Matthew 19:16-30

Matthew 19

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

 

In Emmanuel Carrère’s book, The Kingdom, he writes something that one rarely hears. He writes that he identifies with the rich young ruler of our text. Carrère writes that he still feels the pull of the Christian message that, as he puts it, “to really win I’d have to lose.” Even so, other voices in his head win out. After reflecting on his great success and his great intelligence and his great wealth, he writes, “Nevertheless, I think that the little voice of the Gospel is right. And like the rich young man, I walk away, sad and pensive, for I have great wealth.”[1]

Say what you will about this, but at least Carrère is exhibiting a degree of honesty rarely seen in our day. There are numbers of Christians who sing loudly in church, put money in the plate, and serve in various capacities, who, if they were placed in this story, would likewise walk away sad with the rich young man instead of giving it all away to stay with Jesus.

How about you? How about me?

Craig Keener observes that “Greek traditions also reported aristocratic young men who wanted to study under a famous teacher but were too spoiled to carry out what the teacher demanded.”[2] Am I too spoiled to follow Jesus? Are you? What is clear is this: the young man in our text certainly was. Let us watch his exchange with Jesus.

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Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.3—”The Father almighty: Who is God?”

In Joseph Heller’s classic work, Catch-22, he writes of a young soldier named Appleby. I find what he ways about Appleby to be unsettling. Heller writes:

Appleby was a fair-haired boy from Iowa who believed in God, Motherhood, and the American Way of Life, without ever thinking about any of them, and everybody who knew him liked him.[1]

Appleby believed in God as a cultural inheritance right alongside motherhood and America. Tellingly, he “believed” in these things “without ever thinking about any of them.”

Church, I must say this plainly: this simply will not do. “Belief” as an inheritance, “belief” as a cultural expectation, “belief” as a naïve acceptance of a reality one has not really considered with any seriousness, “belief” without “thinking about” that which we profess…none of these will suffice in an increasingly post-Christian age.

We must know what we mean when we say the word “God.” We must “think about” this. Otherwise, our belief is just a fancy way of saying “ignorance.” What is more, let us be clear about this: many of those who are seeking to pull you or your children or your grandchildren away from the faith are thinking about what they believe. A church without knowledge of its own creed and convictions is a church that truly is without either creed or conviction!

Let us understand what we mean when we say “God.” The Apostles’ Creed offers us two critically important attributes that helps us toward understanding. It says, “I believe in God, the Father almighty.” This little line is powerful in what it asserts and it demands our careful consideration.

God is Father.

God is almighty.

We cannot have a proper understanding of God without holding to both of these. Let us begin with the second attribute, then the first.

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Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.2—”I believe in God: Until They Find Their Rest in Thee”

Richard John Neuhaus once passed on this wonderful little anecdote:

At the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, the confessing atheist organization, Freedom from Religion Foundation, for the second year in a row put up a sign next to the Christmas tree. “In this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our material world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” On the backside of the sign they put the admonition, “Thou shalt not steal.” Sez who?[1]

Now, I suppose the atheists who put up this sign would say they were being tongue-in-cheek here, but I do believe that beneath the chuckle there is a very important truth: no matter what we might say about God on the front of our sign we find ways to smuggle Him in on the back. In other words, man is a religious creature and, as such, belief in God is in some ways unavoidable.

Neuhaus also passed this along.

The Barna Research Group of Ventura, California, does come up with these odd reports…The Barna people say, “Many atheists and agnostics possess theological perspectives that parallel the beliefs of Christians.” One out of three reads the Bible, most believe that there is a Heaven, and one out of five prays to God during a typical week. At least they’re Christian atheists and agnostics, of a sort.[2]

Here we see the point once again: many who proclaim disbelief on the front of the sign still find ways of saying “Credo! I believe!” on the back.

I want to consider the first line of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God…” Before we get to what this God is like, let us first consider the fact that humanity is drawn to believe that there is a God.

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Matthew 19:13-15

Matthew 19

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Charles Dickens once wrote, “In the world of little children, the greatest hurt of all is injustice.”[1]

I suspect there might be something to that. And if there is something to that, then the little children mentioned in Matthew 19 risked being very hurt indeed! For an injustice was being perpetrated against them. Namely, they were being kept from Jesus and their parents were being rebuked by Jesus’ closest followers!

This could have gone down as a very ugly episode, but Jesus would have none of it. In fact, Jesus’ reaction to the children and their parents being turned away changed this into something profoundly beautiful!

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Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt. 1—”I believe: On the Nature of Faith”

On April 6, 1252, a man named Peter of Verona was traveling from Como to Milan. Along the way he met a group of assassins. These men were Manichaeans against whom Peter had been preaching. One of the assassins, a man named Carino, struck Peter with an axe in the head. It knocked him to the ground. Before he died, however, he had just enough strength to rise up on his knees, take his finger, and write in his own blood a form of the first three words of the Apostles’ Creed: “Credo in Deum,” “I believe in God.”[1] Then he was struck down for good.

The painter Fra Angelico has immortalized this amazing moment in his painting of the scene. There, we see the bloodied Peter of Verona on bended knee, his murderer preparing for the final deadly blow, and the words in his own blood: “Credo in Deum.”

That Peter would write the first words of the Apostles’ Creed is telling and moving. In his last moments he wanted to offer an articulation of his heart’s conviction concerning the Christian faith, concerning Jesus. So he wrote “Credo!” It is my sincere prayer that we, too, if we knew that our next breath would be our last, would write or say or sing or shout, “Credo! I believe!”

The Apostles’ Creed is ancient creed, the early forms of which reach back to the 2nd century, that many churches the world over look to as a helpful and inspiring summary statement of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

We are Baptist Christians and some Baptists are of the opinion that creeds have no place in our lives together. I would argue that creeds are helpful, historically-grounded, and unifying statements of faith that have been treasured by Baptists. What Baptists reject is (a) the elevation of any human statement to the level of scripture and/or (b) the imposition of man-made statements upon the people of God in an oppressive man. But there is a right use of creeds.

In fact, if you object to something like the Apostles’ Creed you may find it interesting to know that Baptist history does indeed show some Baptists turning to the creeds as helpful tools. For instance, some of the General Baptists of England, in 1678, included in their “Orthodox Creed” the following article:

Article XXXVIII

Of the Three Creeds.

The Three Creeds, (viz.) Nicene Creed, Athanasius his Creed, and the Apostles Creed, (as they are commonly called) ought thoroughly to be received and believed. For we believe they may be proved by most undoubted Authority of holy Scripture, and are necessary to be understood of all Christians; and to be instructed in the knowledge of them, by the Ministers of Christ, according to the Analogie of Faith, recorded in sacred Scriptures (upon which these Creeds are grounded), and Catechistically opened, and expounded in all Christian families, for the edification of Young and Old; which might be a means to prevent Heresy in doctrine and practice, these Creeds containing all things in a brief manner, that are necessary to be known, fundamentally, in order to our Salvation…

Well, that is quite a statement! I believe these earlier Baptists were correct! There is more.

In 1905, the Baptist World Alliance had their inaugural meeting in London. There, under the guidance of the BWA president, they joined together for the recitation of The Apostles’ Creed. The BWA would do so again in 2005 in their meeting in Birmingham, England.[2]

Baptist theologian Steve Harmon, quoting Keith Parker’s Baptists in Europe, has pointed out that “the first paragraph of the confession adopted in 1977 by German-speaking Baptist unions in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland ‘presupposes the Apostles’ Creed as a common confession of Christendom’…and the initial paragraph of the confession approved by the Swedish-Speaking Baptist Union of Finland in 1979 ‘accepts the Apostolic Creed as the comprehensive creed for the union.’”[3] James Leo Garrett has further pointed out that the “latest declaration by European Baptists recognizes the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Symbol of Chalcedon.”[4]

On occasion one hears the protest against Baptist use of Creeds that Baptists hold to “no creed but the Bible.” But this statement needs to be rightly understood. Yes, Baptists adhere to the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, the scriptures alone. But Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett has persuasively argued that sola scriptura (scripture alone) does not mean nuda scriptura (naked scripture) but rather means suprema scriptura (the scriptures as supreme).[5] Put another way, Baptists do not believe it is wrong to draft and recite and use confessions and creeds that are summaries of the faith. We simply believe it is always wrong to elevate any such creed or confession to the level of the scriptures. These creeds may serve as helps (thus scripture is not denuded) but they must always be subservient to and judged by the supreme standard of scripture (thus suprema scriptura). We intend to judge the Apostles’ Creed in the light of the scriptures which are our supreme norm and guide.

We begin with the first word, “Credo,” “I believe.”

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Adam Harwood’s new book, Christian Theology, and my response to an uncharitable reviewer

Adam Harwood of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has written a very helpful and insightful and good systematic theology that I would like to recommend. I do not normally do this, but I was a bit irritated by one negative review (not, I hasten to add, because it was negative—it’s a free country!—but because of the nature of the reviewer’s arguments) so I posted a bit of a review/response here.  Harwood’s books is a great contribution to Baptist systematics. I’d encourage you to get a copy!

Jude 22-25

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Jude

22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24 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, 25 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.

Baptists do not have saints…or at least not officially so! In reality, however, we kind of do. Or, at the least, there are figures we have revered and canonized in a sense. For Southern Baptists, one such person would be Lottie Moon, the famed missionary to China in whose name Southern Baptists contribute to the cause of international missions every Christmas through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Yes, even Southern Baptists who do not know exactly who Lottie Moon was know that her name is revered.

But did you know that Lottie Moon was once in love?!

In a fascinating article entitled “Lottie Moon’s Romance,” Erich Bridges wrote of Lottie Moon’s relationship with Professor Crawford Toy and what appeared to doom it from becoming a marriage.

Years before, during her education at Virginia’s Albemarle Female Institute, Lottie had met Crawford Toy, a young professor who taught there and at the University of Virginia. Toy was a brilliant teacher of English and classical languages, and Lottie was his star student.

“Girls were known to develop serious crushes on the eligible Professor Toy,” who was both single and handsome, writes Catherine Allen in her biography of Lottie, The New Lottie Moon Story, (Broadman). Lottie was charmed by Toy, and the attraction seems to have been mutual.

The two corresponded for years after Lottie left the Institute. Both were interested in missionary service, and they may have discussed marriage before she went to China for the first time. But Lottie had seen other bright, ambitious women like herself rushed into unhappy marriages, and she may have hesitated…

Still, Toy and Lottie kept up a regular correspondence, and their romantic attraction seems to have endured. But Toy’s career took a sad turn. He had become a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and his views came under fire in the denomination.

“Toy had been educated in the German school of ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible and apparently questioned the authority and reliability of Scripture as accepted by the churches of the denomination,” Rankin writes. “His views became evident when he (later) became a Unitarian. Lottie may have recognized the incompatibility of his teaching with a basic doctrine of her faith: that all who have yet to come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are lost, whether in China or America.”

Toy was asked to resign from the seminary faculty in 1879. Yet even after he began teaching at Harvard, Toy and Lottie considered marriage. She informed her missionary colleagues that she was leaving the mission field to “take the professor of Hebrew’s chair at Harvard University in connection with Dr. Toy,” according to a September 1881 letter written by China missionary T.P. Crawford.

Harvard would not employ women professors for another 40 years. The “connection with Dr. Toy” was apparently to be marriage. Lottie asked family members in Virginia to prepare for a wedding in the spring.

No wedding ever occurred. Perhaps Lottie could not accept Toy’s liberal theological views. Relatives of Toy understood that the pair broke their engagement because of “religious differences.”[1]

Lottie Moon apparently broke off a relationship with a man she deeply loved over his drift into theological liberalism. It is fascinating to read about this. Love mattered to Lottie, but so did doctrine and truth.

All of this raises an important question: What do you do when a person you know drifts from truth into error, from orthodoxy into heresy?

Jude, who has spent a good bit of his letter cautioning the church about false teachers, concludes his letter by speaking to these believers about how to respond to three different groups of people: (1) believers honestly struggling with doubt, (2) those who have rejected Christ, and (3) heretics and false teachers who not only have rejected Christ but want others to reject Him as well. Consider these three groups.

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