Daily Archives: June 2, 2013

Two Flannery Characters: A Sermon by Jason Micheli

This is a marvelous sermon; read it through and you will rise up and call me blessed.

Sermon on Romans 3:9-20.

As many of you know, I do a lot of my work at Starbucks.

I have my reasons.

For one thing, I get more accomplished without Dennis pestering me to show him how his computer works.

But to be honest, the main reason I go to Starbucks…is because I like to eavesdrop.

It’s true. What ice cream and cheesecake were to the Golden Girls eavesdropping is to me.

At Starbucks I’m like a fly on the wall with a moleskin notebook under his wing.

I’ve been dropping eaves at coffee shops for as long as I’ve been a pastor and, until this week at least, I’ve never been caught.

This week I sat down at a little round table and started to sketch out a funeral sermon.

At the table to my left was a 20-something guy with ear phones in and an iPad out and a man-purse slung across his shoulder.

At the table to my right were two middle-aged women. They had a bible and a couple of Beth Moore books on the table between them. And a copy of the Mt Vernon Gazette.

The first thing I noticed though was their perfume. It was strong I could taste it in my coffee.

Now, in my defense I don’t think I could properly be accused of eavesdropping considering just how loud the two women were talking. Like they wanted to be heard.

Their ‘bible study’ or whatever it had been was apparently over because the woman by the window closed the bible and then commented out loud:

‘I really do need to get a new bible. This one’s worn out completely. I’ve just read it so much.’ 

Not to be outdone, the woman across from her, parried, saying just as loudly:

‘I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t spend time in the Word every day. I don’t know what people do without the Lord.’   “They do whatever they want” her friend by the window said.

And I said- to myself- ‘Geez, I’ve sat next to two Flannery O’Connor characters.

I assumed that since they were actually reading the bible there was no way they attended this church, but just to make sure I gave them a double-take.

They had perfectly permed hair flecked with frosted highlights. And they had nails in which I could see the reflection of their large, costume jewelry.

“Baptists” I thought to myself.

They continued chatting over their lattes as the woman by the window flipped through the Mt Vernon Gazette. She stopped at a page and shook her head in disapproval.

Whether she actually said ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk,’ or I imagined it I can’t be sure.

The other woman looked down at the paper and said: ‘Oh, I heard about that. He was only 31.’ 

‘Did you hear it was an overdose?’ the woman by the window said like a kid on Christmas morning.

And that’s when I knew who they were gossiping about. I knew because I was sitting next to them writing that young man’s funeral sermon.

‘Did he know the Lord?’ the woman asked.

‘Probably not considering the lifestyle’ the woman by the window said without pause.

They went on gossiping from there.

They used words like ‘shameful.’

They did not, I noticed, use words like ‘sad’ or ‘tragic’ or ‘unfortunate.’

It wasn’t long before the circumference of their conversation spun its way to encompass things like ‘society and what’s wrong with it,’ how parents need to pray their kids into the straight and narrow, and how this is what happens when our culture turns its back on God.’

After a while they came to a lull in their conversation and the woman opposite the window, the one with the gaudy bedazzled cross on her neck, gazed down at the Mt Vernon Gazette and wondered out loud:

‘What do you say at a funeral like that?’ 

And without even looking at them, and with a volume that surprised me, I said:

‘The same damn thing that’ll be said at your funeral.’ 

They didn’t even blush. But they did look at me awkwardly.

‘I hardly think so’ the woman by the window said, sizing me up and not looking very impressed with the sum of what she saw.

And so I laid my cards down: ‘Well, I probably won’t be preaching your funeral, but I will be preaching his.’ 

And then I pointed at her theatrically worn bible, the one resting on top of her copy of A Heart Like His by Beth Moore, and I said: ‘If you actually took that seriously you’d shut up right now.

     “No one is righteous, not one.” 

Sounds a little harsh, right? I mean, no one?

Just try filling in the blank of Paul’s assertion. Think of the best person you can and stick them down inside Paul’s sentence and listen to how it sounds.

No one is righteous, not one, not even Mother Theresa.

No one is righteous, not one, not even Gandhi.

No one is righteous, not one, not even your Mother.

When you hear today’s scripture text the first time through it sounds like this is Exhibit A for everything people hate about Christianity.

