2016 EBC Annual Ladies’ Conference, April 22-23

This post is to announce our Annual Ladies’ Conference at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek, Fl. We are glad to have Pastor Gary Hendrix as our speaker this year. Info below

Date: April 22-23, 2016

Location: Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Fl

Cost: Free

Registration: Contact Kathy Barker at 954-429-9002, limited housing provided to first come first serve (See our website for conference brochure. http://www.ebcfl.org)

Theme: The Christian Woman as Counselor

Speaker: Pastor Gary Hendrix

Pastor Gary Hendrix has served at Grace Reformed Baptist, Mebane, NC, for over 45 years as the primary preaching pastor. He grew up in Winston-Salem, NC and attended Piedmont Bible College (now Piedmont International University). He was called to Grace Reformed in 1970 while still completing his studies at Piedmont. Gary is married to Sherry who served as the church secretary for over 40 years. Gary and Sherry have three children and eight grandchildren.

Guest Post: What Happens When Hell is Not Preached? by Daniel Wakefield

Daniel Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. 

When you think about Biblical teachings that are most important, which ones come to mind?  My guess is that you immediately think of doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the resurrection, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the triune nature of God.  All of these are critically important.  But what about the doctrine of hell?   Did it come to mind?

There is perhaps no doctrine of Scripture more offensive to modern man than the doctrine of hell.  The belief that a person could be tormented eternally because of their position and actions is looked down upon in society as the product of an unenlightened religious past.  People who espouse such things must be on the wrong side of history.  Postmodern thinking, on the other hand, has given rise to the notion that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another.  So while the Bible claims that the doctrine of hell is true, the world (like Pilate) raises its voice to cry, “What is truth?” Postmodern man has relegated hell to a cold future in the collective thought of the world.

What is far more alarming, however, is the place hell is being given in many confessing evangelical churches today.  Although the doctrine of hell may not be directly denied, it often seems to be pushed to the side, softened, or completely ignored in favor of more appealing doctrines.  After all, who wants to hear about eternal torment when we could be hearing about the love of God?  Preaching about hell is not exactly at the top of the list for how to grow a big church.  It’s not something that tends to draw a large crowd these days.  We know it’s in the Bible, but do we really need to preach about it?  How important could it really be?

The answer to that last question is one word: very.  Think for a minute about four things that happen when hell is ignored from the pulpit.

  1. The Bible will not be fully taught

When Paul stood before the elders of the Ephesian church, he said that he had taught them “the whole counsel of God” (Ephesians 20:27).  He wrote to Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Do we believe this?  Are we practicing it?  It is significant to note that hell and the judgment of God are referred to over 180 times in the New Testament alone (hell, judgment, torment, fire, destruction, wrath, punishment, etc.).  If we leave out the doctrine of hell from our preaching, we are ignoring a large portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit intended for our benefit.  That can’t be good for our health.  If we say we are committed to the Scriptures, we need to preach all of it.

  1. The holiness and justice of God will be minimized

The Bible has a whole lot to say about sin.  Probably because we humans are rebels by nature.  But God is not like us.  He is wonderfully and completely separate from sin.  In a word, He is holy.  “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.” (Revelation 15:4)  The word “holy” is used over 600 times in the Bible.  Clearly, God is concerned with holiness.  His holiness also means that He cannot abide sin.  “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13).  God cannot turn a blind eye to sin because of His holiness.  And so, because He is holy (and just), He must punish sin.  He must bring justice upon every person who has rebelled against Him.  “The LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2)  This justice is finally realized in a place of eternal, conscious torment that the Bible calls hell.  “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)  To ignore this doctrine of hell is to say that God winks at sin.  It is to say that it doesn’t really matter how we live because God will accept us all in the end anyways.  It is to say that the Hitlers and serial killers and child molesters and persecutors of God’s people won’t really receive the justice they deserve.  It is to say that God is not holy and God is not just.  In short, it is to say that most of what the Bible says about God isn’t really true after all.  And without this vital element, the love of God is also greatly diminished.  Apart from the holiness and justice of God, the love of God is reduced to a mushy, sentimental love, rather than the holy, breathtaking, people-redeeming, God-glorifying love that it truly is.

