Matthew 13.58 Does our lack of faith frustrate God’s plans?

And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

We often understand this verse to be saying that Jesus was limited by the unbelief of the people contrary to his desire to do mighty works. But this is not the correct interpretation of this verse. The limitation comes not from the absence of faith, thus making Jesus powerless, as if the power to do mighty works comes from the faith of the people (the way many see this passage). Rather the limitation lies in God’s sovereign withholding of mighty works due to the unbelief of the people. Thus, the phrase, “he could do no mighty work” points to a restriction placed on him by the Father not willing that Jesus should do mighty works in Nazareth.

This interpretation is especially confirmed by the almost parallel passage in Luke 4:23-27. There it is clear that God sovereignly determined to do mighty works not in Israel, but in the land of Sidon, and with Naaman, a Syrian.

When God does mighty works, it is an act of his grace done for any number of different sovereign purposes he may have for those works (and there are several mentioned in Scripture). When he does not do those works it is because of our unbelief. No one can “claim” a miracle by meritorious faith, and no one can begrudge the lack of a miracle because apart from grace God finds us all in the same state of unbelief as these here in Nazareth.


2 Timothy 2.11-13 When Christ denies us

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2.11-14

These verses call us to endure, so that in the future we may reign with Christ. The alternative to enduring is denying and being faithless (ESV). If we do that, the text is clear that Christ will deny us. This tells us that Paul is talking about a denial that goes deeper than what Peter did, because Jesus did not deny Peter but restored him. That fact alone shows us that this denial is not what we observe in Peter’s case.

What this denial consists in is further explained by the word, “faithless”. Since we are justified by faith, I take this to mean that the denial spoken of here is a repudiation of the gospel that is antithetical to being justified by faith. Faith is the apprehending of Christ with one’s whole being, holding on to him for forgiveness, salvation and life. Denying Christ in the sense spoken of here is the opposite of that: It is repudiating Christ in the firm belief that he is not faithful to do what he promises to do for us in the gospel.

How does a person evidence that they are repudiating the gospel in such a damning way? There can be greater or lesser manifestations of this repudiation of the gospel. A greater manifestation of it would be to simply repudiate the historical person of Christ altogether and to say, “I do not believe in Christ. I do not follow Christ. I put no hope in Christ.” But there are many lesser manifestations, but equally serious repudiations of the gospel. There are many who claim to follow Christ, but the Christ that they follow is not the Christ revealed in the Bible. They deny essential aspects of what the biblical gospel proclaims. There are also those who may adhere to an correct understanding of the gospel, but who do not live in accordance with what they profess.

If a person denies Christ in the way referred to here in these verses (and only God knows when the outward denial is the true expression of that inner state of eternal denial of Christ), Paul says that such a denial will result in Christ denying that person. However, in doing so, Christ remains faithful. His promise of salvation and forgiveness and eternal life, which all flow from his person and work on the cross, still remain the only hope for sinners. Christ “cannot deny himself” in the sense that his promise of salvation flows from who he is and what he has accomplished and it can never be changed or repudiated.

Paul emphasizes this to show the firmness of our hope in Christ. We must endure and hold on to him in faith, knowing that he is faithful and will never renege on his promise of salvation.


Psalm 91 Will God always protect us from evil?

This very well known psalm is often used to claim protection from evil things happening against us. It most certainly teaches this, but there are qualifications that need to be made.

First, there is the qualification of who can claim this protection. It is the one who “dwells in the shelter of the Most High.” This refers to the person who looks to the Lord as a “refuge and fortress” It is “trusting in God” as v. 2 makes clear. The idea of “dwelling” is repeated again in v 9. “Refuge” also communicates a continual trust in God’s protection. Verse 9 explicitly says that it is “because you have made the Lord your dwelling place” that “no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

“Dwelling in the Lord” communicates to me an idea of continual trust, but more than that. It is living in a way that everything we do is related in the proper way to God and his presence with us. It is seeing every aspect of our life with respect to God. Given the greatness and glory of God, his reality should be the primary influence on everything that we think, say and do.

The idea of “dwelling” is further described in vs. 14-15. It is a “holding fast to God in love.” There again is an idea of continual trusting, but with the added quality of “love” which shows that the person sees and delights in the greatness and glory of God. Another “because” is given in v. 14 : It is “because he knows my name.” To know the name of God is to know what he is like–his character.

The second qualification that needs to be made with regard to the promise of protection and deliverance is that it is not a promise of unconditional immunity to anything evil. It is instructive that the devil quoted verses 11-13 when he tempted Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple. God is not promising here that we can always cheat death because of our relationship with him.

I think one of the wrong assumptions that we often bring to passages like this is that these evil things that are happening are outside of God’s will. We see them as negative attacks on God’s people that God does not design and that he thus protects us from. Seen in this light, how could we escape the conclusion that God constantly fails us? How many Christians have suffered innocently? How many have died young (v. 16)?

But when we look at the promise here through the lens of God’s meticulous providence which decrees all that happens, we see them differently. To me, the key phrase to understand what the psalm is promising is v. 8. “You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.” These bad things that are described here are evil things that are coming from God’s enemies (someone has to shoot the arrows in v. 5!), BUT they are also God’s just recompense of the wicked. God is promising that the one who dwells in him will not be punished in judgments like the ones described here.

The deliverance promised is ultimately a spiritual deliverance. Very often, God delivers us here and now from physical dangers such as the ones mentioned in the psalm. But we have to apply what I call “the Betsy Ten Boom test”. Was God unfaithful to this precious saint who lost her life in the Nazi concentration camp? Was he unfaithful to his promise to “satisfy Betsy with long life” (v. 16)? No, Betsy had eternal life and triumphed fearlessly (see v. 5, “you will not fear…”) over the evil that she walked through.

So, yes, we can use Psalm 91 to ask our loving Father for protection from all kinds of evil, but we must understand that his deliverance is ultimately a spiritual deliverance. He brings us through “many trials and tribulations” (John 16.33, 1 Peter 1:6-7