Here’s this God who made us and then made a measuring stick that was just a little bit higher than the best of us and a lot higher than most of us.

But to hear it that way is to miss who Paul is speaking to and where this falls in Paul’s letter.

In case you’re just tuning in, so far Paul has spent chapters 1 and 2 of his letter pointing out everything that’s wrong with the world. Everything that’s broken in God’s creation.

And in chapters 1 and 2, Paul makes his case by pointing his finger at “those people.”


Not the good, every Sunday people at church in Rome but those other people. ‘Society.’ You know, those people? The ‘lost’ people who don’t believe in God, who don’t attend worship, don’t raise their children right.

Those people.

They’re greedy, Paul says. Violent even. They’ve got no morals or values.

‘Just listen to the way they talk’ says Paul, ‘all cursing and slander.’

Those people.

They’re broken the institution of marriage and the family. They just hop from one bed to the next, one mate to another, like people are just a means to an end.

Those people.

They’ve got no commitment. No decency.

Paul spends chapters 1 and 2 pointing at ‘those people’ and ticking off their every sin and flaw.

And you can bet that with each and every indictment, you can imagine as the accusations build, the members at First Church Rome nodded right along with self-satisfied smiles on their faces.

You can imagine them saying to themselves: ‘That’s right, that’s exactly how those people are. Thank God I’m not like those people.’ 

And that’s Paul’s rhetorical trap because in chapter 3 he turns his aim at the good People of God, and he says: ‘No one is righteous, not one.’ 

Which is Paul’s way of saying: not even you.

And then Paul hits them, us, with this battering ram of accusations about how we sin every day with our minds and our lips and our hands and feet, by what we do and by what we leave undone.

And Paul lifts those accusations, one by one, word for word, straight out of scripture.

And that’s Paul’s point.

That’s Paul’s point when he says we’re not justified by the law, by scripture.

You see, the takeaway from today’s text isn’t that you’re a perpetual disappointment to God. If that’s what you leave with then you’ve missed what Paul’s doing here.

The takeaway is that belonging to a religious community doesn’t make you any closer to God than anyone else. Believing in the bible doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else because that same bible indicts you too.

You may go to church every Sunday but the Book of Micah says God hates your praise if there’s a single poor person in the streets.

You may be a good mother and love your kids, but the Book of Luke says if you don’t love Jesus more then…

You may be a clergy person like me, you might’ve given your whole career to God, but the best the Book of Matthew has to say about that is that I’m like a white-washed tomb, a hypocrite with lies on the inside.

Don’t confuse your place in the pews with a place in God’s favor- that’s Paul’s point- because the only advantage this (the bible) gives us is that it tells the truth about us.

Who we really are.

    ‘No one is righteous. Not one.’ 

The woman by the window actually did shut up for a moment, clearly trying to figure out how this had become a 3 person conversation.

And then it hit her: ‘Have you been eavesdropping on us?’ 

‘Of course not,’ I lied.

‘Why don’t you mind your own business’  she scolded.

‘But that’s just it’ I said, ‘it is my business. I’m a preacher and so I couldn’t help but notice that I had two Pharisees sitting next to me.’ 

She narrowed her eyes and lowered her voice: ‘Listen, young man. I’ve been saved. I love the Lord, talk to him and read his Word every day.’ 

‘Apparently you’ve not retained very much’ I mumbled.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ she asked with mustered outrage.

‘It means you’re no better than that guy over there’ and I pointed to a homeless guy who was nursing his coffee and muttering to himself.

‘In fact, you’re not good at all. And neither am I. None of us is in a position to judge anyone else, and someone with a worn out bible should already know that.’ 

I thought that I’d just played a trump card. The end.

‘Well, isn’t that exactly what you’re doing right now? she asked me. And suddenly I felt the tables turning.

‘Uh, what do you mean?’ I asked.

‘Well, it sounds like you’ve been eavesdropping on us for the last 10 minutes and judging us the whole time.” 

I felt myself blush: ‘Not the WHOLE time.’ 

‘I bet you started judging us before you even heard what we were talking about.’ 

‘I did not’ I lied, ‘Don’t forget you’re talking to a pastor.’ 