  1. Christians will not be fully motivated to persevere

We live in an age when people in the pew generally want to hear nice things.  Hearing about scary doctrines like hell and judgment just aren’t fashionable, especially not as a motivation for living the Christian life.  After all, we Christians have fire insurance, right?  Many church-goers may be surprised to find out that hell is actually used as a motivation for Christians to live as they ought to live.  Though the Bible presents believers with a multitude of motivations to follow Christ faithfully (gratitude, joy, blessing, future rest, etc.), the reality of hell is certainly among them.  Jesus Himself taught this when He said to His disciples, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)  He also said to His followers, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  The author of Hebrews, writing to a group of Christians, says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)  Does this mean that a true Christian needs to be afraid that they might go to hell?  In the words of the apostle Paul, certainly not!  A true believer has no reason to think that they could ever be thrown into hell when Christ has already suffered in their place.  However, a professing Christian who lives like the world or is turning His back on Christ has every reason to think that they may have a one-way ticket to hell. (Matthew 7:19, 21; Hebrews 10:38)  That realization is one of the motivations God uses to keep true believers persevering to the end.  To disregard that in the regular preaching ministry is to deprive God’s people of what is good and necessary for their souls.

  1. The Gospel will not be preached

Surely if we can agree on anything as evangelicals, it is the Gospel.  We recognize and affirm that it is the preaching of the Gospel that God uses to bring salvation to needy sinners.  But if we do not include God’s judgment as a part of our presentation of the gospel, something is terribly missing.  Consider these three things.  Firstly, we need to preach about hell so people will know why the Gospel is necessary.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and have turned aside and gone our own way (Isaiah 53:6).  And as a result, God stands ready to bring judgment upon all such people who scorn Him (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  His holiness and justice demand it.  He will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7).  This is indeed bad news.  But it is bad news that leads somewhere.  Only against this dark backdrop will the Gospel truly be understood as the good news it really is.

Secondly, what Jesus was doing on the cross will not be understood apart from the judgment of God.  What was going on as Jesus hung on a Roman cross between heaven and earth?  The Bible uses a powerful and important word to describe it: propitiation.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  Good Bible translations don’t replace that word with an easier one because it is so important.  Propitiation is a sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath from us to itself.  In other words, although we justly deserve God’s wrath because of our sin, something takes our place and suffers our punishment for us so that we can be forgiven and made right with God.  You can surely see where I’m going with this.  Jesus is the sacrifice.  He is the one who took our place and suffered the wrath of God on our behalf. (Galatians 3:13)  He wasn’t just setting us an example of sacrificial love on the cross.  He was offering Himself as a divinely appointed substitute for our salvation. (1 Peter 3:18)  In short, He suffered the full weight of hell for His people.  To never mention hell or the wrath of God is to never mention the very heart of what Jesus was accomplishing for our salvation.

Thirdly, the lost will not be warned about the danger they face if hell is not preached.  Surely part of the Gospel message is warning people about what will happen if they do not come to Christ.  God uses means to bring people to Christ, and one of the means He uses is to warn lost people of the danger they are in.  God himself says in Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”  Jesus calls men to “Remember Lot’s wife” and the judgment that God poured out upon her (Luke 17:32).  It’s only when people see their great need to be saved from such punishment that they run to Christ for salvation.  As Iain Murray says, “No one was converted without knowing that he needed to be.”  Are there unconverted visitors coming to your church?  Are there children growing up in the church who are still not saved?  They need to hear about hell because they need to see how much they need Christ.

If you are reading this article and you are a pastor, let me encourage you to give attention to this vital subject in your preaching ministry.  Maybe you haven’t denied the doctrine like Rob Bell has.  But perhaps you are pushing it to the side because you want to see lots of people come to your church.  Maybe you are tempted to tone it down because you don’t want people to leave.  But you ignore it to your own peril and the peril of the people under your ministry.  J.C. Ryle wrote, in his classic work, Holiness:

“I believe the time is come when it is a positive duty to speak plainly about the reality and eternity of hell…The watchman who keeps silence, when he sees a fire, is guilty of gross neglect…and the minister who keeps back hell from his people in his sermons is neither a faithful nor a charitable man…He is the kindest friend who tells me the whole extent of my danger.”

