Wednesday, February 15, 2012

False Hopes

     False hopes are wrong conclusions drawn by the unconverted with respect to their relationship with Jesus Christ. False hopes take place whenever a sinner thinks he has passed from death to life when he has not. Are false hopes a serious problem? You had better believe it in light of Biblical warnings concerning false hopes. Judas Iscariot entertained a false hope. Simon the magician entertained a false hope. The Corinthian fornicator (1 Cor 5) entertained a false hope. In light of 1 John 2.15-16, the Apostle Paul's remark that Demas had forsaken him because he loved this present world (2 Tim 4.10), one might wonder if he, too, had entertained a false hope.
     In addition to the men who entertained false hopes, there are two other indications in the New Testament of the seriousness of this issue. First, consider Jesus' parable of the sower found in Matthew 13.3-8, 18-23, in which the Word of God is represented by seed that is cast onto various types of ground that symbolizes sinners' receptivities. Of the four soils only the final type, where fruit is actually born, is an example of real conversion and evidence of spiritual life. The first three soils represent false hopes. Even a joyful response to the Word can be present in a false hope, verse 20. Next, consider our Lord's instructions for dealing with sin in the church in Matthew 18.15-22. Though the process of reconciliation and restoration described by the Lord is effective as a means of bringing a sinning church member to repentance when sin is confessed and forsaken (with appropriate restitution), that same procedure is simultaneously the means by which someone with a false hope is dismissed from the church so that conviction leading to genuine conversion becomes a prayed for possibility.
     In light of the fact that false hopes are set forth in well known examples, false hopes are warned about in what is frequently acknowledged to be the most important of the parables Jesus taught, and false hopes are one of the issues addressed by Christ's three-step formula for dealing with sins committed by a church member, no one who is sensible can easily dismiss false hopes as a genuine problem to be seriously addressed. That being the case, why is the matter of false hopes dealt with so infrequently by contemporary Christian leaders? After all, most church goers know someone who came to Christ after having a false hope. What about those who thought they were saved but who did not later come to Christ? Is that not a legitimate concern?
     In my own experience as a pastor who himself entertained a false hope as a youngster, I have seen three types of outcomes from false hopes: First, the false hope is thankfully recognized for what it is, an experience of some kind that did not result in conversion and a new life in Christ. Second, the false hope is sadly not recognized for what it is, with the lost professor wrongly concluding that his experience shows Christianity to be fraudulent. This wrong conclusion can produce cynics and apostates. Third, the false hope is once more not recognized for what it is, and the lost professor concludes that while Christianity is real he wrongly concludes that he will never know the joy of sins forgiven and communion with Christ. This reaction often produces despondency and profound discouragement.
     Each of these three conclusions arrived at by those entertaining false hopes are based upon the still unconverted person's own conclusions about God's nature. If God's goodness, justice and graciousness is not questioned the individual with a false hope will blame himself for not truly coming to Christ (and rightly so) and may, in fact, be truly saved in time. However, many with false hopes fall into the error of thinking that Christianity is at fault or that God is somehow to blame in His dealings with His creatures. Such thinking inevitably places blame for the false hope on God rather than self. Of course, such thinking can be deadly because it denies God's holiness and love toward sinful men.
     Great harm can be avoided in a gospel minister's dealings with the lost by bringing three truths to the attention of those he ministers to: First, everyone should be reminded that false hopes are held by professors and that many so-called Christians who experience consistent spiritual failure are actually false professors who entertain false hopes. Second, folks need to be reminded that man really is depraved and Jesus really is despised and rejected by men, resulting in sinners denying Jesus even while convincing themselves that they are embracing Him. This is a danger that needs to be watched for whenever ministers deal with hopeful converts. Third, serious conversations between ministers and those professing an interest in Christ are vital because they enable important questions to be asked and answered that sometimes expose false hopes and lead to a genuine conversions.
     False hopes are sometimes held by the most sincere among us. As a result, false hopes frequently lead to unsaved people becoming church members who can compromise a congregation's Christian testimony from within. False hopes also confuse onlookers and our own children into thinking those they see sinning are Christians. This can result in the Christian faith being viewed with suspicion and disapproval by those without discernment. Thus, ministers would do well to take the matter of false hopes seriously and lead their congregations to implement 1 Peter 3.15, which calls on all who profess Christ to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear. My own experience is that I am thrilled when I am asked if I am a Christian or what is the basis for my conviction that my sins are forgiven.
     False hopes are an almost forgotten issue in our day. We are all the worse off for forgetting to teach about false hopes and deal with false hopes.