And I thought that was the end of it, but then she turned her chairs towards me, like we are all together, and she asked:

     ‘So, what makes you do it? Why are you so quick to stick your nose in other people’s junk and judge them?’ 

I considered punting on her question, telling her I had work to do and leaving it at that.

But she’d caught me eavesdropping so I thought I should balance out my vice with a little virtue.

I told her the truth: ‘Probably because I have junk of my own that I don’t know what to do with.’ 

‘Me too’ she said, and suddenly she dropped her guard like we were fellow addicts at an AA Meeting.

She said: ‘I’m constantly carrying around things I’m not proud of, things I’m ashamed of, things I try to keep locked and hidden away, because I don’t know what to do with them.’  

And then her friend, the one opposite the window, sipped her coffee and then said: ‘Me three.’ 

I’ve been a pastor long enough to know that if you’d been sitting there you too would’ve said…

Me four.

Because it’s true of all of us.

We condemn and we criticize and we label and we gossip and we judge.

We raise an eyebrow at other people’s mistakes, other people’s sins, other people’s problems- because we’re carrying around our own junk and we don’t know what to do with it.

But Paul shows us what to do with our junk.

Paul shows us what to do with the worst secrets about ourselves that we carry around with us.

You can’t forget that when Paul directs his attack in chapter 3 at religious people, the first person Paul has in mind is Paul.

You can’t forget that when Paul levels the accusation that ‘No one is righteous, not one’ Paul’s speaking in the first personbefore he’s speaking about any other person.

Paul cursed and condemned Christians. Paul’s encouraged executions and stood by smiling while Christians were stoned to death.

Paul’s the one whose throat was an open grave.

Paul’s the one who used his tongue to deceive and had venom on his lips.

Paul’s the one whose mouth was full of bitterness, whose feet were swift  to shed blood.

Paul’s the one who knew not the way of peace… until he met the Resurrected Christ.

And after he meets the Risen Christ, Paul is free to own up to all of it.

All the junk he would otherwise want to hide and deny and push down and repress and keep locked and hidden away.

Paul shows us what we can do with our junk.

Paul shows us that if we’re more convinced of God’s grace than the sin we’re convinced we must keep secret from everyone, then we can open up this junk we carry around with us and we can say:

 ‘No one is righteous, no one, especially not me. 

     Look at what I’ve done. 

     This is who I was. 

     These are the words I spoke in anger that can never be taken back

     This is the relationship I pretended was fine until it unraveled away. 

     These are the kids I took for granted until they were grown and gone. 

     This is the person I see in the every mirror every day and have never learned  to love. 

    This is the addiction I always insisted didn’t have the better of me. 

     This is the insecurity that masks itself as cynicism. 

     These are all the people I refused to forgive. 

     This is the person closest to me I cheated on…

     But God…God forgives…all of it.’ 

Paul shows us that our worst junk can become a living, breathing example of what God’s amazing grace can do.

Which is kind of a shame.

Because I’ve been a pastor long enough to know that most of you pretend you’re not so desperate as to need a grace that’s anywhere near amazing.

Most of you pretend you’re not actually carting this junk around and have no idea what to do with it.

For many of you, church is the last place where you’re really you, and Sunday morning is the time of the week you’re the least open about who you really are.

Church is where you grin and pretend like it’s all good and you’ve got your ______together.

Many of you have come to church for years so determined to not let anyone find out what’s going with you that you’ve never trusted Jesus Christ with it either.

And that’s a shame.

Because Paul shows us- the things we’re most burdened by are the things the world most needs to hear.

Paul shows us that if we open this up and admit that no one is righteous, not even me…and here I’ll give you a ‘for instance’

Paul shows us that if we can say that then what someone else can hear is: ‘If God’s grace is for them…then it’s even for me…’ 

     Yesterday afternoon nearly 500 gathered to celebrate that young man’s funeral.

We sang Amazing Grace.

We heard a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. It was different words but the same meaning. And I preached, the Gospel.

The same message I’d preach at any of your deaths.

After the funeral, I was walking past the receiving line, which started here at the altar and snaked its way to the other end of the building, and one of the deceased’s friends grabbed my elbow and said to me: ‘If what you said is true for him, then it’s true for me too…right?’ 

     And I said: ‘Yeah.’ 

    And he let go of my elbow and said, ‘Thanks for sharing that.’ 


Sermon: Jesus, a Prophet for All People

Together, this Sunday and next represent one of the reasons I love hearing the Gospels each Sunday. The two Gospel narratives from Luke are organically connected and provide wonderful lessons when read in the light of each other.

  • Today’s Gospel: Luke 7:1-10, is the story of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant.
  • Next Sunday’s Gospel: Luke 7:11-17, is the story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain.

The two characters in these stories could not be more different. And yet Jesus loved and helped them both.

centurion-and-jesusThe Centurion The centurion was a Roman military officer who had responsibility for a company of about 100 soldiers. The story tells us he also had a servant who was a very important member of his household. This servant had a serious illness and was near death, and the centurion became deeply concerned. He impresses me as a typical military leader — a man of action who goes to work to find a solution to this problem. When he heard about Jesus, the centurion was so impressed that he developed a strategy for reaching out to him for help.

First, he figured that since Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, he should send some Jewish leaders to put in a good word for him. It so happened that this centurion had been kind to his Jewish neighbors and had even contributed generously so that they could have a synagogue building. So he called the synagogue leaders and they went and appealed to Jesus: “This man is worthy of your help,” they said. Jesus agreed to go to his house.

While they were on the way, the centurion heard about it and sent another group of friends out to meet them. The centurion appreciated his help, they told Jesus, but he didn’t actually expect him to come to his house. He knew that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and that coming to a Gentile’s home could cause trouble for him. Furthermore, he recognized that Jesus was a great man, a man who had the authority of God. As a military man, he knew what authority was all about. If you had a high rank, all you had to do was give the order and the mission would be carried out. He was a centurion; he gave those kinds of orders all the time. So this second delegation told Jesus, our friend says, “Just say the word and I know my servant will be healed.”

Well, that brought a big smile to Jesus’ face. Don’t you love it when Jesus get surprised, when he expresses delight? Listen to what the Gospel says: “When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’”

I like this centurion. He is a practical, direct, no-nonsense, respectful person. I’ve met so many like him over the course of my life and ministry. When there is a problem, he’s the one who will find a way to solve it. He may have high ideals, but in the final analysis he is utterly realistic. He will see to it that the job gets done. He is a man of action, and even though he may be an outsider in the place where he lives, he will do what it takes to discover what the proper channels are, and he will use them to achieve a goal. He won the good will of the people around him — people who had a right to despise him as an enemy. When he found himself in a tough situation, he found out who could help him the most, and he used an effective strategy to secure Jesus’ assistance.

Another reason I like him so much is that he found a way to express his faith in Jesus that was consistent with his personality and position. As a military man, he saw Jesus as the Supreme Commander, the One who could simply give the order, and God’s will would be done. It was a simple as that — “Speak the word, Jesus, and I know it will happen.”

In summary: The centurion is a man of action and strategy, whose faith reaches out to engage Jesus. He is utterly practical and goal-oriented. He believes that Jesus is the great Commander and has confidence that Jesus will get things done.

widow of nainThe Widow We won’t take the time to go into as much detail about the widow at Nain in the next pericope. Here’s a summary of her situation:

The widow that Jesus helps, that we will read about in next week’s Gospel, is one who has lost everything, who has no more strength to act. Her son has died and she is left to face a life of poverty and difficulty. As a widow, she faces the prospect of living on the utter fringes of society. Without a husband, and now without a son, no strategy she might come up with could help her.

She was helpless and hopeless.

In the story, we don’t hear about her faith, as we do in the story of centurion. Instead, we hear strictly about Jesus’ compassion. We hear how he saw her, felt for her, spoke to her. We hear how he went to the bier of her dead son, spoke the word of life, then raised him up and gave him back to her.

Not a word of hers is recorded. She initiates no action or plan. She doesn’t even cry out for Jesus to help her. She is just there, helpless and hopeless in the place of death, and Jesus intervenes.

* * *

What I want you to see is that Jesus loved and helped both of these people.

His love and salvation runs the gamut. He helps those with an active and creative faith and those who can scarcely scrape up any faith at all. He helps those whose faith is energetic. He helps those whose faith is weak. He helps the strong military officer. He helps the broken grieving widow.

He helps everyone in between too. There is not a person in this world that Jesus won’t help. In fact, he is here for you and me today. And the good news is: he will come to you right where you are. You can be yourself. You can be honest about your sins and shortcomings. You can tell him your real problems, fears, and concerns.

Wherever you are, whatever your need, Jesus the Messiah, the One who comes with God’s authority to heal and restore and make all things new, and to bring life where there is death, is here for you, for all of us.



Christ: The Fulfillment of Prophecy

by D. James Kennedy

Some time ago I had the opportunity to speak to a man who had no belief whatsoever in the Scriptures as any sort of divine revelation from God. He was a writer who was articulate and well-educated. While he was well-read, he was completely ignorant of any evidences for the truthfulness of the Christian faith and the Scriptures which reveal it. He said the Bible was simply a book written by men, just like any other book. I said, “That’s very interesting. I would like to read some statements to you about someone and have you tell me, assuredly, without question, about whom I am reading.”

He agreed and I began to read:

•     “Those who hate me without cause are more numerous than the hairs of my head” (Ps 69:4).

•     “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and His Anointed One” (Ps 2:2).

•     “Even my friend in whom I trusted, one who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Ps 41:9).

•     “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zch 13:7).

•     “Then I said to them, ‘If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ So they weighed my wages, 30 pieces of silver. ‘Throw it to the potter,’ the Lord said to me—this magnificent price I was valued by them. So I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw it into the house of the Lord, to the potter” (Zch 11:12–13).

•     “They are striking the judge of Israel on the cheek with a rod” (Mc 5:1).

•     “I gave My back to those who beat Me, and My cheeks to those who tore out My beard. I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting” (Is 50:6).

•     “They pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:16).

•     “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1).

•     “Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: ‘He relies on the Lord; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him’ ” (Ps 22:7–8).

•     “They gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps 69:21).

•     “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me” (Ps 22:14).

•     “Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted” (Is 53:4).

•     “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Is 53:7).

•     “They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing” (Ps 22:18).

•     “He submitted Himself to death” (Is 53:12).

•     “He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels” (Is 53:12).

•     “You may not break any of its bones” (Ex 12:46).

•     “He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken” (Ps 34:20).

•     “They will look at Me whom they pierced” (Zch 12:10).

•     “They made His grave with the wicked, and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully” (Is 53:9).

•     “For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your Faithful One to see the Pit” (Ps 16:10).

•     “You ascended to the heights, taking away captives; You received gifts from people, even from the rebellious, so that the Lord God might live there” (Ps 68:18).

•     “The Lord declared to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool’ ” (Ps 110:1).

I said to him, “About whom did I read?”

He replied, “Well, you obviously read of the life and ministry and suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”

I said, “Is there any question in your mind about that?”

He answered, “No, that could refer to no one else.”

I replied, “Well then, I would want you to understand that all of the Scriptures I just read to you are taken from the Old Testament, which was completed some four hundred years before Jesus was born. No critic, no atheist, no agnostic has ever once claimed that any one of those writings was written after His birth. In fact, they were translated from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria some 150 years before He was born. If this is merely a book written by men, would you please explain to me how these words were written?”

He said, “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He was completely nonplussed. He had never heard those things before in his life. Indeed they cannot be explained by any purely humanistic presuppositions.

It is noteworthy that in no other religious writings in the world do we find any specific predictive prophecies like we find in the Scripture. You will find no predictive prophecies whatsoever in the writings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Lao-Tse, or Hinduism. Yet in the Scripture there are well over two thousand prophecies, most of which have already been fulfilled.

They are so specific in nature that they burn all the bridges behind them. If they are not fulfilled, it leaves no room for excuse. How can these be explained? Of all the attacks that have ever been made upon the Scripture, there has never been one book written by a skeptic to disprove the prophecies of the Scripture. Though the Bible has been attacked at every other place, the one place where God rests His inspiration is that the things He foretells come infallibly to pass.

The Bible prophecies are altogether unexpected! I know of no one ever prophesying that any other human being would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. That is exceedingly improbable. The chance of it happening by coincidence is incalculable. No, the Bible is not merely a book written by men; it is a book written by God through men, and the heart of its prophetic message is Jesus Christ.[1]


[1] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (xxviii–xxix). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Questions about Marriage: Does a wife have to submit to her husband?

