Psalm for a Dark Night

PHOTO: via Donald Tong, PEXELS

Lord, just today I read

That Paul and Silas were

Stripped and beaten

With wooden whips.

“Again and again the rods

Slashed across their bared backs”

But in their desolate dungeon

Their feet clamped in stocks

They prayed.

They sang.

They praised.

In this musty midnight of my life

Imprisoned in the dungeon of confusion

Bound by chains of anguish

Help me, please help me

To pray

To sing

To praise

Until the foundation shakes

Until the gates fling open

Until the chains fall off

Until I am free

To share the Good News

With other chain-bound prisoners.

– RUTH HARMS CALKIN,

TELL ME AGAIN, LORD, I FORGET

WHERE DID PRAYER FIT IN THE LIFE OF JESUS?

prayer, #prayer, #praying, jesus, #jesus,
Photo by Matheus Bertelli @ Pexels

JESUS TAUGHT THROUGH Paul that Christians ought to “pray constantly” (1 Thes. 5:17 CSB; cf. Jn. 16:13). While He obviously did not pray unceasingly, at least in the sense of never stopping, His life was marked and accentuated by prayer. The Lord was always in a prayerful mode. Consider the testimony of Scripture:

IN MATTHEW

He taught the inconsistency of a hypocritical life and prayer. 6:5-8

He trained His disciples about how to pray. 6:9-13

He thanked His Father in a brief prayer after being rejected by certain cities in Galilee. 11:25-27

He prayed up on a mountain by Himself after the thousands tried to force Him to become their king. 14:23; cf. Mk. 6:46; Jn. 6:15

He prayed and gave thanks before miraculously feeding the 4000. 15:36

He prayed for and put His hands on little children. 19:13; cf. Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17

He prayed at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. 26:26; cf. Mk. 14:22-23; Lk. 22:19

He offered the same fervent prayer three times in Gethsemane before His betrayal. 26:39, 42, 44; cf. Mk. 14:32-42; Lk. 22:39-46; Heb. 5:7

He cried out to His Father in prayer and identified Himself as the Messiah. 27:46

IN MARK

He arose long before daybreak and got off by Himself to pray before His first sermon in Galilee. 1:35

He taught a relationship between prayer and fasting. 9:29

He taught the apostles to pray in belief. 11:24

He taught that prayers are accepted contingent upon our forgiving others. 11:25-26

He fell prostrate on the ground and asked His Father to deliver Him from the cross. 14:35, 39

IN LUKE

He prayed at His own baptism. 3:21

He habitually withdrew into the wilderness alone to pray. 5:16

He prayed all night before selecting the twelve. 6:12-13

He was praying at His transfiguration. 9:28-29

He prayed after hearing the report of the seventy. 10:17-19, 20-21

He taught about the importance of persistence in prayer. 18:1ff

He prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. 22:32

He withdrew about a stone’s throw from Peter, James, and John and knelt to pray in Gethsemane. 22:41

He prayed such a fervent, intense prayer in Gethsemane that His sweat became like drops of blood. 22:44

He prayed that the Father would forgive those who crucified Him in ignorance. 23:34

He prayed right before He died that the Father would accept His spirit. 23:46

He prayed before the meal with the disciples at Emmaus. 24:30

IN JOHN

He prayed in public at the tomb of Lazarus. 11:41-42

He prayed that He would glorify His Father in His crucifixion. 12:27-28

He prayed the “High Priestly” prayer for Himself and His disciples. 17

Jesus recognized the necessity of being in constant communication and intimate communion with His Father. He exemplified the concept of pray and was strengthened as He walked in Heaven’s will. Let’s emulate Him (1 Cor. 11:1).

“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” –Mike

WHEN DID SATAN QUOTE SCRIPTURE – AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Some brief thoughts from Mat. 4:6

THERE ARE ONLY three occasions in Scripture where the devil spoke directly to others (cf. Gen. 3, Job 1-2, and Mat. 4/Lk. 4). In Genesis he spoke TO the woman ABOUT God (vv. 1, 4-5), in Job he spoke TO God ABOUT a man (1:9-11; 2:4-5), and finally, in Matthew he spoke TO God the Son ABOUT God the Father (vv. 3, 6, 9). For the sake of this abbreviated study, let’s notice this last speaking engagement in the first Gospel account (ch. 4:1-10).

