A SUBSTITUTE

Several years ago I needed to find a coffee “substitute.” Caffeine was causing me various issues and I needed to reduce my intake of it. So, I started looking for something that could “take it’s place.”

I found Postum! I enjoyed that drink sooo much, well, that is until it disappeared off the shelves. In every way Postum made me feel like I was having a good cup of coffee. Its texture, taste, and aroma all made me feel like I wasn’t missing anything by not actually drinking coffee. It was great while it lasted!

Part of the salvific work of Jesus in being our sin-bearer, was that of being our substitute. A SUBSTITUTE is one that takes the place of another. That is what Jesus became for us!

Unlike Postum which only satisfies temporarily, The substitutionary work of Jesus Christ brings results that satisfy eternally.

Because of Jesus believer’s have “become dead to sin and alive to righteousness” (1Peter 2:24). God is NOW for us and not against us (Romans 8:31). These are only two of many benefits believers receive when they trust Him as their substitute!

No one else can be such a substitute for us. God had placed that work on Christ alone. Jesus, in all ways, met and settled, for all time, the charges God had against sinners. Because Of Jesus we can have peace with God!

Friend, you don’t have to pay the debt you owe for your sins. Jesus paid it for you! Turn to Him in repentant faith and you will find His forgiveness.

MOVED WITH COMPASSION

A LEPER HEALED

Mark 1:40-45 

BRIEF INTRO: 

As Jesus embarked on His “Galilean tour,” which possibly lasted for several weeks, His main focus was on preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (1:14-15). He did heal those who came to Him, as we read in these following verses, but that was not His primary goal. Those healings and the casting out of demons were miracles designed for a particular purpose. Sure, Jesus had compassion on the suffering and in mercy delivered many from that, but ultimately these miracles were to “dramatically confirm His message.” They were to confirm that He is deity; He is the long-awaited prophesied Messiah! 

There are two main perspectives that I will focus on: The man with leprosy and that of Jesus at his approach. AND, there are two amazing facts regarding this incident that I want to expose: First, that the man would approach Jesus against custom and law, and that Jesus would touch the unclean man!

Ready? I am, so let’s dive in!

40 And a man with [a]leprosy *came to [b]Jesus, imploring Him and kneeling down, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He *said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it [c]freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that [d]Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but [e]stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”

FOCUS ONE: A man with leprosy comes to Jesus 

As you can imagine, this man was an outcast. Leprosy was a physically, mentally, and socially destructive disease. * “The word leprosy was used in biblical times to designate a wide variety of serious skin diseases. It was not limited to what we know as leprosy, or, to use the preferable medical term, Hansen’s disease. Whatever variety of skin disorder the man has, it caused him much suffering. The suffering was social as well as physical. The law required that the person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone, he must live outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46).”

How can we genuinely fathom this man’s sense of despair and hopelessness? Separated from his family, synagogue, and community, how could we possibly be able to comprehend the sense of community disgust and disdain that this man would have to bear while he is unclean? 

BUT, despite the disease and its apparent hopelessness, this man, unclean and ostracized, exercises one of the most incredible displays of humility and faith that we witness in our New Testament! Whether or not this took place inside the synagogue or outside of it, this man displayed great courage in walking into the crowds that would be around Jesus. “He came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him” (v. 40).

In his words to Christ, we hear no sense of doubt or feel an utter weight of hopelessness. Instead, we hear in his words faith, hope, and confidence in this man they call Jesus! 

How fantastic are the first words out of his mouth: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This man most likely is referring to his physical deliverance from the disease. He has heard, possibly witnessed (from a distance) the miracles Christ performed on others. Based on the testimonies he heard and the things he witnessed for himself, he approaches Christ with great faith that He can do the same for him. Leviticus 13 deals with the various laws of leprosy and its cleansing.

With humility and reverence (falling on his knees), he approaches Jesus. Fear of man laid aside, presumption absent, doubts dismantled. And what does he hear in reply: “I am willing!”

Only twice does the OT record that God cleansed a leper (Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15; and Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-4)! But Jesus, a man (the God-man), heals him! The Rabbis regarded leprosy as “humanly incurable.”

This brings me to what I believe is our first amazing fact to consider: That this man, in the position he is in, would approach Jesus against their customs and the commands outlined in the Mosaic law. With everything against him, when everyone else would tell him that he has no hope, he forsakes all and “looks unto Jesus,” and lives!

 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He *said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

FOCUS TWO: Jesus is moved with compassion

I love reading those words: “moved with compassion.” Our Lord is not a benign being, far removed from us, uncaring, unloving, or unwilling to heal. He is Emmanuel, God in the flesh, and as such, He is not only our shepherd; He is our God who sees us (El Roi). He is our provider, our healer, and as such, He is all-sufficient (EL Shaddai)! So be encouraged, dear Christian, that our God is compassionate, “and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness” (Psalm 103:8).

Here we have a picture of how loving and caring He is. Jesus, moved by compassion because of the pain and anguish socially, physically, and mentally that this man has been going through for some time, stretches out His hand and touches the leprous man.

This is so counter-cultural to His day that it makes it our amazing fact #2: That He would touch the man against the custom and law of the day. His touch revealed that Rabbinic regulations regarding ritual defilement did not bind him. He, according to the law (He instituted), would be unclean!

“I am willing; be cleansed.” This statement and His touch brought healing to this diseased man: perfect, instantaneous, and highly observable cleansing!

So now this man is healed, and Jesus gives Him a stern warning and a command. 

  1. Jesus warns Him to say nothing about it to anyone (how could he do this, everyone would know)?
  2. He was told to go to the priest (Leviticus 13), offer the required sacrifice, and be declared clean by the priest. He used very forceful words that emphasized the man’s need for prompt obedience to His instructions.

I can sympathize with this man regarding proclaiming the amazing healing he just received to anyone who would listen. How couldn’t he? How couldn’t you and I? His body is now clean from this disease. After being declared clean by the priest, he can go back to his family, enter the synagogue and worship, and be a part of community life again. Besides that elation within his soul, all the people in that community knew he had leprosy; many probably ostracized him for it! But now, he stands before them differently, totally clean, absolutely changed!

In Chapter 11 (11:27-28), we read that the Sanhedrin asked Christ two questions: 1) What was the nature of His authority, His credentials, and 2) Who authorized Him to do these things? These questions indicate that Jesus had not yet openly stated that He is the Messiah. This appears to be a BIG part of Mark’s writing (secrecy motif)! The closest that Mark comes to this “unveiling” before chapter 11 is found in 9:27-30. But here it is Peter who states He is the Christ, and Jesus tells him to “tell no one.”

Nonetheless, He was commanded by Jesus to say nothing to anyone. He disobeyed Him, and we read about the repercussions of that disobedience. 

45 But he went out and began to proclaim it [c]freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that [d]Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but [e]stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”

I am not positive of this, but the command could have been temporary until the priest declared clean. But still, the man doesn’t seem to go to the priest, and I am not sure he ever did! So, why the “secrecy?” I think Jesus wanted to avoid misunderstandings that precipitate a premature and erroneous response to Him. There would be a time and place for that disclosure by HIM, and that time was not yet at hand.

The man’s disobedience hinders Christ to the extent that He could no longer publicly enter a city. He had to stay out in unpopulated areas. But even though He had to withdraw to such places, the people came to Him from everywhere. He may now be limited geographically, but not concerning preaching, teaching, and healing those who came to Him!

What an incredible thought to end this study with! Jesus has been glorified; His atoning work completed! Christ is not limited in His ability or willingness to reach us where we are. He is omnipresent (everywhere present), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful)! Oh, and don’t forget compassionate!

*The Expositors Bible Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, pg. 630

WALK WITH WISDOM

                        Philippians 3:17- 4:1

Photo by Nitin Arya on Pexels.com

BRIEF INTRO: 

Scripture often warns us to avoid harmful influences. Regardless of our age or spiritual maturity. Because over time, those unwise influences will negatively affect our walk with the Lord. Our enemy, Satan, is determined to pull us into sin and wreck our lives, and he often uses bad influences to accomplish his goal. Paul had warned the Corinthian believers of this deception when he wrote them his first letter. In it, He said: “do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15: 33).”

As we have been working through this letter, Paul, we observed earlier, has exhorted these believers to pursue Christ and Christ-like-ness (along with) His righteousness above anything else. Now the Apostle is encouraging these believers to be observant in their daily walk and to follow, imitate people who are pursuing these goals themselves, and not follow the examples of people who are not. One path leads to the goal of vs. 20-21, the other to destruction!

But, how do we know when someone else’s example is to be imitated or not? What “pattern” of behavior are we looking for in other believers that may encourage and strengthen us in our daily lives as we pursue Christ? Does Paul, the “inspired” writer of this letter, desire to lead us away from looking to Christ to now look to men? May it never be! Everything in this chapter previous to these words says otherwise. And so too, his letters to other churches. So, what does the Apostle want his readers to understand, to do? Let’s read vv. 17-4:1 together.

17 Brothers and sisters, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even as I weep, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose God is their [a]appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who have their minds on earthly things. 20 For our [b]citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;21 who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with [c]His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, [d]whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

FOCUS ONE:

Worthy examples (17)

I think we can break down this verse into two parts. The first: following Paul’s example and the second, observing others who walk according to that pattern of living.