Listen also to A.W. Pink:

“Brethren, do we in our oral ministry preach on this solemn subject as much as we ought?  The Old Testament prophets frequently told their hearers that their wicked lives…were treasuring up to themselves wrath…And conditions in the world are no better now than they were then!…Faithfulness demands that we speak as plainly about hell as about heaven.”

Do we preach hell because it is pleasant or because we like threatening people?  No.  We preach about hell because we must.  We preach it because the Bible is true, because God is holy, because the Gospel is good news, and because we love sinners.  Hell is real and to ignore it would be the most unloving thing we could do.

Am I saying that every sermon needs to be about hell?  Absolutely not.  Not every chapter or verse in the Bible is about hell.  There are many other aspects of God’s revelation that need to be considered.  What I am saying is that if this doctrine is not coming up in the preaching on a regular basis, people will be deprived of teaching that can lead them to Christ, prepare them for the last day, and bring glory to God.  That sounds to me like something to be concerned

Guest Post: How to Welcome Sinners into Your Church, part 3, by Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two preceding it are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church. 

   Practical Applications

In the past two blog posts, we saw both the Pharisees’ and Jesus’ differing attitudes toward lost sinners.  Today, I would like us to consider some practical applications.

As you read this post, I hope you can say with me that you want visitors to fill up your church building each Lord’s Day.  And I hope that you are praying that many of those visitors would be people who have never heard the gospel before.  I hope that your desire is that people from all walks of life would walk through those church doors.  But how are we going to respond when people walk in who are obviously living a sinful lifestyle?  How can we learn from our Saviour’s example?

First of all, we must never condone people in their sin.

Brethren, let us never be ashamed to call sin what the Bible calls sin.  Despite what our society is saying, homosexual behavior is sin.  Abortion is sin.  Premarital sex is sin.  Pornography is sin.  We are not just old-fashioned religious fanatics who simply refuse to get with the times.  We are not ashamed to say those things because God has said them, and God has not changed between now and the time when the Bible was written.

Our society, and even some professing Christians, would like us to believe that disagreeing with someone and calling their lifestyle sinful is the most unloving thing we could do for them.  It will only serve to alienate people and make them cold and bitter towards the church.  And so, they say, we must tone down this talk about sin and focus more on God’s love and acceptance of people just the way they are.

Friends, let me say this as plainly as I can.  In light of eternity, to condone people in their sinful lifestyles is the most unloving thing we could ever do for them.  When God has said that a life of unrepentant sin will lead only to eternal punishment in hell, how could it ever be loving to not warn people about it?  How could it be loving to make people feel at ease and accepted by God while they are living a sinful life that is opposed to His Word?  How is it loving to ignore the warnings throughout the New Testament that those who do not repent of their sins will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Brothers and sisters, let us not downplay sin in order to win acceptance with people.  Let us be like Jesus and be faithful to call people to repentance.

But secondly, we must be compassionate like Jesus.

While being careful to not condone people in their sin, we must also be willing to reach out to the lost like Jesus was.  We must be willing to dine with the tax collectors and sinners.  What does that mean for us practically as a church?  What are some ways that we can do that?

Let me give this example.  Suppose someone comes to church next Sunday that is openly homosexual.  They come in and sit down and it seems like they really want to be here.  How will you welcome them?  Will you act like a Pharisee, thinking that you may become unclean even by talking with them?  Or will you communicate your gladness to see them here and your desire for them to come back?  Will you seek to build a relationship with them in which the Lord may bring gospel opportunities?

Maybe you are thinking at this point…is that ever going to happen?  Why would a homosexual ever come to this church, knowing what we believe?  Let me tell you a true story.

One Sunday, back in the late 90s, a woman living an openly homosexual lifestyle walked into a Reformed Presbyterian Church in Syracuse, New York.  She came in feeling awkward because she looked so different than everyone else.  But she knew she wanted to find out about who God was, and so she was determined to stay.  How did she get to that point?  What had led her to come to a church that she knew disagreed with her lifestyle?  She was a professor of English at a secular university and was living in a homosexual relationship.  She couldn’t stand the kind of Christianity that was promoted by right-wing conservatives, the kind that proclaimed nothing but hatred for her and all those living her lifestyle.  So she began to research them to seek to understand them better.  But one thing she needed to do in her research was to read the Bible.  So she began to do that.

