:33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus is speaking about the characteristics that His followers would manifest before the world. Let’s keep in mind that this manifestation of Christian character would come in the midst of first century Roman culture which, by all accounts, was marked by extreme self-interest, self-promotion, self-preservation, and the overriding goal of sensual pleasure. Roman citizens were distinguished by their commitment to self, first and foremost. Individualism saturated the world into which Christianity was introduced.

In this context, Jesus is relaying information of a crucial nature. He is telling the disciples something essential about how they should conduct themselves in the days to come. Although they could not imagine being without the Savior, He knew that this is precisely what would happen very soon. Therefore, Jesus concentrates on one particular characteristic by which His disciples will be made obvious to the world.

That one particular characteristic is given in verse 35: “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will followers of Jesus Christ be known in this world? What quality will they exhibit that will identify them as disciples of the Savior?

Love for one another is the primary evidence that we have been born again and are endeavoring to live in a manner that honors our Savior. In this matter of loving one another, we find our greatest challenges and are most frequent failures. When it comes to those with whom we interact on a regular basis, it is far more likely that they will get to know what we truly are and what kind of character we actually have. It is in those close relationships that the state of the heart becomes apparent. It is in those close relationships that the profession of the mouth is shown to be true or false.

Genuine love, love defined by the Word of God, is such a rare thing in this fallen world. Genuine love is not witnessed very often. Genuine love is self-sacrificial and gentle and patient and forgiving; that is not what we see in this world. Therefore, when a particular people exhibit genuine love for one another, they’re going to stand out and call attention to themselves and cause others to ask the question: Why are those people different? By that, all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples, if we have love for one another.

While there may be many markers of faith, there is one indispensable characteristic that identifies us as disciples of Jesus Christ—and that, once again, is our love for one another. The exhortation from Jesus should lead us to return to the Scriptures and hear again what love is, according to God. And we must be zealous to become the kind of people who are known for their love toward one another.