Obstacles, Others, and Ourselves

April 12, 2018 at 11:16 am | Posted in Luke, parables | 2 Comments
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Jesus gave a revelation of the “new” Sabbath, then He went on to reveal the institution of a “new nation.” He fulfilled the real meaning of the Sabbath and the real meaning of what the nation of Israel and the 12 tribes of Israel were supposed to represent.

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12

Jesus prayed all night because He had some tough decisions to make. Are you this committed to prayer and its importance?

And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;

Luke 6:13

Jesus had many students (“disciples”) during His earthly ministry, but He chose only 12 “Apostles,” corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. These Apostles would be His official messengers and missionaries after His Resurrection and Ascension.

Today, as Christians, we need to be both: disciples who are learning and “apostles” who are going, witnessing, and ministering.

The section of Scripture starting in Luke 6:20 may be a truncated version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapters 5-7), or a different, but similar, sermon, since Jesus sometimes repeated His teaching for different audiences at different times and locations.

This sermon focuses on having a right attitude toward obstacles, including poverty, physical pain, emotional pain, and three forms of persecution (scornful, secret, and slanderous).

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you,, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.

Luke 6:20-22

Our attitude toward these circumstances must be not that the circumstances themselves are blessings, but that we are blessed to be counted worthy by God to undergo these circumstances.

Jesus also focused on our attitude and actions toward our enemies, including how to speak TO them and FOR them.

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

Luke 6:27

Finally, Jesus focused on our attitude toward ourselves, warning of the dangers of pride and perception, and the importance of our production.

And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.

Luke 6:39-40

If I am “leading,” then I had better be a follower of the true leader, Jesus Christ.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

Luke 6:41-42

These verses do not say that I should not be helping my brother or sister to see clearly, but they do say that I am to make sure that I am seeing clearly first.

For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Luke 6:43

These negative implications of regeneration tend to be more popular sermon topics, but are only half of the truth – which is dangerous. We don’t mind hearing that bad trees bring forth corrupt fruit, because we like to think of ourselves as good trees, but it is just as important to acknowledge that the proof that we ARE in fact good trees would be the production of good fruit.

For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

Luke 6:44-46

We tend to use “Lord” as a verbal pause button when we pray, but, by definition, your “Lord” is the one you serve. Are you serving yourself? Are you serving the world? Are you unwittingly serving Satan? Or are you truly serving the Lord Jesus Christ?

The Purpose, and the Misuse, of Anger

May 28, 2015 at 10:45 am | Posted in Matthew | 9 Comments
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Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

Matthew 5:21-26

We are created in the image of God. This deals more with the make-up of our inner selves than any physical characteristics. It includes our will and our emotions. In some ways, our emotions are a mirror of the ways God chooses to express His feelings. We are able to love because God is love, and He has created an ability to love in us. We have compassion because God understands everything about us, and He has created in us an ability to understand others.

Many of the emotions which we received from God have been warped and perverted because of sin. Jealousy is one example. God’s jealousy is good. We should be jealous of those we love in the sense of wanting what is best for them, and wanting to share a special bond. But instead we make it into a petty, selfish emotion, where we are jealous of what someone else has, so that we want it for ourselves. Another example is lust: a strong burning inward desire for something. We should lust after our spouses. We should lust after righteousness. But we’ve turned lust into a sinful desire to have what is forbidden, and our flesh enjoys it all the more because it is forbidden. Fear is another example. We should have an awe of God, and a reverent fear of Him that helps us. Instead, we make fear our excuse for not moving in faith, for not boldly going into the unknown while knowing that God is with us.

Let’s focus on another example: anger. Anger is expressed by God. God is love, but He does get angry. God is love, and He is good, but a part of being good is being just, and part of being just is rewarding right and punishing wrong. God’s holiness must be offended by, and angered by, sin. It must be angered by injustice, so God reserves His anger for times when His creatures rebel against Him, as is the case with Lucifer, Adam and Eve – and you and I.

Question: How can God be loving and angry?
Answer: How can He not?

We tend to be subjective when we think about someone’s evil deeds. Two people read about a criminal in the news. One person is offended, and another person is not. One person does not approve of the criminal’s actions, but is sympathetic over the consequences of getting caught or over the circumstances that led him to commit the crime. A third person is aghast and disgusted at the villainy that was perpetrated. Deep down, though, each of them has a sense of justice. When the crime is horrific enough, or cruel enough, we feel an urge to see punishment meted out, if not by the authorities, then at least by some cosmic judge. None of us really, truly want a God who could look at 9/11 and just want to give Osama Bin Laden a hug. God’s response to kidnappings, rapes, murders can not be, “Let’s just hold hands and sing kumbaya.”

Question: If God is all-powerful and all good, why is there so much bad?
Answer: That’s the wrong question. The question should be: “If God is all-powerful and all good, why has He not obliterated this whole world a long time ago?”

God expresses anger – it seems – as a way of dealing with injustice and sin. But we have taken our God-given capacity for anger, and have warped it and abused it and tainted it with sin.

There is a righteous anger and a holy indignation. The Bible even tells us to be angry (but not to sin, Ephesians 4:26). Some examples of righteous indignation include Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the Temple, and sinners under John the Baptist’s preaching reacting violently to get past the Pharisees in order to get to God (Matthew 11:12).

Matthew 5:21-26 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ the King issued His decrees on the fulfillment of – and the real meaning of – the Law. The Pharisees had made the law of Moses completely external. Christ said that its real application is to the heart – internal. Sinful anger is anger that is not justified – anger that exists, according to Matthew 5:22, “without a cause.” And this may very well include 99.9% of all human anger. Because, unlike God, we are sinful and not capable of exercising or administering perfect justice, we are commanded to be forgiving, meek, humble, long-suffering, kind, loving, prayerful for enemies, willing to turn the other cheek.

We who have been forgiven in Christ have been spared the consequences of God’s anger, although God remained just. Therefore, we, being unjust, must not place our own selfish interpretation of justice around us and seek to enforce it.

Sinful anger is very dangerous. It makes us want to destroy, when Jesus has called us to be builders rather than destroyers.

Sinful anger puts us into bondage spiritually (and sometimes literally). God doesn’t want us to be captives. He wants us to be free.

Sinful anger in our hearts comes out of our mouths, and makes a bad situation worse. God wants us to come into bad situations and make them better.

The Law said “thou shalt not kill.” The Pharisees added:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

Matthew 5:43

Jesus said not only is murder a sin, but unjustified hatred in the heart is murder.

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

I John 3:15

Most murders are not cold and calculated; they are a result of unrestrained anger. Most of them don’t take place when people are defending a righteous cause; most of them take place in the barrooms and the bedrooms. God values human life. Only He gives it, and only He has the right to take it away. So the Lord says, make things right with your brother before you come to the altar to show your love for God. We need to come to worship with a right heart. Bitterness and anger toward our brothers intrudes on our relationship with God, and our worship of Him.

What Exactly Did Jesus Say about Being Judgmental?

March 25, 2015 at 1:02 pm | Posted in Matthew, parables | 6 Comments
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Matthew Chapter 7 deals with judgment, beginning with the practice of judging others.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Matthew 7:1-2

Judging others to a standard you can’t bear yourself is the essence of hypocrisy – and hypocrisy was one of the marks of the Pharisees.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

Jesus began with a humorous illustration, but the humor turned serious when He called them hypocrites. As followers of Jesus, our main focus should be on judging ourselves so that we can help others. The Pharisees judged others to make themselves look good.

In the natural realm, I have some fairly serious eye problems, and am a frequent visitor at the eye doctor’s office. One thing I’ve learned from being poked and probed and examined is that great tenderness is needed in the field of eye care. Spiritually speaking, though, the same principle applies just as much. If you ever find yourself in a position to help a brother recognize and remove a spiritual fault from his life (and that’s a big “if” – something to be considered carefully and thoroughly and prayerfully before proceeding), then you will need to proceed the way you would if you were removing a sliver from his eye: with great tenderness and care.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Matthew 7:6

We must exercise discernment in church discipline because God has trusted us to handle the “holy things” of the Lord. In the Old Testament, the worship in the Tabernacle and the Temple had to be very orderly and precise, in order to prevent that which was considered holy and clean from becoming defiled and made unclean by that which was profane. New Testament worship is different, but the principle still applies. Just as the cups and dishes in the Temple were treated with reverence, so must our words and attitudes be handled somewhat delicately and with attentive gentleness.

Matthew Chapter 7 eventually shifts from judgment of ourselves to our judgment of others to God’s judgment of us.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 7:24-27

In this parable both houses looked sturdy. Both builders had good intentions. So what was the difference? Why was one house sturdy and one not sturdy? The difference was the foundations. Christ Jesus the Solid Rock is our foundation. That’s why we see this teaching right after the Lord’s statement about false professions. A false profession will hold up fine and look strong until the storm of judgment comes.

Your life may look sturdy. You may have your hope in a supportive family, a good job, loyal friends, good works, financial security, and your own logical belief system. But when the storm hits, only hope founded on Christ the Solid Rock will stand.

 

Purity, Prayer, and Possessions

March 9, 2015 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Matthew | 6 Comments
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Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Matthew 5:17

The Pharisees had placed a crust around the seed of God’s Word. Jesus broke the crust, but He did not destroy the Law. He fulfilled the Law. A seed can stop being a seed through destruction, or through fulfilling its purpose. Remember, Jesus came onto the scene of public ministry after working for years as a carpenter, and His job has always been that of a builder.

In Christian maturity we move past rules and regulations (outward), and get directly to the attitudes of the heart (inward). Imagine if I dug a well, attached a faucet, and filthy water came out. Would I just change the faucet? No, I’d dig a new well. The hearts we were born with can produce only sin and evil. When we trust Christ, He removes the old heart, and replaces it with a new heart, from which can flow God-pleasing purity.

Matthew Chapter 6 deals with prayer, fasting, and money. Have you ever thought about why God commands us to pray when He already knows our needs? One reason is that prayer is the God-appointed way for getting those needs met. Here’s how it works. You pray to discern God’s will (“Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”). God allows needs to come into your life, and you draw close to Him in prayer (Psalm 50:15). God shows you that all you really need is Him (II Corinthians 12:7-10). You become thankful to God, even about your needs, and you stay in an attitude of prayer and ongoing communication with your God (I Thessalonians 5:17-18). Prayer prepares us for the proper use of what God already knows we need.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

Matthew 6:19

Materialism is when we stop possessing things, and things start possessing us. Idolatry of things enslaves. It enslaves the heart.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:21

It enslaves the mind.

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

Matthew 6:22-23

What you say is what’s in your heart; what you look at is what’s on your mind.

It enslaves the will.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Matthew 6:24

Imagine: Your heart, your mind, your will – all enslaved to a bass boat or a TV set or a retirement account or a Cadillac. It’s not a pretty picture. However, in Christ, we can win the victory over our idolatrous desires to be rich, to own property, to possess things. Even worry about the basic necessities of life needn’t ensnare us.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Matthew 6:25

“Things” used for God will bring glory to God, but things used for me cheapen the things, and cheapen me as well.

What Can I Do for God?

February 18, 2015 at 11:48 am | Posted in Matthew | 5 Comments
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Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

The point of doing “good works” is not to impress other people with how “good” we are. Nor is the point to impress God, in the sense of gaining or earning His favor. However, the Bible does say to live your life before the eyes of God (I Kings 15:5; I Samuel 26:24). Many years ago, when I first started actively serving as a member of a local church, I was not sure what I would be able to do. The church had a gym, and it was in need of painting, so, as part of a big group project, I was assigned to paint a large section of the walls. I had done plenty of painting growing up, but this was special. In my mind, I wasn’t doing this for the church, or for the approval of the pastor or other church members. I was doing it for the Lord. I don’t think I’ve ever painted with such care and effort. I wanted to do a good job for my Lord.

If you are a father and you’ve ever taken a small child to a public playground, you have probably experienced this: There will almost always be young boys there with their mothers or some other female caregiver. They are happy playing by themselves until they see you (the only grown man) there. Almost immediately, they will begin showing off, vying for your attention, hanging upside down from the monkey bars, jumping off the highest part of the slide, turning a back-flip off a swing. “Hey, hey, look at me – look what I can do!” There is something inherent in boys that makes them want to please their fathers (or in the absence of their fathers) some male authority figure. It’s not exactly the same thing with God and His children, but there is a sense in which we should be striving to please our Heavenly Father.

On the other hand, though, we must be careful not to make an idol of our accomplishments when they appear noteworthy. We have a tendency to feel content as Christians when we accomplish all our spiritual “chores:” when we have read our Bibles, said our prayers, witnessed faithfully, advanced in our sanctification. When we have a day like this, we might secretly, perhaps even subconsciously, believe that God loves us “more” than on the days when we lose the battle to temptation, fall into sin, shirk our spiritual duties, and regress into the flesh. I call that type of of thinking “idolatrous” because, when that happens, we have become the source of our own “blessedness” – our own peace and contentment.

There is a difference between striving to fulfill every rule of law and living to please God – of being motivated by His greatness and goodness on one hand, versus being motivated by the false belief that I am somehow adding something to Him, on the other hand.

We like to think that God has no other hands than our hands, no other feet than our feet, no way of speaking but by our mouths, but this is not true. God is not dependent upon His children, and there would be no place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven if it was a place only for those with great faith, tireless devotion, and unfailing, continual, never-sliding-back progress in sanctification.

Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?

Isaiah 66:1

The idea that God doesn’t need us might make some folks mad, but it makes me very, very happy. God can raise up a rock to do anything I can do – and do it better than me! It’s not the world’s version of the “great ones” who rule with the King in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Matthew 19:30

For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:17

Yes, we shall reign in life, but not by our own righteousness. It shall be by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The Relief of being Blessed

February 4, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Matthew | 5 Comments
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The Sermon on the Mount contains the Beatitudes. It is deeply theological, but the deeper you go, the more practical it gets. It is the manifesto of the King. It teaches us to live like kings, not “one day,” but now. “Blessed are” “Ye are the salt of the earth…

The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 4:16-17

Jesus taught that the Kingdom is “at hand.” It is here right now. The Sermon on the Mount teaches us that we are kings, and kings have what serving under them? Servants. Are your servants serving you? Or are you serving your servants? God gave us appetites, but we must rule over them. Hunger, thirst, and physical desire must be made to serve, and not allowed to rule. What about material possessions and money? God made things to use, and people to love. Too many people start loving things, and the result when you love things is that you start to use people.

It is helpful to remember the Beatitudes as the Be-Attitudes. God is interested not only in what you do, but in who you are. “Blessed” is usually translated as “happy,” but the people of Jesus’s time used the concept of beatus to describe a condition like death – an end of problems. It’s an indictment to us that we think of Heaven primarily in terms of what we get, and not the trouble we will be missing out on. “Blessed” is seeing God – even the God of wrath – turn toward you. He pauses, looks at you, and says, “I am well pleased.” That’s “blessed.”

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

Revelation 19:11-12

The Mountain No One Can Climb Alone

January 14, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Posted in Matthew, Salvation | 9 Comments
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Matthew Chapter 5 contains the first part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” and includes the “Beatitudes.”  Since we know that Matthew stresses Christ Jesus in His role as King, we may read this sermon as the King’s creed – the guiding and foundational principles of His Kingdom.

Since we also know that the book of Matthew was written primarily to the Jewish people, we may now unlock the significance of Matthew Chapter 5, Verse 1:  “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:”  The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to make a point of saying that Jesus “went up into a mountain” in order to call to mind the differences between the law that Christ the King was about to pronounce, and the law that Moses gave on Mount Sinai.

And, like everything in the Old Testament which is a shadow (Hebrews 10:1) or a type of the New Covenant, the law of Christ is “more perfect” than the law of Moses (Hebrews 8:5-7).  Examples:  Moses said, give God a tithe (one tenth); Christ says, surrender everything you have to God; Moses said, do not kill; Christ says, do not even hate your enemies; Moses said, do not commit adultery; Christ says, do not even look at a woman with lust in your heart; Moses said, give God a day (the Sabbath); Christ says, give God every moment of every day of your life.

It quickly becomes clear in Matthew Chapter 5 that the kind of rule-keeping and regulation-following it would take to truly achieve “righteousness” under God’s law is impossible for man to obtain.  Only Christ’s righteousness is sufficient for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Has that righteousness been imputed to you by faith?  If not, trust and obey Jesus Christ the King right now. (Romans 4:22-25)

Beware the Foreign Figurehead

November 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Posted in Matthew, The Fives | 11 Comments
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The first two beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount deal with people who are blessed because of the situation in which they find themselves: the poor in spirit and those who mourn. But the third beatitude pronounces a benediction upon people who are exercising a certain virtue:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

A person who has the capacity to be meek is someone who already appears blessed. It is a person who has strength, but then, in humility, and out of a desire to love and serve others, brings that strength under control.

Jesus says that the blessing for being meek is inheriting the earth. How much of a blessing is this, though, really? The earth – the arena of Adam’s fallen and sin-sick race – has become quite a shabby place. And perhaps that is the point at which Jesus connects the idea of meekness with receiving it as an inheritance.

See, Adam, the first man, was supposed to exercise dominion over the earth. This was a great honor. As the image-bearer of his Supreme Creator he was supposed to use his position to make His Creator seem great – in other words, to “glorify” Him. However, Adam – acting as our accurate representative even before we showed up – blew it big time. He did not glorify his Creator. He acted like the Creator was a promise-breaker: unwilling, unable, or at least unlikely to keep His Word concerning disobedience. And therefore Adam lost his dominion and our “inheritance,” if you will.

So, here we are, a little over 6000 years later, give or take, and the Creator has managed to redeem us at the greatest possible cost, and restore our inheritance. But how do we claim it? By acting like it should have been ours all along? By no means. We are to remember that this earth is a temporary inheritance compared to the eternal home we shall inherit in Christ Jesus. We are to think of Heaven as our home, and to think of ourselves as foreigners in this world. A faithful ambassador of his king, when visiting a foreign land, does not set himself up as a “figurehead.” Instead, he makes it clear that he is on a mission for his Lord. He brings under control the authority he has been granted, and exercises it temperately, reminding everyone that “the earth” is going to be reclaimed by its rightful Owner one day soon, and that He will deal accordingly with those who pretended that they owned it, and that He will demand an accounting from those He sent to be His emissaries.


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