This is tough, trying to pare down the scriptures that have nurtured me most faithfully over the years from childhood to an even dozen. I was able to pull it off in the Old Testament, but not the New.
The New Testament is the heavy weight, the major force, in the believer's life--in his study, meditation, doctrine, instruction.
A young pastor friend told me recently he majors on the Old Testament, he loves it best, and that this is where his sermons come from. I told him I was horrified (maybe overdoing it just a tad for effect).
For a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament is "where it's at." The Old Testament is all about roots and background, preparation and anticipation. The Old Testament is filled with stories of God preparing His people, of symbols and prophecies and rituals all of which would be fulfilled in Jesus.
How odd to prefer the rituals and symbols to the reality and substance that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must never choose the Old Testament over the New. They are essential, priceless, and complementary, but the New is dominant.
I gladly own up to being a New Testament Christian. Nowhere else on earth do we find the story of Jesus. It's the only place where we are given His teaching and the doctrines of our faith. It's where we are given instructions for godly living and directions for faithful ministry during this period between Jesus' two visitations.
Focusing on the New Testament is not optional for a disciple of Jesus. This is our life. It's what we are all about. We must become students of the New Testament (and only then, a student of the Old Testament secondarily and indirectly).
Originally, I had thought to post 12 texts from the Old and 12 texts from the New Testaments that mean the most to me, that identify me, that have "branded me." Bearing out what we've just said about the New being more essential for the Lord's disciple, I've found I can't do that. So, what we will do is post 12 scriptures from the Four Gospels, followed by 12 from the rest of the New Testament.
Here then are twelve Gospel texts that mean a great deal to me. They are part of my DNA, essential aspects of my faith. Anyone running a spiritual autopsy on me would find that these are responsible for my backbone, my heart, and my vision. This I believe.
1. Persecution: Matthew 10:24-26a.
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more members of his household? Therefore, do not fear them...."
I wish I had kept every note from preachers and/or their wives who reported to me over the years on the mistreatment they had been dealt in churches they pastored. "Where is God?" some asked. "Why does the Lord let this happen?" "All we wanted to do was serve Him, and now look at what happened."
My usual response is to give them Matthew Matthew 10:24and say, "The Lord told you when He called you that this was going to happen."
They say they'd forgotten it. Some say they had expected persecution and trouble, but not from believers. Once again, if they had read--really read, I mean--the Word, they would have seen it, expected it, and prepared for it.
After all, the one who betrayed the Lord Jesus was not an unbeliever, but a disciple who had walked closely with the Lord for three full years.
2. Disciple-making:Matthew 28:18-20.
As the Matterhorn dominates its landscape for untold miles, the Great Commission stands high above everything else in the New Testament. Even though all four Gospels restate the gospel mission in one way or the other, this is the clearest, fullest statement of our assignment.
I appreciate several aspects of these three verses---
--Jesus establishes that He has the authority to make such commands. He is not a usurper, but the Lord of the church. Matthew 16:18 says Jesus is both the Owner and Operator of the church.
--We are to make disciples, not converts, not believers or friends, not members or Baptists or supporters, not advisors or consultants or partners or associates. We were not sent to get people to "pray the sinner's prayer," but to make disciples. We are to present the message of Christ in such a way that people will commit themselves to Him as a new and permanent way of life. After all, the Lord will be making demands upon His disciples, and unless they have settled the matter of His Lordship over them, it's not going to work.
--New disciples are to be baptized as their announcement to the world (as well as to other believers and even to themselves) of their new life. The Lord will have no secret disciples, no undercover agents.
--Only then and only with disciples are we to "teach them to observe all that (He) has commanded (us)." We cannot and must not try to teach Christian truths to pagans. Furthermore, we are not simply conveying classroom lessons but teaching them to obey. The lesson is not complete until the disciple is practicing the commands Jesus gave.
3. The Law: Mark 2:27-28.
"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
Christians have struggled with the Old Testament law--the ten commandments, yes, but also the rest of it--from the very beginning. The "first conference" of the church, described inActs 15, was called to determine whether disciples of Jesus had to become Jews also in order to be saved. Would they have to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law? We're grateful they got it right, because in doing so, they set the church on the right course, instead of heading it down a detour which would have led to a dead end, or worse, a dropoff into an abyss.
And yet, the question lingers.
Those who think we still need to be keeping the Sabbath (the 7th day, not the Lord's Day which is the first day of the week) sometimes want to pick a fight with me. They have all kinds of Old Testament texts to quote. I reply with the words of the Apostle Paul, "Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come" (Colossians 2:16-17).
People who want to argue these things cannot be put off with what the New Testament says. The comeback I've heard most often is, "Well, Paul was talking about a different kind of Sabbath." I say, "And how would we know this? He simply says 'a Sabbath day,' period."
It's so easy to impress our wants and desires, our convictions and beliefs, on the Lord's Word, and make it say what we want it to say. (We all must come to the open Bible with the prayer that we will listen to the Spirit and not miss what He is saying because of preconceptions.)
The interpretation Jesus puts on the Sabbath is a spiritual one, not "the letter of the law." In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul cautions that "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
The vision of the Apostle Peter in Acts 10 put a spiritual spin on Old Testament law.
No one who follows Jesus faithfully can be a legalist. He will not play our little word games. He is Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of the Scriptures, Lord of all.
4. Sacrificial Giving: Mark 12:41-44.
"And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitudes were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.
"And calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said to them, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.'"
Jesus applauds the woman for giving even though she is dirt poor. He applauds her for giving even though, with so many rich people kicking in large amounts, her pittance was probably not needed. Jesus commends her for giving even though she could have spent the money on bread and lived another day. And most significantly, Jesus honored her for giving into the treasury even though the Temple was under the control of a gang of crooks (Mark 11:17).
No one is exempt from the command to give to the Lord's work. No one is too poor. No gift is too insignificant. No giver brings an offering into the Lord's House without the Father noticing and caring.
When we bring our gift, no matter its size, we honor our Lord. (2 Corinthians 8:1ff describes a church in Macedonia doing the very same thing this widow did, only on a bigger scale.)
5. Flexibility: Luke 5:37.
"No one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined."
People find a new way of doing things, like it very much, adopt it and preach it, and before long, they have grown set in their ways with the knowledge that this is the only way and any other way is forbidden. That happens to all of us. Jesus even says so: "No one, after drinking old wine wishes for new, for he says, 'The old is good enough.'" (5:39)
Anyone who expects God to bless and use him and/or his church must retain a flexibility, adaptability, a willingness to learn new things, an ability to change and change quickly.
Make a list of the small churches in your city that are slowly dying. I'll wager you that at least half or more could be saved and revived if they would be willing to make wholesale changes. But most do not. A church I know has some lovely older believers as members. They say they want to grow and must grow quickly before their church ceases to be. However, I have personal knowledge of people who have been turned away because they wished to liven up the music or bring into worship some neighbors who did not "fit."
God is not honored by those of us who call ourselves His disciples or churches calling ourselves His flock who are unwilling to learn new ways, grow new fruit, drop some of our old practices, and try something different.
I treasure Psalms 92:14. "They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green." Whatever else that says, it firmly and adamantly declares that God's old people do not fossilize, do not harden, but remain youthful and healthy and fruitful.
6. Servanthood: Luke 17:7-10.
"But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat?'
"But will he not say to him, 'Prepare soemthing for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'?
"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
"So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'"
This passage is unique to this gospel. There is nothing even approaching its message anywhere in the Bible. And I find it profound.
One of the worst attitudes to afflict the modern church is a sense of entitlement. The congregation wants to be served by the minister. Preachers are fired every day because the members feel they're not (ahem) "getting our needs met." Tell them that they are servants and should be feeding themselves and they will react with blank stares.
Say to yourself, "I am only an unworthy servant" and "I have only done my duty." Do that and I promise you, you will head off all attitude problems in advance.
7. Forgiveness: Luke 23:34.
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Look how eager Jesus is to forgive sins. Why, He's praying for forgiveness for His executioners while they're still at it! How wonderful is that?
InMark 2, Jesus forgives the paralytic without being asked.
Satan would slander the Lord by telling you God does not want to forgive, that He might forgive your sins if you show Him you deserve it, if you "pray through," if you suffer enough first, and if your guilt and remorse are sufficient. The enemy says God is not on your side, not wanting what's best for you, and not patient with us in our struggles.
He's lying. Jesus' whole point in coming to earth was to take care of your and my sin problem. Now that He has done it, only your enemy would say He does not want to pour out the benefits of the cross upon us.
8. Jesus: John 3.
"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (3:8) This is the inscrutable work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. He will not abide by our formulas, but has a mind of His own. No one can tell Him to go here and stay there.
I love the freshness and the authority of that!
"If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (3:12) People will sometimes say we should believe the Scriptures only when they speak in matters of faith. But Jesus has closed that avenue off to us. If we cannot believe His Word in mundane matters, why in the world would we take His revelation of salvation and Heaven at face value?
"No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from Heaven, even the Son of Man." (3:13) Whatever we are to make of the ascensions of Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament, Jesus says they're not in Heaven. Not yet. The only one who has been there is the One who came from there. Himself. He's the authority on Heaven. Our authority.
We can believe when Jesus speaks of Heaven because He's a native.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." (3:14) See 12:32 where the Lord says, "If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." The fascinating thing to me about that Old Testament story (it's inNumbers 21) is that it occupies only 4 verses, after which not a word of explanation or application is given...until the Lord gives it here in John John 3:14.
Is this unfair, referencing verse after verse in John 3 as though they are only one text? All I can say is wait until you see how long we linger over Romans 8!
9. Eternal life: John 11:25-26.
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
I submit that these may be the most remarkable words ever uttered on this planet. They are similar in power and effect toJohn 14:1-6. What makes them so stunning and powerful is that, just after saying them, Jesus backs them up by raising dead Lazarus from the grave. Bear in mind, he'd lain in that hot tomb a food four days, too! How mind-boggling is that.
That's why we make so much of Jesus! As the early followers said of Him, "We have never seen anything like this," and "We've never heard it this way before."
10. Servanthood: John 13:1-4.
"Now, before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end;
"And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,
"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,
"Rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, and taking a towel, He girded Himself about."
All of that is one sentence in the Greek, we're told. Whew. What a sentence!
Our Lord is about to wash the feet of the disciples, the lowliest task of the lowliest servant. He was able to humble Himself and do the worst job in the room by a strong sense of Who He was, His relationship with the Father, and His love for the apostles.
In short, Jesus had nothing to prove.
It was the insecurities of the disciples which prevented them from ever taking on such a menial role.
Only the strongest among us serve. The rest sit back and demand we be waited on.
11. Obedience: John 13:17.
"If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."
The blessings of Heaven are given to the obedient, not to the students of the word, the lovers of the word, or those who memorize it, learn it, distribute it, preach it, teach it, or publish it. That said, we need to add that if we are obeying the Word, then Heaven's blessings are poured out on our also teaching and learning and distributing the Scriptures.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, "For this purpose I wrote you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things" (2 Corinthians 2:9).
It all comes down to what we do. We think of our Lord saying, "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them,may be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock.... And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand...." (Matthew 7:24-27).
That's why we do not panic when James writes, "So, faith without works is dead" James 2:17). Indeed.
12. Unity: John 17:22-23.
"(I pray) that they may be one, just as We are one, I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me."
God wants His children unified, in harmony, loving each other John 13:34-35 should settle that forever), working in sync with each other.
The purpose for our unity, Jesus says in this prayer that has been labeled His "high priestly prayer" for us His followers, is evangelism: that the world may believe in Him.
When God's people are in disunity, no one believes in Jesus.
Two kinds of unity come to mind here: unity within a congregation and unity within the Church worldwide. If the first is unattainable--and it surely seems to be for so many congregations--why should it surprise us that the second would be only a distant dream.
In these writings on this blog, my burden is for the unity of the Lord's local congregation. Ephesians 4 is an eloquent call for unity and description of how it functions. In leading leadership retreats (pastoral staffs, deacons, others), I major on Ephesians 4:3, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This unity is not just an organizational thing, but is "of the Spirit." The way to achieve it is through building in structures of peace. That involves principles such as Romans 12 describes--love, honor of others, humility, etc.
But is there a brother or sister in Christ who does not also grieve at the disunity and outright division of the Lord's worldwide Church? In many of our small towns and large cities, we will find intersections with Christian churches on each corner. One wonders how God feels about this when it pains us so badly.
The solution is not as simple as unification by organization. Many an organization may be divided and splintered. According toEphesians 4:3, the unity the Lord wants is a spiritual thing.
We know what that feels like. We have brothers and sisters in Christ down the street who worship in churches of other denominations, whose structures and emphases differ slightly from ours, but whom we love and treasure as disciples of the Savior. Multiply that times a hundred million and we have a start.
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