Jesus Has All Authority

Jesus Has All Authority

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Jesus has come to Jerusalem and taken the gloves off. By His unparalleled authority, He is directly challenging the religious establishment whose shallow righteousness has been rejected by His Father. He has come to take the Old Law out of the way and establish His church. It’s teaching like this parable in Luke 20:9-18 that will provoke those leaders to the point that they will trump up charges and bribe false witnesses to arrest, try, and have Him crucified. This parable is stark and shocking, and the moral as heavy as an anvil. Notice.

THESE LEADERS WERE GUILTY OF IMPROPER STEWARDSHIP (9). The “man” in the parable represents God, the Father. He made Israel a nation and gave the Jews a Law to follow and keep. The Jews, particularly the religious leadership, were entrusted with faithfully carrying it out, but they did not. 

THEY WERE GUILTY OF TAKING WHAT DIDN’T BELONG TO THEM (10). In fact, these leaders–dubbed “the vine-growers” by Jesus in this parable–thought that they were in charge. They sought to make people subject to them, to follow their rules (cf. Rom. 10:3-4). The end result was vain religion (Mat. 15:8-9).

THEY WERE GUILTY OF ABUSING THOSE SENT TO THEM (11-15). The “slaves” sent to them were presumably prophets and teachers, no doubt inclusive of John the Baptist. These were the Father’s spokesmen, come to teach and correct them. Each one sent was treated the same, sad way: they “beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” Last of all, the son was sent (13-14). The “owner” (the Father) sent Him, saying, “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him” (13). Instead, seeing Him as the heir, they plotted to kill Him (14). Obviously, Jesus is referring to Himself and the very thoughts these religious leaders were thinking as He told the parable! 

THEY WERE GUILTY OF LOSING WHAT WAS ENTRUSTED TO THEM (16-18). Instead of being convicted by this parable, these religious leaders recoil at the moral of the parable: “What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others” (15-16). Their emotion boils over and they audibly reply to Jesus’ parable, “May it never be!” They missed the travesty of the behavior they and their forefathers had shown to God’s messengers and the sin they were about to perpetrate on His Son. They didn’t want to lose their grip on the power and influence they had taken. But Jesus doubles down, changing the imagery from a vineyard to building construction. They were going to reject Jesus, the stone, but He would be made the chief corner stone. He would judge and destroy them, if they did not abandon their rebellion.

Jesus is full of love, kindness, and peace. But, that’s an incomplete picture of Him. He came to establish His rule and reign. He must be King and Lord of our lives. We must submit to His way and truth to enjoy His life. 

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Jesus Has All Authority
Showing Up When It Counts

Showing Up When It Counts

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

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Brent Pollard

I recall watching the Atlanta Braves when they were the perennial cellar dwellers of the National League. The Braves’ games were broadcast on UHF station 17 out of Atlanta before the little independent television station went national via cable and satellite. In those days of the baby blue uniforms and small letter “a’s,” I watched stars like Dale Murphy, Rafael Ramirez, and Phil Niekro play the game of baseball on a TV with rabbit ears.  

Fast forward to 2021, and the Atlanta Braves have won the World Series. It is interesting to talk to younger fans who only know of above-average play in the last few decades. Such fans are blissfully ignorant of those days when you could count on the Braves to have more losses than wins. Yet, I noticed something about this championship year. If you look at the records of the LA Dodgers (106-56) and Houston Astros (95-67), both teams won more games during the season than the Atlanta Braves (88-73). This truth suggests that it is essential to prevail when it counts. In other words, the Braves showed up when they had to, which is why they are the national champions.  

There is something to be said of that in Christianity as well. Regarding this, Jesus gave a parable about two sons (Matthew 21.28-32). A father went and asked his first son to work in the vineyard. He refused. So, the father went to his second son. The second son said he would go and work but never showed up. In the interim, the first son regretted his answer and went to work in his father’s vineyard. Jesus ends the parable by asking who had been obedient. The crowd responded that the first son had obeyed. Jesus informed them that there would be sinners entering the kingdom of God in like manner before the religious elite.  

The religious leaders were like the second son. They gave lip service but never actually followed the Law of Moses, only their traditions. As a result, they did not show up when it counted. But the prostitutes and tax collectors, cognizant of their sins, showed up when Jesus extended His invitation (Matthew 11.28-30). So, while it is true that there is none righteous (Romans 3.10), we still note that there are people who we count on to show up despite their flaws. Ultimately, this is what matters.  

As the saying that we attribute to Benjamin Franklin goes: “Well done is better than well said.” But, of course, this idea was Biblical long before the famous Pennsylvanian put quill to paper. James reminds us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers (James 1.22). It is far too easy for us to blend in with other congregants. “Worship, Fellowship, Retreat, and Repeat.” Now, I will be the first to say that worship service attendance indicates spiritual health, but there is a vineyard out there in which we must labor. The Father asks us to go out and work in the vineyard. What is our response? We will have fulfilled our required tasks even if we have previously said no by our words or conduct but have shown up anyway. Better to be a latecomer than a no-show. Yes, we must show up when it counts. A gracious God will make up for a less-than-stellar record and proclaim us champions (cf. Matthew 25.24). 

 

Jeff Burroughs (1977) (via http://atlantabraves19701980.blogspot.com)

DAFFODILS THAT DON’T BLOOM

DAFFODILS THAT DON’T BLOOM

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Like the robin, daffodils are a harbinger of spring. They begin blooming in late winter and create anticipation for the pretty spring flowers following. We planted our place in Appalachia with daffodils nearly 30 years ago. Today, we get few flowers in places where we planted them. We do have healthy-looking, green blades but no blooms. By their nature, a single daffodil bulb becomes an entire colony of bulbs within a few years because it reproduces by dividing at the bulb. Once so many bulbs are packed into a small space, the plant cannot receive enough moisture or nutrients to produce the desired flower. So, on the one hand, it’s great because just a few daffodil bulbs can yield an entire daffodil garden in a few years. On the other hand, to keep daffodils flowering one must periodically dig up these new bulbs and space them out so conditions remain conducive to their overall health.

When we think about Jesus’ parable of the sower, we likely think of the various soils presented therein. We pray we find the good soil as we go to plant the seed but realize since few are finding the strait gate and narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14), most of our seed falls on the other three poor soils. Of those poor soils, Jesus highlighted a group in whom the seed never produces fruit since they become choked by thorns (Luke 8.14). These thorny-soiled hearts didn’t recognize how detrimental their thorns were since they took the form of the cares and riches of the world. In like manner, we don’t see the problems posed by a bunch of healthy-looking, green blades where our daffodils ought to be. We keep hoping they will put on blooms, bringing us the testimony of God’s wondrous creation. Yet, conditions underground won’t allow for that.

Might I suggest those possessing thorny-soiled hearts can have a similar problem as the daffodil? It may be they don’t just wither and die (i.e. fall away). It may be they are sitting on the pew, where we planted them, looking as if they hold promise, but never producing blooms. Why? It may be their fruit is being crowded out by conditions at their root. We see no prickly thorns gathered around them. Yet, there are cares and concerns on the inside choking out God’s Word all the same. It is confounding since they may even greet us with a smile on their faces while being inwardly consumed by such things as anxiety.  If we do nothing, though, the results will be the same as if it were thorns.

It may be we need to lift these unproductive Christians to help them settle in a better environment conducive to their growth. We need to help them remove all the things choking their heart. We need to nurture them. Though we’re more considerate of the newborn in Christ, the overcrowding of the heart is a challenge potentially taking place even in the one who obeyed the Gospel years ago. Be your brother and sister’s keeper (Galatians 6.1; James 5.19-20). If you see a pretty green blade that never flowers, dig a little deeper. If one’s heart is being crowded out, help him find the space to bloom (Hebrews 3.13).

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THE BOY WHO STAYED HOME

THE BOY WHO STAYED HOME

Neal Pollard

When we think of the parable in Luke 15, we inevitably think of the younger son who left home for the far country of sin. We appreciate God giving us the prodigal (reckless; wastefully extravagant) son in this parable to illustrate hope, love, and forgiveness, no matter what we may have done. Then we think of our favorite character in this story, the father. He represents God and reveals God’s eagerness to embrace and restore a sinner who repents. He gives the undeserved, unexpected, and unanticipated (cf. Eph. 2:4-8).

Then, there’s that other main character in the story. How does he strike you? After all, his brother has been reckless and irresponsible and his dad lets him off scot-free and even throws him a party. He robbed his father blind, and he isn’t even punished one bit. How do you see the brother who stayed home? Let at the text more closely and see how God sees him.

  • He was guilty of self-righteousness. He complains to the father about the reception his brother received (29). With self-righteousness, there’s an exaggerated view of our own goodness. There’s an exaggerated view of the other guy’s badness. There’s a comparison where we come out on top of the other guy. There are often judgmental assumptions made about the other guy. Let’s not forget that Jesus condemns self-righteousness (cf. Luke 18:10-14). If the Father walked up on some of our condescending conversations, He would spoil our fun since the spirit of self-righteousness is so far removed from the spirit of a loving Father who longs for His wayward children to come home.
  • He lacked self-control (28). He appears quick-tempered, not waiting for an explanation. We have the conversation between the younger son and the father, and the older son and the father. Where is the conversation between the two brothers. Didn’t he claim to be the good, righteous one? There was no self-control in the way he talked to his father or about his brother. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Js. 1:26).
  • He was selfish. Why did he wring his hands about the younger brother’s wasteful spending? The father, who knew this son, answered, “All that I have is yours.” There is no evidence that the older brother was concerned about his formerly depraved brother or his once-grieving father. He seems more interested in how these things impacted him. He appears faithful to his father, but for the wrong purpose. What difference would it have made if the older brother saw the prodigal as someone to serve rather than slam?
  • He had an unforgiving spirit. His brother has sinned against him, but he was unwilling to forgive him. One of the servants called him “your brother” (27), the father calls him “this brother of yours” (32), but the only time he directly refers to him he calls him “this son of yours” (30). Behind these parables, the Pharisees and scribes grumble at Jesus receiving sinners. In the first two parables, people sought the lost. In this last parable, the older brother made no effort to go after his brother. God implies as early as Cain and Abel that we are our brother’s keeper (cf. Gal. 6:2; Js. 5:19-20). Not only did he not search for his brother, but now he won’t forgive him.
  • He was jealous. He thought the father was better to his erring brother (29-30). You can almost hear him saying, “You love him more than you love me.” He couldn’t stand to see his brother honored. How contrary to the way God wants His children treating each other (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:31-32). The older brother was making accusations and he hadn’t even spoken to him. He thinks the worst of him and is utterly lacking in brotherly affection.
  • He was not humble, but rebellious against his father’s will.  He wanted to tell the father how to run his house. Do you notice the younger son respectfully addressing his father (21)? There’s little if any respect from the older son (29-30). The Bible condemns self-will. Peter condemned those despising authority and the self-willed (2 Pe. 2:10). Some people are loyal to the church as long as they can have their own way.

Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the prodigal. None of us will ever be in the position of the father. May we never find ourselves in the position of the boy who stayed home. If we do, we may lose our place in the father’s house!

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Are You Willing To Be A Maintenance Worker?

Are You Willing To Be A Maintenance Worker?

Neal Pollard

Near the end of the epistle to Titus, Paul writes, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful” (3:14). This verse teaches that Christianity involves maintenance work. Everyone enjoys a finished product, few like putting it together, and fewer enjoy repairing or maintaining it. In the same way, “maintaining good works” in the local church can be tedious business. Everyone enjoys a comfortable building, but who will help work on it? Everyone is concerned about the sick and hospitalized, but who will take the time to call, write, and visit them? Everyone likes hospitality and good fellowship, but who is willing to provide it?  The church must be filled with maintenance workers.

On the personal level, it is sad but true that some individual Christians just “fall away.”  Jesus once taught, “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). In this verse, Jesus laments the failure of some believes to do that necessary, personal “maintenance work.” Preventatively, He teaches that we must maintain our joy of God’s Word. Nothing does this like reading and studying the Bible. Only those who are involved daily in this come to truly appreciate the precious value of its truth. Christ teaches that we must maintain our faith in God’s Word. It is hard to believe, but Jesus says that individuals can cease to believe in Him. This is dangerous, as Peter teaches one is better off knowing Christ than rejecting Him (2 Pet. 2:20-21). Christ also teaches that we must maintain our strength by God’s Word. Otherwise, temptation will pull us away from Him.

When Thomas O. Davis accepted the presidency of a civic club, he was not facetious when he prayed, “Now I get me up to work, I pray the Lord I may not shirk, and if I die before tonight, I pray my work will be all right.” An old proverb goes, “God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.” Too, God has given every man a Savior, but He will not just put salvation in our lap without our doing anything. In both the case of the bird and the man, there is work to be done to obtain and maintain what is needed. May all of use do good works eagerly (“be ready,” Titus 3:1), thoroughly (“to every good work,” Titus 3:1), blamelessly (“speak evil of no man,” Titus 3:2), and gently (Titus 3:2). That’s the way to excel in the maintenance business!

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