So, let’s begin with this man, the author of this letter and an Apostle of Christ, Paul. The first question we need to ask ourselves is: Is he truly a worthy example for us? After all, he persecuted Christians; he is not perfect. Do you remember what he said to the Romans (Romans 7:18-21)? How can he say things like this, what we read here and in (4:9)? “those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard and seen in me do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” 

Maybe you think Paul is a bit arrogant or perhaps misguided.

After all, this is not the first time he made statements like this: “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). To those at Thessalonica, he said: “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you. . . . Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).

But, in no way is Paul arrogant or misguided. He considered himself “the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle.” That he told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:9), later he called himself “less than the least of all saints,” in his words to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:8), and finally, he told Timothy, his “son in the faith,” that he was even the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). All of these realizations came throughout many years of a faithful walk with Christ!

Paul knew that his converts needed examples to see, as well as precepts to learn and obey. The Lord Jesus Christ, of course, is our most excellent example (1 Peter 2:21; Philippians 2:5-11). But by living a life patterned after Christ, Paul could say: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He could be a material example of what regeneration accomplishes in a sinner and a visible representation of what obedience to Christ looks like in application!

Paul lived a life of selflessness, sacrifice, and love. He suffered at the hands of men in many and varied ways. He was a humble, faithful witness, compassionate leader, bold preacher, and faithful to His Lord come- what- may. The Apostle is saying here that we need to see Christ in the lives of our Christian leaders, in the lives of one another!

AND by the grace of God, we also need to live as Christ did so that when people follow our example, they also will be following Christ. That’s what Jesus meant, at least in part, when He said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

I view Paul here with these words, standing out as a representative of leaders in the church, not just him. I think he is including Timothy and Epaphroditus as well. Men in which he earlier claimed, are living lives that are an imitation of Christ’s. So, if there are any Elders, Deacons, or leaders in the church reading this post, are your lives being lived in such a way that you can say, along with Paul, “brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine?”

      Pastors should be godly examples to follow 1 Peter 5:1-3:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over [a]those allotted to your charge, but [b]proving to be examples to the flock. 4

But it’s not just the spiritual leaders who are under fire here. Notice part two of this verse in our text, “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” This part is about the rest of us, the congregation of the saints.

FOCUS TWO:

When we as believers read our bibles and pray, as we sit under the sound teaching of the Word of God, as we live and move and build relationships among others of “like precious faith,” we are to be observant. We are to be looking for godly examples around us and learn from them. 

Godly people exhibit godly fruit. Things like sacrificial love, heavenly joy, peace, patience, unwavering faith, self-control, etc. Godly examples are pursuing a deeper relationship with their Lord, fighting the flesh, are humble servants of Christ, they’re not worldly, and they glory in Christ.

People like this live in “a manner worthy of our Lord,” indifferent to the circumstances of the day. Such people stand out in our congregations, and it is such people Paul urges us to look for and follow their example.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

The writer of Hebrews said: “therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

If you are a runner, you keep your eyes on the people in the race ahead of you. Not only to know where they are at physically in the race but for encouragement. They are in the race like you are, they have sacrificed much to get here, they are dealing with various stresses and trials as they run like you are— AND THEY KEEP RUNNING THE RACE!! They are not giving up, and they are not breaking the rules; they “press on for the prize.” 

Such an example during our race is as encouraging as it is instructive and helps us keep the proper perspective. Paul uses the analogy of a race to describe the Christian life of faith- and good examples in our walk of faith are encouraging, instructive, and help us to keep a proper biblical perspective as we “press on for the prize.” Christ Himself!

We are not to be, “imitators of evil, but what is good (3 John 11).

Dear reader, are you living a life that is an example for others to follow? I am not talking about perfection. I am talking about a life lived in faithful, humble, obedient service to Christ. Is your life a pattern of Christ’s? Are you “fixing your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith?” (Hebrews 12:2)?

But, sadly, verses 18-19 remind us that bad examples, unworthy examples, exist in the church, and they are not the examples we are to follow.

We will spend time on that next week!

Paul’s love and concern for the Thessalonians

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1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10

STUDY 4

17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”

Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).

In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them. 

FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest. 

For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again. 

Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).

It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.

In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”

3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”

FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.

Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face. 

Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.

6 “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”

FOCUS THREE:  Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)!  Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.” 

Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.” 

But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. Have you ever experienced frustration? Look up these verses in your bible and write down how they counsel us in regards to frustration: Romans 8:28; Proverbs 3:5-6; Ecclesiastes 7:9.
  2. Looking back at these verses, what statements of Paul’s help describe the “burden” he carried for these believers?
  3. Do you have a burden for the lost?  Your family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.? If not, what needs to change in your heart and life?
  4. What does it mean to be a “fellow worker” in the gospel? Who are you co-laboring with in the cause of Christ? 
  5. What pattern for prayer do you see in verse 10 that may help you in your daily prayer life?
  • David Ewert, Study on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
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