Blind from BirthJohn 9:8-12
Sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking an urgent situation isn’t really so bad. This can easily happen when churches relax their teaching standards. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg explains why maintaining a Gospel focus is imperative.
Freedom From Ourselves
Rivalry is part and parcel of life. On a team, friendly rivalry can be a means of spurring each other on, helping the team members to become faster or stronger. But when rivalry becomes the occasion of selfishness and jealousy, it undermines unity.
On the way to Capernaum, Jesus had been teaching the disciples, saying, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Perhaps as Jesus walked ahead of them, He heard snippets of conversation from the disciples jostling their way along behind Him. Their discussion was filled with jealous rivalry over their own greatness.
That’s a bad topic of conversation on any occasion, but especially in this context. How incongruous that when Jesus was giving them instruction concerning His own suffering and death, they were preoccupied with their own status and greatness!
Jesus asked them about their conversation to use it as an opportunity for instruction. In the span of a sentence, He turned human ideas of greatness completely upside down. True greatness in His kingdom lies in putting yourself last and acting as servant to everyone else. This is, after all, how the King of that kingdom lived, and lives, for He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
If we’re honest, when we consider this scene we see our faces in those of the disciples. We hear our voices echoing theirs. We find ourselves scrambling for position as they did. Selfish rivalry rises to the surface often and in the most unlikely places. Yet the antidote is always the same: humility. We all need the kind of humility, writes David Wells, that is a “freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight … It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”
This is a difficult lesson to learn. Yet despite our rivalry, despite the absence of our humility, Jesus does not abandon us. To see our faces in this scene is to be reminded that we’re constantly in need of God’s grace as we walk along the pathway of discipleship. Only the grace of God can get your focus off of yourself and set you free from yourself. Only gazing at the one who left the glories of heaven to die for you on a cross can change your heart so that you seek to serve, not to be served, and care less about your prestige than you do about the good of others. Jesus is calling you today to serve, even as He serves you.
Gifts of Grace
3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members,5 and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,6 with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Marks of the True Christian
9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,7 serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
The Best Proof
Mighty to save.
By the words "to save" we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parvo [much in little]: indeed, here is all mercy in a word. Christ is not only "mighty to save" those who repent, but He is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but He is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of His name to bend the knee before Him. And this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work. The life of a believer is a series of miracles wrought by the Mighty God. The bush burns but is not consumed. He is mighty to keep His people holy after He has made them so, and to preserve them in His fear and love until He consummates their spiritual existence in heaven.
Christ's power does not lie in making a believer and then leaving him to fend for himself; but He who begins the good work carries it on; He who imparts the first germ of life in the dead soul prolongs the divine existence and strengthens it until it breaks every bond of sin, and the soul leaps from earth, perfected in glory. Believer, here is encouragement. Are you praying for some beloved one? Oh, do not give up praying, for Christ is "mighty to save." You are powerless to reclaim the rebel, but your Lord is Almighty. Lay hold on that mighty arm and rouse it to put forth its strength.
Does your own case trouble you? Fear not, for His strength is sufficient for you. Whether to begin with others or to carry on the work in you, Jesus is "mighty to save," the best proof of which lies in the fact that He has saved you. What a thousand mercies that you have not found Him mighty to destroy!
God's Covenant with Abram
1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue1 childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son2 shall be your heir.” 5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
7And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give3 this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
The Death of John the Baptist
1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife,1 4because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Jesus Walks on the Water
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way2 from the land,3 beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind,4 he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret
34And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Opposition to the Work
1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves?1 Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
6So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
10In Judah it was said,2 “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”3 13So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
The Work Resumes
15When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
21So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.4
Paul and Barnabas at Iconium
1Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.1 3So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7and there they continued to preach the gospel.
Paul and Barnabas at Lystra
8Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,2 10said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
Paul Stoned at Lystra
19But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria
24Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28And they remained no little time with the disciples.
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