Remember that following each of the devil’s three temptations, the Lord answered with “it is written” (vv. 4, 7, 10) and then quoted Old Testament Scripture (cf. Deut. 8:3 LXX; 6:16; 6:13). But notice in the second temptation in Matthew’s account (cf. the third in Luke—vv. 10-11) that THE DEVIL LIKEWISE QUOTED SCRIPTURE TO JESUS—specifically from Psalm 91. Yes, Satan said, “It is written” too, and then he quoted God’s word verbatim to the Word incarnate.

A few observations about the devil and his quoting Scripture are in order:

1. The devil was somehow CONSCIOUS OF GOD’S WORD. Remember that back in Genesis 3 he asked the woman about what GOD HAD SAID, but here in Matthew 4 he actually quoted what GOD HAD SAID through the prophet in the 91st Psalm. Does this therefore mean that because Satan referenced and quoted the Bible that he is all knowing? No. The devil is not deity; he is not omniscient. He is a CREATION, not the CREATOR (cf. Col. 1:16; Exo. 20:11; Mat. 25:41).

The Hebrew writer said, “He Himself (Jesus) likewise shared in the same (i.e., flesh and blood—Jn. 1:14), that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14b—emphasis mine, mb; cf. Col. 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:10; Psa. 132:11). The devil had the power of death, and in fact, was indirectly responsible for the death of Jesus. Ironically, that death was the very means by which the tempter lost his battle with the God the Father. Had he foreknown that Jesus’s death would be his own demise, the tempter would have never sought to bring Christ to Calvary in the first place.

2. But BECAUSE SATAN IS NOT ALL-KNOWING, THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT HE IS NOT KNOWING IN ANY SENSE OF THE TERM. Consider the fact that he spoke a) intelligently through the agency of the serpent in Genesis, that he spoke b) logically to God in Job, and finally, he spoke c) shrewdly to Jesus in the wilderness allurements (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14). It’s obvious the devil possesses the ability to know, think, and reason.

Someone asks, “But how is it that the devil, as a rational spirit-being, was able to know God’s Word in Matthew 4?” We don’t know; we can only speculate, but what we must realize, especially from the New Testament account is that while, yes, the devil did quote Scripture, and he did initiate those words (just like Jesus did!) with “It is written,” HE TOOK PSALM 91:11-121 OUT OF ITS CONTEXT.

“The passage is a general promise to those who make God their refuge, and Satan merely made application to Christ, with unholy intentions to the say the least”1

“Satan quoted these words (vv. 11, 12) to Jesus on Mount of Temptation (Mat. 4:6). Jesus answered his quotation by pointing to Deuteronomy 6:16, a verse that qualifies this promise and commands the servant of God not to deliberately test God regarding His goodness. God’s guarantee of deliverance is to be accepted by faith. It is dependent upon and enjoyed by God’s follower, but jumping from a temple wing to see if God will keep His word is putting God to an unnecessary trial. Doing so would, signal unbelief. Jesus did not diminish God’s promise; he gave it the proper meaning.”2

“The devil tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple and be saved by angels. Jesus declined to tempt God. Boles noted that “this verse was written to encourage faith, not to encourage presumption” (101). This verse is not an assurance that we can pursue any silly endeavor we want. It is a general promise of care and protection for God’s people… Verse 13 highlights the hyperbole of the passage. Not many of us have been asked to take a walk on a bed of lions and deadly snakes. We do not know what it is God’s will to ferry us through situations of tribulation unharmed. The point is that if He has the will, then He also has the power. This passage teaches us to trust in both the power and the wisdom of Jehovah.”3

Satan quoted two verses in Psalm 91 passage that referred to God’s general protection of His faithful, but this misapplied and twisted it to suggest that it specifically promised to Jesus that the Father would keep Him from any harm.

Satan took a GENERAL truth that applied to God’s faithful as a whole, but then subtly twisted (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16) and misapplied it to SPECIFICALLY refer to Jesus. The Lord immediately recognized the tempter’s subversive tactic and countered with Scripture himself in context.

But now consider our brief study from a modern, practical vantage point:

3. Many people, LIKE THE DEVIL, know some part of God’s Word, but they either intentionally or unintentionally, take it out of context, and make it say something it doesn’t say at all (cf. Heb. 5:12-14; 2 Pet. 3:16). For example, when an individual references 1 Cor. 1:17 and then claims that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, he’s taking it out of context (Mat. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-4; 17-18. When a person quotes Mat. 7:1 and says, “Jesus says you can’t judge…”, he’s obviously failed to read the verse in its context. The Lord continued, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (v. 5). And so rather than saying, “Don’t judge another person in any fashion,” Jesus actually taught the very opposite, and told us to make sure that before we judge our brother, we need to be sure that we’re not guilty of that which we condemn. When a brother recites Matthew 18:20 before he neglects the worship assembly of the saints in order to go hunting or fishing with a couple of friends, it’s painfully apparent that he’s wrenched the passage out of its original context and made it say something our Lord never meant to say.

Here’s the point, beloved. We are perhaps never more like the devil than when we take a verse out of its context and make it say something that God never said. He distorted and warped the Bible to fit his own personal narrative, and if we’re not very careful, we can do the same thing – to our eternal demise.

Let’s READ the Bible, let’s STUDY the Bible in context, and then let’s teach our friends exactly what the Bible says (cf. Mat. 28:18-20).

“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike

1 Tom Wacaster, “Those Who Put Their Trust in Jehovah,” The Songs and Devotions of David – Psalms 90-108, Vol. 5, 40.

2 Eddie Cloer, “God, Our Dwelling Place,” Truth For Today Commentary – Psalms 90-118, 33.

3 Joseph T. McWhorter, “Psalms 90-93,” Studies in Psalms – Vol. 2 (73-150), The Denton-Schertz Commentaries, Editor, Stan Crowley, 194.

“WHAT IF A PERSON DIES ON THE WAY TO BE BAPTIZED?”

Some thoughts on the doctrine of belief without baptism.

HE HAD BEEN studying the Bible with a member of the church for a few weeks. Even though he was brought up in a religiously devout home, and even though he sincerely believed for many years that he was saved, in light of his recent examination of the Scriptures, he’d come to the unsettling realization that he was, in fact, never saved at all (cf. Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23). Yes-he had been sincere, but no-he’d been wrong (cf. Acts 26:9).

He was on his way to the church baptistry to be immersed in accordance with the pattern set forth in the New Testament (Rom. 6:3-4; Acts 8:36-38), but as he was driving down the highway towards his destination, a truck suddenly pulled out in front of him, the two vehicles collided, and he was hurled out of his car and killed.

This is a very popular scenario among our religious friends. Whenever a child of God refers to the necessity of baptism, some antagonists unfurl this revered storyline as though it were Scripture itself. “Are you telling me that Almighty God would consign him to eternal hell just because he wasn’t immersed in water?!”

On the surface, this emotional tragedy-narrative sounds reasonable, but does it, and can it withstand the test of the Word of God (cf. 1 Jn. 4:1; 1 Thes. 5:21; Acts 17:11)? Please consider the following:

God wants EVERYONE to be saved. If you think about it, this oft-told fictional tale is actually an indictment not only of the Word of God, but against God Himself. The under-the-surface theology goes something like this: 1) You claim that God requires baptism, BUT since 2) He didn’t protect this imaginary believing-seeker on his way to the water and allowed him to die in the car accident, then 3) not only is your understanding of the nature and necessity of immersion flawed, but your view of Jehovah is flawed as well.

What our friends fail to realize is that the scenario actually pits God against His own doctrine of baptism–even though immersion was His idea (Mat. 28:19-20), even though He cannot lie (Tit. 1:2), and even though immersion in water is specifically commanded in the New Testament (Acts 10:48) in order to put one into the body Christ (Gal. 3:27; cf. Eph. 5:30).

The truth is, God desires ALL to be saved, and His plan (Eph. 1:4) to save involves an active faith (Jas. 2:14-26) that moves believers to submit to the action of baptism (Acts 22:16)1:

  • “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16; cf. vv. 14-15; Num. 21:4-9).
  • “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezek. 33:11a).
  • “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish…” (2 Pet. 3:9a).
  • “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires ALL MEN to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4a).

God tells everyone through Scripture exactly HOW to be saved. The inspired Psalmist asked, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” and then answered, “By TAKING HEED to Your (God’s – mb) word” (119:9; cf. Heb. 5:8-9).

This passage implies at least two things: 1) A man can/does sometimes sin and spiritually defile himself (cf. Mat. 15:10-20; Mk. 7:20-23), 2) that faced with this awful dilemma (cf. Isa. 59:1ff), he can go to the Bible (2 Pet. 1:21), be taught (Mat. 28:20; Acts 8:30-31), understand and know (Eph. 5:17), and then submit to (i.e. “take heed to”) God’s gracious will (Tit. 2:11), and in so doing (Acts 2:37ff), be purified by the Lord from his iniquity (cf. Col. 2:12-“working of God”; Eph. 2:8-9; Acts 2:37-38; 16:31-34; 22:16).

