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by Andy Naselli

D. A. Carson preached on “The Purpose of the Parables” from Matthew 13:10-17, 34-35 in chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on October 29, 2009. Here are some notes:

Why did Jesus tell stories and use parables? Three answers are common.

  1. Jesus told stories because he used them as illustrations. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense of Matthew 13:11–12.
  2. Jesus told stories because he favored the enigmatic, thought-provoking, and open-ended rather than truths, propositions, and narrow-minded, modernist, foundationalist stuff like that. But it doesn’t take much reading of the Gospels to realize how many different genres Jesus actually preached in. For example, he preached using wisdom literature, apocalyptic, laments, exposition of OT texts, extended discourses, proverbs, beatitudes, one-liners, non-narratival extended metaphors, dialogue, and provocative questions. Further, Matthew 13:34–35 suggests that Jesus is trying to disclose something to them.
  3. Jesus used parables in order to hide things from the non-elect, to mask the truth. Yes, there is an element of that, but Matthew 13:34–35 suggests that Jesus is trying to disclose something to them.

So why did Jesus use parables? The text suggests two reasons.

  1. Jesus tells parables because, in line with Scripture, his message blinds, deafens, and hardens (Matthew 13:11–15). Matthew 13:14–15 quotes Isaiah 6:9–10 because Isaiah’s commission points forward and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus himself. There are some audiences to whom you preach where the preaching of the word guarantees that they will not hear. Cf. John 8:45: “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!” Sometimes the truth itself elicits unbelief because people are so corrupt that the truth is repulsive. Cf. Acts 5:41. When people insult you, don’t get defensive. Don’t get angry. Don’t get even. Rejoice! You’re in! You’re in this long line, this trajectory, that culminates in Jesus himself. There are some people who will not believe, and if you speak the truth, you will cause them not to believe.
  2. Jesus tells parables because, in line with Scripture, his message reveals things hidden in Scripture (Matthew 13:34–35). Matthew 13:35 quotes Psalm 78:2. The Jews of Jesus’ day did not have a category for a crucified Messiah, but those categories are in the OT. Jesus refers to “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11). A “mystery” in the NT does not refer to a “Whodunit?” It occurs 27 or 28 times in the NT and almost always is bound up with things hidden in the past in Scripture but now disclosed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “They’re there, but I’m going to reveal to you what has been hidden. The pieces are already there.” Hence, Matthew 13:16–17, 52.

Three Pastoral Reflections

  1. We should gain wonder in worship where there is a fresh grasp of how God has put the Bible together. The Bible is not a collection of arbitrary proof-texts. The more you dig into it, the more you unpack its simplicity and profundity.
  2. We should gain gratitude and humility for the gift of seeing the truth about Jesus and his gospel. We are just as perverse as others. We should never tire of being overwhelmed by the sheer privilege of grace in our lives.
  3. We should gain discretion in witness where there is a hostile environment.

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The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*     *     *     *     *

 

The Nicene Creed (Latin: Symbolum Nicaenum) is the creed or profession of faith (Greek: Σύμβολον τῆς Πίστεως*) that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene (pronounced /ˈnaɪsiːn/) because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in 325. The Nicene Creed has been normative to the Anglican and Roman Catholic Eucharistic rite as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodox liturgies.

The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief. The creeds of Christianity have been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. For that reason a creed was called in Greek a σύμβολον**, a word that meant half of a broken object which, when placed together with the other half, verified the bearer’s identity. The Greek word passed through Latin “symbolum” into English “symbol”, which only later took on the meaning of an outward sign of something. The Nicene Creed was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan preacher, had declared that although Jesus Christ was divine, God had actually created him, and there was a time when he was not. This made Jesus less than the Father and contradicted the doctrine of the Trinity.  Arius’s teaching provoked a serious crisis.

The Nicene Creed of 325 explicitly affirms the divinity of Jesus, applying to him the term “God”. The 381 version speaks of the Holy Spirit as worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son. The Athanasian Creed describes in much greater detail the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Apostles’ Creed, not formulated in reaction to Arianism, makes no explicit statements about the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but, in the view of many who use it, the doctrine is implicit in it.

 

*sumbolon tes pisteous 

** sumbolon: symbol; identifying token

 

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JOHN 1:9-13

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

There is an english saying, ‘call a spade, spade’ – I don’t recall if I have this in the Filipino vernacular but there are variations with the same thought. Simply put, it means that we should avoid euphemism, be straightforward, use blunt or plain language (i).  Consequently, ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quack like a duck, then it must be a duck.’

Today, I went to visit my weblog; I opened the WordPress home page and typed Ralph Venning on the search box. I have a posted one of his quotes, clicked on my article and as soon as I was directed to my own post via this method, I saw that article titles were automatically generated at the bottom of the post. I blogged before cautioning everyone who might chance upon these links to be discerning and reject what is error-ridden. Then there is an article entitled “John MacArthur’s heresy on Predestination”. I proceeded to follow the link in order to get to the article (to view the full article, please click this link: http://onetruegod.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/john-macarthurs-heresy-on-predestination/) and after reading the post, I just sighed with dismay as the article began with this sentence, and I quote, “Pastor John MacArthur is a dangerous man, because he subtly has introduced many damnable heresies into the church—none more hideous than his denial of the redeeming power of the literal physical blood of Jesus Christ.” Then 2 sentences later, he wrote, “And to no surprise, as a Calvinist, MacArthur teaches that a lost sinner cannot be saved unless God first chooses him or her.”

Before I proceed, I must admit that such serious accusations exist on both camps – Calvinists and Arminians – and I pray that Christians from both sides of this theological divide would be more careful in pronouncing whether one is a heretic or not. It is good to question one’s stance on a doctrine but to call one as a heretic simply because he does not concur with another’s perception of what he thinks the Scripture says lacks the necessary care the Scripture itself demands.  Now, before I forget all together, I just want to be clear that someone is considered heretic if his doctrine does not conform, at the very least, to the essentials of Christianity. And one essential of the faith is that God saves by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Whether one is a calvinist or arminian or an amyraldian, salvation by grace through faith in the biblical Jesus Christ is still the means with fruit that bears witness to the reality of that faith. James’ epistle to the church is clear about that, even Paul, when we read Ephesians 2:8-10 fully (yes, verse 10, which begins with ‘for’, cannot be divorced from verses 8-9).

Concerning  the article in focus, the original writer, David J. Stewart, responded to John MacArthur’s explanation of Acts 13:48 by firstly using John 1:12. It is from this context that I find it necessary to refresh myself on John 1:12 (and hopefully you, the reader of this blog) and see what the verse is really saying.

I took verses 9-12 because it forms a more coherent understanding of verse 12. Let us observe the following points:

  • (v.9) Referred to as the Word originally introduced in verse 1 and following, Jesus Christ is the One who brings the light of truth into a person originally in darkness. Everyone who has that light of truth did not receive it from anyone, nor can in himself generate that truth. Rather, Jesus is the sole source and giver of truth (light) and was announced to be coming into the world.
  • (v.10) Jesus came into the world that He has made, through His incarnation (taking human form through the virgin birth) but no one received Him for who He truly is – God who created all things.
  • (v.11) Jesus came to the nation of Israel who should have expected Him as they are the custodian of the oracles of God through the Law and the Prophets wherein His arrival have been announced in various ways over many centuries. But they, as a nation, did not welcome Him as they should have – the Messiah of the Lord. We can infer at this point, that their very rejection is the evidence proving that people born into the world are born with the darkness of the soul brought by the fall (from verse 9).
  • (v.12) Now there were some who received Him, as who He truly is – God and Messiah, and to these particular people, Jesus gave the ‘exousian’ (ESV uses ‘right’, KJV uses ‘power’) to become children of God. Dominion is also another meaning of exousian.
  • (v. 13) continued from verse 12, points to the supernatural means how one can have the ability to receive Jesus and obtain the right/power to become a child of God.