Submission is a very important issue in relation to marriage. Even before sin entered the world, there was still the principle of headship (1 Timothy 2:13). Adam was created first, and Eve was created to be a “helper” for Adam (Genesis 2:18–20). At the same time, since there was no sin, there was no authority for man to obey except God’s authority. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin entered the world, and then authority was needed. Therefore, God established the authority needed to enforce the laws of the land and also to provide us with the protection we need. First, we need to submit to God, which is the only way we can truly obey Him (James 1:21; 4:7). In 1 Corinthians 11:2–3, we find that the husband is to submit to Christ as Christ did to God. Then the verse says that the wife should follow his example and submit to her husband.

Submission is a natural response to loving leadership. When a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25–33), then submission is a natural response from a wife to her husband. The Greek word translated “submit,” hupotasso, is the continuing form of the verb. This means that submitting to God, the government, or a husband is not a one-time act. It is a continual attitude, which becomes a pattern of behavior. The submission talked about in Ephesians 5 is not a one-sided subjection of a believer to a selfish, domineering person. Biblical submission is designed to be between two Spirit-filled believers who are mutually yielded to each other and to God. Submission is a two-way street. Submission is a position of honor and completeness. When a wife is loved as the church is loved by Christ, submission is not difficult. Ephesians 5:24 says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” This verse is saying that the wife is to submit to her husband in everything that is right and lawful. Therefore, the wife is under no obligation to disobey the law or God in the name of submission.

Matthew Henry wrote: “The woman was made out of Adam’s side. She was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” Believers are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). In context, everything in Ephesians 5:19–33 is a result of being filled with the Spirit. Spirit-filled believers are to be worshipful (5:19), thankful (5:20), and submissive (5:21). Paul then follows his line of thought on Spirit-filled living and applies it to husbands and wives in verses 22–33. A wife should submit to her husband, not because women are inferior, but because that is how God designed the marital relationship to function. Submission is not a wife’s being a “doormat” for her husband. Rather, with the help of the Holy Spirit, a wife submits to her husband, and a husband sacrificially loves his wife.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Relationships: Can/should a Christian who is a virgin marry someone who is not a virgin?

The ideal situation for Christian marriage is, of course, when both parties are virgins, having understood that marriage is the only place in God’s eyes for sexual relations. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Many times, a person raised in a godly home and saved from childhood wishes to marry someone who was saved in their 20s and 30s and who brings to their Christian marriage a past lived according to worldly standards. While God puts our sins as far from us as the east is from the west when we come to Him in repentance and faith in Christ (Psalm 103:12), people have long memories and forgetting someone’s past may not be easy. The inability to forgive and forget the past mistakes of one of the marriage partners will definitely influence the marriage negatively.

Before entering into a marriage with someone with a sexual past, it’s crucial to understand that salvation and forgiveness of sin is given to us by grace. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). When we begin to understand what it means to be truly forgiven, we begin to see through God’s eyes and how much He must love us, and that helps us forgive others. To forgive is to let go of the other person’s past and see him or her as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ died for his/her sin and the potential spouse now has to decide if it can be lived with. This is where doctrine moves from the theoretical to the practical.

In matters of forgiveness, it always helps to see our own pasts in God’s eyes. Sexual sin is certainly grievous to God, but so is lying, cheating, bad thoughts, drinking/smoking too much, impatience, pride, and unforgiveness. Who among us is without sin and can “cast the first stone”? Before coming to Christ each of us is “dead in transgressions and sins” and is made alive only by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1–5). The question is can we forgive others as Christ forgave us? Completely and from the heart? Being able to do so is a mark of a true Christian. Jesus said if we don’t forgive, neither will God forgive us (Matthew 6:14–15). He did not mean that forgiving others is a way of procuring God’s forgiveness, which we know is by grace alone, but rather that a forgiving heart is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a true believer. Continued unforgiveness is a sign of a hard, unregenerate heart.

Before entering into a marriage with a non-virgin, much thought, prayer, and introspection is in order. James 1:5 tells us that if we seek wisdom, God will grant it freely to all who ask. Speaking with a godly pastor and being involved in a Bible teaching church will help in the decision making process. Some churches have excellent pre-engagement classes. Also, talking freely and openly with the potential mate about these things may reveal things in both parties’ pasts that need to be addressed and forgiven.

Marriage is a challenge in the best of circumstances and takes a lot of work to make it successful. Both partners need, and deserve, to be loved unconditionally. Ephesians 5 describes the roles of both husband and wife in marriage, but the passage begins with the overriding principle for both: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Willing sacrifice and the strength to choose to be a servant to the betterment of the marriage are the marks of a maturing spiritual man and woman who honor God. Wisely choosing a spouse based upon biblical qualities is important, but of equal importance are our own ongoing spiritual growth and our surrender to God’s will in our lives. A man who is seeking to be the man God wants him to be will be able to help his wife be the woman God desires her to be and, despite their pasts, they will be able to build their marriage into a God-honoring union that delights them both.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What is the meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is precipitated by and in answer to a question posed to Jesus by a lawyer. In this case the lawyer would have been an expert in the Mosaic Law and not a court lawyer of today. The lawyer’s question was, “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). This question provided Jesus with an opportunity to define what His disciples relationship should be to their neighbors. The text says that the scribe (lawyer) had put the question to Jesus as a test, but the text does not indicate that there was hostility in the question. He could have simple been seeking information. The way the question was asked does however give us some insight into where the scribes heart was spiritually. He was making the assumption that man must do something to obtain eternal life. Although this could have been an opportunity for Jesus to discuss salvation issues, He chose a different course and focuses on our relationships and what it means to love.

Jesus will answer the question using what is called the Socratic method; i.e. answering a question with a question, “He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10:26). By referring to the Law, Jesus is directing the man to an authority they both would accept as truth, the Old Testament. In essence He is asking the scribe what does Scripture say about this and how does he interpret it. Jesus thus avoids an argument and puts Himself in the position of evaluating the scribes answer instead of the scribe evaluating His answer. This directs the discussion towards Jesus’ intended lesson. The scribe answers Jesus’ question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This is virtually the same answer that Jesus had given to the same question in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.

In verse 28, Jesus affirms that the lawyer’s answer is correct. Jesus’ reply tells the scribe that he has given an orthodox (proper Scripturally) answer, but then goes on in verse 28 to tell him that this kind of love requires more than an emotional feeling; it would also include orthodox practice as well; he would need to “practice what he preached.” The scribe was an educated man and realized that he could not possibly keep that law nor would he have necessarily wanted to. There would always be people in his life that he could not love. Thus he tries to limit the law’s command by limiting its parameters and asked the question, “who is my neighbor?” The word neighbor in the Greek means someone who is near, and in the Hebrew it means someone that you have an association with. This interprets the word in a limited sense, referring to a fellow Jew and would have excluded Samaritans, Romans, and other foreigners. Jesus then gives the parable of the Good Samaritan to correct the false understanding that the scribe had of who his neighbor is, and what his duty is to his neighbor.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had including his clothing, and is beaten to within an inch of his life. That road was treacherously winding and was a favorite hideout of robbers and thieves. The next character Jesus introduces into His story is a priest. He spends no time describing the priest and only tells of how he showed no love or compassion for the man by failing to help him and passing on the other side of the road so as not to get involved. If there would have been anyone who would have known God’s law of love it would have been the priest. By nature of his position he was to be a person of compassion desiring to help others. Unfortunately love was not a word for him that required action on the behalf of someone else. The next person to pass by in the parable of the Good Samaritan was a Levite, and he does exactly the same thing that the priest did; he passed by without showing any compassion. Again he would have known the law, but he also failed to show the injured man compassion.

The next person to come by was the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man. Samaritans were considered a low class of people by the Jews since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Therefore, Jews would have nothing to do with them. We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan, he did not consider the man’s race or religion. The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in dire need of assistance and assist him he did, above and beyond the minimum required. He would dress the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to sooth the pain). He put the man on his animal and took him to an inn for a time of healing and paid the innkeeper with his own money. He then went beyond common decency and told the innkeeper to take could care of the man and he would pay for any extra expenses on his return trip. The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need.

Because the good man was a Samaritan Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law in their lifestyle and conduct. Jesus now asks the lawyer if he can apply the lesson to his own life with the question, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36). Once again the lawyer’s answer is telling of his personal hardness of heart. He cannot bring himself to say the word Samaritan, he refers to the “good man” as “he who showed mercy.” His hate for the Samaritans (his neighbor) was so strong that he couldn’t even address him in a proper way. Jesus then tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” meaning that he should start living what the law tells him to do.

By ending the encounter in this manner Jesus is telling us to follow the Samaritans example in our own conduct; i.e. we are to show compassion and love for those we encounter in our everyday activities. We are to love others (vs. 27) regardless of their race or religion; the criteria is need. If they need and we have the supply then we are to give generously and freely, without expectation of return. This is an impossible obligation for the lawyer, and for us. We cannot always keep the law because of our human condition; our heart and desires are mostly of self and selfishness. When left to our own we do the wrong thing, failing to meet the law. We can hope that the lawyer saw this and came to the realization that there was nothing he could do to justify himself, that he needed a personal savior to atone for his lack of ability to save himself from his sins. Thus the lessons of the parable of the Good Samaritan are three-fold: (1) On the one hand we are to set aside our prejudice and show love and compassion for others. (2) Our neighbor is anyone we encounter, we are all creatures of the creator and we are to love all of mankind as Jesus has taught. (3) Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a savior and this is Jesus.

There is another possible way to interpret the Parable of the Good Samaritan; and that is as a metaphor. In this interpretation the injured man is all men in their fallen condition of sin. The robbers are Satan attacking man with the intent of destroying their relationship with God. The lawyer is mankind without the true understanding of God and His Word. The priest is religion in an apostate condition. The Levite is legalism that instills prejudice into the hearts of believers. The Samaritan is Jesus who provides the way to spiritual health. Although this interpretation teaches good lessons and the parallels between Jesus and the Samaritan are striking, this understanding draws attention to Jesus that does not appear to be intended in the text. Therefore we must conclude that the teaching of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is simply a lesson on what it means to love one’s neighbor.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

As Jesus approached His death, what kept Him going?

In John 12:23, Jesus knew that “the hour” had come for His death. Considering what was ahead, He confessed, “Now My soul is troubled” (v. 27). The term used here is strong and signifies horror, anxiety, and agitation. Jesus’ contemplation of taking on the wrath of God for the sins of the world caused revulsion in the sinless Savior (2 Cor. 5:21).

What kept Him going was the principle that Jesus lived by and would die by: “Father, glorify Your name” (v. 28). See 7:18; 8:29, 50. The fact that the Father answered the Son in an audible voice signifies its importance: “I have both glorified it and will glorify.” This is only one of three instances during Jesus’ ministry when this took place (Matt. 3:17—His baptism; 17:5—His transfiguration).

Jesus acknowledged that “the ruler of this world” was involved (v. 31). This is a reference to Satan (see 14:30; 16:11; Matt. 4:8,9; Luke 4:6,7; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; 6:12). Although the Cross might have appeared to signal Satan’s victory over God, in reality it marked Satan’s defeat (Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14). This would occur as Jesus was “lifted up from the earth” (v. 32), referring to His crucifixion (v. 33; 18:32). This is a veiled prediction of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus referred to the story of Numbers 21:5–9 where the Israelite people who looked at the serpent lifted up by Moses were healed. The point of this illustration or analogy is in the “lifted up.” Just as Moses lifted up the snake on the pole so that all who looked upon it might live physically, those who look to Christ, who was lifted up on the cross for the sins of the world, will live spiritually and eternally.

The people’s response was to ask Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?” (v. 34). The term “law” was used broadly enough to include not only the 5 books of Moses but also the whole of the Old Testament (Rom. 10:4).Perhaps they had in mind Isaiah 9:7 which promised that Messiah’s kingdom would last forever or Ezekiel 37:25 where God promised that the final David would be Israel’s prince forever (Ps. 89:35–37). To their question, Jesus offered them a final invitation to focus on His theme of believing in the Messiah and Son of God (vv. 35, 36).

From The MacArthur Daily Bible Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Bibles, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc, Nashville, TN 37214, http://www.thomasnelson.com.