About the same time she met the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church and his wife.  And they didn’t condemn her or treat her differently than other people.  Instead, they befriended her.  They invited her into their home, they had discussions together about the Bible and politics, and they treated her as a real human being.  And then, one day………she walked through the church doors for the first time.  She hadn’t been saved yet.  She still wore her lifestyle on her sleeves.  But her reading of the Bible plus her interaction with the Pastor and his wife had begun to really cause questions to rise up in her heart.  And so, even though she had not yet relinquished her sinful lifestyle, she came because she wanted to know if God was real and what He really had to say about her life.

How will you respond if someone like that walks into our church?  The world says there are only two responses.  You either love them and therefore accept whatever lifestyle they are living.  Or you disagree with them and therefore hate them.  Brethren, by our words and actions, we must prove them wrong.  We must show compassion while maintaining that God is holy.  We must love people without condoning their sin.  We must be willing to meet people right where they are.

There are some churches where people like this would not be welcome.  No one would stop them from coming in the door, but the looks that people give them would be enough to communicate that they are not welcome there.  They are basically saying, “go and clean up your life first, and then come back and try again”.  But if Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, brothers let us do the same!

How will we receive the woman who has had an abortion and feels like she has committed the unforgivable sin?  How will we welcome the homosexual who has been living that lifestyle but is longing for something more?  How will we welcome the prodigal son who has gone into the far country, but is now coming back?  On the day of judgment, I hope that no homosexual or anyone else could ever say of us: “Emmanuel Baptist Church had good news to share, but they wouldn’t share it with me.”

Brethren, let us continue to cultivate a church that we can be excited to invite anyone to, because we know that everyone will be thrilled to see them here.  And why are we thrilled to see them here?  Because we know that Jesus can save the unsaveable.  His gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  He came into the world to save sinners

Remember that true story I just told you about that woman?  Her name is Rosaria Butterfield and she is now a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.  The Lord has even used to her to write books about her experience which have been a great help to many people.  Isn’t that an amazing example of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6?

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul had preached the gospel to homosexuals, and adulterers, and idol worshipers.  And God had saved them!  Let us never forget that we are Christians not because we were somehow superior to others, or more upright than others, or more lovely than others.  We are Christians because Jesus delights to save poor, wretched, unlovable sinners.  If we remember that, we will be the most welcoming kind of church, where the gospel is freely shared with anyone and everyone who walks through those doors.  Wouldn’t it be something if someone was to look in during one of our fellowship meals and see that we are sitting and eating with tax collectors and sinners.

A third and final application

If you are here today and you are not a Christian, there is good news for you.  Jesus is a friend of sinners.  Here in Mark, he is associating with the worst people in society.  They were people who had a reputation for nothing but wickedness.  And here he is condescending to their low state, meeting them right where they are.

My friend, listen to me.  Not only does Jesus have the power to save you from your sins.  He is willing.  Maybe some of you have grown up in the church and you have learned that God chooses people to be saved and you wonder…..how do I know if God really wants me?  How do I know if he will really accept me if I come to Him?  Or maybe you think that you are too bad to come to Jesus, that your past life is too sinful to forgive!

Friends, Jesus Himself has said that you may come.  He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He says in the gospel of John, “whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out.”  There’s only one qualification to come to Jesus.  There’s only one thing you need to do.  It’s simply this: recognize that you are a sinner.  Recognize that you have sinned against a holy God and that you deserve His just condemnation and wrath and that you have no hope apart from Christ.  If you recognize that about yourself, you will find that Jesus is not only able to save you, He is also abundantly willing to do so.  Will you come to Him today?  He is not ashamed to call Himself a friend of sinners.

Guest Post: How to Welcome Sinners into Your Church, part 2 by Dan Wakefield

 Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two to follow are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church. 

In the last post the focus was upon the Pharisees’ attitude toward lost sinners. Now let’s consider..