Now, David J. Steward pronounced that John MacArthur is wrong (and heretic) by teaching among other things that it is God who must choose first before one can choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Although there are numerous verses and pericopes that will support the fact of God’s predestinating work prior human response, let us be fair and contend with him by the particular verse he used – John 1:12.

Indeed if I look at verse 12, apart from the surrounding verses, I will have to arrive at the same conclusion that the right of becoming a child of God depended on my receiving and believing Jesus Christ. As most Arminians would argue, it’s the plain reading of the text. However, the verse is not the sole text of the chapter and context is primary in interpreting the text – this is where Arminians and Calvinists agree, theoretically. Actual application is, at times, found wanting.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Notice however that verse 12 and 13 form a complete sentence. Here we observe the following:

  • The first half of the sentence (v.12) tell us that all who did receive and believed in Jesus – to these were given the right/power to become children.
  • The second half of the sentence (v.13) tells us something about those who did receive and believed in Jesus, and were given the right/power to become children – that they were not born (by the will) of man but born (by the will) of God.

Adding the second half of the sentence changes the perspective. You might say I am putting something into the verse to change that perspective. But that can also be said to those who would say that the person must choose first before they are saved (as the writer of the article said). His statement is, honestly speaking, a bit tricky and I will explain why hereunder with hopes that you can follow me.

  • For sure God requires, in fact He commands, a person to repent and believe in Jesus as a part of the process of salvation. Peter preached to the Jews and said that they have to repent and believe the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 2 (also in Paul’s preaching in Acts 17).
  • If I were to be more meticulous about human actions concerning salvation, the chronology of the action verbs (received-believed) is illogical for both arminians and calvinist, because both groups demand that a person believes first then receives. The Greek sentence (verse 12) is odoi de elabon auton edoken autous exousian tekna theou genesthai tois pisteouosin eis to onoma auton oi [word for word: but as many as received him he gave to them the authority children of God to be, to those that believe on name his (i)]
  • Having said this, the second part of the sentence (v. 13) must contribute to the meaning and even the grammatical structure of the first half (v.12). This reveals that a person (who received and believed) is born of God not by man. This has nothing to do with physical birth. This must be spiritual in nature – that man cannot give birth to himself spiritually only God can.
  • But verse 12 is grammatically not an explicit command to the person to repent and believe – to think so is to import thoughts from other parts of the Scriptures and impose those thoughts into the verse. May I propose then that the verse can be rightly perceived as a statement of being – something that one already has ( the right given by Jesus) and the ensuing proof thereof (having received and believed in Him).
  • Now if man is by nature spiritually dead, how in the world can he trust Jesus without a prior spiritual work of God first happening – in this case, spiritual re-birth (born of God)? Unless this question is properly answered theologically by the Arminian, I certainly will argue for and in behalf of the Calvinist who says that God must choose the sinner first and give him spiritual birth before he can choose Jesus Christ. Further why would one spiritually dead person choose Jesus and another spiritual dead person does not – what does the first one have that the second one does not have?
  • The arminian will always say believe and then you will be born again while the calvinist will say that God will cause the new birth (born again) to happen first before a person believes.
  • In fact if I will simply get into the flow of thought of verses 9 to 13, it will naturally flow towards the fact that God must work His power in a spiritually dead man first to bring him to spiritual re-birth before this man will trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

David J. Stewart did not do his refutation by solely using the same verse that John MacArthur used (Acts 13:48). To prove Mr. MacArthur wrong, Mr. Steward should be able to exegete Acts 13:48 properly in order to argue against Mr. MacArthur’s position. Instead, Mr. Stewart imported John 1:12 which, in truth, is quite devastating to his arminian position.

