CTT | Churching the unchurched?

day-of-pentecost-acts-2-38A theme or apologetic used by the seeker-sensitive and emergent (post-modern progressive christians) for taking it upon themselves to redefine the Church, Praise and Worship, and the role of the Pastor is their claim to be “churching the unchruched”. Is that valid? What does that even mean? Let’s discuss.

There’s a book?

So, there is a book entitled, “Church for the Unchurched” that I do not recommend anyone read. But I want to share an endorsement from the Amazon.com page:

“This is a groundbreaking book. What sets it apart from all the others is that it is based on hard data and real life examples…If you want to know what is really happening in the so-called Seeker churches, this book is a must read.” –Rick Warren, Senior Pastor, Saddleback Community Church, Mission Viejo, California

What sets this book apart is… being based on hard data and real life examples? Okay… should a book about Church and Evangelism be based on Scripture? Yes, actually, it should be.

Ephesians 2:19-21 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Purpose of the Church for the Unchurched?

What is the purpose of the Church? The gathering of the assembly? The seeker-mergent belief (and teaching) is that the assembly of the saints is supposed to be where unbelievers are supposed to hear the Gospel and become believers. But what prevents an unbeliever from attending church in the first place? These seeker-mergent teachers would have you believe that how traditional churches present the Gospel (you know, preaching Law (sin) and Gospel (repentance) and the forgiveness of sins) that has been “failing”. So, they inevitably get caught up in dialing down the preaching of the Law (sins become “mistakes”) and over-emphasizing God’s Love (by avoiding His Holiness,  Justice, Righteousness) trying to compel unbelievers to first agree to attend this non-church style of Church and then later “make a decision for Christ” based on how “loving, warm, engaging, inviting, and welcoming” the congregation is. They are led in a prayer, told they are saved, and then they are fed a diet of self-help legalism that Christians must abide by to establish their Christian-ness. But that legalism isn’t based on Law-preaching, because now that they are “saved” the purpose of their church is no longer them, but the other “unchurched”. So they are expected to read the Bible on their own, while from the pulpit they hear life tips from the latest Christian self-help book, or simply from the pastor’s life experiences.

What does the Bible say about the purpose of Pastors and the Church?

I want to look at a couple of passages that help put together a picture of what it means first to be a pastor and also the role of the Church. Let’s begin in Matthew:

Matthew 16:5-20 (ESV) | The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

John 21:1-19 (ESV) | Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him,“Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him,“Follow me.”

So we have here a picture of teaching and preaching being presented in terms of food. I believe that when Jesus appeared on the shoreline, the disciples remembered what Jesus taught at Peter’s confession. We also see that the disciples understood the teaching of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was in their teaching, not in actual food. The religious leaders of that day taught themselves, their doctrines, and their righteousness. Jesus rebuked them repeatedly, pointing out to them that if they had indeed believed Moses and his teaching, they would believe in Jesus (John 5:45-47). They added to the Law and the Prophets with their oral tradition and interpretations of the Law and Prophets, they introduced their own leaven to the Bread of Life (Jesus, the Word made flesh).

At breakfast, Jesus addresses Peter specifically, and asks three times “do you love Me”. What goes on the Greek is fascinating, but for now, let us focus on Jesus’ response, “feed my lambs; tend my sheep, feed my sheep”. Is Jesus just talking about food here? No. Is he saying that Peter is supposed to find his own way to feed the sheep? Absolutely not. Looking back at Peter’s confession of Christ, notice that Jesus specifies that the revelation was from God; therefore, Peter’s confession is the rock upon which Jesus will build His Church, not Peter’s flesh (the Greek makes it very clear) though Peter’s name is changed. When we look back at Jesus’s rebuke of His disciples for worrying about not bringing bread, Jesus points out that He had already demonstrated that He will provide for our earthly needs, that clearly He is focused on more important things for the church. God provides the physical bread and fish, and He also provides the Spiritual bread, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by which Peter is to feed and tend the flock of Christ (the Church).

The Early Church Evangelized the Synagogue

Yes, the early Church first evangelized the Temple (in Jerusalem) and the synagogues. Does that mean that the purpose of Church is to get unbelievers to attend so that they can become believers? No. Please don’t freak out on me just yet, let’s first discuss what was going on in the early church. After Christ’s ascension into Heaven, we see the first assembly of the Church.

Acts 1:12-19 (ESV) 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

When the Day of Pentecost arrives, God pours out His Spirit upon His Church, all who were assembled in the upper room, and the sound of their worship of God in many languages (by a miracle of the Holy Spirit) drew a crowd and Peter preached Law and Gospel to them, and many were added to the Church on that day. After Peter’s sermon in chapter 2, let’s look at how the Church assembled:

Acts 2:42-47 (ESV) | The Fellowship of the Believers
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Does this look like a church whose focus is on attracting the “unchurched”? No. Who added to their number? The Lord did. Who was being added? Those who were being saved. The Church, God’s Church is for the Christians, those who have believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any attempt to tailor a Church for those who are unbelievers is an exercise in futility. Let’s see how Paul addressed this idea in his letter to the Romans. At the close of chapter 9, Paul is trying to fix some misconceptions some Gentiles had regarding the Jews. Let’s begin there and move into chapter 10.

Romans 9:30-33 (ESV) | Israel’s Unbelief
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Romans 10 (ESV) | The Message of Salvation to All
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says,“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

We are not born with faith. We are in-fact born in unbelief, dead in sins and trespasses. Faith is a gift from God, one that comes only by hearing the word of Christ, the Bread of Life. The leaven of the Pharisees is to be avoided and has no part in Christ. It doesn’t matter how awesome/entertaining/welcoming your church service is to the unbeliever, unless they hear unleavened preaching, they will not obtain faith necessary for salvation. Your “testimony” of Christ’s forgiveness isn’t enough, neither is your band’s rendition of “Awesome God”. For it is by hearing the Word of Christ that faith comes.


The Church is the body of Christ, and there is no way to have a church that “churches” unbelievers. Unbelievers who come to the church should undeniably be presented Law and Gospel so that they might become believers (faith comes by hearing the Word of God), but the responsibility for bringing them in rests with the Christians, not the Church. Jesus told Peter to feed and tend His flock. Again, the Church is the body of Christ, Christ is the head of His body. We are to share the gospel with the unbelievers, and invite them to the Church of Jesus Christ, we don’t decide to change the focus of Christ’s Church so that it is more palatable for unbelievers.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV) | Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

There is only one way to the Father, and that is through Christ. Getting someone to join in an attendance ritual on Sunday morning isn’t going to grant faith, unless they are hearing the unleavened Word of God. Changing what is heard on Sunday morning so that unbelievers will “sign up” doesn’t bring them closer to repentance. Unless we preach Christ and Him crucified for our sin, we’ve simply invited lost sinners to a social club built around “positive messaging”.

Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. We thank you, Father, that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For You have done what the law, weakened by our flesh, could not do. By sending Your Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, You condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. May we walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, by Your Grace in Christ Jesus, Amen. (Matt 6, Romans 8)

In Christ Jesus,

CTT | The Barren Fig Tree



Today, let’s take a look at the parable of the Barren Fig Tree and see if we can’t bring some context to some of the accounts that have perplexed me over the years. We will be looking through a few of the Gospel texts, but for starters, let’s turn to Luke 13.

Luke 13:1-9 (ESV)  1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Now, the ESV separates these into two different paragraphs, but for the purpose of this study I believe the two concepts go together. Jesus sets up this parable of the fig tree with a reminder of the call to repentance and the judgement that awaits all who refuse to repent. He clearly teaches that everyone is guilty of sin, not just those who seem to have received punishment while others lived. Jesus exposes the myth that those who die suddenly were being judged by God as special cases of sinfulness or offense, and those who lived where more righteous. The parable that follows this begins with a fig tree that was planted in the master’s vineyard, and for three years it bore no fruit. Judgement is coming to the barren fig tree, for the master is ready to cut it down. However, the vinedresser appeals to the master for grace, allow the tree one more year while special care is taken for the tree, fertilizer will be added. If after the year the tree still bears no fruit, then it shall be cut down. By Grace the fig tree was planted in the garden, and by the master’s Grace that tree was allowed to continue fruitlessness for three years, and by Grace it will be given another year with special attention. Judgement is coming, but by God’s Grace there is time for repentance.

In the Matthew 21, we see the account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We are going to pick up in an awkward spot, so if you are unfamiliar with this passage, please read Matthew 21 in full. Here let us look at what happens when Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:10-32 (ESV)10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them,“Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain,‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward hechanged his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Now, this is a wonderful passage, filled with some extremely tense imagery. Jesus enters Jerusalem and clears out the temple of the money changers and the merchants. He rebukes them for what they have done to the House of the Lord God (for such was the Temple) and ministered to the lame and the blind, performing many wonderful works. The children sang a song of praise Hosanna to the Son of David and the Pharisees were indignant. Fig trees, planted in the Master’s vineyard as teachers and overseers of God’s people, bearing no fruit for a great many years. Jesus leaves Jerusalem and stays the night in Bethany.

When He returns to Jerusalem, He sees the barren fig tree and curses it, and it withers. Often when this passage is taught, the emphasis moves immediately to verses 20-22 to teach the power of prayer and faith and to look at “our potential” as Christians. Let’s not do that today, our focus is on the fig tree. Given our initial parable of the barren fig tree, and the events of the day prior to this morning, we are starting to see that this fig tree is a sign of unbelief. It will not be allowed to live on in selfish unrighteousness, refusing to bear fruit, forever.

Jesus enters the Temple and begins teaching. The chief priests and elders interrupt His teaching to demand that Jesus provide His credentials, by what authority and from whom did He receive said authority to do these things. These men didn’t make these demands the day prior when all where praising God, confessing Jesus as the Messiah (Son of David), or healing the lame and the blind, and they didn’t stop Him from clearing out the merchants and the money changers. No, they were indignant on that day… and then waited for the next day, when Jesus came to teach. Now, notice how Jesus responds. Is He playing coy? Absolutely not. Jesus has never denied that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and He called the Lord God to be His Father. He did so the day prior, and the works He performed were a testimony of His authority to “do these things”. No, Jesus wasn’t playing coy… He was calling out the chief priests and elders, time to inspect the fruit of these trees.

Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV) | A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

You see, the chief priests and elders conferred among themselves and reasoned rightly that their answer would put them at odds with either the Messiah or with the People. For they realized that if they answered that John’s baptism was not of God, the people would revolt against them; however, if they declared John’s baptism was from God, they’d have to answer for their unbelief. They missed 2 major concepts, the first is that the problem was they needed to confess and repent of their unbelief, and the second was that in refusing to answer, they were not safe because any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. However, because these leaders were self-seeking, they were trees planted in the vineyard to display their own greatness in their leaves, but providing no fruit. Time and time again, God has granted to them grace and opportunity to repent. Luke records for us in the book of Acts, chapter 19, that Paul answered this question of John’s baptism to the disciples in Ephesus

Acts 19:1-7 (ESV) | Paul in Ephesus
19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

John baptized with the baptism of repentance. Let us look to John’s baptism, of which Jesus tested the chief priests and elders at the Temple.

Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) | John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Praise God. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Don’t presume that you are safe simply because God planted you in His vineyard (tying this thought in with our parable), for if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, you will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Amen.

As Christians, we must bear the fruit of repentance. This is what taking our crosses daily and denying ourselves looks, when we remember (in active form) that we are sinful beings in need of a Savior. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. There is no “moving beyond the Gospel”, it is an ever present place of rest. It is also our mission, to preach the Gospel to all of creation, so that those who hear the Word of God might obtain Faith, confess their sin, and repent from their sinful ways and trust in Christ Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

John 6:27-29 (ESV)27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

1 John 5:9-11 (ESV)9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Amen. Bear the fruit of repentance, and believe in and confess the Son of God before mankind. Remain in Him, and trust that the Holy Spirit will bear fruit in you as you grow in Him, and you will never be cut away nor cast into the fire. The chief priests, the elders, the Sadducees and Pharisees did not repent, nor did they believe in the Son, and they were cut off.

In the last parable of the 2 sons, we see clearly that all who were lost and came to repentance are like the first son who defied their father, but later obeyed. The second son was the one who professed with his mouth to obey the father, but rejected his authority and commandments and did what was wrong in the end. He represents those chosen by God to be overseers and spiritual leaders who rejected the Law (instead honoring commandments of men that were self-serving) and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21:31-32 (ESV) 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them,“ Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The tax collectors and the prostitutes were among those who confessed their sins and repented in John’s baptism, thereby entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. And even after seeing the Gospel reach the lowly sinner, they still did not later change their minds and believe.

May the God the Holy Spirit minister to your hearts today and bring His Word to life and grant you understanding and wisdom and increase your faith. In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

In Christ Jesus,

The Pharisee | An honest look at their sin

CTTIt seems these days whenever a Christian exercises Biblical discernment and questions the theology being presented or taught by a Pastor, Teacher, or fellow Christian, the accusation or warning of being Pharisaical is just around the corner. The trendy thing in today’s evangelical circles is to be “above denominations” and to be known as a “Word church”, a “Bible believing” church. What strikes me as odd is that many time such churches teach so very little Scripture, that one wonders exactly whose “word” the church has been built around. If Christ is to be both the Head of the Church and the Cornerstone of the church, then shouldn’t the very Word of God be the sole measure of the Church and its doctrine? Recently, a friend of mine shared that he was reading a book called Pharisectomy, so I decided it was time we stopped throwing around this general pejorative and look at what the sin of the Pharisee truly was in hopes of properly defining what it means to be Pharisaical.

 The Pharisees Rejected Jesus as the Christ, Son of God

I thought I’d start at the most obvious, and eternally condemning sin, the sin of rejecting Jesus as the Son of God. All of Israel was longing for the Messiah (Hebrew for the Anointed One of God) the Christ (Greek for the Anointed One), the Son of David to arrive as prophesied. In Matthew, we see from the beginning that the Pharisees were aware of the prophecies concerning the coming Christ, and they knew well enough to seek out the “one calling in the wilderness”.

Matthew 3:4-12 (ESV) 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Wow. John the Baptist wasted no time calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees who came out to investigate John the Baptist. As Matthew records this event, he captures 3 statements (underlined) that serve as prophetic statements. The first is John’s reference to them as a “brood of vipers“. What is interesting to me, is that this will come up again a couple of times when Jesus confronts the Pharisees. The next underlined portion serves as prophetic warning of an argument that the Pharisees will indeed make during a confrontation with Jesus. Finally, the third statement ends up being a recurring theme in Jesus’ teachings regarding trees not bearing fruit. Very exciting. However, before we get to it, I want to hop over to John for the rest of this encounter between John the Baptist and the Pharisees. I can’t say whether or not this happened before the account in Matthew or after it, but it adds to the picture of what is taking place.

John 1:19-28 (ESV) 19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then?Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Clearly, the Pharisees were looking for the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet. There hadn’t been an anointed Prophet of God since Malachi. Many expected Elijah to be the forerunner of the Christ. I find it interesting that John the Baptist denied this, when Jesus later spoke of John the Baptist as Elijah who had already come and was not recognized. I am certain that in his desire to do the will of God, his sole focus was to point to the Christ, the Son of God. Now Jesus performed a great many miracles. These miracles were to serve as a testimony to the fact that Jesus was in-fact, the Christ, the Son of God.

Matthew 11:2-6 (ESV)2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

This was what John the Baptist needed to hear, and all of these signs were performed before people so that they would know who Jesus is and repent. However, there were many who did not repent.

Matthew 11:20-24 (ESV) 20 Then [Jesus] began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

John 9:24-34 (ESV) 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

John 8:31-47 (ESV) 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Now, as for what the Pharisees were looking for in the Christ, Jesus asks them directly toward the end. Granted that by this time, it is clear that the Pharisees had already hardened their hearts against Jesus declaring him a blasphemer, an impostor, even a sinner (for breaking the Sabbath according to their rules) and a demon-possessed man, still the answer is interesting:

Matthew 22:41-46 (ESV) 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

They set their hearts and minds to kill him, primarily because they rejected Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Their fate was sealed by their hardened hearts and their unbelief. In His trial, Jesus made it clear to them that He had already said all that needed to be said, and He had done so openly, plainly, and publicly:

John 18:19-24 (ESV) 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

There is a lot more to be said about how these Pharisees ignored Messianic Prophecies and the Law of Moses to feed their greed, defend their pride, and feed their bloodlust against Jesus. They hated Jesus and were lovers of themselves, and their esteemed positions.

The Righteousness of the Pharisee was Purely External

Jesus had a lot to say about the heart issue of the Pharisees. They were neither fulfilling their duties as priests, nor were they serving the people. They were serving themselves. Let’s see how Jesus rebuked them.

Matthew 23:1-7 (ESV) 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Matthew 23:23-36 (ESV) 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

I skipped a couple of Woes because the fall more into the next point. Notice here, that Jesus doesn’t say that the Law is bad or wrong. He says plainly that the disciples are not to emulate their works. They preached perfection of the Law and their identity as Levites, Scribes, and Rabbis while hiding greed, self-indulgence, uncleanness, and lawlessness. In Luke 11, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees while dining in one of their homes. The Lawyers jump in, much to their dismay:

Luke 11:45-52 (ESV) 45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.

That last comment is telling. In their refusal to accept Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Pharisees also persecuted the church, in the same way that their fathers killed and persecuted the prophets.

They Did not Understand the Law, and They Abused it to Serve Themselves

Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV) 1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Matthew 22:23-33 (ESV)  23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

Matthew 23:16-22 (ESV) 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV) 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his 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, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

Luke 12 (ESV) 12 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Matthew 12:33-37 (ESV) 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Hypocrisy, twisting of Scripture for their own traditions, self-aggrandizement, and rejection or obfuscation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the markings of a Pharisee, or the sin of being Pharisaical. These are strong accusations. The rebukes levied against the Pharisees were of the strongest that Jesus uttered. We should be very careful to flippantly toss out such accusations at a brother or sister who is trying to point to the Word of God. Are there present-day Pharisees? Sure. However, I’d wager that they aren’t the ones commonly being labeled Pharisaical. Someone who preaches himself, or preaches only Law without Gospel, who weighs a man’s tithing before serving as his shepherd… these are the indicators of a Pharisee, not the one who is exercising Biblical discernment, objects to questionable teaching and insists on sound doctrine.

I pray that you walking the Spirit of God, and that you exercise Biblical and Spiritual Discernment. Guard your doctrine, and preach the Word of God rather than the schemes of men.

Jude 1: 24-25 (ESV) Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
In Him,