Jesus’ attitude toward lost sinners

When we consider our Savior’s ministry to the outcast and the sinner in Israel, we find a sharp contrast with the attitude of the Pharisees.  Unlike these religious leaders who didn’t want anything to do with the outwardly unclean, Jesus showed compassion to them.  He was not afraid to associate with them.

As I get into this point, I want to be very clear.  In the midst of a society that wants to redefine the Bible to mean whatever it wants, we need to make sure that we carefully see what the Bible is and is not saying.  So in this second blog post, I want us to consider two things.

First of all, what Jesus is not doing

Jesus is not condoning sin or condoning people who are living a sinful lifestyle.  It’s amazing that people will take the gospels and use them to say that Jesus accepts all kinds of lifestyles that are contrary to the Bible.  But that just isn’t the case!  Matthew tells us in his Gospel that Jesus came to save His people from their sin, not so they could continue to live in their sin.  We must be clear on that.  This story of Jesus sitting down to eat with tax collectors and sinners doesn’t mean that Jesus was declaring His acceptance of their lifestyle.  That would be an utter failure to remember the beginning of the story!  Consider Mark 2:14again.  “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”  Levi didn’t stay in his tax booth; he left it to follow Jesus!

In his retelling of the event, Luke writes in Luke 5:27 – “After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.”  Levi didn’t follow Jesus while hanging on to his money-loving tax-collection business.  He left it behind!

Consider some other accounts from the Gospels that help to reinforce this point.  In Luke 5:32, in the parallel passage about the call of Levi, Jesus says this: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Jesus didn’t come to call sinners to himself who would have no change of life.  He called them to turn from their life of sin in order to follow Him.  Jesus also says to those who are already his disciples in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”  Jesus is using a figure of speech to show that his followers are those who will do whatever is necessary to put sin to death. Followers of Jesus are not those who are complacent about sin in their lives.

In the midst of a world that hates to talk about sin, we need to be clear on what Jesus says about it.  Not only is it rebellion against God, but unless repented of, it will lead to eternal destruction.  Even people who claim to do work in Jesus’ Name but who don’t truly repent will not be saved on the last day.  Jesus reminds us of this sober reality in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

So we see first of all that Jesus’ association with sinners is not an acceptance of their lifestyle.

But then secondly, let’s consider what Jesus is doing in Mark 2

“And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:15-17

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus is showing compassion to lost sinners.  He’s not condoning their sin.  He’s not accepting their lifestyles.  But He is demonstrating real compassion.  How is He doing that?  He is seeking the lost, right where they are.  He went to Levi’s tax booth.  He went to the dinner party at Levi’s house where there were tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t avoid people like this any more than a doctor avoids sick people!  Jesus makes it clear that He is a physician and He has come to heal those who are spiritually sick.

Listen to what J.C. Ryle says about this account: “The Pharisees found fault with Him, because He allowed publicans and sinners to be in His company. In their proud blindness they [thought] that a teacher sent from heaven ought to have no dealings with such people. They were wholly ignorant of the grand design for which the Messiah was to come into the world–to be a Savior, a Physician, a healer of sin-sick souls.”

The amazing truth is that for those who come to Jesus in repentance, no matter what lifestyle they have lived in the past, He is not ashamed to associate with them.  He is a merciful Saviour.  This man Levi had been a traitor to the Jewish people.  He had sold out to the Romans so that he could get rich by extorting money from his own people.  But Jesus was not ashamed to associate with this repentant sinner.  Jesus was not ashamed to eat dinner with this crowd of tax collectors and sinners.  They had no doubt been invited by Levi in order for them to meet his new-found Saviour.  And many of them had already begun to follow Him.

The point is this: Jesus wasn’t associating with this crowd to condone their sin.  He was associating with this crowd so that he could heal them from their sin.  William Hendriksen says this: “When He associates on intimate terms with people of low reputation, He does not do this as…a comrade in evil…, but as a physician, one who, without in any way becoming contaminated with the diseases of His patients, must get very close to them in order that He may heal them!”  The church must always remember that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  As Jesus Himself said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Next time, we will consider some practical applications of these first two blog posts.

Guest Post: How to Welcome Sinners into Your Church, part 1 by Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two to follow are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church.

In a recent series, Pastor Jeff Smith demonstrated how we as Christians should respond, not only to the recent Supreme Court decision, but also to the overall condition of this nation as it spirals away from God.  He showed, from the Scriptures, that humble sorrow is an expected and righteous response to our nation’s rejection of God and his rule over us.  We ought to be grieved at the state of this nation.

But it might also be good to consider another aspect of this topic.  We have looked at a zoomed out, big picture response.  But what I want us to do today is to zoom way in.  I want us to think about how we should respond, not to the state of the nation, but to individual people.  What I mean is this: how will we respond when people living sinful lifestyles walk into our church?

We know that we ought to be grieved over the state of our nation and the fact that sin is being celebrated in the streets.  It ought to be a burden on our hearts that God’s commands are discarded and His holy name is thrown into the mud all over this country.  But how should we respond when people from the world come into this church?  How do we interact with people out in the world who we rub shoulders with?  I want us to answer those questions by looking at the example of Jesus in the Gospels, and then drawing out some practical applications for us living in the 21st century.  Our passage will be Mark 2:13-17.

The account of the call of Levi is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Clearly, the gospel writers wanted to emphasize it as an important lesson for us.  We are going to consider two main lessons from this account, and then some application.  Today’s blog post will be the first main lesson.

1.     The Pharisees’ attitude toward lost sinners

We see something amazing happen in this passage.  In the midst of Jesus’ teaching ministry, he walks by the tax booth of a man named Levi.  Levi wasn’t a believer at this point in the story; not until Jesus walked up and said two simple words to him: “follow me”.  And without question, this man gets up and immediately becomes a follower of Jesus.  What a testimony to the power of God! Levi is so overjoyed with his new-found faith that he immediately throws a dinner party with Jesus as the guest of honor.  He also invites many others to come to the party, perhaps friends from the tax-collection business and others who were known publicly as sinners.  Perhaps there were also prostitutes and other adulterers there.  What a sight that must have been.  A group of people most blatant in their outward transgression of God’s law were eating dinner with Jesus and his disciples.

But the Pharisees were not pleased with what they saw.  Evidently, some of their number saw Jesus participating in this dinner and were disturbed.  In verse 16 they ask, “And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’”

It is not hard to see from the Scriptures that the Pharisees hated such people.  This is partly because of who the tax collectors were.  During this period of history, the nation of Israel had been conquered and was occupied by the Roman Empire.  And since it now was under the jurisdiction of the empire, the people had to pay Roman taxes.  The tax collectors in Israel were usually Jewish men working for the Roman government.  Not only were they working for the enemy nation, they were often charging more than the Romans demanded and keeping the extra for themselves.  As a result, they were viewed as both thieves and traitors by the Jewish people.

But there was another reason why the Pharisees hated Jesus’ dinner company.  All of the guests at Levi’s party were known publicly to be sinners.  They were people despised by the Pharisees because of their blatant disregard for the laws and the traditions of the Jewish religion.  And in their pride, the Pharisees thought that they were morally superior to such people.  Consider this parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14.  “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raisehis eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

You see, the Pharisees thought that they were righteous before God because of all their religious rituals and traditions that they kept.  But their pride and lack of compassion showed them for who they really were.  They drew near to God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him.  Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:28 – “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  Such pride and hypocrisy did not result in compassion to those who were known as “tax-collectors and sinners”.  It resulted in disgust and condemnation.  Jesus also said in Matthew 23:13 – “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

The Pharisees were more concerned with who was outwardly “clean” than with those who honestly desired to pursue peace with God.  In their minds, anyone who had lived a life of disregard for God and religion were automatically excluded from the kingdom.

So why were they so concerned about who Jesus was eating with?  Why did they even care?  Because they knew that everyone considered Jesus to be a prophet from God.  He Himself was claiming that He had been sent by the Father.  And here He was, eating with tax-collectors and sinners.

Remember the story in Luke 7?  Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house for dinner, and a woman known publicly for her sin comes and anoints Jesus’ feet with oil.  Remember what the Pharisee says to himself?  “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”  The Pharisees believed that God would have nothing to do with such vile people because they wanted nothing to do with such people.  Not only were they jealous of Jesus’ popularity, they were also disgusted that someone claiming to be sent by God would be spending His time with the “unclean” sinners of society.

The Pharisees’ attitude toward those who were outwardly wicked showed the true condition of their hearts.  While claiming to be righteous in God’s eyes, they were nothing but hypocrites.  They pretended to care about the truth, but really only cared about themselves.

Next time, we will consider Jesus’ attitude toward lost sinners.

Helpful Questions for Discerning a Credible Profession of Faith by Jeffery Smith

Ebenezer Morris was a powerful preacher in Wales, little known about today. He lived and preached during times of great revivals there and went home to be with the Lord at the age of 56 on Monday, August 15th, 1825. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his life in Volume Two of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, (reprint 1897, trans. John Aaron 2008 [Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008]).

A couple of days before his death two young preachers came to him seeking his advice. What he told them included a very important caution. Before I quote it let me explain that the term “seiat” was the Welsh term for a Welsh Calvinist society meeting. These were organized societies of converts gathered for prayer, teaching and mutual exhortation. They were really, in essence, local churches, operating outside of the established Anglican church of the time. Morris told these two young preachers:

“If you two are allowed to live long then no doubt you will see a period for religion when hardly any new convert joins the seiat. At that time, do not drag unexercised men into the church but wait for God, and seek him, who in his own good time will succeed the work. God gave a promise to Abraham of a son, but Sarai felt the time was long and despaired that she would ever have the privilege of becoming a mother, and so she gave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. He was not the son of the promise and this brought much sorrow to Sarai afterwards. So also, you must wait for God’s promise, and not go after the flesh, unto the children of the promise are found for the Church.” (italics mine)

This is very wise counsel, counsel much needed by many of us who are pastors. It speaks to the necessity of requiring a credible profession of faith before receiving a person into the membership of the church. In our church we have what we call a membership interview with any one asking to become member, as do many of you. Below I give a sample list of suggested questions that can be helpful in charitably discerning the credibility of a person’s profession insofar as we are able and required to do so as men who cannot see the heart. In fact, we have actually sometimes given these questions to younger converts and asked them to take them home and write out brief answers to bring back to us in a subsequent meeting. I’m not suggesting that all of these questions should be asked in a membership interview or that all, or any, of them should be handed out to take home to write out answers. I just mention these to give some ideas of the kinds of questions that might be asked. Good, carefully thought out, questions can go a long way in helping us discern where a person is and in guarding the church from the danger Ebenezer Morris spoke of in the quote above. Perhaps, pastors reading this blog might find these helpful.  Some of these have been picked up from the suggestions of others.  In cases where we actually hand out a document with these questions for a person to take home, at the top is the following introductory paragraph:

Please take the time to think carefully over these questions and answer them in your own words. These are not trick questions so don’t be nervous or worried. We simply desire to know about your understanding of the gospel and what God has done and is doing in your life and to encourage you to think about these things. This will also help facilitate profitable interaction in our membership interview.

Here are the questions that follow:

  1. Are you a sinner? What makes a person a sinner?
  1. Have you ever felt that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment because of your sins? If so why do you think that?
  1. Besides outward sins what are some sins in your heart that you’ve been guilty of that God has shown you?
  1. When Jesus died on the cross what was he doing that has to do with the salvation of sinners?
  1. Can God just forgive sinners or was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for God to do that? If so why was it necessary?
  1. Are there any good works that you have done that you believe make it right for God to receive you as his child and take you to heaven? If not what are you trusting in for acceptance with God?
  1. What are some verses of scripture that give you hope and comfort when you think about your sins and your relationship to God?
  1. Do you ever pray and read your bible? If so how often?
  1. What are some ways God has changed, or is changing, your attitudes and behavior?
  1. What are some things God has been teaching you lately?
  1. Do you desire, with God’s help, to follow and obey Christ in everything with no exceptions?
  1. When God convicts you that you have sinned in some way what do you do?
  1. Are there any problems you have in your relationship to any of the members of the church?
  1. Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? If so could you give an example of a sermon, or of something in a sermon, lately that has helped you? If so how did it help you?