The Seeker who was Sought


Zacchaeus was a crook, and everybody knew it. Jesus knew it too. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus as one is curious about a celebrity. Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus and he singled him out as a candidate for salvation (Luke 19:9-10).

Jesus made this man the center of attention on purpose because he wanted to emphasize the fact that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” I am struck by several features of the story. To begin with, Jesus went out of his way to publicly associate himself with a person with an unsavory reputation,  a “sinner.”

Zacchaeus was a tax collector; actually, a “chief” tax collector who held  higher office than most others. In this, he was a collaborator with the hated Roman government in extorting excessive and unjust revenues from ordinary people. This arrangement had made him wealthy at the expense of others

This is not the first time Jesus spent time with people who were known “sinners.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Levi, or Matthew, had been a tax collector before the Lord called him (Luke 5:27-32). In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus forgave the sins of an immoral woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

it is also worth notice that the Lord called Zacchaeus by name. He knew who he was even before they met. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He has declared his purpose: he will die for sinners and rise from the dead. (Luke 18:31-34). Everything that happens along this road to Jerusalem should be understood accordingly: He “loved me a gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Furthermore, it was the very presence of Jesus which stabbed the heart of Zacchaeus with conviction and repentance. His willingness to give half his wealth to the poor was not salvation by works. His willingness to make generous restitution for past wrongs was not an attempt to buy his way into the kingdom of God. It was evidence of a changed heart. It was gratitude for the gift of salvation.

“Salvation has come to this house” parallels the teaching of Jesus in Luke 18:18-29. There the Lord had said it would be possible, despite appearances to the contrary, for such men as Zacchaeus to enter the kingdom of God.

The only way for him to be assured of salvation would be by faith in the savior. This is implied by what the Lord said in verse 9: “This man too is a son of Abraham.” Surely this means that he became a believer in Jesus and thus was included as a spiritual descendant of Abraham (Romans 4:3-5, 16), the spiritual father of all those who believe (Galatians 3:26-29).

This story suggests several applications. (1) Jesus knew Zacchaeus by name. He knew all about what he had done. He knows our names. He knows all about us. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

(2) Zacchaeus thought he was seeking Jesus. He learned that Jesus had been seeking him all along.

(3) Everything in this story must be understood in light of the cross. Whenever Jesus spoke about the coming kingdom, he gave a solemn prediction of his coming death in Jerusalem, as he did in chapter 18. Even though the disciples didn’t understand at first (Luke 18:34),  this indicates that his death and resurrection were at the very heart of his kingdom message, “of first importance,” as Paul put it later in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

(4) Zacchaeus had a change in his character. His heart was changed. Salvation came to his house because salvation came first to his heart. He was transformed from the inside out. This what Jesus came to do for all who believe in him.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring



Prophecy and History Show God is in Control

Prophecy and History Show God is in Control

God is in control of history. Prophecy proves it. There is an arresting passage in the book of Isaiah that reveals the interplay between human history and biblical prophecy. It describes in some detail how Israel’s God would prompt the king of the mighty Persian empire to release the Jews from their exile in Babylon and permit them to return to Jerusalem.

These events are described after the fact in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. God moved the heart of the Persian emperor in 536 B.C. to provide money for their expenses, protection for their journey and permission for the Jews to rebuild the temple of the Lord in the Holy City.

In the British Museum, I have seen the famous Cyrus Cylinder which tells the story from the standpoint of this pagan king. He adopted a policy of religious tolerance toward the conquered peoples in his empire. He authorized the rebuilding of many of their sacred sites. He dedicated this project to the gods of Babylon, Marduk, Bel, and Nebo. He asked his subjects to pray to their various gods for the success of his reign.

The prophets of Israel saw in these events the sovereign influence of the Living God of Israel who said of the Persian king: “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘let its foundations be laid'” (Isaiah 44:28).

There are those who say Isaiah could not have written this. They claim a pseudo-Isaiah or an anonymous “second Isaiah” wrote about Cyrus contemporaneously as if it were a prophecy. After all, Isaiah lived 150 years before these events took place. How could he have known the name of Cyrus and the sequence of events that would transpire long in the future?

There is plenty of evidence for the unity of Isaiah as one book, not a patchwork of descriptions posing as prophecies. It is an integrated whole, “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw…” (Isaiah 1:1). A few points of evidence testify to the unity of the book.

