Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Digging Deeper Into God’s Word: Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of eternity. He does so by speaking about a certain rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). These two men experience a great reversal after death. The rich man, ostentatious in life, finds himself tormented in hell. Lazarus, pitiful in life, finds himself comforted after dying. More than the images Jesus paints, the words he reports unveil a vital truth.

The ensuing dialogue in this pericope is between the rich man and Abraham, the great patriarch of faith who is alive in eternity. In v. 29, Abraham is responding to the rich man’s request that someone be sent to warn his brothers, who have not yet died. In his eternal anguish, the rich man realizes that his brothers are in jeopardy and he has
compassion on them.

The remarks between the rich man and Abraham are always introduced by an aorist tense verb in the Greek text (εἶπεν in vv. 24, 25, 27, 30, 31) with the one exception of Abraham’s statement in v. 29. Here, Luke chooses to employ a so-called historical present tense (λέγει), which marks Abraham’s response to the rich man as emphatic and therefore critical for understanding the Author’s purpose in this text. Abraham’s grammatically marked statement is the key for properly interpreting Jesus’ teaching in this account.

A literal rendering of v. 29 is as follows: “Now Abraham says (vs. “said”), ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, they must listen to them.’” Moses and the Prophets, of course, is a first-century reference to Scripture. Abraham tells the rich man that nobody need go to his living brothers from the dead in order to warn them about hell because they have the Bible and they should read it and obey it.

The present-tense introduction, “Abraham says,” elevates the status of the patriarch’s statement from a simple response which is bound to the immediate context of the rich man’s request and instead places it on the level of an unchangeable truth (gnomic). They have God’s written word and they must listen and obey. So the idea of obeying God’s written word emerges as the crux of the matter for the rich man and for Jesus’ listeners (and Luke’s readers), and for us.

Abraham is affirming that God’s primary method of revealing himself is his written word. This is not to deny the work of his Spirit (see Joel 2 and Acts 2) or the revelation of his Person through his handiwork in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), or through the testimony of his people (Psalm 9:11). Nevertheless, the revelation of God through creation, sometimes called general revelation, is incomplete without special revelation: God’s written word (see Psalm 19:7-11). In addition, God’s Spirit works through his written word by illuminating the Bible to the human heart (Luke 24:45). Moreover, the spoken word of the prophet/apostle (and the witness of every believer) is empowered by God’s Spirit to reflect the apostolic message with precision, that is, to express accurately in a given historical context the universal truth revealed by Scripture (Matthew 10:19; see also Romans 10:17).

The rich man in Jesus’ teaching erred when he discounted the critical importance of hearing and acting on God’s written word. His hard-hearted response toward the poor man (Lazarus) who was left begging at his gate every day was the visible manifestation of his rejection of God’s word (which repeatedly enjoins God’s people to be gracious toward the poor; see Exodus 23:11 and many more OT examples). The rich man ignored the poor man because he ignored God’s word. The rich man’s indifference toward the poor man was a symptom of his indifference toward Scripture, which reveals an indifference toward God himself. This understanding of the rich man’s error keeps us from missing Jesus’ real point in Luke 16.

Jesus’ presentation strongly implies that the rich man’s cavalier attitude toward the poor man at his gate contributed to his disappointing eternal destination. As a result, some readers of this text might conclude that one’s merciful attention to the poor is the desired end result, therefore, any who care for the poor have no real need for the Bible. After all, they are obeying God’s word on their own impetus. In fact, they might decide that they are morally superior to those who study the Bible because they have no such need for God and the Bible to inspire them to do the right thing, no need to be frightened into acting right by an eternal fiery hell. But this would be a grave mistake as surely as the rich man’s error.

In another place (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of world, so they should let their light shine before people so that people will see their good deeds and glorify their Father in the heavens. Helping the poor is good. Glorifying God is the goal. Helping others without bringing glory to God will ultimately bring glory to the helper instead of the Maker. The Maker of the heavens and the earth who is the Giver of life is also the one who provides us with the resources to help the poor. To take his resources and help others without giving him credit is robbing God of the honor that he rightfully deserves. In other words, helping people without worshiping God is an eternal mistake.

The rich man emphatically denies the necessity of God’s word in his rejoinder to Abraham by beginning with a strengthened form of a Greek negative particle (οὐχί vs. οὐ): “No! Father Abraham, but if . . .” (see Luke 16:30). His personal conviction is that God must do more than merely provide his written word (at least for important people like the rich man; he and his five brothers deserve more from God!). He insists that someone return from the dead and convince his brothers to change their ways. And this is the rich man’s eternal miscalculation, insisting that a miracle is necessary to inspire belief and obedience, insisting that he can demand of God how God must do his business, and dismissing the power of God’s written word (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12).

How many people today respond to the Bible by saying “No! God, but if . . .”? They reject the idea that God’s word is sufficient. They imply that their unbelief and disobedience is God’s fault for not doing more, for not giving them the obligatory miraculous sign. If only God would do right, then they would act right, so they imply.

Others assert that they have discovered a way to experience the Living God which circumvents or minimizes Scripture. But anyone who suggests that there is an avenue to God and to his truth which trivializes or ignores the Bible should be corrected quickly and rejected completely if they persist in promoting such a dangerously incorrect notion.

For instance, those who seem to elevate God’s Spirit above God’s word are apparently unaware that the Spirit of God is committed to the word of God. The primary revelation of Christ is the New Testament. Our choice is not between Spirit and word. The choice is between Spirit-word and confusion-ignorance (which leads to eternal disaster).

No doubt the rich man had concluded before he died that his apparent success in life, which came without serious attention to Scripture, meant that God’s written word was of little or no consequence, at least for him and people of his privileged status (or his intellectual superiority). He was assuming an elite position, either not knowing or not considering seriously enough the truth revealed in God’s word that the Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

The rich man exemplifies the proud. Lazarus exemplifies the humble. The rich man, pampered in life, finds himself in hell after death. Lazarus, poor and pathetic in life, finds himself carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom in death (a place of honor at the heavenly feast). Jesus’ teaching in this text shatters the rich man’s deadly illusion that Scripture is somehow insufficient or optional. The Bible is more important than the most impressive miracle: even someone rising from the dead.

The statement about rising from the dead is ironic because Jesus would be resurrected and show himself to eyewitnesses with many proofs of his conquest over the grave. After a cruel and shameful execution on a cross at Calvary, in fulfillment of God’s written word, Jesus was raised alive by God from his tomb, also fulfilling God’s written promise. But despite the magnitude of Jesus’ greatest miracle, his resurrection, some would still refuse to believe (Matthew 28:17). So this teaching about the rich man and Lazarus is prophetic, predicting with accuracy that his own resurrection would be insufficient to inspire faith for some who were eyewitnesses.

Miracles cannot take the place of the Bible. We must accept the reality that God’s word is sufficient for saving faith. And the written words of the Prophet, in this case the Lord Jesus Christ himself, are worthy of our greatest and most careful attention. Eternity demands it.

Brother Richard Foster

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Tell Your Story!

You have story to tell! As a follower of the Lord Jesus, you have become a permanent part of Jesus’ story. And Jesus’ story will always be a vital part of your life story.

Your story includes the great change that Jesus has made in your life when you were saved. More than that, your story includes the changes that God’s Spirit is making in your life now as he grows you toward spiritual maturity.

In a sense, your story and mine each begins when Jesus willingly gave his life as a sacrifice so that we can be forgiven. Jesus’ sacrifice almost 2,000 years ago opened a door to God’s blessing that we walked through when we confessed Christ as Lord.

Jesus’ story did not end with his death. God raised him up from the grave, alive again and alive forever. More than that, Jesus ascended to heaven and poured out his Spirit on his followers, on us.

God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in the hearts of all believers, empowering us to worship and serve the Maker of heaven and earth. God’s Spirit is changing us from glory to glory into the image of Christ.

So, Jesus died for your sin, rose up to be your Savior and Lord, and he is working in your life now to do wonderful things that will continue into eternity.

All believers have much in common. We have the same Savior and we were all saved by our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But we are still unique.

The circumstances of each person’s salvation experience vary and so each of us has a unique experience. In addition, the details of what God is doing on a daily basis in each believer’s life are unique.

So your story affirms the great truths of Christianity, truth about Jesus Christ and his work of salvation. But your story also reveals a very personal account of how Christ’s salvation is unfolding in history.

Somebody needs to hear your story. They need to hear the ancient and unchanging truth about Jesus and his offer of salvation. They also need to see and hear a living example of how Jesus saves now.

When we open our spiritual eyes, we begin to see the opportunities that God places in our path to testify about his goodness. Someone nearby is reaching a point in life where he is ready to listen.

We need to be ready to speak, to testify about Jesus and his work in our lives. Sharing Christ with others is a sign that God’s Spirit is active in our lives. It is one way that we grow stronger in our faith.

Telling others about Jesus is an important part of discipleship. Remember, discipleship is not merely learning God’s word. True discipleship is doing what God’s word says.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). We bear witness to the world of what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. As we do this, others are saved. What a great honor!

May the Spirit of God inspire us to proclaim his goodness among the nations,

Brother Richard Foster

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A Pleasing Aroma

Jesus expressed his dissatisfaction with the goings-on in the Temple in a dramatic and eye-catching way. He fashioned a whip out of some cords and started driving out those who were buying and selling in the Temple courts. He also overturned the tables of the moneychangers – very aggressive!

Once Jesus had everyone’s attention, he made an announcement about God’s house. He accused the people in the courtyard of turning God’s house into a den of thieves. Of all the sin and disobedience that Jesus observed, why did buying and selling in the Temple courts inspire so much fury from him? Because, he declared, God’s house is meant to be a house of prayer, not a marketplace.

Consider all the things that Jesus could have said about the house of the Lord. He could have said that it was intended to be a place of sacrificing to God, of singing God’s praises, of learning God’s word, of giving offerings to God, of giving alms to the poor, or of encouraging God’s people. Why did he single out prayer and mention it alone?

Prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God in this age. In the Book of Revelation we are promised that someday God’s people will see his face (22:4). For now, we enjoy God through his Holy Spirit, his invisible, powerful, personal presence dwelling among us and living in the hearts of all his people.

How do we commune with someone who is invisible? We pray. We speak to God as if he were sitting right in front of us. We speak confidently because God is in fact right in front of us. More than that, he is all around us. And he has poured out his Spirit into the hearts of all who belong to him. In fact, God’s Spirit is available to anyone who calls on him as Lord.

Prayer is not just a therapeutic exercise or an emotional experience intended only to make us feel better. We do not pray simply to relieve ourselves of the distress brought on by heavy burdens. Prayer is communing with God. We pray so that our words will rise up before the very throne of God as a pleasing aroma. Prayer is at the core and essence of all that we do in church. Church without prayer is an oxymoron, and an irritant to our Lord.

Jesus was angry because he knew the extent to which God was willing to go in order to open up an avenue for loving communication between himself and his people. Jesus was outraged because he would soon willingly sacrifice his own precious life so that God’s people could enjoy unhindered access to the Maker of heaven and earth.

When we gather in church in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ let’s sing his praises, teach his word, preach his gospel, encourage his people, and remember his sacrifice. Let’s also remember, however, that in God’s eyes prayer is not an afterthought or an add-on; prayer is the foundation for worship. Let’s pray more.

May Jesus Christ always be our ready access to the exalted throne of God’s unmatched grace,

Brother Richard

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The Spirit of Christmas

Folks talk about the spirit of Christmas. Different people have different ideas about what the spirit of Christmas is. Many would say that the spirit of Christmas is giving. In other words, a person who enjoys giving gifts at Christmastime is a person with the spirit of Christmas. By this way of thinking, the word spirit simply means attitude, or desire. So, the spirit of Christmas is a feeling. Is that all?

The Bible uses the word spirit in a different way. In Scripture we learn that God is Spirit. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters on the dawn of creation. The Spirit of God came upon prophets in the Old Testament and enabled them to speak the Word of God. Those same prophets promised that a time would come when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people.

Jesus made promises about the Spirit of God, too. He told his followers that after his death and resurrection he would send God’s Spirit to be with them. He warned them that the world would not receive God’s Spirit because they could not see the Spirit. The Spirit of God is invisible.

Jesus’ promise about God’s Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost, after his death and resurrection. The Spirit of God arrived suddenly like the sound of a violent wind that filled the house where Jesus’ followers had gathered. What looked like tongues of fire rested on each of them and they were enabled to speak in ways that amazed the people in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God is powerful.

When the time drew near for Jesus to leave his disciples and return to the Father in heaven, he promised not to leave them as orphans. He told them that he would send God’s Spirit to be their Guide, leading them into all the Truth. God’s Spirit would also remind them of all that Jesus said. Jesus had been God’s personal representative in the world, but now God’s Spirit would take over. The Spirit of God is his personal Presence.

