Tag Archives: gospel

Jesus and Christmas in a Land of Skepticism

The Gospels tell us that Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people out in the wilderness with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. And everyone was satisfied. A miracle! But why did he do it? What does it mean?

Some folks claim that Jesus did nothing supernatural. They say that many people in the crowd already had food but were too selfish to share. All Jesus did, they argue, was inspire them to open their hearts and share with one another.

The non-miraculous interpretation of Jesus feeding the 5,000 may sit well with skeptics, but it doesn’t fit the Gospel writers’ accounts. The Gospel writers clearly present Jesus as a man of miracles, born of a virgin, healing all kinds of diseases, casting out demons, and even commanding storms to stop!

So, if Jesus did not feed the 5,000 in order to inspire people to be more generous, then why did he do it?

Another interpretation of this episode starts by recognizing that Jesus truly performed a supernatural act by dividing 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed more than 5,000 people. But this version goes on to say that Jesus’ goal in feeding the 5,000 was to inspire sacrificial giving. As a young lad in the crowd gave his lunch to Jesus, we should give our all to Jesus.

But John is the only Gospel writer who mentions this lad and John never says anything about the boy’s desire to give his loaves and fish to Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke never mention the youngster at all, so the boy certainly cannot be vital to a proper understanding of Jesus’ actions.

If Jesus is not inspiring generosity toward others or promoting sacrificial giving to him, then what is the meaning of his feeding the 5,000?

The people who ate Jesus’ miracle meal that day recognized that Jesus was doing something similar to what God did when he fed Israel in the wilderness. After the Lord rescued his people from bondage in Israel he rained down manna from heaven to provide food for them in the desert.

Jesus is demonstrating that he has the same kind of power that God displays. When they asked for more miraculous meals, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus believes in generosity and sacrifice, but something bigger is at stake. Jesus is God in the flesh, come not just to promote or inspire good deeds, but to give himself so that we can have eternal life in heaven with God.

Each year we hear heart-warming and sentimental expressions about the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, the real spirit of Christmas. A plethora of virtues find room in the inn of a humanistic Christmas: love, generosity, sacrifice, family, compassion, and so on.

As the wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus we should give gifts to one another, so the popular reasoning goes. But the magi from the east were not on a goodwill tour. They traveled a great distance not to promote a spirit of gift-giving, but to worship the King.

The Bible says that Jesus’ birth is a cosmic turning point in human history. The nations of this world languished in violence and hatred, hunger and poverty, suffering and sorrow, disease and death. God made us for better.

Jesus, born to a young lady named Mary and laid in a manger, is God stepping into this tragedy we call life, sharing our ups and downs. His mission? to bring victory over death and joy in God’s presence forever. That’s bigger than anything that comes in a gift bag.

So Christmas is not just a time to promote human virtues or to enjoy temporary delights. Christmas is the time we remember this greatest episode in all human history: Jesus is God in the flesh come to save his lost people.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill,

Brother Richard

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Why Be Optimistic About the Future of the Gospel?

Our culture’s attitude toward Bible-believing Christians seems to be increasingly intolerant. The ancient beliefs handed down for generations of God’s people are being met with disapproval from the society in which we live.

The Bible still asserts, the Holy Spirit still affirms, and we still avow that faith in Jesus is the only way to peace with God and eternal life, that apart from Christ we are condemned to eternal hell, that God’s design for marriage and family is one man and one woman fully and freely committed to one another for life, raising their kids together and enjoying their grandkids, that life is precious and should not be taken from babies still in their mothers’ wombs, and that God made us in his image: male and female.

I could give additional examples but this is more than enough to start a good fight nowadays. At times it seems as if the whole world is rejecting Christianity. Why be optimistic about the future of the gospel in such a negative environment?

Jesus’ disciples probably asked a similar question. They watched as Jesus faced stiff opposition from the leaders of their culture. They must have wondered about the future of his mission and message. Jesus addressed their concerns with a parable.

A man sowed seed, some on hard ground and birds snatched it up, some in rocky soil and it sprang up but dried out, some among thorns where it was choked, and some on good soil. Only the good soil bore fruit.

Jesus’ disciples asked him what this parable means. Jesus said that the seed represents God’s word and the soils are people’s hearts. Some people have hard hearts. When they hear God’s word Satan comes and snatches away the message that is ‘sown’ in their hearts.

Some people are shallow. They give up on God’s kingdom message when things get tough. Still others are distracted. They are pulled away by wealth or worries.

But some people have hearts that are ready to receive God’s kingdom message. Like the good soil that receives the seed and bears fruit, these people receive God’s word and bear spiritual fruit for God’s kingdom.

What is Jesus telling us? First of all, he is letting us know that many people, perhaps most people, will reject God’s message of salvation. For those who must always be in the mainstream of popular culture, this is a problem. Jesus’ followers are typically a minority.

Jesus never promises us majority status in this age. Quite the contrary, when talking about his Second Coming, Jesus even asks if he will find faith on the earth when he returns.

Jesus seems to paint a rather bleak picture! Why follow him and endure so much rejection? Why promote a message that Jesus himself predicts will be so unpopular?

Jesus’ parable gives the answer. Some hearts will receive the ‘seed’ of God’s kingdom message and bear fruit. God always has his remnant. Our efforts for the gospel will bear fruit despite the resistance.

In addition, bearing fruit points to the harvest. In the Bible harvest is a symbol for that great day of celebration at the end of this age. It is a day when we will see God face to face. Like farmers enjoying the crops for which they labored so hard, we will share in the joy of God’s kingdom victory.

Jesus is optimistic about the future of the gospel. We can and should be, too.

May God give us hearts that bear fruit for his kingdom,

Brother Richard

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Can Jesus Get A Witness?

Jesus encountered a man who was demon-possessed. The man was so dangerous that people quit trying to help him. They avoided him. But Jesus set the man free.

The man is so grateful to Jesus and so impressed with his power that he wants to go with Jesus. But at this point Jesus does something a bit surprising.

Jesus does not allow the man to come with him like his other disciples are doing. Instead, Jesus instructs the man to go home and tell how much God has done for him.

The man does what Jesus asks. He goes and tells all over town how much Jesus has done for him (Luke 8:39).

This account shows that our Lord does not always send his followers to faraway places in order to tell others about him. Jesus wants us to reach out to people across the street as well as around the world. We cannot all travel to far-away places but we can all speak to our friends and neighbors.

This episode illustrates another very important point. Jesus sends the formerly demon-possessed man out with no training. He does not teach him a gospel presentation or provide him with pamphlets. How will the man know what to say?

Jesus gives the man a very simple instruction. He directs the man to tell others how much God has done for him. In other words, just give a personal testimony.

A personal testimony about how God has worked in someone’s life is compelling. The Apostle Paul was a great teacher and preacher of the gospel, yet he often used his personal testimony as a tool for reaching out to others.

Any believer can construct a short, simple and effective personal testimony. Think about something that God has changed in your life. Practice telling others about the “before” and “after” of what God has done.

Your testimony may use this form: “I used to. . . . But now I. . . .” Perhaps you used to have no desire for church, but now you love the fellowship with other believers and the joy of worshiping and serving the Lord.

Maybe you used to be confused by the Bible but now God’s Spirit is enabling you to understand and apply Scripture in life-changing ways.

The formerly demon-possessed man sure had something remarkable to tell! Our story may not be as dramatic as his, but it is just as important. Jesus has liberated every believer from sin’s eternal punishment.

After telling about the change in your life, make a clear statement giving God the credit. All of this may take just a minute or two.

Finally, after sharing a personal testimony, extend some sort of invitation. Invite your listener to church. Or, ask if you can pray for him. Maybe you are attending a Bible study and you can invite him to join you.

In some cases, you may even sense that he is ready to be saved. If you are comfortable doing so, lead him in a sinner’s prayer. If not, urge him to meet with your pastor or Sunday school teacher or other leader in the church.

Go tell how much God has done in your life. Amazing things will happen!

Brother Richard Foster

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Agreeing with the Pope, sort of . . . (short version)

The new Pope is enjoying surprising popularity with the media in the United States. Apparently journalists see in him a reformer willing to challenge traditional conservative positions on social and economic issues.

Pope Francis is giving the secular media a vehicle for defining the mission of the Church in ways that agree with their political predispositions. Of course, Roman Catholicism and The Church are not the same. Nevertheless, the question is raised: Is social reform the main mission of Christianity?

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul describes the mission of the Church. “We proclaim Christ,” he wrote (Colossians 1:28). The heart and soul of the Early Church’s work was a proclamation, an authoritative announcement.

The Church’s proclamation was not merely disseminating certain information, or promoting a philosophy, or even advancing a system of belief. The gospel proclamation is an announcement about a person: Jesus, who is the Christ.

The title “Christ,” reminds us that Jesus is God’s Anointed. The Church’s mission today, like that of the Early Church, is centered on proclamation. That proclamation is to be focused on Jesus Christ, his life and ministry.

Paul proclaimed Christ by “warning everyone.” The presence of God’s Son in the world was a warning about how terribly broken our world really is, so broken that we need nothing less than God’s personal intervention.

The problem in our world is more than hateful and oppressive relations between different groups of people. The root problem is a broken relationship between every person and God.

Next, Paul writes, “and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” The message of Christ comes not just as a warning about sin, death and eternal condemnation because Christ is the hope of glory. The proclamation of Christ includes teaching about the Good News that personal faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection opens access to God and to a new life in Christ.

Paul finished his thought by revealing the purpose for proclaiming Christ. “We proclaim Christ,” he wrote, “so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The ultimate goal is not temporal or political. The ultimate goal is to present people “mature in Christ” to God on the Day of Judgment.

The Bible assures us that believers will give an account of their life’s work before the bema seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). The crowns we will present to our Lord on that day will be the lives of people whom we helped to grow in Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

What about the Pope’s reform? One sign of authentic gospel ministry is genuine concern for the poor, the poor in spirit as well as the poor in money and power.

Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church all made efforts to alleviate suffering and injustice, but they focused primarily on proclaiming a message that encompassed far more than political and economic equality.

Does Pope Francis see social reform as the primary focus of Roman Catholicism? Time and patience will reveal his beliefs with greater clarity than Western journalists who can barely conceal their own political agendas.

Meanwhile, the Church must not be distracted from the true gospel mission; and the gospel mission is clearly revealed in the pages of the New Testament. Jesus proclaimed freedom for the captives, not just those held captive by unfair political and economic systems, but captive to sin and to Satan.

The Church must remember that any justice gained for the downtrodden is illusory apart from true spiritual freedom. And only Christ Jesus can break all the chains that bind us. So we proclaim Christ.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Camden, Arkansas, March 2014
Published in Arkansas Baptist News, March 18, 2014

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