The Jews accepted Isaiah’s authorship of the last part of the book, well before the time of Christ. The monumental Isaiah scroll, discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls, has the complete text. It has been dated about 125 B.C. The New Testament quotes from the different parts of Isaiah, assuming it is all the inspired Word of the Lord.

The expression “the Holy One of Israel” is used of God in all parts of the book. Scholars tell us there are many other verbal parallels tying the two halves of the book together. According to the NIV Study Bible, there are at least 25 Hebrew words found in both halves of Isaiah that are found in no other prophetic writing. This is evidence that Isaiah wrote both parts of the book, including the remarkable Cyrus prophecies in chapters 41, 44, and 45.

So let’s assume that Isaiah wrote about King Cyrus of Persia long before he emerged on the stage of history. What does this mean? It means that God’s Word has been fulfilled literally. It means that God is in control of history. He calls Cyrus his anointed one (Isaiah 45:1) and his shepherd (48:28). God says it is he who opens doors for Cyrus to subdue nations (45:1) for the sake of his people Israel (45:4).

God will use Cyrus even though he does not acknowledge Yahweh as the true sovereign God (45:4). G.W. Grogan wrote, “We cannot accuse God of using inappropriate means to achieve his ends.” These historical developments will be the by-products of Cyrus’s policy toward all the nations under his reign. But Isaiah knows that this is all under God’s control who will use Cyrus for the benefit of Israel.

Isaiah wrote this as a prophecy of future events. It is not a recitation of current events or recent history. “I will raise up Cyrus (‘him’ in Hebrew) in my righteousness: … He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free” (45:13).

Therefore, if prophecies of Israel’s preservation have been fulfilled literally in the past, we may safely assume that the prophecies about Israel’s future restoration will also be fulfilled (Romans 11:25-27). Isaiah is full of such prophecies. He who kept his promises in the past will keep his promises in the future.

In the same way, the Isaiah who foresaw the coming of Messiah as the “Suffering Servant of the Lord” (Isaiah 5253) also foretold the second coming of Messiah as Universal King (9:6-7; 32:1; 33:20-22). He will bring justice to the nations of the world (42:1; 60:3). At his first coming, he died to bear the sins of his people. At his second coming, he will diffuse the glory of God throughout the earth and reign as King of kings.

When we are troubled by the world situation in our own time, we may be encouraged to know that the sovereign God holds history in his mighty hand. No potentate or politician can successfully thwart the operation of his divine purpose. His kingdom will come, as promised.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring






A Joyful Response to the Doctrine of Election

A Joyful Response to the Doctrine of Election

Warren Wiersbe whimsically told of a man who wanted his help to get a book published, “God has given me the pen of a ready writer,” the man claimed ostentatiously. He caught up with Wiersbe at his hotel room, interrupting a badly needed afternoon nap.

When Wiersbe opened the door to his room the man blurted, “I have a book manuscript here in which I prove that John 3:16 does not teach that God loves the whole world.”

“‘Really?’ I replied, with an obvious yawn which he ignored. ‘Then what does the word world mean in John 3:16?'”

“‘The elect!’ he almost shouted.”

Wiersbe answered, “You know, brother, life has enough problems even when we believe that God loves the world. What would happen if we didn’t believe it? Life would be unbearable! I don’t suggest that you publish that book.”

This illustrates the lengths to which some extremists go to try to promote their version of the doctrine of election. And this is a reason some believers react so strenuously against its teaching.

In point of fact, we cannot deny that this teaching is scriptural. Whatever else we might say about it we must all agree that the election of God’s people is because of his love (Ephesians 1:4-5). An appreciation of the doctrine of election leads to right living (Colossians 3:12).

In today’s blog, I want to call attention to what the apostle Peter says about it in his first letter. He is writing to Christian Jews of the diaspora and to Gentiles who have recently been converted from paganism. They are being persecuted for their faith and Peter is writing to give them encouragement and stability in the face of suffering.

Peter fortifies their faith with the great truth of election. They are God’s chosen ones, his special people, the “people of God” (1 Peter 2:9). Though they are “strangers” and “scattered,” as far as the world is concerned, as far as God is concerned they are his elect people “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:1-2).

To me a high point of the letter is 1 Peter 2:9 — “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

He went on to say, “To this, you were called…” (2:21) and “God called you to his eternal glory…” (5:10). Therefore they are to “Stand fast in the true grace of God” (5:13). The “call” to which he refers is the election of God, his special choice of those people whom he calls his own, by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

It is not my purpose here to address all the questions that may arise. It is to remind you of a truth that is in the Bible to bring us comfort and joyful assurance. In many ways, we are like those first-century believers who needed the stability and hope that comes from strong doctrine. We need it too!

So meditate today on 1 Peter, chapter one. There it says that God’s elect people are: strangers in the world, chosen in keeping with God’s plan, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, cleansed with the blood of Christ, born again, given a living hope and an imperishable inheritance in heaven, shielded by God’s power, believers in Jesus, even though they have not seen him in person, and given the present assurance of ultimate salvation.

Peter says that all this should fill us with an “inexpressible and glorious joy!” Let that be our response instead of extremism, rancorous arguments and division. If there are questions or misunderstandings, let us bring them to the Lord. In quiet reverence, let’s ask God to give us the same thankful response that is recommended by the apostle Peter.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring




No Explanation is Adequate

No Explanation is Adequate

Our local newspaper was full of sympathetic coverage of the death of a sixteen-year-old football player. Peter Webb died after sustaining head trauma during a game with his Christian school team on September 13. At his funeral, he was eulogized as enthusiastic, confident, athletic, and devoted to Jesus Christ.

His father, Jim, and his four brothers showed uncommon courage as they each rose to speak in Peter’s honor before over two thousand guests in attendance.  Several high school football teams came and they heard Peter’s dad speak of the intense pain the family felt because of the loss of their son and brother.

No doubt the young men on those teams and Peter’s fellow students have been struggling with the same questions most people ask in similar situations. Couldn’t God have prevented Peter from dying? if so why didn’t he? If God is good, why does he allow evil to exist? If he is all-powerful, why doesn’t he bring an end to human suffering?

These profound questions cannot be answered with glib cliches. The emotional suffering of the Webb family cannot be healed by philosophical band-aids or sentimental pieties. As a sorrowing C.S. Lewis put it in A Grief Observed, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

Where is God?

“Where was your God when my son was killed?” a grieving father asked John Claypool. “He was where he was when his own boy was being killed,” came the answer. What the wise pastor was saying is that God entered, and enters, human suffering in the incarnation of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Consolation in such a time is not to be found in platitudes, but in presence, the presence of a compassionate God who said he would be “near” (Philippians 4:5) and in the supportive presence of friends who quietly care and serve in his name.

But this does not answer the question “why?” Rational explanations are cold comfort to those in sorrow. But for those who are attempting to understand the mysterious ways of God it may be useful to recall that God is good and evil did not originate with him. He made the world good and part of that good was to allow for the possibility of human choices.

All choices involve risks and consequences, including the risk of brain trauma from a football injury. Was Peter Webb’s death untimely? terrible? tragic? Certainly. All sports, including American football, pale in comparison to the value of such a precious human life.  Yet young men are drawn to challenge, risk and conquest. “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29).

A good purpose

Was his death purposeful? The Christian answer is an unequivocal “yes!” God was not defeated when that beautiful young man died. Somehow in the sovereign wisdom of the Creator, a good purpose is being fulfilled. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Examples are found throughout scripture to illustrate how God uses human suffering to accomplish his purposes. The story of Joseph’s sufferings is such a lesson. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,” he told his brothers in Genesis 50:20.  The sufferings of Joseph were purposeful. The Babylonian captivity of the Jews was purposeful (Jeremiah 20-29). The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was purposeful (Acts 2:23). Nothing is outside of God’s purpose.

Likewise, the New Testament teaches us that God sometimes uses human suffering to humble his people (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Sometimes it is to correct and purify his people (Hebrews 12:6, 11). Sometimes no explanation is given. Sometimes our only response is to lament, as Jeremiah does, as Job does, as Habakkuk does, as Asaph does in Psalm 73.

These facts alone do not lift the emotional burden of overwhelming pain and loss borne by a grieving family. The fact is, we are not always given emotionally satisfying answers to why there is undeserved suffering in this world.

God will win

The Christian message promises God’s ultimate victory over evil. In the meantime, we live in a world where danger, evil and suffering remain for the present. But this imperfect world is preparing us for the next. I paraphrase Winfried Corduan who reminds us that God is able to use evil to facilitate the coming of that better world. He writes, there can be no pity without suffering. There can be no redemption without sin. There can be no courage without danger. There can be no resurrection without death.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring