Friday, August 31, 2018

Preaching by the Book

by R. Scott Pace
A Review

“A sermon is the communication of divine and eternal truth.” This is the sacred basis for preaching on which this book is built.
The compact, concise volume will be a valuable resource for rookies and seasoned professionals.  It is detailed enough to establish new preachers in the pattern of biblical preaching and broad enough to challenge older pastors to sharpen their focus on the fundamentals.
Pace believes “we should follow a guided process that humbly yields to the Spirit, faithfully interprets the scriptures, and grateful honors our Savior.”  The book outlines seven strategic steps to accomplish that.
Three sections underpin the process- the foundation, the framework, the finishing touches. (I have often thought the trademark of a well-prepared preacher is unforced alliteration. This book does not disappoint.) I am in the category of older pastor, but I want my preaching to stay fresh. Two subsections are especially relevant.
Chapter 3 discourses on Interpretation.  Pace’s discussion of authorial intent, page 34, was a confirmation of the need for a contextual presentation of every biblical passage. “The meaning of the text (is) an objective reality.” “Every text has a primary, fixed meaning, and a passage can never mean what it never meant.”  Contextualization becomes more relevant as the church moves further into the “fast food” model of preaching.
Sermon introductions have not been my strong suit. The author has listed some helpful points in Chapter 5 that I plan to review regularly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Signs, Wonders, So What . . .

  (This blog is a response to a question. It is longer than usual because I have copied many verses into the text.)

1.      The greater part of God’s history among men involves no miracles of any kind. Direct miracles occurred in Scripture in only 3 periods of time.  Moses performed miracles.  Elijah and Elisha performed miracles.  Jesus and the apostles performed miracles.  Miracles of any kind are not normal occurrences. If everything is a miracle, nothing is a miracle.  
2.      Natural remedies are recommended in the Old and New Testament. God healed Hezekiah through a natural process. Isaiah 38:21.  Ex. 21:18-19 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.” The offender must insure that the injured man is cared for and receives proper treatment. One wonders why Moses, who could heal would not step in and heal the poor man who was injured.  Ezekiel condemns the people for not trying to heal. “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.” (Ezek. 34:4a) Proverbs 17:22 says medicine is good.  Timothy had stomach trouble.  Paul tells him to drink a little wine to relieve the problem. 1 Timothy 5:23. No miraculous healing occurred.  Luke is called the beloved physician. Colossians 4:14.
3.      In the unfolding history of the church miracles and healing are less frequent.  By the middle of the first century miracles were seldom seen.  By the time Paul wrote Galatians, one of the first books of the NT, God passes up a perfect opportunity to do a miracle. Galatians 4:13-14. In fact, God used Paul’s sickness to further the gospel. Epaphroditus was seriously ill and Paul does not heal him, though they were good friends. 2 Timothy, Paul’s last letter closes with this note, that he left Trophimus sick in Miletus.   Why leave another good friend behind, sick? James, whose book is likely the first book of the NT written, directs the sick to call for the elders of the church to pray, not call on a faith healer. James 5:14-15.  (Some will say that this is faith healing because there is a prayer of faith but it is not the sick one’s faith that counts here, it is the elders’ faith.  And it is the Lord who raises the sick, not a gifted healer.)
4.      Miraculous healing in the New Testament was generally applied to unbelievers. The examples above demonstrate that.  Matthew 4:23-24 is a primary reference to who was healed and what healing is. “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (Notice that Jesus taught in the synagogues and healed in the streets.) The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.” (Syria was a pagan nation)
5.      In the verses above we find a partial description of the ability of a healer.  He is able to heal every kind of disease and sickness, including organic illnesses like paralysis and epilepsy. Leprosy and blindness are in this list. He is able to heal everyone, regardless of faith.  These people were brought by someone else. He is able to heal anywhere and anytime.  Further, the biblical record demonstrates that the ability to heal brought instant restoration. Matthew 8:13, Mark 1:31, John 5:9. Healing was total. Jesus healed with a word or a touch.  He didn’t pray about it. He did it. Finally, Jesus raised the dead. Luke 7:11-15 tells the story about a widow whose son had died.  “When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep. And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Notice that she was not seeking a miracle, her faith is not a factor, the boy is immediately and completely alive. The result is that “Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!" This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.”  This confirms the purpose of miracles. (All these factors play out in the healings recorded in the book of Acts.)
6.      6 times in the NT is faith mentioned as a personal factor in healing. But they refer to only 3 events.  So only 3 times is faith mentioned as a reason for the cure.  But the word translated heal is the word that is most often translated ‘save.’ There is good reason to consider that as a better way to approach these verses.  Luke tells all three stories, chapter 8:43-48, 17:11-19, and 18:35-43. Here is the last one. “As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he called out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" And he said, "Lord, I want to regain my sight!" And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.” What do we know about this man, beside his blindness?  He was repentant.  When he knew Jesus was there he stopped asking for pennies and begged for mercy.  He knew he needed mercy. He knew who Jesus was.  He calls Jesus by His Messianic title, Son of David. He knew that Jesus could help him. Jesus restores his sight, immediately, and the man begins to follow Jesus, a sign of belief.  The man was saved.  Even if we conclude that ‘your faith has made you well’ is the right approach, it is the exception, not the rule for healing.  A lack of faith is a factor once. The disciples could not cast out a demon because they had a lack of faith.  The demon-possessed boy, not a believer, had no faith and was under Satan’s control.  
7.      The power to perform miracles and heal was specifically transferred to the apostles.  Matthew 10:1 “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Paul was the last apostle and gifted in the same way. He describes this authority to do miracles as the sign of an apostle, 2 Cor 12:12. An apostle was distinguished by his ability to heal and do miracles.  Apostles could heal, a man who healed was an apostle. 
8.      The ability to heal was not a common gift but a very rare one. Miracles were used by God to confirm that the Gospel was true. Hebrews 2:2-4 “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”  God used signs, wonders and miracles to confirm the ‘word of salvation.’ The Gospel was confirmed. Past tense.  It need not be confirmed again.
9.      The normal translation of glossolalia is language. This is consistent throughout the NT. The miracle in Acts 2 was greater than indiscernible sounds. The Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak in the actual languages of people from all over the world. 2:6-11  When the crowd heard these previously uneducated and untrained Hebrew men become international linguists- that is a miracle.
10.  God still answers prayer.  The first priority for prayer is that God’s will be done.  Romans 8:26 and 27 encourage us with this truth that though we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so that our prayers are answered according to God’s will.  Because of that verse 28, assures us that whether or not we may see it all things work together for our good and God will be glorified.