When Mr. Stewart attempted to exegete Acts 13:48, he has made some serious errors through questions like: Do you think that God chooses evil men to kill the innocent? [He was refering to Hitler’s killing of the Jews based on his understanding of the word “ordained” used in both Acts 13:48 (tetagmenoi) and Romans 13:1 (tetagmenai)]? First error is he assumed that the Greek word used in both verses assumes that God cannot use evil men to accomplish His purpose. Second, he assumed that all Jews were innocent. Innocence does not mean sinlessness. Jesus was killed by evil men – a will of God to fulfill His glorious purpose, that is redemption. Through the hands of evil men was the Innocent One murdered on the cross. Much of Mr. Stewart’s arguments are weak at best, and lack understanding of the biblically revealed human condition at worst. I recommend one reads his article (linked above) with solid biblical backing in order to discern whether Mr. Stewart is right or wrong in his analogies and conclusions.

All of the above then would help me arrive in concluding that David J. Stewart is incorrect and John MacArthur has done his homework well albeit originally using a different verse. I would also conclude that Mr. Stewart is not careful in his exegesis of the John 1:12. And more importantly, I would conclude that Mr. Stewart did not exercise utmost caution and restraint before pronouncing that John MacArthur has been heretical in his views on predestination. Worse still, I believe Mr. Stewart has slandered Mr. MacArthur and needs to repent publicly as he publicly slandered Mr. MacArthur. And if I have insinuated or even remotely hinted that Mr. Steward is a slanderer, then yes he is….Just calling a spade, spade!

 

(i) World Wide Words: Spade; Michael Quinion writes on  international English words from a British viewpoint

(ii) Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, based on the Majority Text, by George Ricker Berry

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And behold, I am always with you, to the end of the age – Matthew 28:20

After the Lord declared His authority and commissioned the disciples to spread the good news, teaching those who will believe the Gospel everything that Jesus said and did, it was about the time that He will ascend to His rightful place and be seated at the right hand of God. The disciples would undoubtedly need comfort and these last words of the Lord was the coup de grace of all comforts: “I am always with you…”

Not only were these words of comfort to those who are being left behind for a while but also a source of strength as these disciples will face the world to preach the Gospel. Their account in the book of Acts testify to this fact. But allow me to take this verse to its personal level, not only for myself but for every Christian as well. I will remain in the purpose of the Scriptures: that we may know Him.

Like the early disciples, we face a world that is too pre-occupied with its own business – for various reasons; work, family, friends, leisure.  Every person is at the same time interacting somehow with each other, some for a while, some for long periods of time.  But if there is one thing about this fallen world to realize is that no one is, nor will be a constant companion. People leave, some relocate, some fall away from friendship, some become indifferent, everyone will die sooner or later. And that leaves us alone…but not so for a Christian. By “Christian” I do not mean the nominal kind who attends a local church congregation but rather one who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and who has a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, in love with Scriptures and whatever is righteous according to it, hates sin, loves the believers, preaches the Gospel to whoever may cross his path as God enables him, and by grace is separated from the way of the fallen world – this person may fall into sin, but he runs in repentance towards the Lord for forgiveness and trusts in the security of salvation that Jesus paid for with His life.

Yes, the Christian disciple is also busy, but like everybody else, there comes an occassion that he is left alone with none to interact with…yes, I have known times like this. Times when I had so much to say about the Lord to someone, both believers and unbelievers, but there’s none who simply has the moment to listen because they have other things to do.  At the ebb of this longing, I find my greatest comfort…Jesus Christ.  He is always with me according to His promise. And His last words recorded by Matthew was brought to my remembrance, to which I found my comfort – a joyful comfort.

So to the Christian I share this encouragement and may the Lord bless you with the same desire to get back to His word with which God communicates with us and through prayer, by which we communicate with Him.

To the one who has not repented and believed in Jesus the Son of God, what awaits him is an eternity of being alone in an inexpressible torment in the fiery furnace away forever from the love of God through His Son.  The wrath of God is upon all men and only Jesus has propitiated for this by dying and shedding His blood on the cross at Calvary.  Only in Him can men be forgiven and reconciled to God. And when you have repented of your sin and believed in the grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus, that is just the beginning of the eternal comforts and companionship of Him who is forever praised both now and forever more. Amen.

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