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The Catch of Fish

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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  1. article

    The Faithful Minister

  2. devotional

    Discipling and Disciplining

  3. question and answer

    Please define a miracle and state whether or not you think God still performs them today.

The Faithful Minister

Joel Beeke

Matthew 11 begins with a brief reference to Jesus’ commissioning the twelve apostles (see 10:2–5), then returning to His work as a minister of the Word. This is the context for understanding the events and sayings of Chapter 11. The general topic is the ministry of the Word — whether in the hands of John or Jesus — and how that ministry ought to be received.

During Christ’s ministry in Galilee, John the Baptist sends messengers to ask Jesus: “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3 kjv). The implication is that the public ministry of Jesus is raising doubts about His truly being the Christ.

Jesus responds by assuring them that He is doing the works of the Christ, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 35:5–6) — in particular, the great work of preaching the Gospel to the poor (61:1). He dismisses all doubt by declaring the blessedness of “whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matt. 11:1–6). 

Having dismissed John’s messengers, Jesus affirms the ministry of John as “a prophet…and more than a prophet” (v. 9). He was sent from God to fulfill the long-cherished promise of Elijah (Mal. 4:5) as the last and greatest of all prophets, the forerunner of the Christ (Matt. 11:10).

In the midst of His tribute to John, Jesus says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (v. 12). He may be referring to the violence of the unjust imprisonment of John as well as worse things yet to come. He may also be referring to the eruption of demonic activity in opposition to Christ and His kingdom.

Jesus confirms John’s status as a prophet, asserts His own claim to be the Christ of God, and declares that the end of the Old Testament dispensation is at hand. John is the greatest of the prophets, and he is also the last; his ministry belongs to an age that is coming to an end. Christ is about to usher in a new order for God’s kingdom on earth. Astonishingly, Jesus declares that “he that is least” in this new kingdom will be greater than John! 

Jesus then compares John’s ministry to His own in terms of lifestyle. John’s extraordinary diet and commitment to total abstinence from wine were appropriate to his ministry as a preacher of repentance. By contrast, as the “Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), Jesus was fully involved in the lives of everyday people. He ate the food and drank the wine set before Him without compromising His personal holiness or godliness.

Unbelievers looking for any excuse to reject the Word of God deride John’s way of living — “neither eating nor drinking” — and call him a madman. At the same time, they criticize Jesus for eating and drinking by calling Him “a gluttonous man and a winebibber.” Denouncing these servants of God, a generation of critics dismisses the kingdom message that these servants proclaim. Christ regards this as the worst kind of folly, saying, “Wisdom is justified of her children” (Matt. 11:16–19). 

Christ now reproaches the communities in Galilee. Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus laments their rejections, saying, “Woe unto thee!” (v. 21). He alerts them to the great responsibility they bear for having heard His words and seen His works yet still finding fault with Him as they did with God’s other messengers.

Christ compares the lot of such communities with that of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, which were notorious for idolatry and gross wickedness. On the day of judgment, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum will be judged even more harshly for their unbelief than cities outside of Israel, since they rejected the ministry of Christ in the flesh.

Jesus’ cries of woe are followed by words of praise. Most of Jesus’ own people have spurned His Gospel ministry, but He rejoices that some are receiving Him and believing on His name (John 1:11–12). These believers may be “babes” in the eyes of their neighbors, but they have listened to and believed what others, even “wise and prudent” men, neither understood nor believed. Christ, the preacher of sovereign grace, attributes their faith to the Father and “the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). He rejoices in the ministry of life that has been put into His hands (Matt. 11:24–27).

Jesus knows it is the Father’s will for Him to go on preaching the Gospel, regardless of the violence, slander, or unbelief of men. Thus He ends this discourse with a plain, powerful, and moving Gospel invitation to the weary and burdened to come to Him; He will give them rest (vv. 28–30). Let every preacher take note: Amid the frustrations and hardships of ministry, the most Christ-like thing is to stay focused on your calling, give thanks to God, and go on preaching the Gospel.

Discipling and Disciplining

There is a strange dichotomy in the language of the contemporary church. Much is said and written about the important function of discipling new Christians, while at the same time the function of church discipline has almost vanished. Today, discipline is a word used to refer to the instruction and nurture of the believer. It does not usually carry the connotation of ecclesiastical censure or punishment.

In one sense, this modern version of discipling is linked to the New Testament model. The term disciple in the New Testament means “learner.” The disciples of Jesus were students who enrolled in Jesus’ peripatetic rabbinic school. They addressed Him as “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” To follow Jesus involved literally walking around behind Him as He instructed them (the word peripatetic comes from the Greek word peripateo, which means “to walk”).

The New Testament community was forbearing and patient with its members, embracing a love that covered a multitude of sins. But in the New Testament, church discipleship also involved discipline. Part of apostolic nurture was seen in rebuke and admonition. The church had various levels or degrees of such discipline, ranging from the mild rebuke to the ultimate step of excommunication.

Please define a miracle and state whether or not you think God still performs them today.

There is a tremendous difference between the popular definition of a miracle in our culture and the narrow technical definition of a miracle that theologians work with in their science. We can often have serious communication problems when people ask me whether I believe that God is doing miracles today. If by a miracle we mean that God is alive and well and running his world by his providence, affecting the course of human events, then by all means God is doing those things. If the question is asking whether or not God is answering prayers, then I would say emphatically, yes, God is answering prayers. If people are asking whether the providence of God is bringing extraordinary things to pass today, I would say absolutely. Does God heal people in response to prayer? I would say yes to all of those questions because I’m convinced that God is alive and well and doing all of those things. If we define a miracle as a supernatural work of God, then I would say that God certainly does supernatural works today. The rebirth of a human soul cannot be done by natural means; only God can do it through his power, and God is certainly doing that every day. If that’s what people mean by a miracle, then God is doing miracles today. Some people define a miracle so broadly as to say that even the birth of a child is a miracle because it’s a marvelous thing that couldn’t happen apart from the power of God. So they would define a miracle as any wonderful thing that happens by the power of God. If that’s the definition of miracle, then again I would say that, absolutely, God is performing them today. However, we may be speaking of miracle in the technical sense of an action performed against the laws of nature— God circumventing the very laws he put into motion—for example, bringing life out of death or something out of nothing, such as Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead when his body was in a state of decomposition after four days in the tomb. No, I don’t think that God is doing that kind of miracle today. I certainly believe God could raise every human being in every cemetery in this world today if he wanted to. But I don’t think he is performing those kinds of miracles today. The chief reason he did those things in biblical days was to certify revelation as divine—to back up what he spoke with evidence of his authority. Since we now have the Bible, other, miraculous sources of revelation are no longer necessary.

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