Monday, February 13, 2012


     I am so pleased that my mother trained her sons to show honor to others. We were raised to ask permission to be excused from the dinner table to sit in the living room until the adults were finished eating. When the adults entered the living room, children were expected to stand and offer their seats so adults could choose to sit anywhere they chose. As well, we were coached to greet and offer firm handshakes to adults as a means of showing respect. Though not raised in a Christian home, I look back on those days from my many years in the gospel ministry and see the influence of God's Word on the culture of that day and in my own family.
     Honor is profoundly important in God's scheme of things. God Himself has directed His creatures to honor Him in many passages, as well as with our substance and with the firstfruits of our increase, Proverbs 3.9. Thus, honoring God is far more than displaying an attitude of reverence, though it should not be thought God can be honored without reverence. It costs to honor God. In like manner, when widows and spiritual leaders are honored more is called for than a simple display of respect, 1 Timothy 5. 2 and 17.
     Certainly, the most important directive for honoring other people is the command found in Exodus 20.12, "Honour thy father and thy mother," the first commandment with promise. Of all those people God directs one to honor the prominence of place goes to the honoring of father and mother. With the first four of the Ten Commandments related to one's relationship with God, the final six are related to one's relationship with other people, and the first on the second tablet calling for the honoring of parents. Interestingly, the command to honor father and mother occupies more prominence of place than the command protecting one's relationship with his spouse. This is not to say that wives should not be honored (1 Peter 3.7), but that God directed men to honor their parents before He directed men to honor their wives.
     It is obvious that God's will is for us to honor Him, and for us to honor qualified widows and ministers. It is also clear that God wants us to honor our parents and our spouses. In fact, believers are to honor all men (1 Peter 2.17). It is not difficult to understand the importance of us honoring God and our fellow man, since each of us yearns to be honored.
     This understood, what are we to think when attempts are made to prevent us from honoring those we should honor? Specifically, what are we to think when attempts are made to prevent us from honoring God, or our parents, or our spouses? When wisdom and discrimination is exercised there is no conflict when honor is properly rendered. Thus, despite the protests of those who would hinder our expressions of honor to God, to parents, to spouses, and to others, it does not detract from one's honor of his wife to properly honor his father. When someone protests or seeks to interfere with your attempt to honor your father or mother you should be alarmed. The same is true whenever you are discouraged from honoring your spouse.
     Honoring is like love in this respect. No matter how much you love someone; there is no diminishing of love for others. To honor your father does not diminish in any way your ability to honor your wife. In fact, the counter argument can be made. As you love one you become more loving and able to love others more fully. In like manner, by honoring one you become more capable of honoring others. Honor is not a commodity that one depletes with use, but a grace that becomes more abundant with use.
     Honor God. Honor your father. Honor your mother. Honor your spouse. Honor those to whom honor is due. Honor all men. Honor your pastor. Recognize the great wickedness of anyone's attempt to discourage your efforts to honor anyone.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ostentatious Christianity?

Ostentation is defined as the act of making an ambitious display, a pretentious or vain show, a display of anything dictated by vanity or intended to invite praise or flattery.[1] How many of you saw news reports of Kim Jong Il’s funeral procession in North Korea recently? Would you not say that it was ostentatious; an ambitious display entirely dictated by vanity and intended to invite praise and flattery? Yes, it was at the very least ostentatious. However, this is not uncommon these days, is it? Consider all the awards ceremonies that take place in show business each year; the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Emmy’s, the Tony Awards, the ESPY awards, the Country Music Awards, the Kennedy Center Awards, and on it goes. Do not misunderstand me. I am not at all opposed to giving honor to whom honor is due, but these are all entirely about inflating the importance of those giving and receiving the awards, and in turn inflating profits. There is nothing wrong with making a profit. Just be honest about what you are really doing and do not call it honoring or recognizing achievement.
Of course, you expect that kind of behavior from the lost of this world. However, it tragically spilled over into the realm of Christendom centuries ago, with the vulgar pageantries of the Roman Catholic Church, the various Orthodox Churches, and eventually we see it in the crass materialism on display with most of the televangelists such as Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, and the entire TBN network. Is Christianity really well-represented by the imagery of great wealth they present? When asked for alms from a poor beggar while he was entering the Temple, the Apostle Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”[2] The Apostle Paul did not even make his appearance a focal point of his gospel ministry. Nor did the Apostle Peter. Is there any indication in God’s Word that the servants of God focused any attention on their clothing or drew attention to themselves in this way? Throughout the Bible, God’s men have never been given to ostentatious display. In church history, you will notice that organized Christianity moved toward ostentatious display as it moved away from doctrinal purity and obedience to God’s Word. Though I cannot recollect for sure where I read it, I am quite sure that David Martyn Lloyd-Jones once observed a correlation between the doctrinal accuracy of most preaching and the simplicity of the auditorium in which the gospel truth is declared. I would agree with him on this, since spiritual Christianity typically avoids ostentatious displays.
Can you tell the focus of this message from God’s Word? Despite what so many who claim to be Christians feel about this, Bible-based Christianity is not ostentatious. It is not about ambitious display, a pretentious show or a production of anything that is dictated by vanity or that is intended to invite praise or flattery. The Crystal Cathedral was never a proper place of Christian of worship because of its ostentation, just as the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris or Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome are no more places of genuine worship than the various Mormon or Baha’i temples or the Taj Mahal. I have always recoiled with every fiber of my being when pageantry is used to express ambition, to invite praise, or to brag on oneself. I just do not like that stuff and find that spiritual Christianity, which you might suppose should reflect the Lord Jesus Christ to some extent, is not compatible with ostentation. No Christian should ever say anything like “Our church is best,” or should claim, “Our pastor is best.” As well, churches should exercise caution lest they fall into the trap of ostentation in any area of expression.
Allow me to establish this principle in your thinking by reviewing some things about our Lord Jesus Christ:


Was there anything about the Second Person’s assumption of human nature or of the Virgin Mary being overshadowed by the Holy Ghost that was done to invite praise or to brag? Was there any pageantry associated with the incarnation? The answer to both of these questions is an emphatic “No.” It is difficult to assert ostentation when there are only two human beings privy to a secret; Mary when she was informed and Joseph when he was told of the virgin birth. When we study the birth of Jesus, we find nothing about the coming of the Creator from the throne room of heaven to the womb of a young Jewish virgin was ostentatious.


For something to be ostentatious there has to be an attention getting aspect surrounding the event. There has to be something that is trumpeted, announced, or done to capture the attention of an audience. Do we have any of that associated with the birth of Christ? We reviewed the Christmas story every year. On those occasions, I specifically remind children that the Bible indicated Christ was going to be born, indicated where He was going to be born, and then indicated that He had been born. However, the event of Christ’s birth is nowhere described and the place of His birth was unattended by anyone until after it took place. Should you suggest that the announcement to the shepherds and the praise of the heavenly choir was an ostentatious display, I am afraid I would have to disagree with you and prove you wrong. Ostentation would not announce the birth of Christ to shepherds, but to kings. It would not place the birth of Christ in a small village, but in Jerusalem. Ostentation would not wait hours to announce the afternoon birth of Christ late at night. Nor would it allow for an angelic choir out in the countryside, but in the city in front of throngs of people, or better yet, at the Temple. The angelic announcement to the shepherds and then the appearance and praise of the host of angels was not ostentatious. Rather, it was the necessary but much muted declaration by angels that the culmination of a stupendous miracle had occurred some hours before. It was not a proclamation dictated by vanity or designed to invite flattery. If it was it would not have taken place where it did with the only audience being those poor shepherds.


Most people take no note of Christ’s presentation at the Temple in accordance with the Law of Moses after His circumcision and so that His mother Mary could make the atonement for her sins that was required.[3] You would think that occasion, taking place as it did in Jerusalem and at the Temple, would be the perfect time and place for a big “to do.” However, that did not happen. Rather than the whole city learning that the Messiah had arrived on the scene, God’s plan was to reveal the event to only two people; a man named Simeon and an old woman named Anna.[4] You would expect them to tell everyone they knew. And Anna did. But did that cause a big scene? Not that we are told in the Biblical record. It is likely that Mary and her baby disappeared into the sea of humanity after these encounters. Thus, Christ’s presentation at the Temple was executed without ostentation.


The Roman Catholic Church has contrived legends of the baby Jesus and the boy Jesus working miracles, as well as all sorts of mystical things taking place during His growing up years. However, the only mention of Jesus in the Bible during His young years in Nazareth came on the occasion when He was discovered in the Temple listening to teachers and asking them questions.[5] That was not ostentatious because it neither attracted an audience nor led to Christ having anything more than passing notoriety as a twelve year old. As for Christ working miracles during His childhood, I read the Apostle John commenting on Jesus turning the water into wine at the marriage feast after His baptism. John 2.11: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” The Bible shows that Christ’s miracles began at the marriage feast, meaning there were no miracles performed by Him before His public ministry began. But I risk getting ahead of myself.


I will leave it to you to confirm the accuracy of my insistence that although He grew up in Nazareth, in Galilee, which is in the north of the country, Jesus traveled to the south end of the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. His baptism by John the Baptist was the beginning of His public ministry, at which time John bore “witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me,” John 1.15. This was not an ostentatious display. Turn to John 1.32, where we read of Christ’s baptism from John’s perspective:

32     And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33     And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34     And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
35     Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
36     And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
37     And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

Only John the Baptist actually saw the Spirit descending on Jesus and abiding on Him and heard God the Father speak. Matthew 3.16-17 gives us a bit more detail:

16     And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17     And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Let me say again, the reason it was left to John the Baptist to identify Jesus to two of his disciples is because only John saw the Spirit descend upon Him in the form of a dove and only John heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ’s baptism at the hand of John the Baptist was not ostentatious. It could not have been crowd-pleasing since the crowd did not know of it. In turn, John the Baptist announced Christ’s identity at that time to only two men, John and Andrew.


Did Jesus heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame to walk again, cleanse lepers, and raise the dead? Yes, He did. He also cast out demons, walked on water, plucked a coin from a fish’s mouth, and fed thousands from small portions of food on two different occasions. That said, His ministry was still not ostentatious. I read from Matthew 12.15-16: “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known.” Understand that although He sought to persuade sinners to look to Him for salvation and forgiveness, He did not do so in a pretentious or ostentatious way. On many occasions, He left crowds behind. On other occasions, He angered crowds so that they followed Him no more. On one occasion He left a multitude who wanted to follow Him, but for the wrong reason. They wanted to make Him their king, but what they wanted in a king was not what He is as the King.[6] It might strike you that the occasion when He was atop a mountain and was transfigured so that His face shined as the sun and He held court with Moses and Elijah was a bit ostentatious, Matthew 17.1-9. Not so. Only James, Peter and John were witness to the event, and they were told to mention it to no one until after the resurrection. This is the very opposite of ostentation.


Though the great throng of people who surrounded Him and cheered as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey colt was certainly a big event and grabbed the attention of many people, there was nothing about the Savior’s actions that could be remotely construed as ambitious display, a pretentious or vain show, a display dictated by vanity or that it was intended to invite praise or flattery. Quite the contrary. Though identified by blind Bartimaeus as the Son of David in Jericho, Jesus separated Himself from the other pilgrims walking to Jerusalem as they approached the city. He would not have done this if He were seeking crowd approval.[7] Then several days later when He rode into Jerusalem in that fashion to fulfill prophecy, He did not rally the crowd or attempt to stir their passions. On the contrary, He was overcome with sadness and wept over the city.[8] On that occasion, the people of Jerusalem were already tense with excitement because the rumor mill was running amok. News had spread that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and there were too many witnesses to deny the fact. Then what happened a couple of days before in Jericho with Bartimaeus calling Him the Son of David, a Messianic title, was bound to stir up the crowd. They all wanted the Messiah to come and put the Romans to flight. However, that does not mean Jesus was in any way ostentatious when He entered the city.


Consider that instituting the communion of the Lord’s Supper began as a private Passover meal consisting of Jesus and His twelve apostles and no one else. At the beginning of the evening, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. When He announced that one at the table would betray Him, the disciples became anxious and wondered among themselves who it might be. Then during the course of the evening Judas Iscariot was dismissed to betray Him. Jesus met in private with only His twelve apostles, washing their feet, and then announced His betrayal to them. Does any of that sound to you like the actions of someone who is attempting to curry favor, build up His reputation or elicit the praise of others? On the contrary. He had been telling His disciples for weeks at this point that He would soon be offered as a sacrifice and die. Hardly an ostentatious celebration.


Ostentation is all about pride and the attempt to exalt yourself in respect to others. Was there anything like that associated with the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ? Did He not know when He became sin for us that He would be despised and rejected of men? How is being humiliated and beaten related to bolstering the opinions others have of you? The opposite of ostentation, my Savior was ridiculed, tormented, beaten, spat upon, scourged without mercy, blindfolded, and then buffeted. This is not to mention His nakedness and the injustice of all that He went through, culminating in His death on the cross situated between two thieves. Such would not make anyone famous, but infamous.


This might be a surprise to you until you remember the details of His resurrection. It occurred with no witnesses. Think about it. No one was witness to His resurrection. Oh yes, there were witnesses that He had risen from the dead. In other words, while hundreds saw Him after He had risen from the dead, proving His resurrection had taken place, no one saw Him actually leave the tomb as some had seen Lazarus do. Do not misunderstand what I am saying. Christ’s resurrection from the dead after three days and three nights, His demonstration of victory over sin, death, Hell and the grave was one of the greatest of all miracles ever wrought. However, no one saw it. Hundreds saw that it had occurred because they saw the resurrected Savior but no one saw it actually take place. So, with no witnesses of the actual event, besides the angels of course, the resurrection could not have been an ostentatious display.


I speak of Christ’s departure from His disciples recorded in Acts 1.9 moments after His final charge to them. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” Notice that there was no pageantry when this occurred. There was no drum roll, no music and no flashes or bangs. He just went up and they watched Him until a cloud blocked their view and they could no longer see Him. Did Jesus ascend to put on an ambitious display, to be pretentious or vain, to display His vanity or to invite praise or flattery? No. He ascended to occupy His throne at the right hand of the Majesty on high until the time of His second coming in power and in great glory.

Is it not obvious from what we have seen that there was nothing about the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ that suggested He did anything merely for show? Ostentation is about pride and puff but everything the Lord Jesus Christ showed during His earthly ministry was the opposite. So much the opposite that the Apostle Paul stated that Jesus made Himself of no reputation, took upon Himself the form of a servant, and humbled Himself, Philippians 2.7-8. Will Jesus always be that way? My heavens, no. Paul goes on to write, in Philippians 2.9-11,

9      Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10     That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11     And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Recognize that Jesus is most awe inspiring, being at present terrible in majesty. When He comes again, Jesus will be most regal and impressive as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. However, that is not ostentation. That is propriety. That is appropriate. That is befitting His status and nature. Keep in mind that Paul tells us God exalted Him rather than Jesus exalting Himself.
How should what we have considered this evening affect the way we worship, the way we serve, the way we do church, the way we do our Christianity, the way we put on Christmas programs, the way we publicize our church to the surrounding community, and even the way we observe the pastor’s birthday? We should learn from our Savior not to be in any way ostentatious. We should never seek to wow anyone, to impress anyone or to leave anyone in awe of anyone in our church. Our goal is to show people how impressive Jesus is. We should recognize that what we have seen in God’s Word undermines any basis some might think they have who seek to represent the Lord Jesus Christ and serve Him using ostentatious displays and pageantry in their preaching, in their communion, in their baptizing or in any part of their presentation of the gospel ministry.
Is it possible that we will err in our efforts to exalt the Savior and represent our God as majestic and regal and give some the impression that we are engaged in ostentation? Yes, it is possible. However, it should never be our intent. There should be no affectation and no pretense about us. Rather, let us seek always to be real and genuine as we represent our Savior and our God. In so doing, we may find ourselves increasingly distant from other ministries that resort to ostentation in their attempts to impress people. So be it. By God’s grace, that is not a place we want to go.

[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1266.
[2] Acts 3.6
[3] Luke 2.21-24; Leviticus 12
[4] Luke 2.25-38
[5] Luke 2.41-52
[6] John 6.15
[7] Matthew 20.29-34
[8] Matthew 23.37