THE FULL GOSPEL
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 22, 2015
20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
— Matthew 16:20-28, ESV
I am of the opinion that in our country there are very few full gospel churches. Various congregations advertise as full gospel, meaning they think they possess certain gifts of the Holy Spirit that make them full, and implying that those of us who do not speak in tongues and perform miracles on demand are half empty, to which I take minor offense. Some of them may indeed be full gospel, as well as other churches, if they understand and apply the full meaning of the full gospel.
The gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the historical, spiritual, applicable story of how God has come to save us from sin and death. To get half the gospel, you have to accurately acknowledge who Jesus is, which Simon Peter did eloquently in the previous passage (ref. Matthew 16:13-19). Non-Christians cannot comprehend the meaning of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and many within the church seem to struggle with this as well. But even if you accept who Jesus really is, it is only half the gospel, unless you apply what He has done.
Raising a ladder half-way to the window of a burning building cannot save anyone. Having half of an open heart surgery will leave a person dead on the table. And believing in half of the gospel, no matter how wonderful you think Jesus is, will not save your eternal soul. We need a full gospel, which Jesus fully gives in this text.
A Secret to Reveal
Verse 20 is a bridge between the two halves of the gospel. In verses 13-19, Simon Peter is set up to say who Jesus is. In verses 21-28, Jesus proclaims His righteous work and the right response. But in verse 20, Jesus tells Simon Peter and the others to shut up.
This is the Gospels’ “Messianic Secret,” which occurs in passages, especially this one, where Jesus told His followers to keep quiet about Him. Reading them on this side of the resurrection seems odd, especially when thinking of the latter New Testament commands to go into all the world and preach the gospel. But we must remember that the Great Commission was not given until Christ’s work was consummated by the cross and the empty tomb.
At this point in the life of Jesus and His disciples, the gospel was not yet full. And Jesus’ point in this verse, which Peter will shortly prove, is that He does not want people telling only half of the gospel. Obviously, a person who does not know who Christ is cannot be a witness for Christ. But to be a proper witness of the full gospel of Jesus Christ, one has to know Who He is and what He has done, and what He has done is gotten Himself killed.
A Mission to Accomplish
The Apostle Paul would later write a beautiful summary of the full gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Peter did not yet know what Paul later learned, but Jesus was about to explain it to him and them. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (ref. vs. 21).
The messianic mission to suffer and die was largely lost in first century Judaism. Although it was prefigured by the Old Covenant sacrificial system and predicted by the Old Testament prophets, this first truth had become overshadowed by the second truth of the glorious return and reign of the Messiah. To see the crown without the cross is only half the gospel, and Jesus’ mission was to get the gospel full.
Christ’s mission was to fulfill Scripture. Accepting a half gospel results in half-hearted approach to the Bible. In the words of a famous folk song, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. This explains the legions of half Christians who adhere to less than half of the vital Christian disciplines (hence the word “disciple”) and will one day get half way to Heaven. Jesus was determined to follow in full the Father’s plan for His life so that He could give us a full plan for our lives. You must accept the Son of God and the word of God to have a full gospel.
Christ’s mission was to suffer. Failing to understand this key part of Jesus’ mission led to people missing the gospel entirely in Jesus’ day. In our day, it has led to a plethora of false doctrines, not the least of which is the “health and wealth” movement and the notion that the church will disappear into thin air before any serious suffering or persecution can take place. Suffering and death are the result of our rebellion against God. So to remedy the rebellion, God embraced suffering and death, including His own.
Christ’s mission, according to the Scriptures, was to suffer and die to redeem suffering and death. It does not take them away, but it turns them on their head. Jesus has to suffer and die, not merely at the hands of men, but at the hands of a holy God who is bound by His perfect justice to punish sin. The love of God is only half the gospel. The holiness of God makes it full. And the intersection of the love of God and the holiness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Admitting you are a sinner and an enemy of God is to suffer a severe blow to your pride. Committing your life to Christ will cause the death of some worldly pleasures and pursuits and replace them with certain persecutions and sacrifices. Are you ready for the full gospel? Apparently Simon Peter was not, for the rock became a stumbling block.
The Half Gospel
Jesus preached the gospel and Peter said, “No.” This, by the way, is by far the most common response to the full gospel. This is not to say that Simon Peter was damned at this point, for we must remember that he and the other fledgling followers of the Lord Jesus Christ were walking through that mysterious mid-point between the Old and New Covenants. Salvation has, is, and always will be by grace alone through faith alone in God alone, as God has revealed Himself to man. Peter’s confession to the first half of the gospel, the person of Christ, was great; but, now he had to deal with the second half, and a full struggle ensued.
To reuse the simplistic analogy, Simon Peter wanted the crown without the cross. He wanted it for Jesus, for the Lord to rule and reign over sinners without paying the price for man’s sin. He wanted, as His follower, the blessings of salvation without being buffeted by the cost of discipleship. He wanted a pain-free, power-grabbing life now, on earth, and he wasn’t going to let even Jesus stand in the way.
So, Jesus called Peter the devil. The devil always gets in the way of the gospel. Actually, Christ called him “Satan,” which could be spelled here with a little “s,” simply meaning adversary or enemy. An embrace of half the gospel, of a gospel of prosperity and material blessing, is an enemy of the cross and the full gospel.
Again, I’m not saying Peter was not a saved person, for I really think he was. And I’m not saying you're not saved if you have some wealth, good health, or if no one is trying to cut your head off for being a Christian (which is sadly and shockingly taking place in the Middle East today). I’m just suggesting you not settle for a half gospel. Take it in full.
The Full Gospel
To be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ is to accept who He is, what He has done, and prove it with a life that is remarkably like Christ’s. You do not earn salvation, but you can prove it, if you embrace the full gospel.
Jesus denied Himself the glories of Heaven to come and suffer such indignities on earth (ref. Philippians 2:5ff). He denied Himself the privilege of doing what He wanted to do in order to do what the Father commanded Him to do (visit the Garden of Gethsemane). Are you willing to deny yourself of your primary goals and wishes on earth in order to surrender to God’s?
Jesus took up His cross, in the most direct and dramatic way possible. It is there He died and His death changes everything. There is a cross in every acceptance of the full gospel. It may be planted in a church building, a quiet room in your home, perhaps outdoors somewhere. But the cross is that crossroad in a life that accepts the full gospel, no matter the cost, and begins the always disciplined and often difficult Christian life.
Jesus gave His life and took it up again the third day. Christians give this present life to Christ in exchange for a more abundant life now and an eternal life which will never end. It is a leap of faith. It can be dark, difficult, scary. We can read and believe in Christ’s resurrection. We have to trust that our own will come if we follow Him.
Jesus preached and proved that the soul is worth more than the life. If living it up now is what you want, and the full gospel is too confining, then you can enjoy your life at the cost of your soul. If the full gospel of the soul is what you want, then it is going to cost you your life, in expenditures of small change or maybe in one lump sum. But the reward is worth it, if you fully believe in the full gospel.
Half gospels and cheap grace have damned generations of church members in our country. The American church is characterized now by inactive church members and undisciplined disciples. They are half way out on the ladder, half way through a soul-saving operation, half way to Heaven and hung out to dry. We must begin again to get the gospel right and demand total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let us listen to the words of Christ and say yes, yes to His death and resurrection and yes to our own, yes to the delayed gratification of discipleship and yes to the great reward, yes to the full gospel of Jesus Christ.
DUMB AND DUMBER
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 1, 2015
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
— Matthew 16:1-12, ESV
I am indebted to the late, great pastor James Montgomery Boice for the title of today’s sermon. In his commentary on Matthew, he likened the Pharisees and Sadducees to that old expression, dumb and dumber. When I read it, images of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were conjured up in my mind. I tend to laugh and scoff at the Pharisees and Sadducees when I read about them in Scripture. But in Jesus’ day, people took them quite seriously.
They arrive on the this scene at the turn of a new chapter, literally in Matthew’s Gospel and ultimately in the overall gospel story. This conflict signals Christ’s virtual withdrawal from public ministry (vs. 1-12), which is followed by a public confession of faith by Simon Peter (vs. 13-20), which precipitates Christ’s painful walk to the cross (vs. 21ff).
What the Pharisees and Sadducees did to Jesus here is not amusing. What they would go on to do, conspiring with a traitor and a timid Roman governor to arrest, crucify, and kill Jesus, is obviously not very funny, either. And the influence they still hold on many in the church today is no laughing matter at all.
Though religion gets a deservedly bad wrap in our day, not everything about religion is wrong. Sincere adherents to all major religions use their respective faiths as platforms to please their God or gods, improve the quality of their lives, make sense of sickness and death, and do meaningful service for other human beings. While I recognize only one religion as the right way to a relationship with God, I appreciate the contribution that all religious people have made to promote peace, advance education, alleviate suffering, and fight for human rights.
Yet religious scoundrels have always been among us. Tribal cannibals have killed, cooked, and eaten people at the feet of their wooden gods. Radical Islamists are killing men and enslaving women to suit their skewed view of Allah. And no one has done more damage to Christianity and the values it inspires than the charlatans and hypocrites in the church. Religion can shed a wonderful fragrance like fresh flowers, or it can spread stench and death like rotten fruit.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were rotten fruit. They show us what is wrong about religion. Sadly, their tribes are still alive and well today, and here are some general reasons why their kind of religion is wrong.
Religion is wrong when it is arrogant and demanding. The Pharisees and Sadducees arrogantly demanded that Jesus show them a sign, or miracle. Who were they to tell God what to do? They really thought they were above the carpenter’s son from Galilee, in spite of our Lord’s perfect character and conduct. They thought they were better teachers, better leaders, and better suited to be at the front of the religious line in Israel. How disgusting! There is a big difference between a confidence and arrogance. I believe, confidently, that Christianity is the only way to God. I also believe, also quiet confidently, that the reformed, baptistic way of expressing faith and worship is the best expression of a biblical faith. However, I do not believe for a microsecond that I am a better person than a Jew, Muslim, Christian from another denomination, or any unbeliever for that matter. I have no right to demand that my voice be louder or my rights held higher than theirs in any way. Christians should copy Elijah, without the killing of course, and let everyone’s voice be heard. At the end of the day we will see whose god is God.
Religion is wrong when it misuses an unholy trinity of power, money, and sex. It is well documented throughout the Gospels that the Pharisees and Sadducees used their religion to advance their own power and control over people and make themselves money. It think it is implied that they, like their modern compatriots, used religion to go after illicit sex, also. Woe unto those who parade into churches and give out exaggerated voting guides or take up collections for political parties. Woe to those who make their way behind the pulpit or in front of the television camera only to make money. Woe to those who use their positions of church leadership to seduce others into sexual immorality. It happened then, it happens now, and at the end of time the hottest place in Hell awaits those who have used religion to prey upon others instead of pray for others.
Poisons that Plague the Church
That’s enough with some generalities, let’s get more specific. Who were the Pharisees and Sadducees and what did they believe? What effect do their beliefs still have on people today? Are there poisonous people in the pulpits and pews of the church?
The Pharisees were self-righteous legalists. They believed in the basic truths about God, the intrinsic inspiration of God’s word, yet put themselves above both. They were laymen and leaders of their synagogues, much like certain kinds of deacons in a misguided Baptist church. They enjoyed getting the most recognition in their places of worship, no doubt due to the benefits it bestowed upon their social and economic standing. They preached a gospel of works, which is no gospel at all. They developed a long list of extra-biblical rules and regulations to follow and force upon everyone else. They looked down upon others who didn’t do things their way, and were willing to assassinate character, or a certain character named Jesus, to get their way. The poison of the Pharisees has flowed throughout history and still pools beneath our feet today. Racism and classism in the church, black and white, are the reasons behind much of our contemporary racial strife and class warfare. Prohibitionists and dress-code schoolmarms who try to enforce rules found nowhere in the Bible are the reason why generations of young people have fled rather than flock to the church. Pharisaical church leaders who appear prim and proper on the outside but are full of hate, lies, and stupidity on the inside are just as much a threat to the gospel today as they were a threat to the life of Christ in His day. Their leaven, or poison, still plagues us.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, were smug liberals who joined hands with the Pharisees to fight against Christ. They barely believed in God, denied they supernatural and afterlife, and promoted only small parts of Scripture that they liked. They lived in a religious culture and soon learned that religion was the way to cultivate power and influence. They took advantage of other people’s bodies and could have cared less about their souls. They, too, saw Jesus as a threat to their sacred status-quo and were more than willing to join with the Pharisees in slander and conspiracy against His life and legacy. And they, too, are still with us. Why would anyone want to be a member or leader of the church who believes little or nothing about biblical, historic church doctrine? For earthly power and prestige. Why would anyone attack a pastor for preaching words in keeping with Scripture and sound doctrine? Because the word of God is a sword that strikes at the heart of man’s pride and sin, and Sadducees would rather hold on to power than repent and believe. Their leaven, or poison, still plagues us.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were poisonous enough apart, but together they made a deadly concoction. Going forward in Matthew’s Gospel, they lead the charge to crucify the Lord Jesus Christ. Going forward in our day, they herald the false doctrines of legalism, liberalism, so-called word of faith movements that make demands of God to serve us with health and wealth, and pious parochialism that excludes almost anyone who disagrees with them about anything. Don’t taste their leaven or drink their poison. If you do, spit it out quick. One bad apple can spoil an otherwise sweet spirit in Christ’s church.
What to Watch For
The principle way to spot rotten religion and poison in the pews is by governing your life and church with the authoritative and inspired word of God, the Bible. Hold yourself and your elders accountable to live and lead not by tradition, not by personal preferences, not by political persuasions, but by the living and breathing word of God. At the end of life, all people will be judged by God, and God will judge everyone by the same standard, the word of God.
In this passage, Jesus rightly castigated His enemies here by mocking their ability to abide by primitive weather signs while failing to rightly divide the word of God. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees really knew how to exegete and apply Holy Scripture. I am sure they did not even get Jesus’ words about Jonah after Christ had risen on the third day. The Lord also gently rebuked His own disciples for caring more about earthly bread than the bread of life, which is the teaching from God’s word about God’s Son. We certainly do not want to be Pharisees or Sadducees, but we don’t want to be unprofitable disciples, either, so let me list some things to watch out for.
Watch out for other people, particularly people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. Don’t just watch them for what you can find wrong. Watch for the good, for the common graces of love, justice, fairness, and peace. You can be tolerant without compromising your personal, evangelical faith. You can get along, find common ground, and work together to make the world a better place by not being a dumb Pharisee or Sadducee, or a dumber disciple.
Watch out for the leaders and teachers of your church. Chain them to Scripture and the best biblical practices found in church history. Don’t unfairly criticize them, don’t pass out letters or leaflets against them, and don't try to remove them if their life and leadership reflects sound doctrine, even if the doctrine disagrees with your own. If it grates on you badly enough, then remove yourself rather than trying to remove them. But if you are all Christian, you should be able to find more to agree upon than argue about. If you get out of the ditch of disagreement and stay on the solidity of common ground, you will enjoy your church and fellow Christians more than ever before.
Most of all, watch out for yourself. Look in the mirror. Do you see a dumb Pharisee, overly strict and self-righteous? I have seen this in myself on more than one occasion, and I changed and am still changing. Do you see a dumb Sadducee, lacking faith in the word of God and the sovereignty of God to make good out of bad? I have, and I grew and am still growing. Do you see a dumb disciple, wasting time on so many lesser things rather than spending quality time in the word of God and worship? I have, I still do, and I hope to change that image as time goes by. We all have the capacity to be good fruit, and we all can become rotten. We all have the capacity to bless our world, our church, and our lives with the love and truth of God, and we all can produce poison. Let us watch out, wise up, and not waste any more of our lives being dumb and dumber.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org