When we put all this together it tells us that God’s Spirit is his invisible, powerful, personal Presence in the world today. Christmastime is a reminder that God sent his Son Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Jesus promised to send God’s Spirit so that all who are saved by Jesus can have God’s powerful Presence in their lives. Jesus promised that God’s Spirit would live in God’s people.

For all those in the world who cannot see or receive God’s Spirit, Christmas must be about something smaller, about an attitude, a feeling. For God’s people the spirit of Christmas is about far more than our thoughts or emotions. The Spirit of Christmas is God himself, his invisible, powerful, personal indwelling Presence. May the Spirit of Christmas fill you to overflowing this year.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,

Brother Richard Foster
Grace Baptist Church, Camden AR

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How Do We Make Disciples?

Our common love for the Lord Jesus unites us in our work, and our common desire to obey the Lord Jesus binds us together with a single goal: to glorify Almighty God.  Our Lord’s commands will keep us focused as we face many challenges and opportunities along the way.

Our Savior summarized his instruction for all of his followers in all places at all times in this age when he spoke to his disciples after his resurrection.  As they stood on a certain mountain in Galilee Jesus came to them and gave them, and us, a mandate for action.

Jesus prefaced his instruction with a statement about his right to command the people of God.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, he said.  When we obey the Lord Jesus, we are in step with the highest authority in all the cosmos.

So what has Jesus commanded his followers to do?  The short version is this: Go make disciples.  In other words, go make more followers of Jesus.  Before explaining how, Jesus addressed the question of whom; to whom should we go?  He simply said, everyone, make disciples of all nations, all peoples.  Jesus placed no limit on the type of person who can become his disciple.

How do we make disciples?  First, we baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism means conversion.  We announce and explain the Good News about salvation through faith in Jesus.  Then we invite people to trust the Lord and become followers of Jesus.

Saving souls is the beginning of a new life that requires instruction.  So Jesus has commanded us to teach disciples after we make them.  And he has given us the curriculum; we are to teach all that he taught his disciples, which is recorded in the Bible.  Our textbook for discipleship is God’s Word.

We have a mandate from the Lord of heaven and earth.  Our shared labor of love is to help people find saving faith and then to help them grow in their faith.  As we obey our Lord’s command we, too, grow spiritually.  Jesus himself is our model.  Our goal is to become more and more like him.

Not only is Jesus our model in discipleship and our authority for making new disciples, he also has the power to enable us in our work.  He finished his instruction by promising his very Presence will always be with us no matter how long the job lasts.  “And look!” he said, “I am with you all the days, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

May we always bring glory to God through our obedient service to Jesus,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

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Jesus Came, We Go

Jesus’ disciples feared for their lives, hiding from the leaders who had crucified their beloved Master.  Suddenly the Lord Jesus himself was standing in their midst, speaking with them.  They were thrilled to see that he was truly alive.

Jesus showed his disciples the marks left on his body from the nails that had held him on the old rugged cross and the sword that had pierced his side after he gave up his spirit.  The fear caused by his death was shattered by joy at his presence.

“Peace to you all!” Jesus said to them.  The peace he was speaking about, however, was not one of inactivity.  His next words were these: “As the Father has sent me, I also am sending you.”

Jesus promised peace to his followers in the midst of a mission.  They were being sent out by Jesus in the same way that Jesus had been sent out by God the Father.  In what way did God send Jesus?

Jesus came in the Name of the Father (John 5:43).  Now, his followers are sent in the Name of Jesus.  Jesus came not to do his will, but the will of the One who sent him (John 6:38).  The followers of Jesus carry out the will of God instead of living for themselves, building God’s Kingdom instead of their own and seeking God’s honor and praise instead of accolades for themselves.

God the Father sent Jesus into the world not for judgment (John 9:39), but so that people may have abundant life (John 10:10).  As followers of Jesus, we too, are sent not to condemn the world but to announce the true source of abundant life.  And what is that source?

Jesus said, “I am Light come into the world so that everyone trusting in me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). The source of abundant life is Jesus, the Light of the world.  By trusting in him millions have found Life and Light.  Billions more still need to hear the message and have the opportunity to choose life.

We go because Jesus came.  Jesus came from heaven to earth but he also reached out to his neighbors.  We go around the world and across the street because we are sent like Jesus was sent.

May we enjoy the peace of Christ as we fulfill the calling of Christ,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

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