Tag Archives: Bible Study

Bible study: a good sermon on grace, shepherds and sheep

A good shepherd rescuing a lost sheep who had no hope
A good shepherd rescuing a lost sheep, who had no hope

My friend Wessel sent me this sermon a few days ago because I was looking for a good sermon on grace. Some of my friends pitched in with sermons, but this one from a South African church was BY FAR the best. I’ve listened to it 3 times already. The speaker sounds exactly like one of best friends from university, Andrew, who is from South Africa.

Here is the MP3 file. (7 megabytes, 30 minutes)

The text of the sermon is Genesis 48:1-20:

1 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him.

When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.

Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me

and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’

“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.

As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”

“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.

Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”

10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.

13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him.

14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger,and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,

“May the God before whom my fathers
    Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
    all my life to this day,

16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
    —may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
    and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
    on the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.

18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

20 He blessed them that day and said,

“In your[c] name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
    ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

So, in this story, God continues his tradition of choosing the lowly people in the world instead of the people who are seen as “better”. God does this in many cases, because he has a big heart for people who are born in a bad position. Normally in the world, people always choose what they think is best for them. They choose the prettiest girl. They choose the most tallest man. Those who need a little extra help or care are passed over. God sometimes does the complete opposite of this. Instead of choosing the obvious “best person”, he chooses a much lower person, and he lifts them up to do great things.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,

29 so that no one may boast before him.

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The speaker in the sermon explains the idea of grace by talking about sheep and shepherds. He explains that unlike clever homing pigeons, sheep are prone to wandering off and they aren’t able to find their way home. Sometimes, they get lost, and sometimes they even wander into danger. A bad shepherd would just say that he only wanted to have the best sheep – the smartest ones or the richest ones or the best looking ones or the most popular ones. But a good shepherd is sorry for the sheep that needs the most help, and is the most lost, and in the most danger. God is like a good shepherd. God sends his Son to die to atone for the sins of the bad sheep in this world, even when they didn’t deserve it. (John 3:16-17) That’s grace. But he also arranges the world in a way that bad sheep have an opportunity to reach out and find him. (Acts 17:24-27) That’s grace, too.

In my own life, I have often found myself being excluded or discounted by people, usually because of my skin color or because of my early childhood poverty or because I just struggle to understand what I’m expected to say and to do. But a funny thing often happens. Right when I am feeling the worst about being excluded, God comes along and gives me something special to do, that makes me forget about being excluded. And that’s been my experience of grace, ever since I was little and even to this day. The honor of being allowed to participate in God’s plan makes me forget what it feels like to be excluded. The very best things I’ve achieved in my life are the times where God showed me someone who started out life in a terrible situation (usually because of the selfish decisions of their irresponsible parents) and then I participated in God’s plan to lead them out of the mess they started out from.

I think one of the biggest reasons why some Christians stick with Christianity through thick and thin is that they have this experience of grace. This experience of grace means that no matter what, that sheep is going to loyal to that shepherd who chose him when he was at his lowest and most vulnerable. The first part of the choosing is obviously Jesus dying on the cross to atone for your rebellion. But after that, God carefully reveals himself to the sheep. And then there is the guidance that helps the sheep to avoid destroying himself with sin. If the sheep makes mistakes, the good shepherd has already laid down his life to pay for them. This is a lot of effort being put into this rescue operation. It’s difficult for people who have never experienced grace to realize how real and life-transforming it is. For those who have not experienced it, I really recommend that you pray to God, in the name of Jesus, and ask him to give you grace.

There are still things in my life where God has decided that he is not going to fix it. And, strangely enough, that doesn’t make me disloyal to him at all. Why not? Well, you have to read the Bible and understand that Jesus was not spared from suffering or death in his loyal obedience to God. He wasn’t given everything he wanted to feel happy all the time. When you understand that this is the character of your shepherd, then it’s much easier for you to put up with the things you lack, too.

Why do some Christians say “all sins are equally bad” and “everyone is equally guilty”?

Young women very supportive of premarital sex
Young women very supportive of premarital sex

We were having a discussion about whether the Bible teaches that sex before marriage is morally wrong, and someone said “impure thoughts counts as adultery… there isn’t a virgin among us”.

Regarding her point that lust is equal to adultery, and so no one is really a virgin, here’s Ligonier Ministries:

In demonstrating that the seventh commandment was given also to prohibit lust, Jesus is not somehow saying that an unconsummated lustful intent is sinful to the same degree as an actual extramarital affair (though both sins merit punishment). The latter is a more blatant violation of the statute against adultery, and it has greater consequences in the form of divorce and the loss of one’s reputation as a trustworthy person.

Any serious student of the Bible is aware of Jesus’ tendency to exaggerate / use hyperbole.

Also, 1 Corinthians 7 says that wives are not supposed to make a habit of denying their husbands sex. Sex withholding is more of an epidemic today than pornography, and it should also be on the adultery spectrum. It isn’t as bad as adultery, but it definitely breaks the marital covenant.

So why would someone say that lust is the same as adultery, and that there is no such thing as a virgin?

Dr. Michael Krueger recently blogged about this “all sins are equal” view.

Krueger says this:

First, to say all sins are the same is to confuse the effect of sin with the heinousness of sin. While all sins are equal in their effect (they separate us from God), they are not all equally heinous.

Second, the Bible differentiates between sins. Some sins are more severe in terms of impact (1 Cor 6:18), in terms of culpability (Rom 1:21-32), and in terms of the judgment warranted (2 Pet 2:17; Mark 9:42; James 3:1).

Krueger explains the motivation behind the slogans:

[S]ome Christians… use this phrase as way to “flatten out” all sins so that they are not distinguishable from each other. Or, to put it another way, this phrase is used to portray all human beings as precisely the same. If all sins are equal, and all people sin, then no one is more holy than anyone else.

In a world fascinated with “equality,” this usage of the phrase is particularly attractive to folks. It allows everyone to be lumped together into a single undifferentiated mass.

Such a move is also useful as a way to prevent particular behaviors from being condemned. If all sins are equal, and everyone is a sinner, then you are not allowed to highlight any particular sin (or sinner).

Needless to say, this usage of the phrase has featured largely in the recent cultural debates over issues like homosexuality. Yes, homosexuality is a sin, some Christians reluctantly concede. But, they argue, all sins are equal in God’s sight and therefore it is no different than anything else. Therefore, Christians ought to stop talking about homosexuality unless they are also willing to talk about impatience, anger, gluttony, and so on.

Krueger also posted this fascinating follow up post, where he looks at how the phrase is being used by people on Twitter.

Look at these tweets:

  • All sins are equal. People tend to forget that. There is no bigger or smaller sin. Being gay and lying, very equal.

  • all sins are equal in God’s eyes. whatever you’re doing, is no better than what someone else is doing.

  • If you have sex before marriage please don’t come on social media preaching about the wrongs of homosexuality. All sins are equal

  • Need people to realize that all sins are equal… don’t try to look down on me or question my faith just cuz you sin differently than I do.

  • Don’t understand why you’re so quick to judge me, when all sins are equal. So much for family..

  • if you think being gay is a sin, let me ask you something, have you not done anything wrong in your life? all sins are equal. we’re sinners

  • Nope no difference at all. All sins are equal no matter what you’re running for. The bible says do not judge lest ye be judged

  • A huge problem I have with religion is the notion that all sins are equal. Like pre-martial sex and murder are the same amount t of bad.

  • people do bad things because they believe that all sins are equal and ~god~ loves y’all equally so he’s going to forgive you naman ha ha ha

  • It a sin to condemn another sinner and their actions. All sins are equal. So what makes you better than the person you’re condemning?

  • I think so b/c having sex before marriage doesn’t make you less of a women then if you waited until marriage.. all sins are equal soo

  • friendly reminder, all sins are equal in gods eyes so you’re not better than I am in any way. please worry about your own sins before mine.

  • People don’t like when I suggest abortion as an option. This is a free country and all sins are equal so mind your business!!!

  • What I do is no worse than wat you do… all sins are equal no matter what it is… a sin is a sin

  • to god all sins are equal so you have no right to compare your sins to someone else’s bc in the end it doesn’t matter

The first thing that I noticed is that premarital sex and homosexuality are the most popular sins. I would think that divorce and abortion would be up there in the rankings, as well.

People want to be free to follow their hearts when seeking pleasure, then quote the Bible (badly) afterwards, to attack anyone who says that anything they’ve done is morally wrong. They would rather escape the judgment of their peers than admit fault and try to fix the mistake, and do better next time. And they would rather tell people who are hurting themselves by breaking the rules that there are no rules. It makes them feel good to “not judge” – they feel as if they are being kind. Their compassion looks good to non-Christians. And they’re promoting moral relativism which, when it becomes widespread, prevents anyone from judging them.

It’s so bad now, that the people who have morals and who make moral judgments are seen as the real bad people. The immoral people are on the offense, and even trying to ban people from being able to disagree with them.

Podcast: Was Jesus a socialist? Does Christianity teach socialism?

Let's take a deep dive into the Bible
Let’s take a deep dive into the Bible

I noticed that Christianity Today, which has turned hard left in recent years, is now openly endorsing socialism. So, I thought it might be a good idea to listen to this new episode of the Think Biblically podcast, which deals with the issue of Christianity and socialism. The hosts actually brought an economist on to define socialism, then they analyze the teachings of Jesus.

Here’s the description: (H/T Nathan)

It has not been uncommon for advocates of virtually every economic system to invoke Jesus in support of their views, though some of the most ardent advocates for both capitalism and socialism did not have any particular religious views themselves (Rand, Marx). Over the years, some of the more recent advocates of socialist type economic arrangements have appealed to Jesus and the gospels in support of such systems. Economist Lawrence Reed helps us sort out the application of the teaching of Jesus to economics and its relevance for economic life today. Join us for this provocative conversation as he tackles the question of Jesus and socialism.

Show notes, including a full transcript, are available at: biola.edu/thinkbiblically

Topics:

  • who plans the economy in socialism?
  • who should own the means of production in socialism?
  • how should wealth be distributed in socialism?
  • what tools does socialism use to provide people with health care, employment, security, etc.
  • which countries have adopted socialism? North Korea? Cuba? Venezuela? How about the Scandinavian countries?
  • what in the New Testament has caused people to think that Jesus was a socialist?
  • did Jesus ever advocate for concentrating power in the government in order to meet the material needs of people?
  • did Jesus ever advocate for voluntary charity in order to meet the material needs of people?
  • in our experience, is government seen to be more compassionate or less compassionate than individual people?
  • does voluntary charity have any advantages over forced redistribution by a powerful central government?
  • what about the example of common possessions among the earliest Christians?
  • what is the Bible’s view of wealth? is it always bad to be wealthy, or does it matter how you obtained it and how you use it?
  • what does the parable of the talents tell us about socialism vs capitalism?
  • what does the parable of the good Samaritan tell us about socialism vs capitalism?
  • what does the parable of the three different shifts of workers tell us about socialism vs capitalism?
  • what about socialist policies and higher tax rates in countries like Canada and Scandinavian countries?

I have to be honest. I think that some of the economics reasoning about the parables was a stretch, because those parables are talking mainly about other topics, not economics. But it’s true that the parables aren’t friendly to socialism even if they are interpreted as being about economics.

Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about war

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

A two-part sermon from famous pastor Wayne Grudem.

The part 1 MP3 file is here.

The part 2 MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.

Part 1 topics: (just war and conduct of war)

  • the commandment to not kill does not apply to killing enemy soldiers in war
  • government is authorized to prevent foreign countries from harming citizens the same way it prevents criminals from harming citizens
  • there are examples in the Bible of using military force to stop an aggressive nation, e.g. – David vs Goliath
  • principles of a just war, and relevant Bible passages, e.g. – just cause, only as a last resort
  • Moral principles for the conduct of a just war, e.g. – proportionality, combatants vs non-combatants
  • Can a Christian serve in a just war in good conscience?
  • What should a Christian do if called upon to fight in an unjust war?

Part 2 topics: (responses to pacificism)

  • what are the arguments in favor of pacifism?
  • government can do some things that individuals cannot do, e.g. – taxing vs stealing, punishing criminals vs revenge
  • it’s wrong for individuals to use force to advance the gospel, but not wrong for government to use force to restrain evil
  • Jesus loves everyone, but even he will come in judgment one day and use force to punish evil
  • what about nuclear weapons, nuclear arsenals for deterrence, and defenses to long-range nuclear missiles?
  • missile defense systems work, e.g – Iron Dome in Israel stopped about 85% of incoming missiles
  • building defenses does not embolden the enemy to attack us, it deters the enemy from attacking us
  • “turn the other cheek” means don’t return an insult, but you can defend yourself from physical threats

My favorite part of this two-part series was the midpoint of part 2, when a lady asked him a question about what is behind pacificism. Dr. Grudem runs through all the places in society where the secular left is opposed to authorities judging and punishing bad behavior with force. There are so many examples of this: parents disciplining rebellious children, teachers disciplining misbehaving kids, police catching criminals (lots of that lately!), courts putting criminals in jail for long periods of time, giving murderers the death penalty, using waterboarding on terrorists, and of course pacifism in the face of aggression, e.g. – Iran vs Israel, Russia vs Ukraine. Then another lady asked him why the same people who are so concerned about going easy on violent criminals and aggressive nations are so intent on being able to kill defenseless innocent children in the womb. Good question.

Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about self-defense

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Reformed Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem speaks on the Bible and the right of self-defense.

About Wayne Grudem:

Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. In 2001, Grudem became Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to that, he had taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he was chairman of the department of Biblical and Systematic Theology.

Grudem served on the committee overseeing the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and in 1999 he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is a co-founder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the author of, among other books, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which advocates a Calvinistic soteriology, the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the body-soul dichotomy in the nature of man, and the complementarian (rather than egalitarian) view of gender equality.

The MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.

Topics:

  • what about turning the other cheek? doesn’t that undermine self-defense?
  • what does Jesus say about the right to self-defense in the New Testament
  • did Jesus’ disciples carry swords for protection during his ministry?
  • why did Jesus tell his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords?
  • what about Jesus stopping Peter from using force during Jesus’ arrest?
  • shouldn’t we rely on police instead of our own personal weapons?
  • what about brandishing a handgun vs actually trying to shoot someone?
  • what are violent crime rates in pro-gun USA and in the anti-gun UK?
  • does outlawing guns cause violent crime to increase or decrease?
  • do academic studies show that gun control decreases crime?
  • do academic studies show that concealed carry laws decreases crime?
  • what do academic studies show about defensive handgun usage?
  • do many children die from guns in the home compared to other causes?
  • doesn’t the US Constitution limit the usage of guns to the army and police?
  • what did the Founding Fathers believe about lawful ownership of firearms?
  • What should be the goal of someone who uses a weapon in self-defense?

This is a good example of applying the Bible to real life. We need more of that!