Now ponder Psalm 119:9 and then ask yourself one essential question: Can God ever save an individual who never learns, or is taught, Whom to believe in (i.e. Jesus), or how, or what to believe about Him (Heb. 11:7; John 8:24)?

Imagine that a Christian is scheduled to teach a series of five Bible studies to a very moral,2 albeit aged man who has been recently diagnosed with a serious heart problem. In the evening just before their second lesson together, when teacher and student are set to study the subject of faith (cf. Jn. 20:30-31), that elderly man suffers a massive heart attack and dies–without ever having the opportunity to hear the story of Jesus and believe on Him (cf. Acts 11:17; 8:34-39; 16:31). Yes, he learned in the first lesson that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that the New Testament is the final and only authority (Mat. 28:18; Col. 3:17) in all matters of life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), but no–he wasn’t taught in that initial study the identity or deity of Jesus Christ (cf. Isa. 53:3ff; Acts 8:37) and therefore never had the opportunity to believe on/in Him because his faith was contingent upon hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17; cf. Heb. 11:4, 6-7, 8ff).

Question: Since some take the liberty of removing and omitting BAPTISM from the plan of salvation in order to save the sincere individual who was killed in the car accident, then by this same logic are they not also permitted to remove FAITH from that very same divine plan since the sincere, moral man in the second scenario died of a heart attack before his belief in Jesus? If not, why not? If it’s possible for the Lord to arbitrarily save one man without full obedience (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:9-14)3, then why isn’t it also possible for Him to save another man without any obedient faith (Heb. 11:6)? Ironically, I’ve never heard anyone use the old sincere, moral man scenario and then argue, “What if a sincere, moral person is not yet taught the Whom, what, and how of faith in Jesus,4 but then he dies from a heart attack? Do you mean to tell me God would send this man to eternal hell for not believing?!”

But what did Jesus say, good reader? What did the Lord actually say in His Word about belief as it relates to baptism? NOTE: “He who BELIEVES. . .AND. . .is BAPTIZED will be SAVED…” (Mk. 16:16a). Consider that He did not say, “He who believes will be saved…,” nor did He say, “He who is baptized will be saved…” He said both are necessary (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 19:5), and that settles the matter for all time (Psa. 119:89; 172).

God pleads with everyone NOT TO WAIT to be saved. Please pay attention to the following passages and then answer the questions which follow:

  • “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38). CONSIDER: If it wasn’t urgent for the Ethiopian nobleman to be baptized, why did he command the chariot to stand still?
  • “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (16:33). CONSIDER: If it wasn’t urgent for the jailer and his family to be baptized, why did the Holy Spirit emphasize the fact that they submitted to baptism “immediately?”
  • “Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!’” But he said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.  King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.’ Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian'” (26:24-28). CONSIDER: If a person is saved at the moment of belief, as some allege in their car accident scenario, then how was Agrippa able say, “You almost persuade me to become a CHRIST-ian?” Webster’s dictionary says “almost” means slightly short of, not quite. How was it possible for Agrippa to believe (v. 26) what the prophets said ABOUT Christ, enjoy all of the spiritual blessings that are uniquely IN Christ (cf. Eph. 1:1b; 3, 10, 12, 20; 2:6, 7, 10, 13; 3:6, 11; 4:15), without having first OBEYED Christ (Mat. 28:18-20), without being IMMERSED INTO Christ (Gal. 3:27; cf. Rom. 7:1-4) and therefore finally being added BY Christ to His church (Acts 2:47)? How was it possible for Agrippa to “not quite” become a Christian and still access Christ?

According to the Bible, if a sincere believing person dies on the way to the baptistry in a car wreck, he’ll still be lost (Mk. 16:15-16; cf. Jn. 7:24; Psa. 119:172) because his obedience was only partial. Then too, if a sincere, moral person dies of a heart attack before he’s taught the truth and has the opportunity to believe, he’ll also be lost. “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 1:7-8; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 6:1-4; 17-18).

1 There is no inherit power in the water of baptism itself. Our faith is in the One (Jesus) who requires baptism, not in the water itself.

2 Cornelius is described in Acts as a devout, just, God-fearing, generous, and praying man (Acts 10:1-2, 22), but HE STILL NEEDED to hear words (about Jesus and His will) by which he and household would be saved (11:14). What if that morally upright, religiously devoted man had never heard, believed and obeyed the gospel (10:34-48)? Would he have been saved by his own goodness alone (cf. Isa. 64:6)?

3 HOW MANY times did Naaman have to dip in the Jordan in order to be cleansed of his leprosy?

4 When the people of Israel complained against God and Moses in Num. 21:4ff, and then the Lord sent venomous snakes among the them, WHAT HAPPENED to many of those individuals BEFORE Moses constructed the bronze serpent on the pole and then told them HOW to be saved? Did anybody die before belief? Was any snake-bitten person saved by believing without the action of looking (cf. Jn. 3:14)?

WHEN IS CONFESSION NOT CONFESSION?

THERE ARE AT least seven individuals in Scripture who confessed outwardly and/or inwardly, “I have sinned…”

They include:

  1. Pharaoh – Exo. 9:27; 10:16,
  2. Balaam – Num. 22:34,
  3. Achan – Josh. 7:20-21,
  4. King Saul – 1 Sam. 15:24, 30
  5. King David – 2 Sam. 12:13; 24:10; Psa. 41:6
  6. Judas Iscariot – Mat. 27:4, and
  7. The youngest of the two prodigal sons – Lk. 15:18, 21.

Of this number, ONLY TWO experienced genuine remorse for their actions and were willing to turn away from their transgressions, even though all seven of them orally confessed essentially the same three words.

But how do we, and can we, determine the identity of the two who were sincere (one in each Testament), as opposed to the five who were not so inclined?

Is it possible to pour through the Bible, read and study the context of each man’s situation, and then decide which of them said more than “I have sinned,” but they actually exhibited penitent hearts of true contrition?

Consider:

When Pharaoh said, “I have sinned” his was a FEIGNING confession. He just wanted the plagues of hail and locusts to stop (Exo. 9:28; 10:17). The wicked monarch was like a soldier in a foxhole entreating God in prayer for deliverance, only to return to his former sinful ways after the artillery barrage is over.

When Balaam said, “I have sinned,” his was a FAKE confession because he felt compelled to justify the beating of his innocent, defenseless donkey that had seemingly rebelled against him (Num. 22:22-30), when the prophet himself was attempting to defy the Lord’s authority (v. 32). The seer was like an arrogant politician who believes that rules and laws only apply to the masses, but not to himself.

When Achan said, “I have sinned,” his was essentially a FORCED confession because his number one concerned was not over the fact that he had broken God’s command (Josh. 7:20), or that he was solely responsible for the deaths of three-dozen men (Josh. 7:11-12, 15; 1 Chron. 2:7; cf. Isa. 59:2), but that he and his family would mutually pay the austere wages of his own selfish sin (Josh. 32:23; cf. Rom. 6:23). He was like the immature child who complains and cries because he knows he’s going to be disciplined for not listening to his Father’s instructions.

When King Saul said, “I have sinned,” his was a FAULTY confession because he initially denied disobeying God (1 Sam. 15:13, 15), and then later offered a weak alibi (1 Sam. 15:20-21) to vindicate himself of his obvious guilt. The proud ruler was like the insincere person who says, “IF I have done anything wrong against you, I apologize…”

When Judas said, “I have sinned,” his was a FRUITLESS confession because a) he had been a long-time thief of his fellow-disciple’s money (i.e., the treasury box – Jn. 12:6), b) he knew experientially that Jesus was the Messiah (Mat. 16:20), but c) he also knew that he had sold out his sinless Savior for thirty pieces of silver (Mat. 26:15; cf. Exo. 21:32; Zech. 11:12-13). The wayward apostle was alike a self-deceived criminal who thinks he can indiscriminately break the laws of the land and still escape the consequences of his misconduct.

But now, pay very close attention to David and the Prodigal, because while both of them also confessed their sins, their heartfelt words were first born out of a keen personal realization that they had offended the Father (cf. Luke 18:9-14). Watch:

David lamented to Jehovah, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight…” (Psa. 51:4).

Likewise, the younger prodigal agonized, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…” (Lk. 15:17-19a).

The two mourned the enormity of their iniquities that had separated them from their Father (cf. Isa. 59:1-2; Psa. 51:1ff), while the five were less concerned about the sin and separation, and more worried about the consequences of their rebellion towards Him (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).

“But Mike, what do all of these confessions tell me – especially about honest confession of my sins?”

These individuals tell us a great deal about the MOTIVES behind our confessions.

Beloved, WHEN (not IF) we sin, we need to take a long, in-depth look at WHY we admit, “I have sinned” (cf. 1 Jn. 1:8).

Is our confession sincere and indicative of a broken and contrite spirit (Psa. 51:17; Isa. 57:15) that acted in defiance of the Heavenly Father, OR is it a weak and feeble means of covering our transgressions?

The Bible says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13).

Think about it.

“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike