33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. (Mark 4:33–34, NKJV)
Jesus was the Master Teacher. He used parables to teach the gospel of the kingdom to the multitudes that gathered to Him in Galilee (Mk. 4:1-2). Then, away from the crowds, He explained the parables to His disciples (Mk. 4:10-12). Jesus knew His audience. He spoke the word “as they were able to hear it” to the crowd (v. 33). He did not impress them with scholarship or eloquence (a healthy reminder to preachers and teachers today, 1 Cor. 2:1). He was not condescending toward His audience. His goal was to teach them by planting the seed of God’s word into their hearts (Matt. 13:34-35). A godly woman once told young preachers, “Put the hay down where the calves can reach it, and the cows will have no trouble getting their fill.” Good advice. The parables challenged the crowd to ponder and prioritize God’s will. How people responded to Christ’s teachings exposed their hearts, and it still does (Mk. 4:11-12, 13-20). Away from the crowd, Jesus also took the time to explain the parables to His disciples (v. 34). He unraveled the parables’ meanings to them as He prepared them to take the gospel to the world (Mk. 16:15-16). We benefit from Jesus’ teaching style as we listen to His words and the explanations of truth His apostles, in turn, gave to the world (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:8-13).
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2, NKJV)
The effectiveness of prayer was not an afterthought to Christians of the New Testament age (Jas. 5:16). The apostle Paul often asked brethren to pray for him, and he repeatedly prayed for his fellow Christians (1 Thess. 3:10; Eph. 6:18-19; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:3, 9; 4:3). In today’s passage, Paul asked for specific prayers, something we ought to do, too. First, he asked for prayers that God’s word would triumph in its purposes (saving the lost and strengthening the saved, v. 1). The gospel was achieving these purposes in their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-9; 2 Thess. 1:3-4). We are confident they joined Paul in praying the gospel would win the race and be honored as other souls believed and obeyed Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17). Second, Paul asked them to pray for mutual deliverance from faithless, unreasonable, and wicked people (v. 2). Like the currents of a flowing river, forces of evil try to sweep us away and drown us in error and sin’s corruption. The Lord is active and faithful to rescue us and guard us against the evil one and his cohorts as we do what His apostles command (2 Thess. 3:3-4). May we offer such prayers daily.
41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:41–42, NKJV)
The apostles of Christ had just been beaten for preaching the gospel of Christ in Jerusalem. They were also commanded by the ruler council of the Jews not to speak in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40). They were not discouraged or deterred. Lenski commented, “These disgraceful stripes the apostles considered badges of honor” (The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, p. 237). Their work was of God; men would not overthrow it (Acts 5:39). Christ’s apostles continued their daily practice of publicly and privately instructing and proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. We must not allow opposition to God’s truth to prevent us from continuing to speak God’s word faithfully. Threats and obstacles, even violent hostility, did not cause the early Christians to stop preaching the word (Acts 8:1-4). Let them be our examples when we face resistance and aggressive opposition to the truth of the gospel (Phil. 3:17; 4:9). Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). May we seek Christ’s blessing rather than the favor of men (Gal. 1:10).
12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:12–14, NKJV)
Jesus commanded His apostles to love one another as He had loved them. This commandment is equally given to every Christian (1 Jno. 4:21). We are to walk in love as Christ loved us (Eph. 5:2). We know love because He laid down His life for us. Therefore, “We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jno. 3:16). Jesus Christ died for every person because we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23; 5:8; Col. 1:19-23). There is no greater love than His voluntary, sacrificial death. Jesus said we must do “whatever He commands” to be His friend (v. 14). That includes loving one another, but it does not stop there. Jesus taught much more than loving one another. He commissioned His apostles to teach disciples “to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). So, when we trust Jesus and do what His apostles command us, we are friends of Jesus. Abraham was “the friend of God” because he believed God and obeyed Him (Jas. 2:21-24). Faith in and friendship with Jesus means far more than a mental agreement of who He is and what He has done. Friendship with Jesus is far more than asking Him into your heart to be your Savior. Are you doing whatever He commands you? When you do, you are His friend, saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 5:9). Be a friend to Jesus. Obey whatever He commands.
22 Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— 23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22–23, NKJV)
Christ came for the whole world (Jews and Gentiles). The apostles of Jesus testified what Moses and the prophets said would occur concerning the Christ was fulfilled in Jesus. Paul takes note of some primary things Moses and the prophets said about the Christ: 1) He would suffer (read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53). Peter said of Jesus, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). 2) He would rise from the dead (read Psalm 16:8-11). The resurrection of Jesus fulfilled this psalm (Acts 2:29-31). Jesus was the first – the beginning of the resurrection of all the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-22). 3) He would proclaim light to Jews and Gentiles (read Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:6). Through His gospel, Jesus lights the way of salvation for every soul on earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:34-35). God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to suffer death for our sins, to be raised to exaltation for our salvation, and to light our way to eternal glory.
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:40, NKJV)
Before Jesus sent His apostles “into all the world” to “preach the gospel to every creature,” He sent them on a limited commission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mk. 16:15; Matt. 10:5-6). Today’s verse is within the context of that limited assignment. Jesus encouraged them with a concise principle: Receiving the apostles is equivalent to receiving Him and the Father who sent Him. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus reinforced this principle to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Jno. 13:20). When we accept the apostles’ teaching, we are accepting Jesus and the Father. The antithesis is also true. When we reject the apostles, we are rejecting the Son and the Father: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Lk. 10:16). It is a flawed and futile exercise that exalts Jesus while minimizing and discounting His apostles. (They spoke His word!) Friend, you have not accepted Jesus when you reject what His apostles taught (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). After all, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15).
18 Therefore they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass. 19 Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen. (2 Chronicles 24:18–19, NKJV)
At first, Joash, the king of Judah, “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 24:2). Yet later, he listened to the leaders of Judah and fell away from the Lord (2 Chron. 24:15-17). Listening to the counsel of men rather than the prophets of God, Joash and Judah turned back to idol worship. Led by the king, they even killed the prophet, Zechariah, in the court of the temple, because he rebuked their sins (2 Chron. 24:20-21; Jesus referred to this in Matt. 23:34-36). Indeed, the prophets of God were “an example of suffering and patience” (Jas. 5:10). Now, God speaks to us “by His Son” through His apostles and prophets (Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:1-2). The choice between listening to the will of men or to the word of God remains. Shall we join with those who cried, “Crucify Him!” and reject His word, or shall we stand with “the apostles of the Lord and Savior” who spoke Christ’s truth (2 Pet. 3:2)? Will you listen to the Lord or men? That depends on whether you want to fulfill the will of God or the devil (Jno. 8:43-44).
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15–16, NKJV)
This passage is not difficult to understand. Yet, it undergoes no end of abuse at the hands of those who refuse its teaching on how the gospel saves sinners. Christ’s commission to the apostles is forthright: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (v. 15). The gospel is for all, and the apostles made known its power to save “to all nations” (Rom. 1:16; 16:25-26; Col. 1:23). Responses to the gospel and their corresponding results are stated candidly in verse 16. The person who believes the gospel and is baptized will be saved from sin, but the person who does not believe the gospel will be condemned in sin. Believing the gospel of Christ compels one to be baptized to be saved. Yet, controversy arises over whether water baptism is necessary for salvation. Jesus said it is. Why? Because “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and cannot justify the sinner (Jas. 2:17, 24). Water baptism is faith at work as one submissively obeys Christ’s command (Acts 2:37-38; 10:34-35). Obedient faith does not earn salvation (Lk. 17:10). When the believer obeys the gospel, God frees that person from sin’s bondage to become a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Belief and baptism are essential to be saved. Unbelief is condemned. Instead of arguing with Jesus, we plead with the lost to believe and be baptized to be saved.
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20, NKJV)
There is a context to this statement that informs our understanding and its application. It is not an unrestricted statement giving two or three Christians carte blanche to do anything they decide is in Christ’s name. Here and in other Scriptures, apostolic authority must exist for Christ’s approval and fellowship. The immediate context of today’s passage addresses dealing with sin by a Christian against another Christian (Matt. 18:15-17). Heaven’s approval for the forgiveness and retention of sins rests upon the teachings the apostles receive from heaven (Matt. 18:18). That is, what the apostles bound and loosed on earth was already determined by the Lord. The inspired apostles revealed heaven’s will, and they were united in faith and practice in the name of (by the authority of) Christ (Matt. 18:19-20). Christ was “in the midst of them” (His apostles) as they revealed heaven’s will. When we follow their teachings, we are following heaven’s will by heaven’s authority (Col. 3:17). Doing so assures us of fellowship with the apostles and the Lord God (1 Jno. 1:3). Two or three Christians gathered together do not establish what God’s will is. What the apostles taught is the authority we have to act in the name of Christ as individuals, as several saints, or as the local church.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NKJV)
These are final words spoken by Jesus to His apostles before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). He uses two “you shall” statements that distinguish the apostles from every other disciple of Jesus. Understanding them eliminates many false concepts about the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and what it means to be witnesses of Jesus. First, Jesus told His apostles “you shall receive power.” Then, He told them when it would happen – “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” This Holy Spirit baptism was a specific promise made to the apostles, not to every Christian (Acts 1:4-5; Jno. 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). It would be fulfilled “not many days from now,” and ten days later on Pentecost, it was (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, 33). Holy Spirit baptism would equip the apostles for their assigned work, which is the second “you shall” statement. Jesus told His apostles “you shall be witnesses to Me.” Witnesses testify of what they have seen (Jno. 3:11). The apostles were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. They saw Him raised from the dead (Acts 1:22; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-42; 26:16; 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Christians do not “bear witness” of Jesus because we have not seen Him. They did, and we believe their testimony. Christ gave His church apostles “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Let us thank Christ for the apostles, not be led astray by false doctrines that would usurp their power and work.