The Bronze Serpent

The message form this past Sunday, while long and detailed, was a great passage to study. I would have gone in a different direction, but hey, he was our guest preacher. The passage came from Numbers 21:4-9.

The people grumbled again, after 38 years of wandering, which only proved that they were still not ready to enter the promised land. God provided for them but they did not appreciate it (they actually loathed God’s provision of manna, Numbers 21:5).

There is something else about this manna: Wiersbe writes, “According to John 6, the manna was much more than daily food for Israel: it was a type of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the “Bread of Life” (John 6:32–40). The manna came only to Israel, but Jesus came to be the Savior of the world. All the manna could do was sustain life, but Jesus Christ gives life. When the Jews despised the manna, they were actually rejecting the Son of God. Once more, God had tested His people, and they had failed the test (Deuteronomy 8:15–16).”

Enter the fiery serpents, which bit people and they died (Numbers 21:6). So, what’s up with such a strange story?

God was teaching the people something about faith. It is fairly illogical to think that looking at a bronze image could heal anyone from a snakebite, but that is exactly what God told them to do. It took an act of faith in God’s plan for anyone to be healed, and the serpent on the pole was a reminder of their sin, which brought about their suffering.

Faith was also put into action because in such a large crowd, the whole camp of Israel, it likely took a huge amount of effort to position oneself to even SEE the serpent on the pole. I don’t imagine that it took a casual glance, but rather it took a lot of effort to be in the right position to see it.

While the people did get healed when they looked at the serpent, the serpent on the pole eventually became a problem. Who needs God when you can get healing with this magical serpent? The people kept it for many years and when the Israelites were in the Promised Land, the serpent became an object of worship that needed to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). The lesson here reminds us how easy it is for people to take the good things of God and twist them into something bad. Don’t be that guy who worships the creation rather than the creator.

This passage directly points toward John 3:14-15, where Jesus tells us that this bronze serpent was a foreshadowing of himself. It is actually an illustration of the vicarious death of Christ on the cross and the necessity of personal faith in him for salvation.

The serpent was a symbol of sin and judgment, and when it was lifted up and put on a pole (or tree), it became a symbol of a curse (Galatians 3:13). Paul is teaching the Galatian Christians that Jesus became a curse for us, even though he was a man without sin (the spotless Lamb of God). Paul clearly taught the Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The observation that I have on this passage in Numbers 21:4-9 is that God did not remove the snakes, but provided a remedy; way of healing and life in the midst of the snakes. I imagine that the venom remained in their bodies but did not lead to death. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We remain sinners but have received new life in Christ.

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False Expectations

This message is a part of the new sermon series for 2016 at King’s Grant Baptist Church, taken from Luke 14:25-35. Here is the video of my message.

There was a debate perhaps 25 years on the meaning of salvation. At that time I discovered a tremendously insightful resource by John MacArthur called, The Gospel According to Jesus. It changed my life. This is what it was all about…

As Baptists we understand that salvation by grace through faith. No one earns salvation through their deeds. But can someone be saved and not follow Jesus as a disciple? Can Jesus be your Savior without him being your Lord? Can you pray a prayer as a younger person, and because Baptists believe in “once saved always saved,” it matters not that you never grow in maturity?

Let me tell you a story about someone coming to Christ while I was out witnessing with my pastor; this was my first full-time staff position after seminary. The pastor and I went out visiting and this young man, likely a senior in high school, sat and talked with us at his kitchen table. I sensed that the guy was not buying what we were selling, but before we left, he was on his knees praying the sinner’s prayer with my pastor. My question after that evening, after it was all said and done was, “will we ever see this guy get involved in worship, Bible study, or have any desire to grow in spiritual maturity at all?” Did he mean it? Was he ready to accept the challenge of following Jesus?

What are the expectations that WE have of Jesus and Christianity? What are the expectations that Jesus has of US?

When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.

Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.

A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible (“that My house may be filled”), but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly; and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.

We are going to dive in to what it means to love Jesus Christ supremely and to carry one’s cross.

  1. Jesus’ Instruction concerning discipleship (Luke 14:25-27)
    1. In regard to the candidate’s family (Luke 14:25-26)
      1. Jesus was still traveling toward Jerusalem, and large crowds had joined him.
        1. Perhaps all these casual followers considered themselves “disciples” of this popular teacher.
        2. Perhaps they thought he was the Messiah and wanted to be there when he inaugurated his kingdom.
      2. Jesus needed to explain that following him did not mean receiving goodies, like the expectation of so many children.
        1. He wanted to explain what it meant to truly be his disciple. So he turned and spoke to them. His disciples had to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.
        2. This may be the only verse that teenagers will enthusiastically quote and follow, after all, Jesus said that I am to hate my parents.
        3. Certainly this caused a stir among the people. Who would possibly ask his followers to hate their family members and life itself? The point is not to HATE, but to LOVE others less. Your love for Jesus must be so strong that any other relationship of LOVE would look like HATE in comparison.
      3. Jesus never contradicts himself. Never has Jesus advocated “hatred”—in fact, he even commanded his followers to love their enemies (Luke 6:27, 35).
        1. In these words Jesus was not going against his own commands of love, or the fifth commandment to honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12).
        2. Instead, the word “hate” is a Semitic hyperbole—an obvious exaggeration to make a point (see Genesis 29:30–33; Proverbs 13:24). Their love for Jesus should be so complete and wholehearted that their love for family members, and for life itself, would pale in comparison, to the point of being like hatred. In first-century Jewish family settings, deciding for Jesus could mean alienation from the family.
        3. Jesus warned the would-be disciples that they must be clear about their true allegiance. Jesus’ point was that those who wanted to be his followers would have demands placed upon them. The task would not be easy. Sometimes relationships would be severed, and his followers would have to turn away and remain with Jesus (12:51–53). Those who cannot make that kind of commitment cannot be his disciple.
    2. In regard to the candidate (Luke 14:27)
      1. Besides being willing to love Jesus more than any others and more than life itself, the true disciple must be ready to carry the cross and follow Christ.
      2. Jesus’ audience was well aware of what it meant to “carry the cross.” When the Romans led a criminal to his execution site, the criminal would be forced to carry the cross on which he would die. This showed submission to Rome and warned observers that they had better submit too.
      3. Carrying your cross means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23–28). Bearing a “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives.
      4. Jesus gave this teaching to get the crowds to think through their enthusiasm for him. He encouraged those who were superficial either to go deeper or to turn back. Following Christ means total submission to him—perhaps even to the point of death.
  2. Jesus’ Illustration concerning discipleship (Luke 14:28-35)
    1. A disciple must be like a man preparing to build: the example of the unfinished building (Luke 14:28-30). The story has a couple interesting observations.
      1. Adequate Resources – mockery – a landmark of foolishness. If a person could not finish what he started, the community would mock him, and his unfinished building would be a testimony to his lack of following through.
      2. Adverse Reality – the calling to follow Jesus deserves serious thought and contemplation – the example of John Mark leaving the missionary journey (Acts 12:25-13:5, 13:13). The glamour and newness wears off and reality sets in. The young man did not count the cost of following Jesus and serving God as a companion of Paul.
    2. A disciple must be like a monarch preparing for battle: the example of a unsuccessful war (Luke 14:31-33) – To rush out with his soldiers, without first discussing the options, would invite disaster for any nation. It is far better to think it through beforehand. So those who want to follow Jesus should carefully consider their decision.
      1. The Christian life is a battle, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
      2. Satan is the enemy and our adversary, who seeks out downfall. He is the god of this world. Spiritual warfare is not a minor endeavor.
      3. For some, giving up everything may be literal, such as the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18–23 and many of Jesus’ early followers; for others it may be a willingness to hold loosely to material possessions.
    3. A disciple must be like a maître d’ preparing for a banquet: the example of an unsavory condiment (Luke 14:34-35)
      1. The maître d’ handles the reservations and preparations, so many Christians blend into the world and avoid the cost of standing up for Christ.
      2. But Jesus says if Christians lose their distinctive saltiness, they become worthless. Just as salt flavors and preserves food, Christ’s disciples are to preserve the good in the world, help keep it from spoiling, and bring new flavor to life.
      3. This requires careful planning, willing sacrifice, and unswerving commitment to Christ’s kingdom. Being “salty” is not easy, but if Christians fail in this function, they fail to represent Christ in the world. The person with ears should be able to understand these words and apply them.
        1. Salt without flavor is good for nothing; it has no purpose at the dinner table.
        2. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

What are those “costs” to believers? Christians may face loss of social status or wealth. Family and friends may hate or avoid you. We may have to give up control over their money, time, or career. It is not like living overseas where Christianity is illegal, and may cost your freedom or your life.

Following Christ does not mean living a trouble-free life. All people must carefully count the cost of becoming Christ’s disciple so that they will know what they are getting into and won’t be tempted to turn back when the going gets tough.

The title of this message is False Expectations, so let me wrap this us by sharing with you what I would call one of the most haunting verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Talk about false expectations. Those who expects “well done, good and faithful servant,” heard Jesus say, depart from me, I never knew you.”

Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is always an if in connection with discipleship, and it implies that we need not [be disciples] unless we embrace this. There is never any compulsion; Jesus does not coerce us. There is only one way of being a disciple, and that is by being devoted to Jesus.”

IF we tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, THEN He wants us to know exactly what we are getting into. He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, no bargains. He wants to use us as STONES for building His church, SOLDIERS for battling His enemies, and SALT for bettering His world; and He is looking for quality more than quality.

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.

To some people, Jesus says, “You cannot be My disciples!” Why? Because they will not forsake everything for Christ, bearing shame and reproach for Him, and letting their love for Him control them.

Will you be His disciple?

Next Steps:

  • How possible are this conditions for you?
  • What has it cost you to follow Jesus?
  • What cost of following Jesus seems too high for you?
  • What relationships of other loyalties do you need to pray about to strengthen your loyalty to Jesus?
  • In what area of your life can you have a deliberate effect for Christ this week?

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Share the Message

This is the final session in the God’s Not Dead series.

While preparation is vital to becoming an effective witness for Christ, at some point we need to step out and start sharing the gospel. You can connect more often and more deeply with people outside of the church. You can become involved in activities or join organizations with diverse participants. You can cultivate a lifestyle of hospitality. You can get involved with people who don’t know the Lord, then they will inevitably see the centrality of Jesus that marks your life.

At first you can defend the existence of God. Remember that knowing God exists is the beginning of faith. Then you can explain how he created the world as well as mankind. This knowledge should result in a desire of people to begin to seek God. This may lead to the opportunity for you to explain the Christian story that is expressed in the gospel. There is no greater privilege than to communicate this message to unbelievers. Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us we are ambassadors for Christ.

Slide4

Before you can share the gospel, you need to understand it. Here is a good summary, God became man in Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should’ve died, in our place. Three days later he rose from the dead proving that he is the Son of God and offering the gift of salvation to everyone who will repent and believe in him. Let’s look at the key aspects of the summary.

God became man in Jesus Christ. Creator of the universe came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, which is the greatest mystery of all time. So I’m trying to simply say that Jesus Christ was more than a great teacher or even a prophet, but he claimed to be God himself. Remember the CS Lewis argument of liar, Lord, or lunatic.

He lived the life that we should’ve lived. Jesus perfectly obeyed the moral law of God yet he was without sin. Through disobedience and rebellion we fell into the darkness and grip of sin. Christ’s perfect obedience as a man of God qualified him to represent us before God.

He died the death that we should’ve died, in our place. Because of sin, we deserve punishment. If there is no penalty for breaking God’s laws, then they ceased to be laws and become merely suggestions. Jesus Christ became our substitute by offering his perfect life as a sacrifice for our sins.

Three days later he rose from the dead, proving he is the Son of God. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead verified that he was indeed who he said he was. When people ask how you can know that Jesus Christ is truly the son of God, you can confidently stand on his resurrection as the proof of that claim.

He offers salvation to those who repent and believe in him. The gospel calls us to put our faith in Jesus Christ. Having faith means to trust and obey what he says is true. To repent means to turn from trusting in our own efforts, as well as to be sorry for our sinful ways. As you turn to Christ and trust in him, he promises to give you new life.

Slide5

Next we need to believe the gospel deeply. Real faith isn’t blind. We have been given overwhelming evidence that God is real and that Jesus Christ is his son. While we don’t claim to have all the answers, we have enough evidence to commit ourselves to believe what God has promised us. We also know that Jesus’ words are true and our sins are forgiven. Christ has paid the price for our sins (Isaiah 53:5). All of the guilt and shame has been removed from us so that we can stand blameless in God sight, as children of God.

By believing the gospel, we experience a promise Jesus gave us, that of the new birth (John 3:7). This is obviously a spiritual rather than a physical birth. We become new on the inside (2 Corinthians 5:17).

When we believe the message, this promised transformation takes place. It doesn’t mean we don’t have struggles, temptations, or setbacks, but we have a new source of strength inside of us. When these truths penetrate our hearts, they shape our speech, our decisions, our emotions, and our motivations.

Slide6

It is a popular statement, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” Make no mistake, it is necessary to use words. It’s like feeding hungry people, and if necessary use food. Is our responsibility and privilege to communicate this message to a lost world around us.

Many times we avoid the responsibility. It all comes down to fear. One of the best ways to overcome the fear of talking about God is to simply start stepping out in faith to initiate conversations. To overcome this obstacle, there is a simple strategy called SALT.

  • Start a conversation
  • Ask questions
  • Listen
  • Tell the story

TheGodTest is another a tool with questions to draw out a person’s foundational beliefs, such as their understanding of God, morality, and the meaning of life. Here is a summary:

(check out the teaching / training online).

Slide7

Mankind has a problem, which is a sin problem that can only be solved with God’s solution. Imagine being sick for more than two years with a mysterious ailment that no doctor could detect. When you finally find out what is wrong, it really is good news. Now they can start treating the real problem. The gospel is like an MRI for the soul that shows the source of people’s individual problems, and the challenges in society that results from their broken relationships with God.

There are countless voices in our culture promising to help us fix our problems. Only within Christianity is security really found, our value and acceptance by God’s rest on Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice. As we are transformed into new people, we can then confront the problems in our society such as racism, injustice, and poverty.

Slide8

On a regular basis, tragedy and crisis strike our world. Whether natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, or personal tragedy and loss. It is the love and mercy shown by the followers of Jesus that have historically made a huge difference in the lives of those who are hurting. The love and sacrifice shown by believers can help take away the pain and bring real peace and comfort.

As a Christian, you invite others into small groups focused on practical issues, such as marriage, finances, or relationships. As they experience biblical truth practically impacting their lives, they will likely desire to understand the full Christian story. You could also invite them to join in mercy ministries, such as helping the homeless. It is important to identify the talents that God has given to you, and to use them for his glory.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your greatest obstacles toward being a witness for Christ? How can you overcome them?
  2. What do you most need to become an effective witness: courage, knowledge, wisdom, power?
  3. How should you pray for God to assist you to gain what you need?
  4. What opportunities might you be missing where you could be a witness?

Follow Up:

  • Read John 3:16–18. Reflect on your life in light of the power of these verses. What do they mean to you? How have you responded in your beliefs and lifestyle?
  • Read Matthew 7:16 and Galatians 5:22–23. What traits characterize your life? What do other C and receive from you?
  • Make sure to go over the God Test questions in order to better prepare yourself to share the gospel with other people.

God Test

Give Up Everything?

This study is on the hard saying of Jesus about having to give up everything (Mark 10:17-31) Mark 10:21.

This is an amazing illustration of evangelism? Is this the Jesus method of evangelism?

  1. With what method are you most familiar?
  2. Which method appears to be most effective?
  3. What is the difference between sharing your story and sharing his story?

Imagine this evangelism encounter as a dream come true. The man point blank asks how to be saved!

  1. Jesus does not just hand him a tract and get him to pray the sinner’s prayer.
  2. Jesus does not correct the man’s theology, good works don’t save.
  3. This man had not come to Jesus to hear him say that keeping the commandments was the way to eternal life (Leviticus 18:5).

Why does Jesus tell him he can be saved by keeping the commandments?

  1. Jesus doesn’t mention belief or faith or grace, he says to keep the Law.
  2. Jesus seems to want to make it harder on the guy: he had not done enough.
  3. When was the last time you felt that there was always just one more thing that you need to do to be saved or please Jesus?
  4. In your theology, what is the relationship between what you believe and what you do?

Jesus said there was one more thing… but it was too hard for this guy to accept. (Read more about the Rich Young Ruler).

Why would the disciples be amazed at Jesus’ answer?

  1. The concept of God’s blessing: health, wealth, children, goats, all meant blessing.
  2. Those sick and poor, not so much.
  3. It would have made more sense for Jesus to say, “Blessed are the rich, blessed are the healthy, blessed are the comfortable.”
    • How do you define blessing? What about Jesus’ definition of blessing?
    • How does Christian persecution and martyrdom fit in to this definition?
    • How reliable is a world with a works/reward theology?

What must I DO to be saved? It is not about doing, it is about receiving. Trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

Notice that Jesus loved him before he asked him to do anything (Mark 10:21).

  1. Do you sometimes feel that Jesus will only love you after you follow him?
  2. Do you feel he is judging your performance; he will love you more if you do better?
  3. When you are well connected to Jesus, how is the rest of your life affected?
  4. In what ways do you feel you must prove yourself to God? How does that reflect other relationships in your life? (do you have to continually prove yourself to your friends)?

Let’s check our identity.

  1. What three things do you generally tell others about yourself?
  2. How important is career development in your identity?
  3. How many of your friends really know you, not just facts about you?

The Point: who am I? What are the markers that define who I am?

  1. This is the question Jesus was trying to get this man to ask? Who am I?
  2. People identified him the same us we do… the rich, young, ruler, but is that who he really was?
  3. Jesus saw much more, his core. Selling all he had would have stripped him of his identity.
  4. Only by stripping these away could he identify himself the way Jesus did.
  5. This question can only be answered at the point of crisis. When something is attached to your core and is taken out (health, achievement, wealth, career, family, life)… Who are you when all these are threatened?

In a previous story (Mark 10:13) Jesus says that these nobodies had a quality that was kingdom-worthy, something that escaped the rich man and the prosperous members of society. This is what we know, NOBODIES…

  1. Don’t come to God and offer contributions.
  2. Don’t tell God who they are.
  3. Don’t have a claim to their lives.
  4. Don’t rely on trivial marks of identity.

Key truth:

  1. Paul tells us that giving all we have to the poor is of no use, if we don’t have love (1 Corinthians 13:3).
  2. Matthew 19:21, “if you wish to be complete…” Perhaps Jesus was testing the man’s devotion because Jesus did not ask all of his followers to do this.
  3. What could he have sold?
    • Sell your self-righteousness.
    • Sell your dreams of fame and fortune.
    • Sell your popularity.
    • Sell your efforts to secure a comfortable future for yourself.

Other passages to consider:

  1. Others left all and followed him (Luke 8:3) women who were not asked to make such a sacrifice.
  2. Zacchaeus apparently took his action on his own (Luke 19:8), the language means, giving is something he was already doing or that he would now start, either fits.
  3. Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves (Matthew 6:19-21), this is not to an individual but to his followers in general, we must have the right priorities.